Cloth diapering our Baby Hab.: how we made the switch

September 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

When Melanie was born, Robert and I faced decisions we never before had considered. Will we puree our own food or buy prepackaged? Will we stick with breastfeeding or switch to the bottle? Will one of us stay at home or will we search for daycare? And, yes, what sort of diapers will we use?

We started with disposable because that is what the hospital used. We found them easy, convenient, and extremely quick. When Melanie was filling her diaper every 45 minutes, nearly just as quickly as I was filling her tummy, the disposables were a no-brainer. And those early breast-milk poops? Disposables. No-brainer. As her bodily rhythms started to clarify and regulate, our confidence increased. A friend of mine sent me some of her cloth diapers just to give a little try, zero pressure, and one day I bit the bullet. I actually felt nervous and scared and all of that. I don’t know what was scary, but I genuinely felt anxiety. (I found out that those anxious feelings are perfectly normal when embarking on the cloth diapering journey.) By the end of the day, my baby was still healthy and whole, sans diaper rash, plus adorable Hello Kitty butt. So, the next day, I tried it again. And before I knew it, I was noticing that those three diapers simply weren’t enough. Robert and I crunched the numbers and dove in.

Here is what I’ve learned about cloth diapering: practice makes perfect. The first time I tried to put a cloth diaper on Melanie, she peed all over it before I had closed it. So there goes that one. Just like disposables, when the baby pees on a clean diaper, you don’t just close it back up. I felt frustrated and discouraged because this happened a couple more times. But when I finally managed to get a cloth diaper on her (and she didn’t pee on it beforehand), I was overwhelmed by my sense of accomplishment. I had consulted my friend. I had conducted tons of research. I had purchased a tub of cloth-diaper safe diaper rash protectant. And there was my little girl: clad in a Hello Kitty diaper actually looking comfortable. Was I imagining it, or did she really look like she enjoyed the comfy feel of the soft diaper on her rear-end?

I have been wanting to write this blog for a while, but I wanted to be sure that my confidence was justified and that we had actually achieved a real rhythm before sharing my personal approach to cloth diapering with the world. So, now that I’m ready: here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Just like cooking, you need to have a mise en place.
Having a clear, organized set-up makes cloth diapering quick and easy. Granted, my set-up is not normally spread out on a blanket like this, but you get the point. (This is actually no different from disposable diapering–look at any nursery and you will see a designated diapering location complete with supplies near at hand.)

My cloth diapering mise en place–wet bin, baby wipes, butt balm, pre-fold cloth diaper, snappi, and pocket diaper. Everything’s in place. Wait…where’s the baby…?

2. Have a place for the wet diapers to go.
I found that by using a small-ish container for my wets (rather than, say, my Decor diaper pail) helps me keep the laundry going to avoid any unnecessary yuckiness. I also keep a baking soda tablet in the bottom of my basket, under the liner. I also do not keep dirty diapers in the basket. As soon as she poops in a cloth diaper, it is laundered along with any wets that may be ready for washing.

I bought a medium-sized plastic basket from Target and line it with a new garbage bag with each laundering.

3. Use the right kind of rash preventative.
Most “over-the-counter” diaper rash creams are off-limits for cloth diapers. If you check the ingredients and see any type of fish oil (for instance, Desitin uses cod liver oil), steer clear. Fish oils leach into the cloth diapers and make them smell fishy. Nasty. I have heard some cloth diapering mamas claim that they have never had to use any rash preventative, that cloth diapering miraculously prevents rashes on its own merits. Look. Diaper rash, like all rashes, is from an exposure to moisture and bacteria. You keep your baby in a wet diaper long enough, a rash will appear. Now what “long enough” means to your baby’s skin is really up to your baby’s skin. I prefer to prevent rash rather than have to try to cure it, so I have never diapered Melanie sans cream or balm.

I like Angel Baby Bottom Balm. It smells great and is easy to apply.

Angel Baby Bottom Balm is an amalgam of oils, so it naturally has an oily texture. I love it because Melanie’s bottom is always moisturized while simultaneously protected. She has never had diaper rash.

Angel Baby Bottom Balm may seem expensive at $9.95 for an ounce and $12.95 for two ounces. But I have found that I do not use as much balm as I do the creams, so I don’t go through the tub of balm as quickly. I also buy in bulk on Amazon.

4. Explore different diapering options.
When we were first cloth diapering, we did a combination of pre-fold diapering with pocket diapers. We simply did not use the liner insert with the pocket diaper when we were using the pre-folds. Now that she is older, we have moved on to using the liners only. The advantage of using the pre-fold with the pockets is that the pre-folds are surprisingly absorbent. This is particularly useful in the early days when there are several diaper changes in a day. Just change the pre-fold, and your little one can enjoy the adorable pocket diaper over a few diaper changes.

The snappi is particularly useful with the pre-fold. No more diaper pins!


Close-up of the snappi. See the reversed teeth? That’s the magic way it holds the diaper together while not hurting Baby.

5. If you go the pre-fold route, be sure that you know how to fold the diaper.
There are options in this arena, too. First of all, you can go really old school and use “flat fold” diapers. With the flat fold, you do have to learn how to fold the diaper several times over to create a thick enough barrier. Apparently there are women out there who can do this in a flash with enough practice. I chose to go with the “pre-folds” (Gerber, pack of 10) because they were less intimidating. These are pre-sewn so that the folding has been done for you with the layers focused in the center panel.

Pre-folds, just like flat folds, are generally meant to be “one size fits all.” Because of this, I found that Melanie needed the top folded down about an inch and a half. If you choose to go this route, just play around and go with what works for your little one.


The fold that was the best for us is called an “Angel Fold.” The Angel Fold makes gussets at the legs, which trap moisture so nicely. Before laying baby on top of the diaper, fold the edges in at an angle as shown. Place baby on top of diaper, bring center section up, and then open the outer corners to meet the back edges.

Angel Fold!


Super cute!


Secure with Snappi and off you go!

Note: if my instructions were lame and difficult to follow, see this extraordinarily helpful on-line guide to folding pre-fold diapers. This is where I learned my fold: Angel Fold. This woman also has some other folds listed here: Folding Pre-Folds. Practice different folds until you find the one that 1. you like best and 2. meets your baby’s unique potty needs.

6. Choose your diaper cover.
We love pocket diapers, but there are many many cloth diapers out there to choose from. Ours are Sunbaby Pocket diapers, size 2. We chose Sunbaby after an incredible tip from a cloth diapering friend of mine, as well as her generosity in letting us try out a few of hers before we made the financial commitment to a huge stash. (Thanks Vikki!) In fact, she has written a useful blog about cloth diapering, which is a must-read for anyone interested in going this route.

Sunbaby pocket diaper! The pocket is at the top and there are liners (with this company you can choose from a selection of liner types–we went with microfiber). The liners go inside the pocket. When we use the pre-fold, we skip the inner liner.


Sunbaby diapers, like many pocket diapers, have multiple snaps to allow for growth from 7-35 pounds!


All snapped up! Melanie was about three and a half months old in this picture, so she was on the smallest setting for her snaps.


The real reason we cloth diaper. Who can resist that adorable little rear-end?

7. Do what makes financial sense for your family.
Sunbaby pocket diapers can be purchased in bulk directly from the site or individually from sellers on Facebook. We went with new diapers (plus the three that we ended up buying from my friend after she let us try them out). We went with the set of 24 diapers and 24 inserts for $108. That comes to $4.50 for each diaper/insert pair. When there are other cloth diapers out there (I’m looking at you bumgenius) that cost upwards of $18 per single diaper, why would anyone go with a different company?? I know that $4.50 seems like a lot for a single diaper and liner pair, but we are saving tons of money on diapers every month. For the first two months before we cloth diapered Melanie, we were buying diapers every two weeks and spending between $150 and $200 on diapers a month. Why not just go ahead and spend the $108 upfront and then have the diapers all the time?

Of course, when it comes to cloth diapering, laundering becomes a major concern. I have paid close attention to our water bill over the past four months of cloth diapering, and this is what I’m seeing.

The second real reason we cloth diaper. This is our water bill from October 2011 (before Melanie was born) until this past billing cycle in August 2012.

In November 2011, before Melanie was born, our city increased our bill from $42.10 to $46. There was a newsletter that accompanied this change–it might have been to accommodate increase in pay for trash pick-up? I can’t remember. Anyway, that explains the spike in our water bill. From November 2011 (before Melanie was born, remember) until last month’s bill, our expense has consistently been $46. We started cloth diapering part-time in April, full-time in May. We have seen no change in the amount of money we are spending in water. Laundering is another obstacle to tackle in cloth diapering, so I will handle that in a different post so that I can spend the necessary time and attention on it.

8. Cloth diapering is a communal experience.
While disposable diapering is often treated like a private practice, cloth diapering requires opening and expanding horizons to include other cloth diaperers. The other cloth diapering parents out there come with advice, experience, and even gently-used hand-me-downs! I don’t know where I would be without my friend Vikki and all of her resources. Probably down several hundred dollars at least. So, type in “cloth diapering tips” in Google, follow the links that other people point to, watch videos on YouTube of people reviewing different types of cloth diapers, leave inquiring comments on people’s blogs and message boards. If I have discovered one crucial point about cloth diapering mamas, it is that they are eager to inform the uninitiated. Of course, you will trip over some of the militant crazies on your research journey, but try not to let the extremists scare you away. Their passion and zeal can be explained by their utter joy at finding what works for their family.

9. Parent according to your own personal style.
Everyone has something to say and add and opine over when it comes to parenting. I tell all new parents, given the utter expertise that I have earned in…seven…months. (*cough*) Anyway, what I tell new parents is that you have to allow yourself to do the best you can do. That does not mean perfection. It means always be ready to forgive yourself and your partner (if you are fortunate enough to have one), and remember that babies come with a fairly steep learning curve. You aren’t expected to know everything all at once. You can’t know everything all at once!

That said, when you are interested in exploring other options for your family, remember that there are all kinds of happy mediums. If you choose to cloth diaper, for instance, there is no rule that you have to cloth diaper for every situation for the rest of your life. We cloth diaper about 75% of the time, and I consider that full-time. When we are at home, Melanie is in a cloth diaper. Except at night, when she is in a disposable. Our diaper bags are stocked with disposable diapers because they take up less space. If there is a diaper change when we are out and about, we put Melanie in a disposable and bag up the cloth diaper in a deodorized trash bag. When we travel to other people’s homes, particularly if there is an overnight stay during our visit, we use disposables. My philosophy is that I refuse to impose upon someone else my personal choices. That means that I prefer not to use extra water and laundry supplies (detergents, etc.) when I have the ability to put Mel in a disposable instead. While we awaited our massive package of diapers from Sunbaby, I had three cloth diapers–so I alternated those throughout the day. If I didn’t feel like doing a load for the next day, then she was in disposables that day.

Bottom line: do what works for you.

10. Practice, practice, practice.
Whatever you do, approach diapering with patience. There are so many options, so many ways that you can interpret your child’s needs and preferences, that you have to allow yourself the time and space to learn. I was anxious and frustrated for the first couple of times that I put a cloth diaper on Melanie. But I promised myself that I would try it for a week. If I still hated it after a week, then I would send the diapers back to my friend. After the first week, I decided to give it a try for the rest of the month. If after the month I hated it, then I would return the diapers. I never hated it. The first couple of days were hard; I won’t lie. But they were hard in the way that all new parenting challenges are hard–the actual act of diapering wasn’t really that difficult. I just had to give myself the chance to learn.

Hopefully the next post I write will be about laundering cloth diapers. And hopefully that post won’t be too long in coming.

Battling the I Don’t Wanna’s, part two: giving in

May 28, 2011 § 9 Comments

Yesterday, I lowered my sword Steel Will, fatigued and drained. I stared up at the Dragon “I Would But” and croaked, “You win.” I fell to my knees, too exhausted to hold up my own body. “I Would But” spewed black bile of guilt, shame, and humiliation over my head, drenching me until I became invisible.

I met V at our coffee shop for our weekly debriefing meetings. In these meetings, we give each other progress reports, offer support and encouragement when it’s needed (and wag our fingers on occasion). Twice while we talked, I felt close to tears. But we were in public, and I had to gain some control over myself. Today, I don’t remember what brought me to tears. It could only have been utter emotional exhaustion.

V left to meet a friend for lunch, and I called Robert. “I don’t think I can do it today, honey,” I murmured over the phone. The shame I felt giving in overpowered my ability to speak at a normal volume. With nary a negative word, Robert agreed. “You have to listen to your body, Amanda,” he consoled me. I went home to my husband and ate lunch. We went to the movies (Hangover 2, which is a must see if you enjoyed the first). We had dinner and caught up on our TiVo recordings. I forgot to write a post.

I rested.

Today I will dig my way through the mire of guilt and humiliation. I will draw up Steel Will once more and climb to my feet. I will engage the idle Dragon in battle. And I will win.

What approval means to an approval-seeking people-pleaser

May 20, 2011 § 3 Comments

I thrive on being patted on the head. As someone who pats her own back so infrequently and rarely without a derisive back-handed remark, I practically need approval from others in order to breathe.

This began when I was told in kindergarten that I had behaved well enough to earn the prestigious privilege of first-choice when picking my sleeping mat for nap time. “Amanda,” I remember Ms. B saying so sweetly, “I have been very impressed with your good behavior. Today, you get to pick the first sleeping mat.” I popped out of my seat as fast as I could and practically raced the sorry chumps who were much worse behaved than I. Grabbing the most desirable mat (the one that was still a little bit fluffy and had fewer rips), I taunted the rest of the class with my trophy. I was a better student, a better example, a more-favoritest-favorite.

And now I’m 29 years old. And today, folks, today was an “Amanda gets the first mat” kind of day.

I met with my dissertation director this morning, and we discussed the three latest chapters I’ve given her. She said a few times throughout our two-hour meeting that she thought the writing was working, that I was really on track, and that she was impressed with the rate at which I was producing.

I am glowing, my friends! 🙂 Literally glowing. I have been all day long!

Approval from my director means approval from someone whose opinion I hold in extremely high regard. Approval from her means that I have pleased one of the most important people in my life. Approval from her means that it’s okay to give myself approval.

I do know this is backwards…but I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who seeks self-approval from the approval of others.

Today has been a wonderful day. I am making progress; she’s noticing; we’re both happy with the shape the project is taking.

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Battling the I Don’t Wanna’s

May 11, 2011 § 7 Comments

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where A-Ha moments happen every second of the day?

Why, it would take virtually no effort whatsoever to be motivated! Sure, it might be mentally taxing to have an inspirational thought every time you think, but still. At least then, you wouldn’t be faced with the I Don’t Wanna’s.

The I Don’t Wanna’s: a tough little army of reasons, excuses, justifications, and plain ol’ not-wanting-to’s whose prime objective is to keep you from your work. Like facing a moat or a fire-breathing dragon, you (brave knight) must face this barrier in order to rescue your work (sweet princess) from her assured demise.

My I Don’t Wanna’s come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they are as feeble as a mere “but I just don’t want to.” Easily hammered down and defeated. “But I have to,” comes my battle-axe response. Done. “But I just don’t want to” is no more.

Sometimes they are massive, scaly, venomous dragons with wings that beat deafening thunder. The Dragon “I Would But This Other Thing Takes Priority” buffets me with fiery guilt, shame, and regret. I am pelted by hailstones of “remember how you ignored this friend or that activity,” and I am almost always brought to my knees. Weakened. Humbled. Humiliated.

But, if we really are the brave knights we think we are, if we really do intend to accomplish the goals we ourselves set before us to accomplish, then we have no choice but to take to our feet again. Hoist that shield up. Draw the sword.

Our battle cry changes. “But I have to” becomes a mighty yawp of “I will because I want to!”

We charge the Dragon “I Would But,” raise the sword overhead, and push through until Steel Will slices through fleshy idleness.

We will be victorious.

The A-Ha Moment: dissertation edition

May 4, 2011 § 7 Comments

Alias: the eureka effect.

You know that moment in older cartoons when the mad scientist would stare contemplatively at his experiment and suddenly holler, “Eureka!” Typically much to the chagrin of a mild-mannered someone or something who inevitably jumps to the ceiling and hangs there by claws or fingernails until such time as the heart rate has been restored to normal.

Dissertation writers (hell, all writers really) experience the “a-ha” moment in fascinating moments.

In the shower.
Something about hot water, steam, and delicious-smelling soap allows seemingly incongruous thoughts to slip and slide inside the brain until: a-ha! They interlock.

Enthralled by television or engaged in a conversation.
Much like Dr. Gregory House, the stuck dissertator will hear that one right phrase uttered innocently by a New Jersey housewife or a dear friend, and all of a sudden: a-ha! The once occluded argument becomes not only clear but obviously so.

Over coffee, tea, or liquor.
The dissertator might whine and bemoan the project, distracted by her own monologue-turned-soliloquy, entirely ignorant of her miserable audience who foolishly asked, “how are you?” And then: a-ha! Twisting in circuitous and disjointed paths, the dissertator discovers her lost little point in the Forest of Angst.

In bed. Asleep…or otherwise.
Finally lulled to a state of ease, comfort, peace, and rest, dissembling barriers disassemble and tumble down to reveal a shimmering truth. Suddenly sitting up (perhaps to the disappointment of her sleeping…or otherwise…spouse), the dissertator exclaims: a-ha! Despite the inconvenience, she conceives the argument in perfect perfection.

Although Oprah, mistress of momentous moments, might pooh-pooh my single-minded construct of the “a-ha” moment, correcting my mistakes and warning me never again to err, perhaps she’s the limited one. Could an “a-ha” moment stretch beyond the sphere of self-actualizing psychological development? I believe so, yes. You see, friends, the dissertator’s “a-ha” moment is a precious commodity; infrequent, sparse, and rare, it lives at the threshold of insecurity and pride. Seek it too doggedly, and it will shrink into fear and doubt, the best cloaks of invisibility this side of Hogwarts. But ignore it, heed it no mind, hell even forget about it, and it will crash into you at full force.

I had an “a-ha” moment yesterday morning while reading, again, Twelfth Night. And, for fear of frightening it, I have only shared the revelation with a few trusted friends. I will attempt to “raise it,” as one of my committee members put it today at lunch. For, she told me, nobody else will do it for me.

In the meantime, if you and I are in a conversation, please disregard any future exclamations of “eureka!” that may issue forth from my entire being. Revel in them with me, won’t you?

Meditation on the Writing Process and Dissertations: Time for a wee break

May 3, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’ve been feeling a lot like a loser lately. And that’s only in the sense that in the wake of an uber-productive weekend (including two revised and polished chapter drafts sent back to my dissertation director), I have been extraordinarily unproductive. Sunday, I chose to rest after grading without feeling guilty about it. And I did rest. And I did not feel guilty. Monday, I did major domestic chores, which included paying bills for a couple of hours and filling out a job application for the Princeton Review so that I can proctor an LSAT exam in a few weeks. I didn’t expect either of those tasks to take as long as they did, but the Internet was acting rather slow for me…I imagine it’s because of Osama Bin Laden’s death, honestly. I think people were clogging up the Interwebs, if such a thing can happen.

Today, though.

Today I have been productive. I’ve read Twelfth Night, which I’ve been trying to do (according to my schedule on iProcrastinate) since last Wednesday. I’ve dog-eared the passages that will be particularly useful to my argument in Chapter Three. And now I’ve chosen to take a little break, not a nap, before plugging away at the segment on Twelfth Night.

As much as I fight it and struggle with guilt, breaks are important. They afford us an opportunity to take a breath, to walk away from the project, to gain some perspective. They might even allow us to recharge our batteries, reignite our motivation to work, offer us the chance to talk to someone else. As I write this massive project, the largest project I have ever worked on, I have had to reevaluate my writing process, my research process, even my very thinking process. How I create ideas, cultivate them, and rework them until they’re cogent has been entirely different from any other project I’ve worked on. No, not even seminar papers (those little conference-papers-to-be or wanna-be-publications) in all their 20-to-25-page glory are developed in quite the same way as a dissertation. I was once told, and I once naively believed, that writing a dissertation is doable simply because, in theory, it’s five or six seminar papers smushed together.

For those who have wisely avoided graduate school (I kid, but only a little), a seminar paper is the end-of-semester culmination of theory and application for a single course that tends to take an overwhelming majority of the total course percentage. If you bomb your seminar paper, you’re in a pretty bad place. Seminar papers can range in required page counts, but most fall between a requisite 20-30 pages minimum. In my line of experience, most professors ask for a 20-25 page paper.

Theoretically, a dissertation chapter would fall on the high-end of a seminar paper page range. But, no, dissertations are not five or six seminar papers smushed together. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a bold-faced liar and you should call them so to their face.

The difference is fairly stark:

1. Dissertations require you to maintain a single theoretical argument from page 1 to page 250. You have to span chapters with this single argument. The success of your dissertation can hinge a great deal on how well you articulate and consistently discuss that argument. It’s all about the follow-through. A 20-25 page paper, though long and daunting in its own way, simply doesn’t have the same requirement about it.

2. Although most PhD candidates will have written more than five or six seminar papers in their entire graduate careers, they likely will not have consistently written on the exact same topic from paper to paper. Frankly, doing so is improbable because of the very nature of graduate work. If a student has had the opportunity to take several graduate-level classes that have curricula identical enough to warrant repeat topics, then that student has been done a vast disservice. Although I haven’t had a graduate-level American lit. course, a fact that I would correct given the opportunity to, the British lit. courses I’ve taken at the graduate level simply did not make it possible for me to write on the same topic consistently.

3. The composition of a dissertation is less about the writing and more about the pre-writing. Yes, pages are what matter. If you have not written a page, then you have not really begun “writing” your dissertation. However. More often than not, the conceptualization of a dissertation takes a long time. (The amount of time differs on an individual basis, but for me, it was two years.) During this time, the candidate is conducting research, asking questions, coming to conclusions, and assessing other writers’ arguments in order to make their own. If a dissertation-writer failed to take the time (however long that is for their own purposes) to do the research and ask the questions and come to the conclusions, then that student’s own argument simply cannot be taken seriously. (How can one claim expertise on a subject, claim even a convincing opinion, when the proper steps have not been taken first?)

Because I am still learning the intricacies of dissertation-writing, I’ll leave my list there for now. But I will clarify this point once more: the dissertation is unlike any writing project I have ever undertaken before. That alone requires me to rework my writing process until it is something that I can sustain over the course of a years-long writing project.

Break’s over. On to Chapter Three.

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