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I was a very clueless and lost gal when it came to starting CD. I knew I wanted to CD, but I didn't know how and I needed someone to spell out to me how they did it. This is what I have done and is what is working for us. There are TONS of different ways to do things, so experiment for yourself. There isn't a definite "right way" to do things. Also, I don't beat myself up for using disposable when it works best for us*. This is just my experience and it has been VERY EASY, and I want to demystify the process and encourage other moms who are considering CDing but feel like it will be overwhelming.
Here are a couple of basics:
I'm not employed, but I don't just stay at home either . I take my baby everywhere I go. This is my first baby. She's a she. She is 3 months old, weighs about 9lbs and is exclusively breast fed. We have a front loader HE washer/dryer in our house. I do 80% of the diaper changes, but my husband and mother in law are totally on board and participate with CDs too! We haven't had a diaper rash yet, but I'm pretty conscientious of changing her every 2-3 hours.
Here is my "stash":
Breaks down into 8 shells and 18 diapers.
This is just what I've used. I've got others for when she is older/bigger, but this is what I have experience with.
LOVE the Thirsties Duo Wrap, specifically with the snaps. Very adjustable and I don't have to worry about the velcro snagging anything. There is no fabric on these that really soaks up any mess, so they are easy to clean. These get the most use.
The GroVia diaper is very nice and adjustable too. It has a bit softer outer fabric and seems to lay more trimly at the waist. However there is some fabric on the inside that has gotten a bit messy and you can't just wipe it out like you can with the Thirsties.
Size 1 prefolds are working great for us - my baby is just 9 lbs now, so they were a bit bulky at the start. They work super well for very messy diapers and leak control.
Preemie prefolds - I use these in conjunction with a fleece soaker. They work great for wet diapers and are a bit less bulky on her.
Fleece soaker: I made my own fleece soakers out of a layer of fleece on the bottom, 2 layers of flannel alternating with 2 layers of thick cotton and another layer of fleece on top. The fleece doesn't feel wet against her skin and they sure do hold a lot of liquid.
I usually use two shells a day just swapping them back and forth between changes. If one gets messy I'll swap another one in.
For the diapers I have two different styles that have worked for us. First is just the size 1 prefold in the shell. I use this when I know it will be a bit longer between changes or if I'm expecting a large poo. I simply fold in the two sides of the prefold and place it in the shell, leaving a bit of a gap between the two sides. This allows the mess to fill this inside of the diaper and traps it in there. The size one prefolds are a bit long when used this way, so I adjusted the snaps accordingly.
The second style I use is the preemie prefold with a fleece soaker. I lay the fleece soaker on top of the prefold so that the fleece is against her skin and the prefold helps control the edges for messes. This is a bit more trim, but not as good poo control. Since it's the fleece against her bum, the poo can spread out towards the sides, whereas with the other way the poo gets trapped. (I haven't had any poo escape either way yet though!)
Comparing the two:
Here is what they look like from the outside:
At home - I have a bag hanging off the changing table. It's one of those really cheap synthetic bags that sometimes shoes come in (a ski helmet came in this one, but that is beside the point). It's completely breathable and doesn't absorb liquid. The dirty diapers, along with the baby wipes, go directly into that bag. As long as the shell didn't get messy, I hang it off the side of the changing table to air out. Every 2-3 days I empty the bag into the washer and toss the bag in with it. I wash the shells when they get messy or smell a little funky (usually each one gets washed once a week) I use ALL free and clear and do an extra rinse cycle at the end. Use less detergent then you would for clothes. Everything goes in the dryer (no dryer sheets!) except the shells - I hang dry those. The diaper wipes come out clean and I'm just tossing them into a separate bag to use later as diaper liners when the poos get really nasty.
Away from home - I've got a wet bag that I throw the diapers into and just add them to the 'home bag' when I get home. Easy peasy.
(check your manufacturer's recommendations for care - some actions can void the warranty or reduce the performance of your diapers.)
The stash that I mentioned above should last until she is about a year old, then she will outgrow the shells. I got most everything for my baby shower, but even then the total cost for that stash is around $160. I use the ALL free/clear detergent, which is about 10 cents per load (using less detergent then regular loads) so about $33/year for detergent. I can't tell you about water costs because we are on a well. I got the size 2 shells/diapers for my baby shower too. My personal out of pocket cost for diapers and detergent so far has been about $50. I spent that much on a month's supply of disposable when she was born! We're hoping to add a sibling down the road, so I'll be using everything again for them. Beyond the savings, I'm very glad that we're reducing the number of diapers that would end up in a landfill from our home. Also, now I have a supply of dusting rags that will last a lifetime.
Other knowledge I've picked up:
Using detergent that has fabric softeners, fragrance, other additives, etc can cause build up in your diapers -- the additives get trapped between the fabric layers and will start to smell funky. To solve this you have to go through the process of stripping them. I haven't faced this yet -- I'm trying to take preventative measures by using ALL free/clear. This chart helped me: A chart detailing which detergents are best used for washing cloth diapers.
Diaper rash creams can cause diaper build up and stink too. I haven't had to use any, but did you know that Desitin has fish oil in it?! - don't want that in the layers of my diapers!
Exclusive breast fed baby poo is water soluble, meaning that you can toss the diapers straight into the wash with no rinsing!
Cloth diaper systems have high re-sale value.
Don't invest in a ton of things before you figure out what works for you!
I hope that this has helped you! I really enjoy using cloth diapers. They are not as intimidating as I once thought. I'm excited to learn more as my baby grows, and I'll try and post more if anything really stand out!
*I used disposable diapers the first month of her life. I think that made the transition into parenthood a lot easier on my husband and I. We weren't having to stay up on laundry as well as figure out how to function on little sleep, pump, learn to BF, etc. We use disposable diapers at night. I put a disposable diaper on her around midnight when I go to bed and then it's back to cloth when we get up around 7am. I also use a disposable for long travel.