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The ABCs of Nighttime Diapering
by Cynthia Thompson
When your baby is sleeping 5 or more hours at night or you just want to skip those middle of the night diaper changes, you’ll need to think about night time diapering. Night diapering is a special situation. Many disposable diapers can’t make it through the night without leaking, but there are cloth solutions that work. However, what works for you during the day probably won’t be absorbent, breathable or comfortable enough to last all night.
Since a night diaper will be changed less frequently than a daytime diaper, it needs to be more absorbent. Most babies can get enough absorption from cotton fibers during the day. At night, many babies need an extra “boost” to get through the night comfortably, and with dry pajamas and bedding. Two fibers are especially good for night diapers: hemp and microfiber. Both of these fabrics are very absorbent and work well together overnight.
You may be able to add a hemp and/or microfiber diaper doubler to a regular fitted diaper you already own and get enough absorbency that way. If that doesn’t work for you, one of the easiest ways to get the absorbency you need for overnight is by using pocket diapers. Pocket diapers have an opening to place an absorbent insert inside and you can use as much or as little absorbency as needed. Pocket diapers come in both all-in-one (AIO) style, with the waterproof outer covering attached, and fitted style, which needs a separate cover.
A good overnight insert for a pocket diaper is a microfiber towel folded in thirds, with a hemp doubler wrapped inside. Three layers of microfiber combined with three or more layers of hemp will work overnight for most babies.
Overnight diapers that remain saturated for several hours can develop odors from bacteria that grow when heat and moisture levels rise. A breathable cover lets heat and moisture escape, reducing the chance of odors and rashes. Both wool and polyester fleece make excellent breathable overnight covers. A nylon pull-on cover is also a good choice, since it is more breathable than standard PUL (fabric coated with a waterproof polyurathane laminate). Nylon is not as breathable as fleece or wool, but nylon covers are generally inexpensive, leak-resistant, and wash and dry very quickly. Avoid vinyl covers, as they trap heat and moisture.
Wool has many advantages as a diaper cover, such as its ability to both repel and absorb moisture as needed. Wool is also a natural fiber with anti-bacterial capabilities. A harmless chemical reaction takes place when the lanolin on wool fibers comes in contact with urine, removing odors as the cover dries after use. Wool covers should not be washed every time they are used as this reduces their natural water repellency. Some brands of wool covers are machine washable but most wool benefits from gentle hand washing and occasional lanolin treatments. If you use wool every night, it’s best to rotate two or more covers, allowing them to air out thoroughly between uses.
Many people like a pull-on cover like an for overnight, but a generously cut wrap or side snap covers with hook & loop fasteners or snaps works fine too. Overnight wool covers can be single or double layered, but are generally thicker than a daytime cover in either case. While felted wool is not as stretchy as unfelted jersey or interlock, it is ideally suited for night time covers.
High tech fleece fabrics also make good overnight covers and can be machine washed and dried. Fleece does not absorb moisture as wool does and it does not naturally remove odors so covers should be washed more frequently. Try airing after one use, but if an odor remains, wash before using again. Fleece dries very quickly, so you may be able to have just one night cover. Having two or more, though, will allow more flexibility with the laundry schedule.
Fleece covers also come in pull-on, wrap, and side snap versions. All work well as long as a heavier and/or more tightly knitted fleece is used. A 300-weight fleece makes a good single layer cover, while a lighter fleece would need two layers. Specialty fleeces can be very water resistant yet fit trimly and are excellent for night use.
If standard pajamas aren’t fitting well over your thicker night diaper and cover or you are having trouble with moisture wicking through to cotton pajamas, try using a pair of wool or fleece “longies”. These are basically long pants either handknit from wool, or sewn from wool or fleece fabric. Longies can be worn directly over a fitted diaper, replacing both the diaper cover and pajama pants. For a baby or toddler that really soaks her diaper overnight, try layering a wool or fleece cover underneath wool or fleece pants. You can also use wool or fleece pants anytime as a cover, or try them over an AIO diaper if you are having issues with wicking.
Because your baby will be wearing the same diaper and cover for a long time, comfort is very important. Using both a diaper with appropriate absorbency and a breathable cover will increase your baby’s comfort, but you can do more to assure your baby won’t wake in the night because his diaper is uncomfortable.
Overnight covers should have a generous cut, since the diaper underneath will probably be thicker than usual and any pinching or binding will be worsened by the fact that the cover is worn for a long time. The diaper underneath should also fit well, especially if you are adding doublers (and bulk) to increase absorbency. You may need to use a larger size than your regular daytime diapers. If you use pocket diapers, you might need to size up also, since you will be using more/thicker inserts. If at all possible, try to have covers and diapers that are reserved for nighttime use.
Using a wicking fabric inside the diaper, such as a top layer on a doubler, or a lay-in liner, will also increase comfort. Polyester wicking fabrics such as microfleece and suedecloth pull moisture away from your baby’s skin, keeping them drier and more comfortable. Natural fabrics such as silk and velour also have a wicking effect, though not as pronounced as polyester fibers.
Some parents who exclusively use prefold diapers during the day will double-diaper with them overnight. While you can increase absorbency with this method, the resulting diaper is often bulky, and not very comfortable for a baby. You can increase comfort in a doubled prefold diaper by using a fleece liner to wick away moisture and a breathable cover to reduce heat build-up. To reduce bulk, replace one of the cotton prefolds with a hemp prefold or flat. Even better, have a couple fitted diapers or AIOs as previously described that are reserved for night time use.
As with all diapering solutions, individual results will vary based on how long your baby sleeps and in what position, whether you are night nursing, etc. Experiment with hemp, microfiber, wool & fleece and you will find what works for your family. You can have a dry, cozy baby and bed all night long!
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