The New Diaper Primer

Chapter 4: How Much Diapering Do I Need?

In a word, 24 ounces. Right! That's one and-a-half pounds of cloth! Now, typical underpants weigh 3 to 4 ounces, so doubling up on the underpants to come up with 6-8 ounces is just not going to work. The underpants are like the handkerchief in the absorption experiment!

Now let's talk about how we arrive at this conclusion and, yes, you will be able figure your own best diaper weight depending upon your circumstances; there are times that 16 ounces or less might do.

From some experiments conducted a while back, this writer found his void rate averaged two ounces per hour. The rule of thumb we developed, which has never failed (that is, no leakage), calls for wearing double the weight in cloth of your expected voiding. Let's take a 6-hour outing. Six hours times two ounces equals 12 ounces. Double that, and wear 24 ounces of diapering. Obviously, your voiding rate will depend what you drink and when you drink it. But these numbers give you a place to start that is conservative for most. You can cut down on diaper weight carefully to suit your particular needs; but we'd rather have you start off with no leaks and work down to less diapering than to start out light and suffer the embarrassment of leaks while you are trying to discover what works.

Let's define wetness (of cloth diapers only!) in some very basic terms so that we can all be on the same page.

Dry Diaper:

One or no wetting episodes. A cloth diaper gets wet in the crotch first. Checking diaper condition by sticking a hand under the waist band of your plastic pants will reveal the front, sides and rear to be dry.

Damp diaper:

Two or more wettings. Wetness spreads into the seat of the diaper and up to the front waist band of the plastic pants. A condition check reveals that the front waist of the diaper is wet to the touch, but the sides and rear are totally dry. There is no noticeable weight or sag.

Wet Diaper:

Many wettings, lots of wear time. The wetness spreads into the sides and starts up the rear toward the back waist band of the plastic pants. The condition check reveals the front and sides of the diaper are wet. The rear waist feels damp, and there is noticeable weight or sag to the diaper. This is the ideal time to change the diaper. You have gained your worry-free time from that diaper.

Soaked Diaper:

Close to saturation and the danger point of leaking. The condition check reveals front, sides and rear of the diaper are wet right up to the waist band of the plastic pants. The diaper is heavy, feels dense in the crotch, and sag is definitely a factor now. You are well overdue for a change.

Before you jump into cloth diapers with both feet, may we suggest experimenting with towels as "entry level" cloth diapers? If you find you cannot tolerate the bulk, the pinning, the washing and the drying...well, you still have towels that are useful for utility purposes and not a collection of commercial diapers that would then become expensive rags/polishing cloths. To start off with cloth diapers, may we further suggest that you wear cloth only for bedtime. Continue with the disposable diaper routine that you worked out for your daytime protection. Just switching to cloth at night will save you money in disposable costs and will show you how much nicer cloth diapers are. You will definitely need plastic pants (see our segment 8), whereas up until now you may have never used waterproof pants with your disposable diapers and may not own any.

For the towel "entry level" introduction, visit to your local Sears or some large department store and peruse their bed and bath section for towels. First of all, be sure to look for 100% cotton content. Cotton "diaper particles" work better than all others! Next, look for lighter colors, preferably white. Darker colors mean dyes that we really don't need against our skin for prolonged periods in a wet condition. Then, swing by the infants section and pick up some diaper pins and look for infant diapers; both hard to find these days. The "flat fold" variety which measure 20 X 36 inches or 27 x 27 inches is all but extinct; if you can find them, grab them now. The vast majority of infant diapers are "profiled" and not worth getting; they're just not big enough. If you don't find any now, skip it. There is no real need yet, as we are only preparing a night diaper for now. Lastly, swing by the household goods section to find a kitchen-sized plastic trash bucket with a tight fitting snap on lid to use for your diaper pail.

A check of our own towels yielded a "bath" towel measuring 25 X 46-inch with some good "heft" or thickness to it, weighing 17 ounces. Another, lighter bath towel at 24 X 44 inches weighed only 9 ounces. A slightly smaller towel, 23 X 40 inches also weighed 7 ounces. You could start checking on what you have in your linen closet, and if you have 100% cotton towels already, start there, and replace them with nice new towels for your normal drying duties, keeping the older diaper towels separate. You may want to even label these with a permanent marker to ensure that these "diapers" don't get inadvertently used again as towels.

Let's put together a night diaper. Assume ten hours (watching TV then going to bed) and multiply by two for 20 ounces to come up with 40 ounces. OK, that's a lot. We'll relax the rule for night-time, as long you wear at least 30 ounces. You will be wetting into the "safety factor" but you will be safe in your own bed, assuming of course that you have proper mattress protection (see segment 10) and good-fitting waterproof pants.

Gather three towels similar to those just described above. Cloth diapers means multiple diapers to me; (it always did and always will). It allows adjusting the diaper weight to meet various needs. Our method for pinning on diapers utilizes multiple diapers effectively to maintain snugness and hence a more comfortable fit over time as the diaper gets wetter and heavier.

Take the largest one and spread it out on the rug (yes, the firm surface of the floor is preferable to the soft, sinking surface of the bed). Fold one end in about a foot so you have a towel that's still 25 inches wide, but the 46-inch length has been reduced to about 34 inches. The doubled-over part is the back or rear of the diaper. Take the next, slightly smaller towel, and repeat on top of the first one, but make the double-back fold in front this time. Fold the third, light towel, in half lengthwise, and double the front about a foot to make a "soaker" strip about 11 inches wide and 30 inches long and place it centered on the other towels. If you add up the weights, you have a 35-ounce diaper, which is fine for the 10-hour planned period.

The 25-inch wide towel will accommodate waist sizes up to around forty, not fifty, inches because you need to overlap the toweling and pin the back portion to the front portion. That takes a few inches of towel width. If you really want to do the math; assume a 36-inch waist. The towel is 25 inches so 25 X 2 equals available towel, which is 50, minus the waist (36) equals 14 inches divided by two (front & back) equals 7 inches divided by 2 (for overlap) equals 3½inches of overlap...that is; you have 3½ inches of towel surface available for pinning the diaper together. When that overlap drops down below 2 inches, you'll find it gets to be a struggle to pin. If you have a fuller waist, simply look for larger may want to pick out towels that are 30 inches wide. (Fitting and pinning is covered in a separate segment.)

Pull on plastic pants, and you are ready for bed. We guarantee that this "towel diaper" will feel strange if it is your first experience with cloth. A disposable diaper is so thin, it feels nearly the same as regular underwear, at least for cloth-users. Now you are going to have all this bulk - soft and squishy. We ask you to put up with it because it is only an experiment. You aren't going to be walking anyplace; you are not leaving the house, and you are going to spend most of the time in this "fat, soft, bulky" diaper sound asleep. Who knows, you may end up liking terrycloth towel diapers and would not want to wear cloth by day anyway, so you may be all set at this point.

As you test cloth diapers, use the condition check we established. If you are wearing cloth on the light side, check after just a few hours to see whether your diaper is dry, damp or wet. Be sure to stop and change by the "wet" level. Do not continue into the soaked level unless you want to deal with a leak and wet furniture. Only after you develop considerable experience should you take a chance by continuing without a change after the diaper reaches the wet level.

For those who find this procedure unworkable, that is, they just can't get used to the bulk or the sensation, or they find diaper pails and laundry are not for them, they now have extra towels and just go back to the throw-away convenience of disposables.

For those who find that they like the feel and security of cloth and have come to terms with the diaper pail and the laundry routine but who want less bulk than the towels, they are ready to "move up" to commercial diapers. We cover diaper types in Segment 7. The majority of commercial diapers are not terrycloth; they give you the necessary cotton weight with significantly less bulk than the terrycloth towels.

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