The biggest troubleshooting question on cloth diapering forums? Well, besides “How do I stop this addiction?”, it’s probably “Why am I getting leaks?”
A couple notes before I begin:
- I have personally never experienced leaks due to wash routine issues or issues from creams I’ve used;
- Microfiber is the insert/booster type that absorbs the quickest, so when combining materials, put the microfiber insert directly under the pocket and your natural fiber inserts below;
- I have a boy, so I’m sure there are different types of leaks that come with little girls;
- Leaks are a normal part of the cloth diaper learning curve: no matter what age you start, pack a change of clothes for baby as you’re figuring out the right fit or the right absorbency! Don’t get discouraged!
Here are the reasons I have had leaks with my son’s cloth diapers and what I’ve done to fix them:
1- Fleece repelling
When Cub was a teeny tiny newborn, he was getting a bit of redness due to the wetness from his cotton prefolds. I tried putting a fleece liner on top of the prefold, but this guaranteed leaks.
I eventually realized that because he was too little to be sitting, there was not enough pressure from his body weight to force the urine through the fleece liner to be absorbed by the cotton. If you drip water onto any fleece (be it your fleece liner or fleece inner of a diaper, or even your own fleece jacket), you’ll notice the water pearls on top and you can slide it from side to side. This is essentially what was happening in our newborn diapers: his urine was just sliding out instead of being absorbed.
Note that this repelling had nothing to do with a build up of rash cream or a problem with wash routine, it’s just the nature of fleece: it’s why we use fleece to back cloth menstrual pads!
Solution: Once baby is sitting up more often on his own, you’ll probably notice the problem goes away. In the mean time, I find that the natural fiber that offers the best “stay dry” effect is hemp, specifically hemp fleece or the “rougher” side of the hemp fabric, as you find with AMP and Öko Creations hemp inserts and boosters.
You may also find that a natural fiber being the top layer gives you best results for overnight diapering, since when baby is lying down, there may again not be enough pressure for the urine to pass through.
A stay-dry synthetic fabric that may avoid this problem is athletic wicking jersey, which has tiny holes that should allow liquid to pass through and be absorbed much easier. (For example, Ella Bella Bum.)
2- Point him down!
If you’re diapering a little boy, make sure his penis is pointing down when you close up his diaper. This was the cause of some leaks at the top of Cub’s diapers when he was first born.
Some natural fiber all-in-one diapers don’t have casings around the leg elastics, meaning the inner, absorbent cotton can roll outwards like so:
When the cotton become wet, the moisture reaches the edge of the fabric and then wicks onto baby’s clothing.
Solution: If you have this style of diaper, always check to make sure the cotton is rolled completely inwards when securing the diaper.
Sometimes there’s just too much pee. It may be a case of an unexpected nap making the time between diaper changes longer than usual, or a particularly thirsty toddler before bedtime, or simply that baby is growing and peeing more.
Solution: This is often a one-time situation. The usual diaper is overflowing because of an unusually long period between changes, for example. But if it seems to be a regular occurrence that after less than two hours the diaper is completely saturated, then yes, you need to increase absorption. I am a wholehearted supporter of hemp as the best increaser of diaper absorption. Geffen, AMP and Öko Creations all make excellent hemp/cotton boosters and inserts. If you’re on a budget, you may be able to work with flour sack towels to increase your diapers’ absorbency.
5- Compression leaks
When microfiber inserts become full, any pressure (from baby sitting in a car seat or in a baby carrier, for example) can serve to squish the urine out of the inserts and cause leaks. I have come to never use microfiber exclusively in our diapers to avoid this problem.
Solution: Use natural fiber inserts or boosters with your microfiber. For example, I like to place a small BumGenius microfiber on top of an Oko Creations hemp trifold in our pocket diapers. The microfiber makes sure the urine is absorbed quickly, and the hemp makes sure it stays absorbed, as natural fibers retain liquid more effectively. If you have a large microfiber stash and want an affordable solution, try combining with flour sack towels.
6- Tummy sleeping
When Cub started day care, his caregiver found she was having to change his pants after nap time because of leaks along the tummy. At home he tends to sleep on his back, but apparently he’s often on his tummy on his day care mat.
Solution: For day care tummy sleeping, I started stuffing all Cub’s diapers with a microfiber booster on top of the hemp trifold. Since microfiber absorbs quickly, this additional, quick absorbency solved his nap-time tummy-sleeping leaks.
If adding more absorbency still doesn’t solve the problem, try a diaper cover that has a front waist elastic, such as AppleCheeks, AMP or Rumparooz.
7- Back sleeping but still getting tummy leaks
As for leaks along the front waist of his pajamas, we get these even when he’s not sleeping on his tummy. He’s getting quite tall, so a lot of his diaper covers are pretty low slung and there’s not much space between where the overnight inserts end and the top of the cover. This means that the waistband of his pajamas pushes against the top of the cover and the insert wicks to the pants.
Solution: I try to use only our diaper covers with the highest rise, allowing for a bit of a gap between the end of our overnight insert and the diaper cover waist. (By the way, the inserts we use overnight are these ones.) The same principal applies to using a cover on top of a fitted. If the top edge of the fitted is flush with the top of the cover, you’re probably going to get leaks. The highest rise cover in our stash, and the only one that I actually need to snap down one rise level, is the Blueberry Coverall.
Cloth diapers + onesies don’t have to be a disaster, but they can be the culprit for leg leaks. The onesie, especially if it’s getting tight, puts pressure on the diaper and may even get stuck in one of the diaper’s leg openings, causing wicking.
Solution: Do not despair. Most Mamas find that the problem is 100% solved by only buttoning the middle button of the onesie’s crotch snaps. Another option is always ensuring the onesie is loose in the body, which may mean getting a few sets of onesie extenders, or some larger sized-onesies.