Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Primer on Prefolds

I recently started cloth diapering my daughter (just a few months ago), and was instantly addicted. I think I've read everything there is to read about it. It seems these days every one is interested in pockets and fitteds and other trendy options, but I adore my prefolds, and they are definitely the cheapest option for cloth diapering. So I put together this primer on using prefolds for newbies.
What are prefolds?
The original cloth diapers were flat pieces of fabric that then are folded so that there is a thick section of fabric in the center for absorbancy. Prefolds are sewn in rectangles with extra layers in the middle so that you don't have to do the multi-step folds required for a flat diaper. However, prefolds are still big rectangles that need to be folded/twisted/rolled to actually fit on a ba by.

What size do I need?
The standard sizes of prefold are Preemie/Newborn, Infant, Regular, Premium, and Toddler. Unless your baby is very small, you can get away with just the Infant and Premium sizes if you're on a budget, but the Infant prefolds will be big right at the beginning. Regular and Premium prefolds are actually the same size, but the number of layers of cotton is less in regular prefolds, so they are better for burp cloths and such, but Premiums make more absorbent diapers. And unless your toddler is very big, you shouldn't need Toddler prefolds. Although I have heard they make great changing pads, because of their large size.

Gerber prefolds like they sell at discount and baby stores are not as absorbent as the prefolds that most people use for cloth diapering these days. They will work, but they are flimsy compared to the prefolds you buy from a real cloth diapering store, which are considered Diaper Service Quality (DSQ). Prefolds are usually available as Bleached Chinese prefolds, or Unbleached Indian Cotton prefolds. I prefer the unbleached Indian prefolds, because they are softer and hide stains better. I also like their natural look. Cotton Babies has a nice comparison and good prices on standard-sized prefolds. Often, Premium prefolds need to be folded down in the front or back to fit your baby. To solve this problem, Green Mountain Diapers (GMD) and Little Lions sells prefolds that are shorter than the average Premium prefold. GMD diapers are very popular, but they are a bit pricier, especially with shipping costs.

What do I do with the prefold?

  • You can just fold the it in thirds and put it in a snapping or velcro wrap-style cover to hold it in place. (That's what we normally do as it's very fast/easy, but doesn't give a tight fit for runny poops.) Some popular covers are Thirsties and Bummis Super Whisper Wrap, but my favorite is the new one-size Blueberry Coverall.
  • You can also use prefolds with old-fashion diaper pins or a Snappi under a pull-on or wrapping cover. (I have done both - pins can give the best fit once you master them, but there is a steep learning curve; Snappis are much easier and still ensure a snug fit, but still take more time than just using a wrapping cover.) Pull-on covers can be the old plastic pants from Gerber, or nylon covers such as those from Dappi or Bummis, or they can be "soakers" made from wool or polyester fleece, which aren't technically waterproof but do keep moisture from soaking on to sheets and other fabrics. This site has some good tutorials on popular ways to fold and pin/snappi a prefold.
  • Some people use prefolds in gDiapers. With the gDiaper, you still need to use the liner and cover, because the cover isn't waterproof. You can use infant prefolds in place of the flushable gdiaper inserts. I haven't tried this, but someone who uses it as her primary system told me she tri-folds her infant prefolds when they come out of the dryer, and lets the covers and liners air dry. When the gdiapers are dry, she snaps in the liners, and lays in the prefold so that everything is all ready to go. She also carried extra liners prestuffed with infant prefolds to put in covers after they were used.
Other tips you may find helpful...

  • Prefolds are more resilient to various laundry routines than newer types of cloth diapers, but you will still want to read up on how to wash cloth diapers so that you get them clean but don't get detergent build-up. The most important things are not using fabric softener and making sure you rinse the detergent out well. Here's a good laundry primer.
  • Most diaper rash creams are not good for cloth diapers, because they get on the diaper and cause repelling.
  • If you want to buy covers or other diapering supplies secondhand, there are a lot of cloth diapers for sale on the Spots web site.

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