I know some of you are probably wondering, "what does learning how to 'just breathe' have to do with cloth diapering?" Well, I'm about to start addressing that issue ... just needed a little prep and set-up first. ;-) Originally, this was going to be "Part II," but I realized that since my recommendations were based on experience, it might be better to give my story for context.
Oh, and as a side note to all of you who (like me) appreciate visual aids: I will be adding pictures shortly.
So! The biggest questions for those of us launching the USS Cloth Diaper is (or HMS, if you prefer), "How do I choose?" I thought the answer to this was simple with my firstborn. Fitteds and covers can be cheaper than AIO's but easier than prefolds. Supposedly, the brand I tried (Kushies) would fit an infant from birth to 12 months. I was so naive ...
After making a comparatively small investment (about $100, which seemed huge to me at the time for part-time CD'ing), I was dismayed when the infant size only fit him until he was about five months. Little did I know with baby #1 that manufacturer's "sizes" were nothing more than averages. With my children (then child) doubling the national average their first year of life, trusting those guidelines was going to leave me high and dry. This was one major reason I gave up on cloth with my dear son.
I started to do some serious homework as I prepared for the arrival of my daughter. A friend had gone through one CD'ing web retailer that offered a variety of start-up packages; so that sounded good to me. Initially wanting to go the economical route with some allowance for convenience, I chose a package that consisted of 3 dozen prefolds, 5 covers, and 4 pocket diapers.
Now, I was able to ride on this friend's experience (her firstborn was 6 months younger than mine) She had gone with the basic prefold-and-cover package with him, incorporating newborn/size 1 prefolds with XS and S covers. Despite her son's low birthweight and slow growth rate, he had still outgrown this system by the time he was about 4 months old. She new I was considering the system for my daughter, and strongly advised I select Standard prefolds (the same dimensions as Infant/Size 2, but with a 6-ply soaker instead of 8-ply, which makes for smaller folding). Meanwhile, my son's growth rate had already tipped me off to look for OS covers and pockets. My experience with Kushies had moreover taught me that I detest having Velcro in my wash, so I looked for snaps. I submitted my order for 2 dozen Chinese prefolds (the "most durable" option), 1 dozen Indian prefolds (the more luxurious option); 5 Blueberry one-size covers; and 6 OS FuzziBunz pocket diapers. (Note: I threw in an additional 2 pockets to insure I had enough for nighttime diaper changes on a newborn; and I had already received 2 covers as a gift).
Not a bad start. The standards were a bit bulky, but creative folding succeeded in containing them within the Blueberrys even on the smallest setting. The Chinese prefolds indeed quilted up nicely and were very absorbent. The Indians were softer and trimmer, though they neither shrunk or quilted as much as the Chinese. Meanwhile, I absolutely fell in love with the FuzziBunz. They were both a trimmer and easier option than the prefolds; and she preferred the "stay-dry" feel of the microfleece to the woven cotton (which announced her wetness to her like a trumpet). I determined to shift to them exclusively at first available opportunity.
Thanks to some sales on discontinued FuzziBunz, I was able to make that switch sooner than planned. I resold the half of my prefolds and covers (I sent three covers plus the Indians to keep at my mom's and kept a half dozen Chinese for super-burpcloths) and purchased a dozen and a half sized FuzziBunz. In my opinion, my stash was perfect.
Then it happened. About two weeks into making the shift, my baby began to develop a diaper rash such as I haven't seen since the hospital put her in Pampers. I fretted as one isn't supposed to use diaper rash creams with a cloth system (it inhibits both wicking properties and water-resistance) and determined to change her more frequently. This helped only marginally.
Now, eczema runs in the family, so the first person I spoke to was my mom (who suffered horrendously from eczema as a child). She told me to keep the skin cool, dry, and moisturized -- with lots of airflow. She highly recommended cotton. Then she added ruefully that my grandmother as never able to control her rashes.
My wheels really started turning. I cast out for ideas from one CD'ing friend while googling everything from "most breathable covers" to "diaper eczema." I tried California Baby skin care products, which did help considerably--but what I wanted was eczema prevention, not eczema treatment. My friend (we'll call her Birthday Mama--she has her own blog, "Vintage Childhood," should you care to look her up in the blogs I follow) suggested my daughter might be sensitive to synthetic fabrics. She recommended I return to cotton prefolds and experiment with wool covers.
Wool?! Like most people, my association with wool is hot, rough, and irritating ... not to mention my mom has a true allergy to wool, so I've always automatically avoided it. Birthday Mama referred me to the owner of Green Mountain Diapers, who educated me on the "truth about wool."
Apparently what so many of us find so irritating about wool is not the wool itself, but the chemicals involved in the industrial processing of wool. Diaper wool, in contrast, is processed gently and more "traditionally." This makes for a fabric that's softer than jersey. Meanwhile, wool is naturally water-resistant; insulative in a good way (it can keep the skin 2-5 degrees cooler than air temperature!); and actually the most breathable cover-fabric available.
A good way to tell if you're legitimately allergic to wool is the "lanolin test." Lanolin is the wax-like substance secreted by the sweat-glands of wool-bearing animals. Don't be disgusted; this is what gives wool it's water-resistant properties and protects the skin of the animal from free-radical irritants. Once purified, its healing properties can yield near-miraculous results on cracked and bleeding skin. Chances are, if you're not allergic to lanolin, you're not allergic to wool.
I decided to risk it and try a test patch of Lansinoh's lanolin-based diaper-rash cream on her arm. Result (12 hours later): zero irritation. Next, the rash (which was by then lobster-red, rough, weepy, and climbing beyond her diaper region). Result: 75% improvement in 24 hours. Clearly this child is not allergic to wool.
Like all good mothers, I swallowed my teeth over the costs (diaper wool ain't cheap!) and placed my first orders. I'll be sampling two different wool covers; one type of PUL cover that maximizes air circulation; and two AIO's plus one pocket that, while still bearing synthetic covers, sport lofted organic natural-fiber interiors and soakers. I'm now awaiting my first packages in the mail, and will release names, photos, and reviews in subsequent blogs once I've played with them.
Meanwhile, my daughter's eczema is spotty--the creams are controlling it for now, but her flair-ups are recurring and at this rate I swear I'll be using a $10 tube every two weeks to giver her relief! Fortunately, if these new systems work, that shouldn't be necessary.