Disposable or cloth diapers? That's your first decision. Disposable diapers are undeniably more convenient, but they're costly. You can expect to spend around $2,500 or more by the time your baby is potty-trained. If you use "eco-friendly" disposable diapers, which are biodegradable and/or not bleached with chlorine, you'll pay about $1,000 more depending on the number of diaper changes per day and the brand you use.
Cloth diapers can be much less expensive than disposables, especially if you wash them yourself. (Some parents use a diaper service, which picks up dirty diapers and delivers clean ones.) After paying the initial cost, you'll save hundreds of dollars by reusing cloth diapers again and again. If you wash them yourself, you might even be able to use them for more than one baby.
Many companies offer starter packs of cloth diapers that come with accessories. The accessories vary with the type of diaper you choose, but in general you'll need diaper inserts (cloth pads added to increase absorbency), waterproof covers to lock in moisture, and/or flushable liners that help to contain the mess. Liners eliminate the need to rinse cloth diapers before depositing them in a diaper pail. They do create waste, although less than disposable diapers. And some are biodegradable, like the Kushies brand.
"People still think of cloth diapers as being messy and involving pins and plastic pants," says Betsy Thomas, co-owner of Bummis, a Montreal-based company that makes cloth diapers. "But in actual fact, today's cloth diapers are as easy to use as their disposable counterparts. Snap and Velcro-type closures, high-tech comfort fabrics, and flushable liners have revolutionized cloth diapers, making them an increasingly attractive choice for many parents, especially in times of economic hardships. Although single-use (so-called disposable) diapers still control most of the market, the percentage of parents using cloth diapers is rising steadily."
The Real Diaper Industry Association, a group that represents makers of cloth diapers, says a survey it did found a 30 percent increase in cloth diaper sales between 2000 and 2007.
Despite a growing interest in cloth diapers, disposable ones continue to be the first choice for many parents and a preferred choice at many day-care centers and hospitals.
With disposables, plan on using plenty for your newborn, but don't load up on the newborn size. Unless you're the parent of multiples, it's overkill to buy economy packs at the beginning, some of which contain up to 160 diapers. Your baby is likely to outgrow the newborn size before you use that many. In fact, some babies are too big at birth to ever wear a newborn size. Start with one package of 40-count newborn diapers if your baby weighs about 8 pounds at birth. If sheweighs more, start with a package of size 1, then buy in volume after you find the brand you like best. Don't be afraid to experiment; you'll find a favorite brand in time.
Once you know what you need, purchasing the largest-count package you can find is the way to go. Choosing a box of 216 Pampers Swaddlers in size 1, for example, will cost you about $42 (19 cents a diaper), while a pack of 54 will cost almost $18 (33 cents a diaper). You'll save the most money if you buy store-brand diapers in economy-size boxes, which come in counts that range from 92 to 252. You can also find competitive deals on name-brand diapers on sale in packages of various sizes. Browse online to find the most competitive prices and bulk discounts.
Don't be too quick to jump to the next size diaper, either. Selecting the smallest diaper your baby can wear comfortably will save you money in the long run because a larger diaper costs more. Manufacturers usually charge the same amount per package regardless of the actual size of the diapers, but they put fewer diapers in the package as the size gets larger. In addition, a diaper that's too roomy could allow leaks.
Diaper sizes vary from brand to brand. One version's size 1 might fit children from 8 to 14 pounds, while another's will fit those from 8 to 18 pounds, combining sizes 1 and 2 into one package. A brand's weight range usually overlaps: size 2 in one brand will cover kids weighing 12 to 18 pounds; size 3, 16 to 28 pounds; and so on.
With cloth diapers, the type of cloth you choose (as well as whether you go with cloth at all) is a matter of personal preference. They can be a significant money saver, but don't be a slave to the laundry room. Buy enough so that you don't have to wash diapers more frequently than every two to three days.
If you choose unfolded, pre-folded, or fitted cloth diapers, you'll need two to three dozen to begin with, plus six to 10 waterproof covers. If you go the pocket diaper route, having 12 to 16 should be adequate in the beginning. If you purchase a start-up kit you'll get all the diapers, diaper covers, and flushable liners you'll need for that diaper's weight limit. Pay close attention to washing instructions until you come up with your own system. "People are afraid of the washing, but once they do it they realize that it's no big deal," Thomas says. If you choose cloth, don't think it's all or nothing. Feel free to use disposables when you need or want to, such as when you're traveling with your baby.
Some parents think their children get fewer rashes with cloth diapers. Laura Jana, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, says there isn't a big difference in the frequency of rashes with cloth vs. disposable diapers. Jana has done consulting work with Procter & Gamble, which makes of Pampers.