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Diaper dreams

March 27, 2012

Well, no, I haven’t actually had any dreams about diapers. Yet.

But flitting throughout all these big-picture questions about how to raise kids that I’ve been researching for six years has been a question of what to do about excrement. It’s pretty unavoidable, so you might as well think of some solution. Things would get dirty pretty fast if you didn’t do anything.

If you’re a hippie like me, your first thought goes to the most sustainable, of course. Cloth diapers, it turns out, are only second on the sustainability list. Position number one goes to Elimination Communication (or E.C.), also known as infant-potty training. Contrary to the information that is still being written in child development textbooks, most traditional cultures have recognized that human babies (like puppies and kittens) have some awareness of their elimination needs from birth. They can actually “hold it”, if they notice that their caregivers are paying attention to where and when they poop and pee. Somehow in the past fifty plus years of baby-rearing the idea that babies know when to poop got nixed as hogwash. The theory circulated that incomplete myelination of the nervous tissue running to the anus and genitals meant that babies had no awareness of when to go (true about the myelin, but demonstrable impact on pee/poop control is completely unstudied. Get on with it scientists!). Analyzed in conjunction with abusive, fear-based potty learning tactics historically relied on in our culture (though these were probably the exception and not the rule), the experts concluded that it was not only an error to introduce the potty too early, it was downright mean. So over the past half century the average age of potty learning in North America and Europe moved from around one to around three years of age – and combined with the explosion in disposable diaper use, led to a vast increase of pollution output per child.

(Sidenote: Have you ever seen a poopy disposable diaper? Like the kind someone left in a parking lot because they changed the diaper in a car and couldn’t be bothered to take it home or throw it in a trash or FLUSH THE SOLIDS LIKE IT SAYS TO DO ON THE PACKAGING? LE YUCK. This issue is way more of a ranting point with me than, say, breastfeeding, even though I am a 1000% pro-breastfeeding woman. Feed your baby how you need to to keep them alive & healthy, but please, stop polluting my planet!)

Anyway, if you want to engage anyone who debates the current expertise on potty-learning wisdom, just talk to parents who have tried Elimination Communication. Most have found that it worked for their kids for at least part of their infancy, and many swear that it helped them to learn how to use the potty full time before age two (the current average starting age for potty learning here in the U.S.).

The main thing that E.C. seems to require that XY and I don’t have a lot of is TIME. We will probably be trying to read our baby’s cues and satisfy all of his/her needs when we’re around, but we are expecting to spend some of our time away from our kid since we will both be working. So E.C. might be an adjunct parenting tool, but it probably won’t be our primary means of taking care of our infant’s toileting needs.

So next up in the sustainable-elimination lineup: cloth diapers!

If you ask anyone who used cloth diapers even 30-27 years ago (my parents and older brother, from birth until around the time I potty-trained), they were not all that easy. You had to fold the diaper and then (gulp) pin it. Then to protect against wetness you had to pull up a pair of plastic pants. Dirty diapers went into a pail of bacterial-infested water and chlorine bleach in our bathroom that my brother recalls being so smelly you had to open the window and hold your breath for the split second to open the foot-pedal and throw it in. Not anyone’s idea of fun (or, for that matter, sanitation). No wonder disposable was the norm for anyone who could afford them.

If you check any of the cloth diapering sites around today (;; or my new fave, the cloth diaper finder), FUN really does seem to be the operative word. They look SOOO cute.  Where are the pins? The only thing that seems scary or overwhelming are the sheer number of options. Do you want covers and prefolds/liners or pockets or all-in-ones? What about the new all-in-two liner systems? Hybrid systems with compostable disposable options? Velcro or snaps? SO MANY COLORS – how do you freakin’ choose? Oh yeah and sizing…what will work best for your child’s hip/waist/rise or should you work with a sized or one-sized system?

Well, if you’re currently childless and using birth control, a mere enthusiast, then you just dive in and have fun researching, budgeting and daydreaming. Some interesting notes I’ve found:

– Pretty much no one “wet pails” (what my parents did) anymore. Or uses chlorine bleach (bad for most diaper fabrics, especially in excess). Of course, there are exceptions to everything…and some folks still love classic pinned diapers, even with plastic pull-on pants on top! (Most pinning fans prefer a snappi, but many folks who use prefolds or flat diapers do a “lay-in” system with minimal folding and no pins or snappi.) Most people use a “dry pail” with a “liner” made of the same material as cloth diaper covers (poly-urethane laminate, or PUL). Yes the diapers still come out clean in the wash, even without a stinky “soaking” beforehand.

– You can totally go from birth to age 2+ by spending $100 on diapers…with NO PINS. (See Econobum for more details.)

– Don’t like the cloth diapers you picked? Sell them. Feeling thrifty and want to try lots of dipes before you buy? Buy used. Craigslist and can easily help you out, as can many consignment shops or even Freecycle. There’s zero resale/reuse value on that poopy diaper I’m picturing in the parking lot.

– It seems all-in-ones are the dream diaper (see, there I go again with the diaper dreams) that is just so hard to pull off in real life. No stuffing (unlike the pocket diaper systems). Just put on, pull off, launder and you’re ready to go again. But they get pretty tricky when you go into the nitty-gritty of drying times (usually longer, since everything is all-together rather than detachable), and absorbancy (usually nonadjustable in a one-diaper system, which can be bad for those heavy leakers). Also,  both pocket diapers and all-in-ones suffer from price point difficulty – it’s harder to get started with them just because they cost more money up front ($18-$30 per diaper x 12-36 diapers per baby). Still, I’m not ruling them out as an option for me and XY (especially because the poor man needs all the added convenience he can get).

– One-size diapers may not actually fit at birth, despite the claims. Most one-size enthusiasts do admit that you’re going to have to find a solution for the early weeks, since sometimes they don’t fit a baby till s/he hits ten pounds on the growth charts. Meconium, however, doesn’t stain diapers according to those who have actually diapered “from birth”. So if you’re looking to get started right away (and even if you’ve bought one-size diapers and are “lucky” enough to have a ten-pounder), have no fear! Since most people do not birth ten pound babies (primapara moms, breathe a sigh of relief) you may want to research newborn dipes if you’re thinking of upping your sustainability cred.

– Diaper laundry: huge, fascinating, sometimes quite passionate topic! Yes, EVERYONE’s got an opinion. Can you line dry or are you forced by time/humidity to use some dryer time? Do you need to strip your diapers regularly or is your water softness or detergent just right for the diapers you picked? High efficiency or top-loading washing machine? Rinsing, vinegar and the particular virtues of various cloth diaper detergents are often expunged upon with much fervor and debate. And what about those crazy wool dipes – do you really handwash and “lanolize” them every two weeks? I’m looking forward to joining the discussion, but since we haven’t even bought our home yet, I can’t really begin to weigh in here. Only look forward with baited breath (yes, really).

Cloth diaper interest is exploding, and in a few years I hope to reap the benefits. Yes, I already have an idea of what XY and I will use…but it changes from month to month (most often when a new product is introduced). I’d love to do something ultra-cheap like Econobums, being a cheap bastard, but I also realize I want to get the most sustainability bang for our buck. And I’ve come to realize more and more that while I’d love to have “just one system”, that’s probably not going to work for the way we will parent. We’ll probably fight less and feel more on the same page if we both have options that appeal to us (and that are flexible enough for situations like travel or babysitters).

Here’s a rundown of what I [currently] think we’d really want and be happy using (and what might work well with the part-time E.C. I’m envisioning us practicing):

Before birth: Definitely getting a diaper service or asking for one on our registry for the first month-six weeks. There’s debate about whether or not diaper services are more environmentally friendly (some say more so than home laundry, while some say much less), but regardless, we’d like to save time more than anything at this point. And I remain personally convinced that a diaper service WILL be less polluting than going disposable at this point (though many people do just use disposables as a starter before their babes grow into the cloth they’ve bought them, especially if they’ve gone one-size).

– Register for/get five Thirsties Duo Size One Wrap Snap diaper covers (these are part of a two-size system, well-reviewed, and fit really well from birth (6 lbs), unlike the one-size diapers). We may also get a Snappi to try folding our dipes (possibly better if our babe has poopy “blowouts” and it turns out we’re terrible at predicting his poo elimination).

– Make some “wet pads” out of old wool or fleece blankets for diaper-free time. I might also use some elastic from XY’s old boxer shorts to make a “prefold belt” which E.C. folks use to speed up the process of “catching” poop and pee (easier to take off than a fully covered diaper). We might also get a Baby Bjorn little potty for use with E.C., though XY and I both feel we’d rather not “train” our kid to a potty, and then have to retrain her to a toilet. We’d also like to set up our changing area in the bathroom if possible, or in the hallway outside if there’s not enough room. Since we’re expecting to store the dirty dipes in the bathroom anyway (you know, the room that has an exhaust fan and is totally OK to smell like poo sometimes) we’d rather just have all bathroom associations to go together, including diaper changes, IF space allows. (Our unicorn home has not been purchased yet, so we’ll see what setup works best for us when the time comes.)

– Register for/get two Planet Wise large wet bags (we’ll probably get a cheapo garbage can for the diaper service, while it lasts, since it will need to hold more dipes than the two days worth we’ll be putting in our wet bags).

– Register for/get two dozen organic prefolds. Why organic? Well, that’s more a consumer issue than one that really bugs me about what’s touching my precious little one’s behind. I prefer supporting organic farming whenever possible, and cotton producers are some of the worst pesticide users around, so…since XY and I can afford it, why not go organic? I still think ANY cloth diaper user is better than an only-disposable user (oh yeah, I’m going to be a total jackass as a parent, don’t you worry. As I already mentioned, I am a judgemental jackass on this point anyway). Sizing: I’m thinking infant, since we’ll have the diaper service anyway and I’m not really bugged by the thought of folding down if we have a teeny baby. Newborn prefolds just don’t seem cost-efficient, and I AM still a cheapskate at heart. Organic brands under consideration:  Bummis, Oso-cozy, Imagine. Oh yeah, and prefold diapers make GREAT burp cloths (as half the people who review them on note); anyway, we will find a use for them, even if it isn’t always/ever booty-related.

– Register for/get 3+ Bottombumpers All-In-One Side-Snapping One-Size diapers. If we do have some giant newborn (and a whopper of a birth story to go along with him/her), we can try these out right away. Regardless, I’d love to try them out before we have to switch from the Thirsties Duo Size Ones, because I really think these might be the answer to our convenience diapering dilemma. XY may become a prefold convert after a month with the cloth diaper service, but if we ever expect daycare or babysitters in our lives (and we do), I’m expecting we’ll have to find ways around their needs, and try and make it as easy for them as possible. Well, what’s so great about the Bottombumpers as opposed to other brands? Three things: Drying time (faster than some all-in-ones because they actually have  a detachable liner, almost like an all-in-two), organic (see above for why that’s important), and side-snapping…the last factor makes not only for a trimmer fit, but can also be a secret weapon in potty training, since they pull on-off the hips with ease, unlike front-snapping diapers. Saving money on diapers AND training pants? Oh yes PLEASE.

After birth? Well, I’d like to have at least $350 around to play with our options by about month two. At this point I’m hoping we’ll be in the zone about what we like and dislike about cloth diapering and E.C., and know who our babysitters will be and what might work for them (as well as for us). If my initial starting inclinations are correct, we’ll probably increase our Bottombumpers to at least 15 (did I mention they have the best color palette of any cloth diapers I’ve seen? The Steel dipes make my mod heart swoon – not even Fuzzibunz has such a lovely pewter gray in their rainbow) and cut down on our prefold use. We may experiment to see if a hybrid insert like gDiapers works in our Thirsties cover, and if so, use that as our travel diaper if we go on a trip (if not, we could try the gDiapers themselves or the Flip system). If we have the dreaded “heavy leaker” (NOOOO! LEAKY BABY!) and neither our prefolds nor our all-in-ones work for us, we may want to try new inserts (hemp or stay-dry fleece), or even totally different systems (stuffable pockets, fitted diapers, wool covers). There are always options.

Unlike disposables (yuck). Time will tell if I eat my words…

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