Guest Post: Flats Challenge with Elizabeth of Mothering The Maelstrom
This week is the Flats and Handwashing Challenge from Dirty Diaper Laundry. Bloggers and others from all over are using flat diapers and handwashing them in an effort to demonstrate exactly how economical it can be to use cloth diapers.
Cloth diaper use has skyrocketed in recent years, but the focus has been primarily on "modern" cloth diapers. All-in-one diapers with the waterproof cover built in are very easy to use, there's no doubt about that. With the elastic legs and velcro closures, they are basically a Pampers that you throw in the washing machine instead of the garbage.
But all this diaper technology comes at a cost. A decent all-in-one diaper will set you back anywhere from $15 to $25 for just one. While this is still a savings over disposable diapers in the long run, it can make it difficult for families on the bottom end of the economic spectrum to get started with cloth diapers. All-in-one diapers (and their cousins, the pocket diaper and the all-in-two diaper) can also be tricky to wash. Fancy fabrics require special detergents and special care to prevent build-up, leaks, and other problems. It doesn't take long to learn how to take care of cloth diapers, but any additional effort makes them one step further from being accessible to needy families. Let's face it, when you are struggling just to put a room over your head, you don't have a lot of time or patience to fuss around with diapers.
The answer, it seems to me (and to the folks at Dirty Diaper Laundry) is flat diapers. This diaper is an oldie but a goodie. One layer of fabric that is easy to wash by hand or by machine and also dries super quick on a line or in the dryer. Best of all, it's wicked cheap. Depending on whether you use exotic hemp or bamboo flats, or just regular old cotton flour sack towels from Walmart, flats can cost less than a buck a diaper or up to a few dollars per diaper. And frankly, the cheap flour sack towels work GREAT.
The trouble comes when you try to use them. Any mama worth her salt will get the hang of folding and pinning (or Snappi'ing) cloth diapers before too long, but when you show the diapers to less frequent or more harried caregivers like dads, grandparents, and teenage babysitters, they tend to balk. What quickly becomes second nature to the mama seems like an ancient and mysterious art to the uninitiated. Something like origami, samurai, and a little bit of sumo (for those wiggly older babies) all rolled into one.
It's quite overwhelming. Often caregivers, like daycare providers and dads, will just say "no way". It seems far too daunting.
So how do we build bridges between a very cost effective diapering solution and the community of caregivers that often helps support a low-income family? Make it EASY.
Easy. Easy. Easy.
Turns out you don't have to use all those fancy (and, personally, I think FUN) folds. You don't have to use sharp implements like pins or Snappis either. A little bit of velcro and one simple tip will do the trick.
It's called the pad fold.
If you can fold your dish towels, pillowcases, and washcloths, you can do this one too. You simply fold the flat diaper up into a rectangle about the size of a large feminine pad. No special instructions for this one, you do it any way you like. As long as you end up with a rectangle that fits between the baby's legs and doesn't reach their nipples or shoulder blades, you're good. Lay that pad into a waterproof wrap-style diaper cover and you've got yourself a cheap and easy diaper that anyone can use.
I recommend a velcro cover instead of snaps just because people are used to seeing velcro-type stuff as a diaper fastener so it seems more natural. One of my favorite low-price high-quality covers is the Tweedlebugs one-size cover. It is a one-size cover so it will fit the average baby from birth through potty training and at $9.95 per cover, you can't really ask for much more. There are tons of options out there though, and it can get even more economical if you are handy with a sewing machine and have some thick old fleece blankets nearby. You just need something with velcro and a nice snug fit.
So... if pad folding is so easy, why would anyone do anything else? Why bother with the kite fold or a Snappi?
There are several reasons, but the main reason is that when you pad fold, you are almost guaranteed to get poop on the cover each time the baby poops. You don't have to wash a diaper cover after each use. Just once a day or when it gets poop on it. So if you can keep the poop off of the diaper cover, you can get by buying less covers. Snappis, pins, and fancy folds help you do that. But pins won't do you any good if you can't get your caregivers to use them. And while buying more covers to get you through the day is more expensive, it's still light years cheaper than using disposable diapers.
Another reason you wouldn't pad fold is if you are using pull-on-style covers. These covers don't hold the flat in place as snugly as wrap-style covers do and it can slip to the side or even slip out. Pull-on covers need to be used with some kind of diaper fastener. But we don't want to scare skittish caregivers with pull-on plastic pants or (heaven forbid) wool soakers, and the pad fold is the perfect partner for a nicely fitting velcro wrap cover.
"But what about washing?"
Well, rinsing and washing poopy diapers is generally a deal-breaker for babysitters. Luckily though, flats are very forgiving. Just tell the babysitter to toss the diaper in the pail and you'll deal with it later. You can come back later and dump the poo in the toilet and swish if necessary. And diapers in the pail will wait for you until you have time to wash them. Oh yes, believe me, they will wait for you. They won't start washing themselves. But seriously, washing isn't as tough or time-consuming as it seems so you'll be fine. And tell grandma or the babysitter, "Just toss it in the pail". That will put their mind at ease.
The key is to make things seem easy and familiar. So if you'd like to start saving some money using flat diapers, but your babysitter says "no way", let them watch you change a pad-folded flat in a wrap cover, then toss it in the pail, and they just might come around.
Elizabeth Wickoren is a holistic parenting guru and free-range mama of four. She enjoys reading, quantum physics, and collaborating with local businesses and media to educate the public about holistic parenting. When the media doesn't have time to listen to her babble, she babbles to herself over at her blog, Mothering From The Maelstrom.