While this isn’t exactly childbirth education, once your child is born, you will have to deal with changing diapers, unless you’re planning on going diaperless.

Before my first child was born, I contemplated using cloth diapers (because it was in The Tightwad Gazette, which is also where I got the bulk of my cloth-diaper knowledge until recently, although there are only a few articles about it), but decided against it. Here was my reasoning at the time — we lived in a condo, and had to use the building’s coin-operated washer & dryer. We lived right next to the laundry room, so I couldn’t complain about any inconvenience like walking up or down stairs. It cost us $1.50 per load of wash and another 0.75 to dry, and possibly more if the diapers weren’t dry after one load. I assumed I’d use three loads of diapers a week, plus extra clothes from leaking. (Actually, I usually washed more like two loads a week, and my cloth diapers didn’t leak any worse than disposables.) When I priced the cheapest disposables (at the time it was White Cloud, from Wal-mart, but that may have changed now), I figured that I would spend about as much on laundry (including detergent) as I would on disposables (about $13-14 per week).

Some people don’t like cheap disposables, for certain reasons. My two sisters both tried the White Cloud brand with their oldest child and both disliked them. However, they had a girl first, and I had a boy, so that might have had something to do with it. Also, they may have improved the brand in the 5 years between when they used them and when I had them. One of my sisters-in-law started off with brand-name disposables (I think they had been given at a baby shower), and then when they used the generics, her son developed diaper rash, so they switched back to the more expensive ones. She didn’t want to keep trying multiple brands, using just a diaper or two, and then having to stop when the diaper rash got bad.

Another sister-in-law found that her son developed a horrible diaper rash when using any disposables (although he had used them without a problem for several months). (And, believe me, she tried everything — including prescription diaper creams, all types of disposables, frequent baths, olive oil.) Her son would scream any time he wet himself, and hated diaper-changing time. Eventually, she just moved to cloth diapers, and his diaper rash went away. Apparently, he was allergic to the disposable diapers. She found that she could use disposables on occasion (for instance, when she ran errands), and not have any problems; but when they went on vacation and she used disposables all the time, the rash came back. Finally, she happened to purchase the Kroger brand of disposables when she was on vacation one time and discovered that they didn’t cause the reaction in her son.

Anyway, when my son was about nine months old, I decided to switch to cloth diapers. I did some research, and found that the cheapest way to go was with Chinese prefolds. It’s been about three years, so it might have changed since then, but at the time, the cheapest place I found was ClothDiaper.com. I also went with the good old-fashioned diaper pins (and have only poked my kids a total of one time, and that was just a few weeks ago), because they last forever. Several of my friends love “Snappis” but they have about a six-month lifespan, and since my primary reason for switching to cloth was to save money, I went with the cheap but sturdy diaper pins. (I have on occasion put the kids in this kind of diaper with just one pin [when I couldn’t find a pair] or even without any, and I don’t remember it just falling off, but I never got comfortable with doing that, although it may be possible.) I’d suggest getting lots more pins than you think you’ll need, because you might lose them, and then you’ll have to get some more, and with the cost of shipping these days, it’s much more frugal to buy a dozen extra diaper pins along with your diapers than to buy them separately later. (I ended up needing to buy more diaper pins when both my boys were in diapers and I had only bought 4 sets of pins, and lost one or two on occasion. My baby loved playing with a strand of diaper pins all pinned together — it was his favorite toy for months.)

I bought three dozen of the “regular” sized diapers, because they fit from 15-30 pounds, so that covers almost the whole diapering time. When I got them, one of my nephews was about a month old, so we tried putting them on him, but it didn’t work quite right. They were too small to fold in half and put on him like a regular diaper, but really too bulky to put on him the regular way. So, when I was pregnant with my younger son, I got a supply of “newborn” sized diapers. I got 4 dozen, which was too many since my older son (19 months old) was still in diapers, but would have been a good number if I was just washing one set. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have gotten the “toddler” sized diaper to start with, and just folded it down to fit my older son (here’s one example of how to fold a diaper), and then I probably could have folded it in half for my newborn. For what it’s worth, my older son is almost 4 and my younger son is 2, and they can still both wear the “regular” diapers, even though they both weigh over 30 pounds, and it’s starting to get to be a bit of a stretch for my older son (he wears them still at nap-time). To translate into disposable sized diapers, my younger son is outgrowing the size 4 and my older son is outgrowing the size 5.

As far as diaper covers go, I initially bought the Gerber covers (since that’s what the diaper website sells), which was a huge mistake, because they’re vinyl and tore within just a couple of weeks, even when I carefully laundered them and air-dried them. Eventually, I found that I over-looked one very important point in The Tightwad Gazette, and that is that she said to use nylon NOT vinyl diaper covers. I’ve had to throw away maybe two pairs of nylon diaper pants in both the medium and the large (which have gotten the most use — literally years of usage now), and none of the other sizes (newborn, small, and extra-large, which haven’t gotten very much usage). They didn’t tear, though! I threw them away because the water-resistant inner liner (that I didn’t even notice before) wore out and started rubbing away, and the pants started leaking. Since the nylon pants are the same price as the vinyl, to be able to get years of usage instead of weeks of usage, is huge.

You can spend a lot of money on diapers — disposables or cloth. I’ve highlighted what I think is the cheapest way to go, but you may not need to be so frugally-minded. Here is a link to more discussion of cloth diapers that also includes a wider range of diaper types, as well as some pros and cons not mentioned here. And you’re welcome to do your own research (and if you want to post your findings or experience here on diapering or undiapering, feel free to comment or ask questions).

In looking up cloth diaper prices (mostly out of curiosity), I’ve found that it is conceivable to spend almost as much on cloth diapers as you might on disposables. Some diapers are very expensive, and only last a few months before you have to move up in size; and then there are diaper covers, as well, that may only last a few months per size. I’ve seen some diapers cost as much as $20 apiece, with diaper covers costing $10 apiece, so to get a couple of dozen in each of the 5 sizes they have, to last from newborn to potty-training, could cost $3600, plus shipping and laundering. My brother and his wife got some “one size fits all” diapers (they had snaps in various places to fit the diaper to the growing baby, which they liked), but they were so thick that it took forever to dry; they were also fairly expensive, and they ended up only having two children before she died of colon cancer at the age of 35 — know the symptoms! My brother gave them to her sister when she had a baby, so they are at least getting some usage for their money, though not as much as they intended.

Final tally — I spent about $60 on my initial set of diapers (was able to get factory seconds), including shipping, 4 sets of diaper pins, and those awful vinyl covers. While many of the original diapers I bought are getting pretty ragged (I also have used them for cleaning, and have bleached them several times), they’re still useful for their intended purpose — and I used them on both of my kids for about two years apiece exclusively, so they’ve had 4 years of near-constant use. Then when my younger son was born, I got 4 dozen newborn diapers for about $40. Separately, I bought about a half-dozen pairs (two 3-packs) of diaper pants in all 5 sizes (newborn, small, medium, large, extra-large), for $3 per pack plus shipping; and I also separately bought a box of several dozen diaper pins — I think it was 40 pins altogether, which was overkill, but was actually cheaper than buying just a few separate pairs plus shipping, and I was sure not to run out. So, altogether, I think I spent about $150-175 on the full set of cloth diapers, plus the cost of laundering. Not bad, I think!