How To Make Cloth Diapers More Absorbent For Nighttime

Cloth diapers are catching on.  After all, these aren’t the labor intensive diapers requiring diaper pails, advanced folding skills, rubber pants and sharp diaper pins to hold it all together.  Today’s cloth diapers come in many options (All-in-ones, pocket diapers, pre-folds or fitteds with PUL waterproof covers), are easy to launder and come in very cute colors and patterns.  The choice to use cloth diapers may be driven by environmentally conscious mindsets, health for baby (no chemicals or fragrance touch baby’s skin) or budget-minded parents who want to spend less over the course of their baby’s diapering “career.”  However, not all babies are built the same, and some parent will run into trouble keeping their little ones dry overnight, especially if they have a super soaker on their hands.  Here are some tips to help keep baby dry at night.
The start
Stripping Diapers
Parents new to cloth diapering may not realize that cloth diapers build up residue over time, from the uric acid in urine, oils and from the detergent used to wash cloth diapers.  A quick Google search of “how to strip cloth diapers” will show several effective methods, you will find the one that works best for your diapers and the type of washing machine you have. I have found this site has a good summary of the different methods to strip diapers. However, the important thing to note is that build-up decreases the absorbency of cloth diapers, and it could be the cause for leaks.  Stripping needs to be done periodically, when diapers no longer smell fresh or you notice leaks occurring more frequently.
Also, pay attention to the type of detergent you are using.  Detergents with lots of additives, fragrance and chemicals are generally not good choices, as they leave build-up and soap scum on diapers (and aren’t good for baby’s skin – think commercial brands you see in the grocery store).  Natural, dye-free, fragrance free detergents are better (like Bio-Kleen and Ecos).  While you don’t necessarily have to use detergent specifically made for cloth diapers, many moms rave about the results (Rockin’ Green usually gets a big thumbs up in my cloth diapering circle).  Using the right detergent to your diapers will make them the most absorbable they can be.

Big Guns: Layering and Extra Absorbent Inserts
If nothing is wrong with the absorbency of your cloth diapers, you may just have a heavy wetter on your hands.  If that is the case, layering and/or using more absorbent materials to boost the soaking ability of a night-time diaper may be the solution.  As with everything cloth diaper related, the options are many, so experimentation and requesting feedback from friends will help narrow your choices.  If you are using diapers with inserts, you can simply add one or two more inserts or use a hemp, bamboo or fleece doublers coupled with your insert to boost absorbency.   There are also inserts made to be used as night time inserts, because they use a combination of fabric (hemp, cotton wool and fleece, for example) and are thicker and more absorbent.  Fitted cloth diapers also come in various fabrics and are also an option with water proof covers, as they have elastic around the legs to help prevent leaks.

Bigger Guns: Wool Covers
Are you still having leaking problems at night?  Wool covers may be your answer.  Wool is very absorbent, able to absorb up to a third of its own weight in moisture.  Even though wool is associated with winter clothing, it is actually quite breathable and comfortable for baby to wear at night.  A wool cover goes right over whatever diaper baby is wearing and its purpose is to wick and absorb excess moisture that may leak out of the diaper.  As long as it is only pee, wool covers only need to air dry and can be re-used many times before requiring washing.  Wool does require hand washing and air drying, and they need to be lanolized (adding lanolin during the washing process to maintain the wool’s absorbency), but for committed cloth diaper users with heavy wetters, wool covers may be the way to go.

The Biggest Guns: “Greener” Disposable Diapers
Sometimes, no matter what committed cloth diapering moms and dads have tried, they find they have super heavy wetters (lots of pee released all at once) AND a powerful peer (high velocity).  Unfortunately, that was my situation, and even though I diligently tried all the options listed above (and those options will work for most babies), sometimes your baby’s needs just out-pee the current cloth diaper technology.  As reluctant as I was, I have switched to disposables with a wool cover for night (because even the disposables alone won’t hold in my 10-month-old’s pee).  While a perfectly friendly disposable diaper doesn’t exist yet, there are some better options than the popular commercial brands. There are green disposable diaper options, including several chlorine-free options, and while limited (and more expensive) there are a couple of partially or fully compostable disposable diapers.

My practical mom side caved to disposable diapers for night time and my eco-mom side diligently uses cloth diapers during the day, but at last, my household has dry nights.  Hopefully you and your little one will soon find the right combination so you can enjoy dry, restful nights too.

Featured images:
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Lynn Louis works from home, raising her diaper soaking 15 month old, chasing two crazy dogs and promoting the Texas Hill Country by letting visitors know about activities and lodging at the Highland Lakes.

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