Saturday, February 27, 2010
CD 101 - Prefolds
I was initially attracted to the idea of cloth diapering to save money. I thought if I could buy reusable diapers, rather than disposables, that I could save some cash. And if you do it right, that is the case. Unfortunately I got addicted to cloth diapering, and bought one of every kind to try. Luckily I have found some things that work, so I have settled down on the buying sprees. Being broke helps too :)
The staples of our cloth diapering system is prefolds and covers for home, and pockets for daycare. If you are interested in cloth diapering to save money, then you will probably consider prefolds and covers for the majority of your cloth diapers. Often you can find "seconds" prefolds - diapers that have an irregularity or mistake in the sewing that are even cheaper than usual. These will be your best bet at saving money.
When I was first researching cloth diapering, I read that you can just fold a prefold in thirds ("trifolding") and lay it in the cover, and put it on the baby, and it works. I was skeptical. But it really does work. And when they get big enough to wiggle and crawl away nekkid in the middle of a diaper change, you need something fast like that.
Fastening prefolds: If you use a cover, this is not necessary. Some mamas use prefolds without covers, especially if the babe is just crawling around the house for the day. Some mamas say this helps with diaper rash. In this case, the prefold is fastened on with pins, or a device called a Snappi. This was supposedly invented by a dad, although I don't think a man would have ever come up with the idea of something that sharp near those nether parts. A Snappi has gripping teeth, similar to the metal things that hold Ace bandages on. It grips the parts of the front of the prefold together to hold it on.
I am very leery of using Snappis - they are known to come off the diaper and scratch, poke, or gouge babies and I imagine that hurts. Every once in a while there is a thread on a discussion board where a mommy had a Snappi injury to a baby and vows never to use the hateful things again. Other mamas swear by them. Just be careful. I don't use pins - some mamas swear by Dritz pins because they are so sharp. Other mamas recommend storing pins with their points pushed into a bar of soap so they slide through the fabric easily. I have no tips on how to do it without sticking yourself or your wee one - gonna have to ask someone else for that!!
Folding prefolds: You can search the web or cloth diapering boards for photos of each of these, plenty of mamas have done all that work for you. The simplest fold is the trifold mentioned above. This is good for babes with more solid poo, especially if they are down to one poo a day. With a trifold, poo easily gets on the cover, so you change the cover with the dipe. For newborns who are breastfed, who have runny poo, the jelly roll fold is recommended. For this fold, lay the prefold on the cover, lay the baby on the prefold, roll the sides in, pull it up through the legs, and fasten the cover on. The rolls around the legs help to keep the poo in the diaper, and keep it from getting on the cover. The angel wing fold is where you twist the front of the diaper before bringing it up between the legs - in my experience that just pushed the poo to the side. I used a modified newspaper fold for a long time - lay the diaper flat so the back edge lines up with the back edge of the cover, and lay the babe on that. Fold the front left edge 2/3 of the way across, then fold the right side so the edge lines up over the fold created by the previous fold (see why pictures are helpful here? I'll work on that.) Then bring it up between the legs and fasten the cover.
My preference is to use prefolds that fit inside the cover without having to fold the ends down. Infant sized prefolds fit will into the Thirsties Small covers that way, GMD reds (see below) fit in the Thirsties Medium covers well. If you do have to fold down excess, the recommendation is to put the folded thickness in front for boys and in back for girls. I have found that front is better for my wee one, so just experiment to see what works best.
Prefold sizing: Most prefolds come in three standard sizes: infant, premium, and toddler size. Traditionally, infant prefolds have a green serged edge, premium prefolds have a white serged edge, and toddler prefolds have a blue serged edge. There are a number of manufacturers that make other sizes with other color serging, and some diapers that are those particular sizes do not have those colors as their serged threads. So you should always go based on the stated size of the diaper, not the edge color. Green Mountain Diapers has a huge selection of sizes, and the serging color does represent the size. These are usually referred to by their color (i.e. GMD reds) so you can search FSOT if you are looking for a particular size.
We used the Baby Bunz newborn size prefolds to start. They are smaller than the standard infant size, and they are very inexpensive. They are probably similar to GMD yellows that some people recommend for newborns. If you are expecting a large baby you can probably skip to GMD oranges, or standard infant prefolds. If you know you are going to have one a little early (like I did) or you think your baby may be small at birth, you will probably welcome having smaller prefolds. I used them for a long time as nighttime nursing pads after they were too small to use as diapers.
We are now using GMD reds, as well as the standard premium size. The premium size is about 3 inches too long, so I fold that down in the front. The GMD reds are the right length. Another option is the Little Lions Capri size, which are premiums with some length cut off. I also have a few Knickernappies hemp prefolds, which are thick and soft.
Preparing prefolds: Prefolds come looking very flat, stiff, pressed, and pristine. To be good as diapers, they need to be quilty, fluffy, and absorbent. Therefore they need to be "prepped". The best way to "prep" prefolds is to wash them. Several times. On hot. Drying in between each wash. It's a pain in the butt. And it feels pointless to wash and then dry and then wash again. But it is necessary to make the diapers absorbent and soft. For cotton prefolds, three wash/dry cycles will get them in good shape to use for the first time. For hemp and bamboo, more (up to 6 or more) are needed, and more washing will get them to their full absorbency. For hemp and bamboo, the first few washes should be separate from other diaper laundry, so the oils you are washing out of the fabric don't get into your other diapers.
Prefolds in their package from Green Mountain Diapers.
The prefold on the left is straight out of the package, middle is after one wash, right is after two washes. Notice how the process of "prepping" causes some shrinkage, because the diaper is becoming quilted and soft.
Types of prefolds: Once you know what a "real" prefold looks and feels like, you will laugh at Gerber prefolds that they sell at Wally World. Some of the Gerber prefolds are just two or three layers of thin cotton. Others are stuffed with polyfill (think pillow batting) in the center (yea, I'm sure that's nice and absorbent.) To get good prefolds, you are probably going to need to order online, or visit a store that specializes in cloth diapering. The most popular ones are (in no particular order): Cotton Babies, Little Lions, Green Mountain Diapers, Diaper Rite, Baby Bunz ... I think that covers the good ones.
The best prefolds are thick and quilty, and absorbent (after all, they are being used as a diaper). I have used Baby Bunz, Cotton Babies, Little Lions, and GMDs. The first three are all very similar in thickness and quality. The GMD's do seem to be a little thicker, not enough to justify the price difference. The main benefit to GMDs to me are the size options.
Bleached vs. unbleached: The bright white prefolds are bleached cotton, the natural, tan colored are unbleached. Usually there is no difference in price, so it is purely a personal preference. Some mamas want "all natural" so they choose unbleached. Some mamas like crisp white diapers so they choose bleached.
Chinese vs Indian Prefolds: I have used both and there isn't a huge difference in functionality. Some mamas who pin say the Indian prefolds are easier to pin, since the cotton weave is just a bit looser. As long as your prefolds are "Diaper Service Quality" or DSQ then you know they will be thick and quilty and absorbent enough for your needs.
Other uses for prefolds: HAhahahahaha. If you are a true cloth diaperer, and if you buy the really nice prefolds, and if you go through the trouble of prepping them, you will never use your prefolds for anything other than diapers, or maybe nursing pads/burp cloths/changing pads/other baby uses. You will not ever let anyone touch your prefolds. You especially will never let your prefolds be used for any car maintenance, garage cleaning, silver polishing, etc.
The Gerber prefolds, however, are fair game for all of the above. :)
Update - I have tried the new Thirsties prefold - made of hemp jersey. It truly is buttery soft fabric, and has a unique design. More of a review, and photos, here. (This is now my favorite prefold diaper in the world.)
Another update - this has ended up being one of the most popular posts on my blog, and one of the ones that people find when doing searches. I feel like this post provides good information, but using prefolds might still seem complicated even after reading this post. So I wrote another, more simple, guide to prefolds - with action shots - here.