Everything You Need to Know About Cloth Diapers for Preemies

One of the biggest concerns for new preemie parents is making sure their precious little ones stay dry and rash-free in their diapers. To do that, many turn to cloth diapers which some believe are better than the cellulose, polypropylene, polyethylene, and polymer diapers that you’ll find all over the place.

The question, of course, is which cloth diapers to choose, as well as what to look for in a cloth diaper. Any tips on how to use, wash, and change them would be great, too, if you’re a preemie mom or dad in need of advice. If that’s the information you’re seeking today, read on! We’ve got a diaper-full of excellent info today that will help you and your preemie!

Diapers in the NICU are Weighed 

When your preemie is in the NICU, one thing to remember is that, in many of them, the nurses will remove their diaper and weigh it to determine how much urine they’re making. Yes, it might sound unusual, but it’s a good way of determining how well your preemie’s digestive and urinary systems are working.

Because of this fact, cloth diapers are usually not used in the NICU. In other words, you won’t need to worry about them until after your preemie has been released to go home with you. That being said, some NICUs will allow you to bring in cloth diapers for your preemie. The best way to find out is simply to ask.

Cloth Diapers Need to Be Washed

The primary benefit of disposable diapers is found right in their name; they’re disposable. Once your preemie has done their business, you simply wrap them up and toss them out. (Much to the chagrin of Mother Nature, unfortunately.)

Cloth diapers are a bit more ecological, but they do come with one caveat; you need to wash them. After having a premature baby and going through all of the stress and turmoil of a premature birth, the last thing you probably want is to have extra laundry. That being said, once you begin to use cloth diapers, there are certain things you need to know as they’re a bit different from disposables. For example:

Cloth Diapers Need to Be Prepped

Unlike disposable diapers, cloth diapers need to be prepped. It’s an easy process involving washing them through the regular wash cycle two or three times. (You don’t need to dry them in between washes, however.) 

By washing them, the fibers are forced to open, which increases their absorbency. Also, any natural oils on the fabrics are washed away, so they don’t irritate your preemie’s skin. Washing them with your regular household laundry is fine, and you can then allow them to air dry or tumble dry on low heat. 

Poop Needs to Be Cleaned Off and Flushed Before Washing

Gross as it sounds, you’d be surprised how many new preemie parents simply remove the cloth diapers from their preemie’s behind and toss them directly in the washer without cleaning off the –ahem– waste they’ve left behind. Some people have a specific scraping tool like a spatula that they set aside just for this task. (You probably wouldn’t want to use it for anything else afterward, anyway.)

Wash Cloth Diapers on Warm or Low Heat 

One problematic aspect of cloth diapers is that if you wash them in water over 115°F, they can easily be damaged, and their lifespan decreases significantly. That’s why cleaning them on warm or low heat is best. Also, a natural laundry detergent is recommended to reduce the risk of irritating their skin. Speaking of which…

Make Sure Cloth Diapers are Rinsed Well

Premature babies have very delicate skin that can easily be irritated by quite a few different products. One of the worst is laundry detergent which is why you should find one that’s either natural or less abrasive. Also, after washing, make sure that you rinse their cloth diapers extremely well. This will remove any detergent that might have been left behind and prevent it from building up. If it does, it can reduce their ability to absorb moisture.

Air Drying Cloth Diapers is Best

To increase the lifespan of your cloth diapers, it’s recommended that you either dry them on a very low heat setting or, even better, hang them out to air dry. Not only will they last longer, but you’ll also save a lot of money on electricity or gas, depending on which your dryer uses. Also, drying them in the sun is a great way to remove stains.

Choose a Washing Detergent Carefully

We’ve mentioned it already, but it begs repeating; it’s vital you choose the best laundry detergent to reduce the risk of irritating your preemie’s skin. Below are some of the attributes you should look for in a laundry detergent, including:

  • Natural
  • Unscented
  • No fragrances, dyes, or perfumes
  • Non-Toxic
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Phosphate-free
  • It doesn’t contain fabric softeners

Extra Tips for Using Cloth Diapers for Your Preemie

You can probably skip these tips if this isn’t your first rodeo with cloth diapers and premature babies. However, if you’re a first-time preemie parent, the tips below can be pretty helpful. 

  • To save money, look for 2nd-hand Diapers on eBay or Facebook Marketplace.
  • For late-term preemies, skip the newborn diapers and go right to cloth diapers for full-term babies.
  • Ask a friend who’s used cloth diapers for help and advice.
  • Ask a nurse in the NICU to show you the cloth diaper ropes.

Find a Cloth Diaper “Bank” Near You

Check to see if your town has a so-called “Cloth Diaper Bank.” These unique places (and people) gather used cloth diapers, check them for damage, wash them thoroughly, and give them to new preemie parents for free (or a very deeply discounted price). One caveat is that diaper banks seem to appear and disappear frequently. Google “cloth diaper bank” to see if you have one near your home.

Last Words

Cloth diapers have many advantages for you, your preemie, and the planet. They’re reusable, gentler on your preemie’s bottom, and, after the initial investment, cheaper than disposable diapers. They’re also, frankly, a bit grosser to handle and clean. (Preemie poop can be rather revolting, let’s be honest.) 

The best way to see if cloth diapers work for you is to try them. If they don’t, you always have disposables to fall back on. In most cases, though, your preemie will be happier and have fewer rashes and skin reactions with cloth diapers on their tiny booty.

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