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Cloth Diaper Leaks
Do cloth Diapers Leak? Yes, in my experience, diaper leaks are part of parenthood, whether using disposable diapers or cloth diapers. Not a pleasant part of parenthood, but a real part nonetheless. Due to a variety of reasons, I have had to use both cloth and disposable diapers with Jocelyn. With both types of diapers, I have experienced some leaking. What I have observed is that disposable diapers and cloth diaper leaks in different ways.
Disposable Diaper Leaks
For me, disposable diapers leak in two ways. First, they leak out the top of the back of the diaper because the absorbent crystals do not extend to the top of the back of diaper which allows for severe leakage. Second, after disposable diapers become supersaturated the entire diaper begins to ooze across the outside surface. This “ooze” happens because once the crystals in the diaper are unable to absorb any additional liquid, there is nothing to stop leakage across the outside surface of the diaper.
Cloth Diaper Leaks
My cloth diapers tend to only leak mainly around the legs. Occasionally, I will get leaks out the top of the front or back of the diaper during nap times. However, due to the waterproof layer in modern cloth diapers, I have never had a leak in the body of the diaper. My experience with cloth diapers leaks occurred because after the cloth insert is supersaturated the only place liquid has to escape is out the legs or top. For me, the leaks I have had with cloth diapers have been much less messy, so I would prefer them any day.
I believe that before making the switch to cloth diapers, many people are seriously concerned about diaper leakage. To be honest, when I first started using cloth diapers a significant frustration I encountered was those pesky diaper leaks. However, in my opinion, a few diaper leaks, or even quite a few, are not a good reason to abandon the use of cloth.
Conquering The Leaks
Over the past few months, I have come up with a variety of ways to conquer cloth diaper leaks. I will not pretend that we are 100% leak-free at this point. However, every day I am learning new things and new ways to avoid diaper leaks.
Tip #1: Proper Fit
The first defense against cloth diaper leaks is a properly fitting diaper. Most people know that disposable diapers come in a variety of sizes dependent upon the weight of the child. Pick the wrong size diaper, and you are liable to leak. A diaper which is too large will allow for leaks because the diaper is likely to have gaps between itself and the baby’s skin. A diaper which is too small will allow for leaks because it will not cover all the necessary area.
The very same thing is true for cloth diapers. However, generally, cloth diapers allow for a bit more size customization than do disposable diapers. This can be a blessing and a curse. The benefit is that the diaper can be perfectly sized to fit the shape of your child’s body. But, the curse is that the diapers must be adjusted as the child grows. Thus, to win the war against leaks, a careful adjustment is a must.
Disposable diapers can only be adjusted one way, that is, the tabs which close the diaper can be made to be looser or tighter based on the size of the child. There are a few brands of cloth diapers which offer this same kind of simple adjustability. FuzziBunz offers a Perfect Size Cloth Diaper in 4 sizes which gives this simple adjustability. The downside to the simplicity of this diaper is that if a child is to be diapered from birth to potty training, they will need 3-4 different sets of diapers. (see Best Cloth Diapers Page for recommendations)
Certain cloth diapers, such as Thirsties brand, have multiple sizes that need to be purchased to ensure the correct fit. Even so, these diapers must be adjusted based upon the child’s size because the weight range of the diaper is much larger than the weight range of disposable diapers. For example, the weight range listed for a size two Thristies Duo Diaper is 18-40 pounds. In comparison, the size listed for a size three Pampers diaper is 16-28 pounds. Because the weight range is so much wider with this type of cloth diaper, which means the diaper can be used longer, certain adjustments will need to be made to ensure a proper fit. Generally, the adjustments are made in the rise and around the waist. Depending on the brand of cloth diaper, these adjustments are made with snaps or Velcro-like tabs.
Other varieties of cloth diapers are called “one size”. This is actually a bit of a misnomer because so-called “one size” cloth diapers actually allow for the most size customization of any cloth diaper. These diapers get their name “one size” because only one size is needed from birth to potty training. Generally, these diapers list a weight range from around 8 pounds to 30 or 35 pounds. These diapers also have adjustments which can be made in the rise and around the waist. Again, depending on the brand of cloth diaper, these adjustments are made with snaps, Velcro-like tabs, or elastic and buttons.
If you are experiencing leaking with your cloth diapers, the first step to take is to ensure that the diaper is properly fit the child. If you have questions about this, look on the website of the manufacturer for specifics. In general, it is recommended that the diaper is tight enough that there are no gaps between the diaper and the baby’s skin but loose enough that a finger may be passed between.
Tip #2: Change Frequently
The second line of defense against cloth diaper leaks is probably the most obvious; diapers need to be frequently changed. Yes, this is a very obvious answer but important to remember. Depending on the heaviness of the wetter, diapers may need to be changed as often as every 2 to 3 hours during the child’s waking hours.
Most modern cloth diapers are composed of an absorbent core and a waterproof outer layer. The absorbent core, usually made of cotton, microfiber, or hemp, is able to absorb a certain amount of liquid. After that amount of liquid is absorbed, excess liquid tends to pool against the waterproof layer. If any pressure is exerted against the diaper, say snuggly fitting clothing, a car seat strap, or even the baby’s body weight, the excess liquid will leak. In my experience, these leaks usually occur around the leg holes of the diaper.
When I first started with cloth diapers when my daughter, Jocelyn, was around eight weeks old, I expected the world of cloth diapers. Looking back now I see that it is silly, but I expected my cloth diapers to last for 4 to 5 hours between each diaper change. But, like all things, cloth diapers definitely have their limits. Jocelyn, being a fairly heavy wetter, definitely needs a diaper change every 2 to 3 waking hours to avoid leaks.
Every Baby Is Different
To avoid these types of leaks, it is important to learn how long a cloth diaper lasts on your individual child and change the diaper before this time elapses. This amount of time will vary based on the kind of diaper used and the wetting habits of each child. Also, if you pay careful attention to your child’s most wet times of day, you can learn when a diaper needs to be changed more frequently and when a diaper can stay on a bit longer. For example, Jocelyn seems to wet the most immediately after nap times. So, I am sure to check her diaper more often during these times.
Tip #3: Insert Placement
The third line of defense against cloth diaper leaks is very simple; make sure that your inserts are placed in the diaper correctly. For the insert to be placed in the diaper correctly, it is important that is lays flat against the waterproof outer layer without being twisted or contorted in any way. It is also important that the insert does not stick out of the waterproof outer layer in any place. Any time the insert is not in the diaper correctly, there is likely to be more leaks.
In the case of pocket diapers, inserts are to be placed in the pocket sleeve. When placing the insert in the sleeve, it is important to ensure that that insert has gone in flat. If the insert is bent at the edges or buckled in the middle, then the insert might not cover all of the necessary areas and will allow for leaks. A few diapers which are considered pocket diapers include: bumGenius, FuzziBunz, and Thirsties Duo Diaper.
For diapers systems with covers, inserts are to be laid inside the waterproof outer layer. With this type of diaper system, the flat inserts or the prefold inserts are laid flat against the waterproof cover. Just like with the pocket diapers it is important to make sure that the insert lays flat to cover all the necessary areas and do not stick out of the cover. A few diapers which fall into this category of diaper include Bummis Super Brite, Thirsties Duo Wrap, and Flip Covers.
There are also several other types of cloth diapers, such as fitted, hybrids, and all-in-ones. These diapers will each have their own way to properly insert or adjust the absorbent layer. To avoid leaks, it is important to check with the manufacturer to learn how to properly adjust the insert.
By ensuring that the insert is in the diaper correctly, many leaks will be avoided. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my next tip.
Tip #4: Tucked In
The fourth line of defense against cloth diaper leaks truly only applies to those of you out there who are using pocket diapers or all-in-ones, diapers which have a non-waterproof fabric layer attached to the waterproof layer. So, for those of you who solely use diaper covers, you can take the day off!
When putting on a diaper with this inner non-waterproof layer, it is very important that this layer is completely tucked inside the waterproof layer. If the inner layer sticks out in any way, it is likely to come in contact with the child’s clothing and causing leaking on the clothing and any other fabric the clothing touches.
If I am not careful when putting on Jocelyn’s FuzziBunz diapers, a small amount of the inner stay-dry liner sticks out around the legs. This causes leaks around Jocelyn’s thighs. Another place where the stay-dry liner can stick out in the FuzziBunz diapers is in the back of the diaper. To avoid this type of leak, I always make sure that after I add the insert into the pocket, I tuck the stay-dry liner into the waterproof layer.
You may ask, why have this inner layer at all if it could cause leaks? In the case of pocket diapers, this layer serves to hold the inserts in place and in many cases, a stay-dry aspect of the fabric wicks the wetness away from the baby’s bottom. As for the all-in-ones, this layer likely includes both a stay-dry layer and several layers of built-in inserts. In both cases, this built-in layer or layers helps to keep the baby’s skin dry, thus reducing diaper rash, and provides for a way to add absorbency (with inserts) or provides the actual absorbency of a cloth diaper.
Tip #5: Double Stuffing
The fifth line of defense against cloth diaper leaks is probably my favorite because it is very easy and allows for a lot of flexibility, it’s called double stuffing. If the combination of the previous four tips do not have you celebrating your complete victory over diaper leaks or if you have already won the war and are looking for a few more tips in case the enemy returns, I would highly suggest considering double stuffing your diapers.
What is double stuffing you ask? Double stuffing refers to putting in one or more additional inserts into the diaper for added absorbency. The practice of double stuffing a cloth diaper will work with pocket diapers, diaper covers, and some all-in-one diapers. Pocket diapers can be double stuffed by simply adding a second insert into the pocket. Cloth diaper systems with covers can be double stuffed by laying the second insert into cover. Some brands of all-in-ones, such as the Thirsties Snap Natural One Size All In One (see them here), have a place which allows for adding extra inserts as well.
When And Where
Double stuffing is my favorite method for avoiding leaks because it is the one that I feel has given me the most decisive victories against leaks. It allows me to go longer between diaper changes and provides extra absorbency for the times when heavy wetting is most likely to occur. I generally use this method on three occasions with great success. First, I double stuff diapers during long naps and overnight. Before I began double stuffing, I had leaks every night. The second time I tend to use this method is when we are leaving the house. In my opinion, nothing is worse than being out on the town and having Jocelyn wet through her clothes. By double stuffing, I can avoid the majority of leaks when I am out of the house. Thirdly, I like to use double stuffed diapers after Jocelyn’s naps when she is most likely to have a period of heavy wetting.
Additional Inserts Required
This probably goes without saying, but to double stuff, you need to have additional inserts. Some diapers, such as the FuzziBunz one size diaper (available here) and the bumGenius 4.0 one size diaper (see them here), come with two inserts. Other diapers come with only one insert, and additional inserts need to be purchased. Buying additional inserts is a relatively inexpensive way to make your cloth diapers more absorbent and convenient.
For me, double stuffing has solved a large amount of Jocelyn’s leakage problems. It can be done during day or night and will save you from many headaches!
Tip #6: Laundry
The six line of defense against cloth diaper leaks has to do with the way you launder your diapers. After a period of use, cloth diapers can build up a layer of detergent residue, ammonia, or other substances. Using too much detergent when laundering your cloth diapers is one cause of increased build up. Hard water also tends to cause an increase in a build up as well. This build-up can cause liquid to repel and, thus, cause leaks. To avoid leaks from build up, it is important to regularly “strip” your diapers.
Stripping diapers is a process whereby the invisible materials that tend to build upon the surface of the cloth diaper are removed. There are several theories about how to best strip cloth diapers. However, my preferred method for stripping my diapers is to use the dishwasher detergent, Dawn. Yes, I know it seems unorthodox to wash diapers in dish detergent, but I have found it very effective.
My process for stripping my diapers is as follows. Every other week or so, I do a special wash routine. First, I run my diapers through a cold cycle. After the cold cycle has completed, I set my washer to run a hot cycle and allow the washer to fill with water. Once the washer is full, I add a couple of skirts of Dawn and let the washer agitate for about a minute. Then, I open the washer lid and leave the diapers to soak in the washer in hot water for a half hour to one hour. After soaking the diapers, I run the rest of the cycle normally.
By stripping my diapers on a regular basis, I have seen a great reduction in diaper leaks. This series on diaper leaks is almost complete, but be sure to check back for my final thoughts on the topic.
UPDATE: With years of use comes experience and wisdom so please read this article on my opinion on “stripping” diapers.
If the inserts you are using do not seem to be handling the amount of wetness you are experiencing, consider trying different inserts. Now that Jocelyn is sleeping through the night (well, more or less) I am still not satisfied with the number of leaks we are experiencing overnight. Recently I ordered FuzziBunz Hemp Inserts because I have heard that hemp is much more absorbent than other types of inserts. I have yet to try them, but I have high hopes.
UPDATES My experiences with Hemp:
Since I have signed on as a consultant for DiaperHQ, I have recently learned about the benefits of owning a variety of different brands and types of diapers to use in different situations. In the coming days, I will be trying a few different types of diapers to see if certain diapers work better for Jocelyn in certain situations. If you are experiencing a lot of leaks in a specific situation, consider trying a different type of diaper.
The diapers companies are always updating and improving their diapers. If you are experiencing leaks with older diapers, consider checking out the newest diapers to see what benefits they may provide. When I originally purchased my diapers, FuzziBunz was selling their original one size diaper. However, recently, FuzziBunz rolled out their Elite one size diaper (see it here). This diaper has many upgrades from the originals including a sleeker design and new inserts. I have a few of these new diapers and have truly enjoyed the benefits they provide.
Even if my tips and your own special tricks do not work immediately, remember not to give up. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of time and a little bit of tweaking to get results. I’m sure your patience will be rewarded.
In all honesty; I have not yet completely won the war against diaper leaks, however, each day I win decisive battles. I have shared with you my top six ways to avoid diaper leaks and a few parting thoughts. What things do you do to avoid pesky diaper leaks? Please leave a comment on this post or any in the series to share with others what has and has not worked for you. If we all work together and share our knowledge, we can all win the war against diaper leaks!