from the Consumer Reports Guide to Diapers
Disposable or cloth diapers? That's your first decision. Disposable diapers are undeniably more convenient, but they're costly. You can expect to spend around $2,500 or more by the time your baby is potty-trained. If you use "Eco-friendly" disposable diapers, which are biodegradable and/or not bleached with chlorine, you'll pay about $1,000 more depending on the number of diaper changes per day and the brand you use.
Cloth diapers can be much less expensive than disposables, especially if you wash them yourself. (Some parents use a diaper service, which picks up dirty diapers and delivers clean ones.) After paying the initial cost, you'll save hundreds of dollars by reusing cloth diapers again and again. If you wash them yourself, you might even be able to use them for more than one baby.
Many companies offer starter packs of cloth diapers that come with accessories. The accessories vary with the type of diaper you choose, but in general you'll need diaper inserts (cloth pads added to increase absorbency), waterproof covers to lock in moisture, and/or flushable liners that help to contain the mess. Liners eliminate the need to rinse cloth diapers before depositing them in a diaper pail. They do create waste, although less than disposable diapers.
Some are biodegradable, like the Kushies brand (Canadian - Stoney Creek).
"People still think of cloth diapers as being messy and involving pins and plastic pants," says Betsy Thomas, co-owner of Bummis, a Montreal-based company that makes cloth diapers. "But in actual fact, today's cloth diapers are as easy to use as their disposable counterparts. Snap and Velcro-type closures, high-tech comfort fabrics, and flushable liners have revolutionized cloth diapers, making them an increasingly attractive choice for many parents, especially in times of economic hardships. Although single-use (so-called disposable) diapers still control most of the market, the percentage of parents using cloth diapers is rising steadily."
The Real Diaper Industry Association, a group that represents makers of cloth diapers, says a survey it did found a 30 percent increase in cloth diaper sales between 2000 and 2007.
Despite a growing interest in cloth diapers, disposable ones continue to be the first choice for many parents and a preferred choice at many day-care centers and hospitals.
With disposables, plan on using plenty for your newborn, but don't load up on the newborn size. Unless you're the parent of multiples, it's overkill to buy economy packs at the beginning, some of which contain up to 160 diapers. Your baby is likely to outgrow the newborn size before you use that many. In fact, some babies are too big at birth to ever wear a newborn size. Start with one package of 40-count newborn diapers if your baby weighs about 8 pounds at birth. If she weighs more, start with a package of size 1, then buy in volume after you find the brand you like best. Don't be afraid to experiment; you'll find a favorite brand in time.
Once you know what you need, purchasing the largest-count package you can find is the way to go. You'll save the most money if you buy store-brand diapers in economy-size boxes, which come in counts that range from 92 to 252. You can also find competitive deals on name-brand diapers on sale in packages of various sizes. Browse online to find the most competitive prices and bulk discounts.
Don't be too quick to jump to the next size diaper, either. Selecting the smallest diaper your baby can wear comfortably will save you money in the long run because a larger diaper costs more. Manufacturers usually charge the same amount per package regardless of the actual size of the diapers, but they put fewer diapers in the package as the size gets larger. In addition, a diaper that's too roomy could allow leaks.
Diaper sizes vary from brand to brand. One version's size 1 might fit children from 8 to 14 pounds, while another's will fit those from 8 to 18 pounds, combining sizes 1 and 2 into one package. A brand's weight range usually overlaps: size 2 in one brand will cover kids weighing 12 to 18 pounds; size 3, 16 to 28 pounds; and so on.
With cloth diapers, the type of cloth you choose (as well as whether you go with cloth at all) is a matter of personal preference. They can be a significant money saver, but don't be a slave to the laundry room. Buy enough so that you don't have to wash diapers more frequently than every two to three days.
If you choose unfolded, pre-folded, or fitted cloth diapers, you'll need two to three dozen to begin with, plus six to 10 waterproof covers. If you go the pocket diaper route, having 12 to 16 should be adequate in the beginning. If you purchase a start-up kit you'll get all the diapers, diaper covers, and flushable liners you'll need for that diaper's weight limit. Pay close attention to washing instructions until you come up with your own system. "People are afraid of the washing, but once they do it they realize that it's no big deal," Thomas says. If you choose cloth, don't think it's all or nothing. Feel free to use disposables when you need or want to, such as when you're traveling with your baby.
Some parents think their children get fewer rashes with cloth diapers. Laura Jana, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, says there isn't a big difference in the frequency of rashes with cloth vs. disposable diapers.
A disposable diaper is an absorbent pad sandwiched between two sheets of non-woven fabric. The pad typically contains chemical crystals that can absorb up to 800 times their weight in liquid and hold it in gel form. That helps to keep liquid away from your baby's skin. According to manufacturers, this means you can leave a baby in a disposable longer than in a cloth diaper without causing him discomfort. Most disposable diapers can absorb far more liquid than a child is likely to produce during a single use. Of course, you'll probably see differences from brand to brand in fit, absorbency, and leakage control. The main improvement in disposables in recent years has been to make them thinner, which is supposed to create less waste for landfills.
Diapers are often sized according to a baby's weight, beginning with preemie and newborn (depending on the brand) and progressing to sizes 1 through 7 (and sometimes even 8). Some store and "eco-friendly" brands are marked simply small, medium, large, and extra large, and weight ranges are listed on the package. An example of this is the Tushies brand. Seventh Generation is another "eco-friendly" manufacturer that makes the Free & Clear diaper and does use sizing numbers. Both companies say that they don't use chlorine processing to make their diapers look white. Seventh Generation also says its diapers are free of fragrances, latex, and petroleum-based lotions. Like other manufacturers, Seventh Generation also makes training pants for toddlers.
Disposable underwear is designed to keep older children dry at night if they urinate while sleeping.
As your child starts potty-training you can begin letting him wear pull-ups, which are diapers that look and feel a bit more like regular underwear. Some are designed to let the child feel a change the moment it gets even a little bit wet, so he can learn when he needs to go to the bathroom.
Cloth diapers are usually made from absorbent fabrics: Cotton fleece, terry (like towels, but softer), flannel (similar to the material used in flannel sheets and pajamas, but denser and thicker), and unbleached hemp, wool and/or other materials. Flannel is the softest against the skin and the most absorbent.
Organic cotton cloth and eco-friendly diapers made from bamboo are widely available, but you'll pay more for them compared with non-organic cotton.
Many parents cite environmental concerns when they choose cloth diapers, since one child can contribute thousands of disposable diapers to the local landfill before they are potty-trained. Of course, using "flushable" diaper inserts with your cloth diaper also adds to the sewage waste stream. But cloth can also make sense from an economic standpoint (see Cloth vs. Disposables for more information).
Some cloth diapers have inserts that you wash and reuse, and others have liners that can be tossed.
Fully washable diapers tend to be less expensive to maintain than those that need disposable inserts. Some cloth diapering systems can be used with a variety of inserts—ones you can wash, ones you can flush, and some you can compost.
You might need to wash organic cotton and bamboo diapers several times to enhance their absorbency before your baby wears them, so check the care instructions. There are five types of cloth diapers to choose from. With the first three diaper types, you'll also need to use waterproof pants.
These are a variation on pocket diapers in which the diaper is sewn to the outer waterproof cover (you still fold the diaper into the pocket). But they're bulky and thick, so they might need more time in the dryer after laundering. Some are one size; instead of buying larger sizes as your baby grows, you simply secure the front flaps on the outer snaps as your baby gets bigger.
Fitted or Contour Diapers
These are shaped more like disposables, with a narrow crotch and wide wings that wrap around a baby's waist. Some require diaper fasteners, but others are fastened with Velcro. Still others have snaps, l Some fitted diapers have elastic at the waist and legs, and a more absorbent layer in the center. With contour diapers, you have to buy different sizes as your baby grows.
Pocket diapers, such as Kushies, consist of a waterproof covering that includes a pocket into that you insert a folded diaper or a disposable or washable liner. Velcro fasteners or several rows of snaps (for different fits) keep the covering closed. The outer cover comes in a range of sizes.
These are also rectangular but not nearly as big as unfolded diapers, so some parents find them easier to use. They require you to fold them once or twice to fit inside a waterproof diaper cover. But they can be versatile; depending on how you fold them, they can be adapted to accommodate the different absorption needs of boys and girls, or the less-solid waste of a newborn. You'll need to buy a different size diaper and diaper cover as your baby grows. Pre-folded diapers are most commonly used by diaper services. They typically come with folding instructions that differ for boys and girls.
These are rectangles of flat fabric that you fold to fit your baby's shape, holding them in place with diaper pins or a Snappi diaper fastener (a pinless diaper fastener with T-shaped grips on each end that hook into diaper fabric) in three places (the left and right sides, and the center). Unfolded diapers can also be folded and placed inside a Velcro or snap-closing waterproof cover, which you'll have to buy in different sizes as your baby grows.
FeaturesCloth diapers are easy to use, but some parents find them less convenient than disposables because they have to be washed. When shopping for either type, look for features that improve fit, comfort, and absorbency.
The type of fastener varies from brand to brand. Most now have Velcro fasteners, which, unlike tape, don't lose their sticking power when they come in contact with baby creams or powders, or when you make adjustments.
Many diaper brands have elastic around the waist and legs to help prevent leaks.
Some disposable diapers have petroleum-based lotions in the liner, and some are scented with light fragrance.
The lotion is meant to lubricate the skin and protect baby's bottom. Ilona J. Frieden, M.D., director of pediatric dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco Children's Hospital, says the lotions "may be helpful, but as with any additional substance there might be a small number of infants who are either irritated by, or allergic to, the substances added."
"The same can be said of fragrances," she adds, "except they are really there for the benefit of parents rather than infants, and so don't really serve a very good purpose. But true allergic reactions to fragrances in this age group are very rare."
Frieden says that fragrance is not something parents need to avoid, but that scented diapers "are certainly not needed."
These sides help the diaper to do a better job of molding to a baby's body, which can help stop leaks. Diapers with stretch sides can be more comfortable, too. This feature is found on disposable diapers and on waterproof cloth diaper covers and all-in-one cloth diaper styles.
Most disposable diapers have materials in the crotch padding that enhance absorbency.
Cutout (for Newborns)
Newborn sizes of many brands of disposable diapers have a curved front or cutout to avoid irritating the still-healing navel area. Some parents just fold a regular diaper down until the area fully heals.
Fashion and Style
You'll find plenty of diapers specifically for boys or girls, and not just because of where the most absorbency is placed in the diaper. Some manufacturers offer cartoon characters or patterns printed on diapers that are geared toward one gender or the other.
Cloth vs. Disposable
There are plenty of reasons parents argue about cloth vs. disposable diapers. Advocates of cloth worry about the environmental impact of disposables going into landfills, while users of disposables point out that putting diapers in a washing machine uses energy. Some cloth diaper users think their children get fewer diaper rashes and potty-train faster because they can feel when their diaper is soiled. Fans of disposables counter that their children get fewer diaper rashes because the super absorbent gel in most versions holds and wicks away wetness from a baby's skin and neutralizes the alkaline pH of urine, significantly reducing the risk of diaper rash.
"It's a great innovation that keeps your baby much drier than cloth diapers," Ilona J. Frieden, M.D., director of pediatric dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco Children's Hospital, says about disposable diapers. "Because of the gel in disposable diapers, irritant diaper rashes that were once commonplace are now rare."
In the end, let convenience and cost be your deciding factors. A lot will depend on your lifestyle, what you're comfortable using, and what type of diaper works best for your child. If your baby is in day care, for example, you'll need to use disposables, at least during the day. Some parents use cloth diapers at home and disposables when they're traveling.
If you're not sure which type of diaper to use you could try both types.