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The Quick and Dirty Guide to Pre-fold Cloth Diapers

With over five years' experience using pre-fold diapers, I've awarded myself a Master's degree in crunchy waste management. As my youngest is on the precipice of ditching diapers, I want to share some hard-won pre-fold knowledge before I forget it all.

It's not actually pre-folded (and a few other basics)

Actually, there's no need to fold a pre-fold, making diapers the easiest load of wash you'll ever put away. You do need to fold the outer two thirds in toward the middle before putting it on the baby, however. There's more padding in the middle third (the part of the diaper that's doing most of the absorbing), and less material on the outer two thirds. You could spend your entire pregnancy watching How-to-Diaper-Your-Baby tutorials, but this one is great. But really, you only need to watch one.

Start with a supply of two dozen diapers. You can always buy more and you'll definitely need to buy bigger sizes as your baby grows. You will also need:

1 | Diaper covers

Three or four is plenty, unless your baby has frequent blow-outs. The cover creates a waterproof barrier between the cloth diaper and the baby's clothes. You can get them with velcro or snaps. Snaps offer more adjustability and room to grow but are less convenient. Velcro, on the other hand, is more convenient, but if you plan to use the cover through multiple kids, velcro won't withstand all that washing and continue to adhere.

2 | Snappis

The Snappi is a stretchy, “Y" shaped alternative to safety pins. They have hooks on each of the three ends, which secure the Snappi to the cloth diaper in the front and hold it together. You only need one per diaper but they're like pens; When you need one, you need it bad, and they tend to get lost and wear out, so you'll want back-ups.

Pre-folds aren't the most high tech, but they do the job (well)

Pre-fold diapers may not be the best cloth diaper ever. Like most of my parenting decisions, I chose them because they were the first good-enough option I tried. Plus, I was tired of making decisions about all the things. (Decision fatigue is real.) Everyone said to try different cloth diaper systems, to see which one would fit our baby best. My brain was exploding. I wanted fewer choices, not more.

So when my in-laws gifted us with a month of diaper service, and the only option for the service was pre-folds, we were thrilled to sidestep yet another choice. Once we ditched the service, we stuck with pre-folds, mostly to avoid making another decision. Plus, pre-folds worked. They fit. They didn't leak. They were impermeable to all but the most powerful blow-outs, and the diaper covers were so darn cute.

If you use a diaper service, pre-folds might be the only option. This might be an issue of availability, as the diaper service in your area might not do pocket diapers (a.k.a. all in ones), or it might just be cost-prohibitive.

According to Kelly Epstein, owner of Eco-Baby Diaper Service, while the national trend is for diaper services to launder pre-folds only, some are starting to service pocket diapers. According to Epstein, because of pocket diapers' high cost, it's generally viable for the service to launder pocket diapers only with an upfront deposit and/or a contract, and for a much higher fee. Prices vary, but a pocket diaper generally costs as much as a dozen pre-folds, and you can expect to pay about double for a service to handle pocket diapers, versus pre-folds.

Washing them is seriously not a big deal

There are about 1,438,443 Pinterest posts on washing cloth diapers, but they're all saying basically the same thing. All you do is:

  1. Collect them in a large wet bag. Ours lines a tall trash can with a swinging lid.
  2. Put them through the rinse cycle.
  3. Wash in hot water with a tablespoon of Charlie's Soap.
  4. Throw them in the dryer for 60-90 minutes on high or hang them out to dry in the sun. Note that if you choose the latter, they'll be about as soft as cardboard. In the summer, I pop them in the dryer for five minutes with a damp washcloth to soften them after they've been hanging on the line.
  5. Stack them up and put them away. (No folding necessary!)

You might as well use cloth wipes

You're already doing a load of diapers, so it's no big whoop to throw wipes in, too. My favorite wipes are double-sided, thicker and rectangle-shaped, because they're user friendly and require zero folding. I store them in a used disposable wipes container (minus the lid) with enough water to keep them perfectly wet. (For five long years my husband and I have argued over the perfect moisture level. This is obviously a judgment call.)

You don't have to be a purist

There's nothing wrong with using a combination of disposables and cloth diapers. I changed my kids into a disposable whenever we went somewhere, at bedtime, and on those days when I just couldn't handle one extra thing. I also have a container of disposable wipes available at all times, because sometimes a cloth wipe just can't get into all the folds and creases. Remember, no one is grading you on your crunch factor. Do what works for you.

The liners are genius

I almost quit cloth diapers when our daughter started solids. I didn't have the sprayer you attach to the toilet, nor was there room in the bathroom for a diaper pail. I couldn't fathom carrying a poopy diaper from the bathroom back to the baby's room after wringing it out in toilet water. I know people do this, and I think it's awesome (I am literally in awe of them), but I just cannot.

Enter the liner. It's like a flushable panti-liner for diapers. The poop sticks to the liner, so you just hold the diaper over the toilet and let the liner and the poop fall in. While they aren't perfect, they will keep about 95% of the poop off the diaper about 90% of the time. Pro tip: Hold the diaper close to the toilet to avoid excessive splashing.

I'm not here to convince you to use prefolds. But if, like me, the myriad options of strollers, carseats, carriers, bouncy swings, and cribs sapped your decision-making energy before you arrived at the diaper question, I assure you, there's nothing wrong with using prefolds without researching every other option. If nothing else, prefolds are by far the most economical option. You can spend the money you've saved on sitters.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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