How to Cloth Diaper: Different Systems, Rental Services & More

16 September 2023 | Before Your Baby is Born | By Lisa H and Rebecca Z

If you’re thinking about trying cloth diapers with your baby, you probably have lots of questions, such as: how do cloth diapers work, what brand or cloth diaper system should I buy, how could cloth diaper rentals make your life easier…?

(If you’re still trying to figure out if reusable diapers are for you, check out our article on the pros and cons of using cloth diapers.)

So we asked Rebecca Ziehe, a cloth diaper consultant, about the most important things to know about cloth diapers.

Rebecca is a certified cloth diaper consultant and postpartum doula. Born in Hamburg she has moved several times and lived in the Netherlands and Canada for some time. Berlin has been her home for over ten years now where she lives with her family. After personal cloth diaper experience with her two kids she has turned her passion for cloth diapers into her profession. She supports families, with a particular focus on women, with her services throughout pregnancy, childbirth, the postpartum period, and beyond.

Tell us more about yourself – how did you first discover cloth diapers and what has been your experience with them on a personal level?

I had never really encountered cloth diapers until my first child was born in 2016. My only familiarity with them was the "old school” style with muslin diapers and wool covers, just as my mother had used for my siblings and me back in the day. 

Then, a friend introduced me to the world of modern cloth diapers during my pregnancy and I went to a cloth diaper workshop to learn more. I quickly fell in love with them, perhaps due to their vibrant colors and adorable patterns. The environmental aspect also played a significant role in my choice of cloth over disposable diapers. 

With great enthusiasm, I was convinced that I wanted to exclusively use cloth diapers from birth and would only need Onesize diapers, so I acquired various systems of them. However, my son was a preemie, being born 4 weeks early. 

So contrary to my plan, we initially used disposable diapers because all the cloth diapers I had purchased were much too big. It was only after the first few weeks that I gave cloth diapers another chance, investing in another consultation and a newborn cloth diaper rental package. This was the breakthrough. Throughout the diapering journey that spanned 2.5 years, we used cloth diapers in combination with disposable ones, which was the right choice for us at that time.

With my second child we occasionally used disposable diapers, especially when we're on the road for several days, but mostly stuck to cloth diapers. I loved it so much that I was actually sad when my second child was fully potty trained and needed no more diapers! 

So, as you can see, it's important not to be too hard on yourself. There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to (cloth) diapering. From a sustainability standpoint, every unused disposable diaper makes a difference.

When is a good time to learn more about the topic of reusable diapers? 

I would always recommend learning about the topic of cloth diapers close to the time when you actually want to start using them. 

So if you want to use cloth diapers right from birth, the best time to collect all relevant information is 1-2 months before the expected due date. 

If you think about cloth diapering any time after your baby is born just learn about it and start right away. 

There are so many different brands and systems of cloth diapers, how would a family decide which cloth diaper system may be best for them?

A modern cloth diaper consists of the two components: A waterproof exterior and an absorbent interior. To close the diapers, you will use snaps or a hook and loop system. 

Depending on how the two are connected one distinguishes between the following three cloth diaper systems: 

  1. All-In-One (AIO)

  2. All-In-Two (AI2), 

  3. and All-In-Three (AI3)

The AIO system comes closest to a disposable diaper in handling because the absorbent interior and waterproof exterior are one piece. It’s very easy to use: just place the baby on the diaper, close it and you are done. On the downside, it is not as flexible.

With the AI2 system, the waterproof exterior and the absorbent interior are two individual components, which makes this system very flexible. You can choose from different absorbent materials that are placed in the waterproof cover, such as prefolds. As the cover can be used for more than one diaper changing cycle, this system is also the cheapest way to cloth diaper.

With the AI3 system the absorbent material is placed into a waterproof pouch, which is then snapped to an additional third component: the outer cover. The decorative outer cover has snaps or a hook and loop system to fasten. There are not so many manufacturers of AI3 diapers on the market and this system is used the least by parents. However, it creates the least amount of laundry.

Why should a family book a session with a cloth diaper consultant?

It is important to know that cloth diapering can vary from one family to another, and what works for one may not work for another. Due to the great variety of brands and systems available I recommend investing into a cloth diaper consultation (personal, online or workshop). 

Besides getting all the relevant information you need about cloth diaper systems, handling and care, these events provide hands-on experience and you have a chance to learn from the experts. As sometimes you might need to try out different brands and styles until you find the one that suits you and your baby's needs and your lifestyle, trial kits are a good option.

You can just rent cloth diapers (Newborn or Onesize packages) from a consultant and try all different systems and brands in everyday life with no high upfront costs for diapers that might then not fit. After the rental period, you know what system and brand fits best so you can buy those.

In my opinion, the money for a consultation is well invested because in the end it saves you both time and money, since you don’t have to do all the research yourself and don’t invest money into cloth diaper brands that may not be a good fit. Plus, you’ll always have a competent contact person regarding cloth diaper questions.

How does a cloth diaper rental service work?

My offering includes Newborn and Onesize rental packages. Let’s have a look at the differences:

  • Newborn rental package: You'll find everything necessary for a successful start with cloth diapers right from birth. This package includes a variety of cloth diaper systems and absorbent materials from different manufacturers, as well as practical accessories for your daily cloth diapering routine. The package is thoughtfully designed to support full-time cloth diapering for two to three days at a time.

  • Onesize rental package: If you're considering transitioning to cloth diapers after your baby is at least 8 weeks old, Onesize rental package is a good option. This package is tailored to your specific preferences and requirements. Next to different cloth diaper systems and brands the essential accessories can be added to the packager if required. This package allows for part-time cloth diapering. 

I get quite a few request for the Newborn packages because renting newborn-sized cloth diapers comes with a significant advantage: it allows you to bridge the period until your baby fits into Onesize diapers comfortably (different from the manufacturers’ claims, Onesize diapers usually do not fit from 3,5 kg right after babies are born but typically fit from around 5 kg, roughly after 6-8 weeks of age). 

And additionally, renting these newborn diapers helps you determine which diapering system suits your needs for the remainder of your diapering period, enabling you to make targeted purchases.

The diapers in the packages are in a used but hygienically flawless condition (new cloth diapers need to be washed many times to reach their full absorbency potential). After each package’s return I wash them according to the recommended washing routine at 60°C with heavy duty detergent. 

Anything else families should know about cloth diapers?

The images of bulky diaper packages and boiling diapers that many still associate with cloth diapering are completely outdated. 

Modern cloth diapers are quite easy to handle and are one way for you to contribute to a more sustainable future. Just give it a try!

Thanks, Rebecca!

Reach out to Rebecca for a cloth diaper consultation or to learn more about her cloth diaper trial and rental packages.

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