We should be the poster family for cloth diapers.
We grow our own vegetables, compost, and use cloth napkins. We reuse all that we can and recycle all else. We limit our consumption in as many ways as possible. By profession, my husband and I both help others learn how to minimize their impacts on the earth. Yet, when our first child was born we failed to live up to the eco-friendly stereotype: we used disposable diapers. Chalk it up to limited knowledge of modern cloth options, full-time jobs with too many hours, and a serious hesitation about asking generously care-giving grandparents to take on the task.
Fast forward 2 ½ years. Pregnant with our second child and feeling like a “seasoned pro” (weathered colic and a year’s worth of sleepless nights–check; mastered the art of breastfeeding and pumping for 15 1/2 months–check; conquered the poopy stage of potty learning–check), I knew I wanted to take a serious look at cloth diapers this time around.
For months, I researched. Remembering how small our daughter had been—5 lb 13 oz—I ordered infant prefolds, extra-small PUL covers, a small wool soaker plus a handful of extra-small pockets. I also began to build the stash for the later stages—starting with 10 one-size pockets. We added cloth wipes into the mix. As my due date got closer, I eagerly packed our bags for the hospital including our cloth—excited to begin from day one.
My due date came and went. Nearly a week past the date, our bouncing baby boy arrived weighing in at 8 lb 8 oz. If I’d had a moment to think about it, those extra-smalls would’ve looked, well, a little on the small side. As fate would have it, however, there wasn’t time to think about cloth. My son was unable to pass the fluid in his lungs and was quickly rushed off to the NICU (at our regional hospital 1 ½ hours away from the local hospital where he was born). Heartbreakingly, mothers are not able to be admitted along with their newborns so I had to tearfully say goodbye to my little one until I was released nearly 36 hours later. Priority number one became my son’s health and getting to him early enough to begin breastfeeding. So our lovely new diapers stayed in the bag during those early days when my husband, daughter and I lived in a hotel room until our son was discharged from the NICU. Thankfully, he came through just fine. Relieved and overwhelmed with gratitude, we headed home as a family. We brought home a small supply of disposables from the NICU—committed to using them up and then moving on to cloth.
Now the hard part is over we thought (yes, I know, foolishly). We had already had our colicky baby with number one so surely we would have an “easy” baby this time. Alas, our son screamed non-stop from the moment we left the hospital for the next three months. He spit-up 20-30 times a day or more. He refused to be put down. He would not calm unless being swaddled, vigorously rocked, and shushed simultaneously. Sometimes not even then. He cluster fed constantly and still shrieked in displeasure after eating. Still, we were committed to cloth diapering and so we began. There were some early challenges: wool irritated his skin, pockets caused his cord stump to bleed, my husband and I struggled learning to use prefolds. We supplemented with disposables until we figured it all out. And then, within a few weeks, he was too big for the newborn stash. UGH.
So we broke out the one-size stash and they fit our hearty guy well. We felt like we were beginning to hit our stride. We had a wash routine down. We rarely had blow-outs like we had with our daughter in disposables. Hubby even admitted that he liked these things. I ordered more pocket diapers and by two months we had a stash that was serving us well. My son was diagnosed with GERD and we began treating accordingly with medication. The colic phase came to an end. The spit-up began to slow down. All seemed to be going well.
That’s when the stinkies set in. Again, I delved back into research mode. Vinegar, bleach for inserts (ARGH—bleach!?! We don’t use that in our household!), stripping with multiple heavy duty cycles (that sounds like lots and lots of water!), changing detergents. There was lots of info to wade through and we tried it all. The stinkies remained. Soon my son developed a terrible ammonia burn that was awful and brought tears to both of our eyes. Enough. Back to the store for a supplemental supply of disposables.
After lots of troubleshooting and some good advice from Kelly’s Closet, we came to the realization that our HE frontloader and super hard water were the roots of the problem. I made a run to a laundromat with an oxidation washer and they were able to strip our diapers—leaving them smelling fresh and clean again. I retired our eco-friendly suds (keeping it for our clothes, of course!) and resigned myself to purchasing a big-name detergent that’s reputed to keep the stinkies at bay. This combined with another name-brand water softener and a revised wash routine and we’re back in the cloth-diapering business. Our son is four months old, weighs in at a solid 16 pounds and has a super-cute bum once again.
There are only a few parental lessons that I now feel “seasoned” enough to claim having learned: 1.) You can never know what to expect, 2.) Once you feel like you’ve got something down, it is bound to change and 3.) Try your very hardest and forgive yourself the rest. I’m becoming okay with being the poster family for good green intentions.
Nicole Magnan Caruso delights in being a mom to two beautiful little souls and is ever-so-thankful that she is now striking a better family/work balance as a part-time outdoor educator and yoga teacher. She is co-author of a textbook titled “Yoga for Students”. She and her family live in Maine and enjoy all things outdoors.