OK, many words. So sue me.
You may have noticed in the pictures below that our daughter had a rather colorful bottom. Those are her cloth diapers! When we were first thinking about kids, I started considering cloth diapers as an option. I asked J what he thought (because no one wants an unwilling spouse in this situation) and he said he was cool with it. Both of my sisters in law were cloth diapering as well, so I had some resources, as well as some places on the Internet to visit. And I'm getting sorta crunchy in my old age (see my organic sugar post and you'll see an example).
I still got a range of reactions to our desire to cloth diaper. "Ew, you'll have to scrape the poop!" (more on that later), "What a great idea!", "God bless you for even trying", and "Join the club." It turns out my mom cloth diapered my brother once she got a washer and dryer.
Once our adoption profile went active, I started building my stash of diapers. I had quite the collection by the time S arrived, and I went to town using them. J still thinks they're a bit too complicated for his taste, but I'm using them for everything but nighttime, and I'm moving on to cloth at night in the near future.
We're not militant about cloth diapers. We had a diaper rash issue early on, so we switched to disposables for a couple of weeks until I figured things out. We use disposables when out and about, or when traveling, just for the convenience factor. That, and I've been too lazy to get a proper storage bag for them. But I like the thought that I'm not spending tens of dollars every week or 2 for disposable diapers, I can just pop them in the wash, and it's really no harder than any other laundry I do on a regular basis.
Cloth diapers have come a long way since our moms and dads were using diapers. No pins, unless you want to go old school. Many, many options in terms of convenience, absorbency, and patterns/colors. Here are some examples:
The basic option is still the prefold. Basically layers of cotton fabric sewn together with extra thickness/quilting in the middle for absorbency. You can fold it in thirds and just lay it in a cover (more on that too), or you can do a variety of fold variations and close it with pins or a Snappi (shown). The Snappi works like those grippers you see when you have an Ace bandage on. One gripper on one hip, one on the other, and one at the crotch area. Voila!
A slightly more exotic version is the fitted diaper. Still all cloth, often cotton or some variation (eg, bamboo). This type of diaper has elastic around the legs to hold in the yucky stuff, and either snaps or a Velcro-style attachment to close the diaper. Some of these come with an added layer of fabric inside for increased absorbency.
If you're new to this, you're probably thinking, "But Dr L, these are all cotton-y fabric! Won't they leak all over the place???" Not if you have covers!
The diapers above require a waterproof or water-resistant cover to keep the yuckies where they belong. The cover on the left is made with polyurethane laminate (PUL), a waterproof layer of fabric that can be washed (this is key, of course). It has elastic and tabs like a disposable diaper, and literally covers the cloth diaper.
The cover on the right is made of wool. Wool is a great fabric, since it's breathable and water resistant. Plus it absorbs a lot of liquid, so you can have a pretty wet baby running around comfortably in a wool cover. And if you treat it with lanolin, you add more water resistance (because have you ever seen a dripping wet sheep? I didn't think so). It attaches over the diaper like the PUL cover. I will say now that I made that particular cover, and I'm quite proud of it.
Wool covers don't have to be as boring as mine ;) The one on the left is what are known as longies, basically a wool cover shaped like pants. S's has a cute little superbunny on the leg. The one on the right is also known as a soaker or shorties. You put it on like underpants (but over the diaper). It has a sewn in added layer, and it's made from a recycled sweater. Pretty cool, huh?
For those who want something that's more like a disposable diaper, there are all-in-ones (AIOs) or pocket diapers. They have elastic at the legs, tabs just like a disposable diaper, and a cloth inner layer with a PUL outer layer. You literally put it on like a disposable and go. The one above is sized. Just like disposable diapers have size 1, 2, etc., sized diapers have XS, S, etc. This was an XS pocket diaper I used when S was a super peanut.
Once a baby reaches 10 lb or more, they can go to one-sized diapers. The one above is another pocket diaper, but is has snaps so you can adjust the rise (the distance between crotch and waist) as the baby grows. While these tend to be more expensive than other cloth diapering options, they can potentially last from 10lb to potty training, making them worth it in the end.
So what's with the pocket diapers? They have an opening at one end so you can add layers of absorbency between the cloth layer and the PUL layer. The inserts above are examples of different materials used to make these inserts. Some are hemp (super absorbent). Some are cotton, or a blend. Some are microfiber. All are effective at adding layers of absorbency to your cloth diaper.
"But DrL, they must be a pain to wash!"
So far, no. Babies who aren't yet on solids have water-soluble poo (yes, I said poo), so you just run a rinse cycle in the washer and follow with a regular hot wash. Everything washes out into your sewage system, and you end up with nice clean diapers. Once babies start solids, you can go with flushable liners, rinse/soak your diapers (some people still do this, just like our moms did), a diaper sprayer that connects to your toilet, or (ew) scraping off the poo. We're going with liners. It's a personal preference.
So now I've gotten this off my chest. Maybe it will make you consider cloth diapers, or at least look into them as an option. Maybe you'll just see the cool colors and fabrics and think, "That's nice". Maybe you'll still be turned off by the yuck factor. I just wanted to talk about them today.