Everything New Parents Need to Know About Baby Diapers

baby diapers

If you are expecting a baby, or you already are a new parent, you may be surprised at the amount of baby diapers your child will go through. During the first few days of your baby's life, you may feel like you are all thumbs as you try to diaper her tiny bottom. Don't worry! Soon you'll be able to diaper like a pro. Diapering can be a little tricky at first, though, and you may also be undecided on what type of diapers to buy.

Choosing the Right Diaper for You

There is no right or wrong answer to which type of diaper you should buy. Ultimately, you need to settle on the type of diapers that work best for your lifestyle, needs, and budget. It doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. Many parents settle on using a combination of cloth and disposable diapers depending on the situation. Some things to consider when choosing diapers:

  • If your child is in daycare, some centers only accept disposable diapers.
  • Some parents choose cloth diapers during the day when they can provide more frequent changes and disposable diapers at night to prevent leaks and keep baby comfortable.
  • Some parents choose to use cloth diapers at home and disposable diapers when going out to maximize convenience.
  • On vacation, you may also want to take a supply of swim diapers so your baby can engage in water play.

Will It Be Cloth Diapers?

There is a lot to love about cloth diapers. Made from natural fabrics such as cotton, cloth diapers are considered an eco-friendly alternative to disposables. In addition, there are a lot of options available now that make cloth diapering relatively convenient.

Diaper Service

Diaper services provide a certain amount of clean diapers each week, delivered to your door, and the service launders the soiled diapers for you. They can save time because you don't need to do the laundering yourself. It can also save you water and electricity, since laundering cloth diapers requires a lot of both. Diaper services also typically provide diaper covers and your choice of the type of cloth diaper you prefer.

Flat Diapers

These cloth diapers are a large rectangular diaper that requires folding for use. They tend to be the most affordable of all diapers. These diapers also require a diaper cover to hold them in place and prevent leaks.

Prefold Diapers

Prefold diapers have three sections. The middle section is the thickest and most absorbent section. Prefold diapers are typically made of natural and absorbent materials, but they still require the use of a diaper cover. Prefold diapers tend to be slightly more expensive than flats. They also require some folding to adjust to the size of the baby. Usually you do this by gathering slightly between the legs and folding down the top.

Fitted Diapers

Fitted diapers have a shape similar to disposable diapers, so they don't require folding. However, they are not waterproof, so, they still require the use of a diaper cover. the diapers typically close with snaps, and they are washable, adjustable, and easy to use.

Accessories for Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapering does require the use of accessories such as a diaper cover. There are also a few things you can buy to make your job a bit easier.

Diaper Inserts

Also known as diaper liners or diaper booster pads, these disposable absorbent pads slip inside a cloth liner for added protection. Once soiled, you throw them away. Some diaper inserts are also made of a washable cloth, as well.

Diaper Covers

Diaper covers go over cloth diapers to hold them in place and prevent leaks. The covers are contoured to baby's body, with gathers around the legs. They come in an array of materials and sizes and have either snaps or Velcro closures so you can adjust them to your baby's waist size. To use a diaper cover:

  1. Fold the cloth diaper and put it on the baby, holding it securely with fasteners.
  2. Place the diaper cover over the diaper with the closures in front.
  3. Adjust so it completely covers the cloth diaper.
  4. Secure it using the adjustable snaps or Velcro, so it fits snugly over the cloth diaper.

Diaper Fasteners

Cloth diapering requires some type of device to close them, and keep them in place.

  • Diaper pins: Traditionally, this device was a simple safety pin. You can still buy diaper pins. You will need at least two to securely fasten the diaper - one for each side. Pin the diaper through all layers to ensure it is securely in place. Many mothers don't like diaper pins because they worry they will accidentally stick the baby.
  • Snappi: These ingenious little diaper fasteners are made from a stretchy band with hooks that holds diapers securely at three points. To use a Snappi, place one point on the lower front of the diaper, and stretch the other two sides up to hook each foldover on the sides of the diaper securely in place.
  • Boingo Fastener: These fasteners have hooked grips that hold the diaper securely. You use them in the same place on the diaper as you'd use diaper pins, but they are less likely to stick the baby. To use, stretch the fastener from the fold of the diaper across the front of each side to the center of the diaper to hold it securely in place.

Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers

There is a long-standing debate about whether cloth or disposable diapers are best. Each has their pros and cons. The pros and cons of cloth diapers include:

Pros Cons
  • Cheaper, unless you use a diaper service
  • Resuable
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Come in an array of materials such as flannel, terry cloth, and cotton
  • Contain no dyes, gels, or other chemicals
  • Some parents feel cloth diapers make potty training easier because kids notice the wet immediately

  • Cloth diapers can also be used for other purposes, such as lint-free cleaning cloths

  • You buy diapers once or twice and don't need to purchase anymore

  • Can be difficult to learn to use
  • Requires use of pins and/or diaper covers
  • Requires laundering, which uses more power, water, and detergent than disposable diapers
  • Less absorbent than disposable diapers
  • Requires more frequent diaper changes
  • Can be messy
  • Leaking may be a problem, even with a diaper cover
  • If baby soils diaper when you are out, you will need to carry a smelly diaper in the diaper bag with you
  • Can be expensive if you use a diaper service
  • You have to rinse them out in the toilet when soiled

How to Change a Cloth Diaper

Once you've gathered everything you need (a cloth diaper, diaper pins, diaper cover and something to put the dirty diaper in), you're ready to change your baby's cloth diapers.

  1. Keep diapers, covers and wipes nearby so that you can change your baby safely.
  2. Be sure that you keep any diaper pins out of reach of baby as well.
  3. Place a cloth diaper over a little boy's penis, since boys have a tendency to urinate as soon as their diaper is removed.
  4. Clean baby's bottom gently with a diaper wipe. If your baby has had a bowel movement, wipe your baby's bottom with the cloth diaper first before using the wipes.
  5. When you clean baby's bottom, be sure to wipe from front to back. This is especially important for baby girls to reduce the risk of a bacterial infection.
  6. As you clean, lift baby's legs up and wipe her lower back as well.
  7. Once baby is clean, it's time to place the diaper under her. If it isn't prefolded, you'll need to do this before placing the diaper under baby.
  8. Pull the diaper up through baby's legs, smoothing out the cloth to keep it from bunching up between her legs.
  9. Overlap the fabric on both sides, pulling the cloth around baby so that it fits snugly.
  10. Before you begin pinning on the diaper, place your hand between the diaper and baby's skin to protect her from accidentally being stuck by a pin.
  11. Dip or shake the soiled diaper into the commode if you need to dispose of any solid waste, then place the diaper into the pail.

Soiled Diapers

Once the baby has soiled the diaper, remove it and place it in a tightly sealed diaper pail. Some parents choose to use a diaper pail that has water and baking soda in it to keep odors at bay, but this may set stains into the diaper. Since you will be laundering diapers every day to every other day, a dry pail that is tightly sealed should suffice.

When you are away from home, keep a supply of plastic bags in your diaper bag, so you can seal dirty diapers in them before you put them in your diaper bag. Place the soiled diaper in the bag, twist it once or twice, and tie it tightly. Alternatively, you can put dirty diapers in a large zip seal bag until you get home.

Cleaning Cloth Diapers

If you aren't using a diaper service, it's important you clean your baby's cloth diapers well to keep them sanitary.

  1. If the diaper is soiled with feces, shake it off into a toilet and rinse the diaper in the toilet to remove it.
  2. Keep diapers sealed in a diaper pail until it's time to wash them.
  3. Wash diapers separately from other laundry.
  4. Follow manufacturer's washing instructions for diaper covers and fitted diapers.
  5. For HE washers, use only one-eighth cup of detergent. For regular washers, use one-fourth cup. Do not use fabric softener.
  6. Don't overload the washer.
  7. Wash regular diapers on a cold/cold cycle using a fragrance-free detergent to get out stains.
  8. To sanitize the diapers, wash them a second time on a hot/hot cycle with extra rinse using the same detergent.
  9. Only use bleach if you're fighting infection.
  10. Tumble the diapers dry.

Other Uses for Cloth Diapers

One of the great things about cloth diapers is their usefulness. Even after your baby outgrows diapers, you can use cloth diapers for many things including:

  • Burp rags
  • Lint-free cleaning cloths for mirrors, windows, glassware, and other surfaces
  • Dust rags

Maybe Instead It Will Be Disposable Diapers?

Many parents choose disposable diapers for their convenience and ease of use. These diapers are super-absorbent and they typically have either adhesive or Velcro fasteners. They come in an array of sizes to fit babies from preemies up to large toddlers.

Biodegradable Diapers

Some disposable diaper companies are now offering "green" options for disposable diapers. These diapers typically contain fewer or no chemicals, fragrances, and dyes, and they use natural materials like corn or wood pulp that are more likely to biodegrade in landfills.

Pros and Cons of Disposable Diapers

When considering disposable diapers, keep in mind the following pros and cons.

Pros Cons
  • Convenient
  • Easy to use
  • Don't require laundering
  • Easy to dispose of
  • More absorbent, so your baby will probably require fewer changes
  • Less likely to leak because they are elasticized around the legs
  • Wick moisture away from the skin, keeping baby more comfortable
  • Expensive - Consumer Reports estimates disposable diapers cost between $1,600 and $2,500 more than cloth (check out these money saving tips)
  • Easy to pull the fastener tabs off if you aren't careful
  • May contain dyes, chemicals, and gels that may be irritating to your baby or harmful to the environment
  • Some babies may have allergic reactions to the diapers
  • Don't decompose in landfills
  • May make potty training more difficult because toddler can't feel wetness next to his or her skin
  • You need to repurchase diapers frequently, making running out a possibility


When your baby soils his or her diaper, you can just throw it away. It's best to keep a dedicated container for disposing of dirty diapers. Many people like systems such as the Diaper Genie. It allows you to seal the diaper in plastic before disposing of it in a special pail that helps keep odors at bay. If you are in public, you may not want to dispose of soiled diapers in restrooms for sanitary reasons. Keep a supply of zipper bags or plastic bags in your diaper bag and seal soiled diapers tightly in them for disposal in public trash bins or at home.

Stocking Up

If you are a new parent, you may be surprised at just how quickly you go through diapers, as well as how quickly your baby changes diaper sizes. Some general rules of thumb for stocking diapers for a baby include the following:

  • Diaper Junction recommends stocking at least 18 to 20 cloth diapers for your baby. This allows for several changes each day with extras for when you are laundering them every other day.
  • The Real Diaper Association recommends having four to six diaper covers in your baby's size.
  • The American Pregnancy Association recommends changing a baby's diaper every two to three hours, although you don't need to awaken a sleeping baby for a diaper change. This means you'll need between five and eight diapers per day.
  • Newborn sizes typically go up to about 10 pounds. Since your baby will grow quickly, you may only need newborn sizes for a few weeks to few months depending on your baby's size at birth and growth rate. Don't overstock newborn sized diapers, because you may find you don't need them for long. Instead, purchase a package or two of diapers in the next size up (usually for babies up to 14 to 18 pounds) to use in a pinch.
  • If your baby is very small (typically under six pounds), he may need preemie-sized diapers for a week or two.


Keeping diapers handy so you can quickly change your baby requires good storage options. Many parents opt for a dedicated changing center that includes a diaper stacker or organizers.

Diapering Tips

Probably the first person to diaper your newborn won't be you or your spouse, but instead a nurse. The nurses in the hospital will diaper your baby after he has been examined and cleaned. Then, they'll bring him back to you. However, you'll still have plenty of opportunity to diaper him before your hospital stay is over. In fact, it is a good idea to ask for help from the nursing staff if you need it.

Umbilical Cord

Your baby's umbilical cord won't fall off for at least a week or two. Until then, you'll have to take extra care to keep the area around the cord clean and dry. You can either purchase baby diapers which have a section cut out of the front to fit around the belly button area, or you can simply fold down the top of the diaper until the cord has fallen off.


If you have had your infant boy circumcised, you'll still need to keep a diaper on him. Your doctor may instruct you to keep gauze with Bacitracin or petroleum jelly around the circumcision until it has healed. You'll want to change the gauze after each diaper change.

A Personal Choice

When deciding how to diaper your baby, it comes down to personal choice. By educating yourself, you can determine the right diapering strategy for your lifestyle and budget.

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Everything New Parents Need to Know About Baby Diapers