Myth vs. Truth: Cloth Diapering at Night

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Cloth Diapering at night: Myth vs Truth Waking up to wet sheets is my least favorite thing to do.  So is changing outfits on a cranky baby, potentially having to change my own clothes, oh and changing the sheets or sleeping on a lumpy towel until morning.  Finding the right combination to last your baby from the time they go to sleep to the time you both wake in the morning is challenging.  At some point, parents will stop changing the diapers at night even when a child wakes to eat.  This is totally normal and it is ok as long as your child isn’t getting a rash, isn’t uncomfortable, and hasn’t pooped. Only you can decide when that day comes, or you will have the decision made for you when your baby starts sleeping through the night.

Myth: Stay Dry Diapers are the best option for overnights

Truth: Diapers with a stay dry layer such as suedecloth or microfleece are far more prone to leaks than a diaper with natural fibers.  Why?  The synthetic material has a delay in soaking the urine past the stay dry layer and into the absorbent core.  They are also more prone to repelling, and even the smallest amount of build-up can cause a longer delay in absorption that gives the urine time to find an escape route through the stomach, back, or around the legs.  When your baby is standing or sitting this isn’t a huge problem, but when they are laying down it might be why your diapers are leaking.  Plus, the speed of output is important- the faster your baby pees and the more they pee at one time, the more likely your diaper will leak at night with a pocket diaper.  Natural fibers like hemp, cotton, and bamboo will immediately absorb liquids giving the urine no time to leave the diaper.  My video on fitteds has an excellent comparison between stay dry diapers and natural fibers for definitive proof on this.

Myth: My baby will wake up if they feel wetness.

Truth: OK, yes some kids don’t like feeling wetness but for the most part, kids will sleep with a natural fiber diaper.  Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the disposable diaper market likes to tell us that having a dry feeling diaper is the only way a child will ever sleep all night and as parents this makes sense to us.  Pampers even had an awful and full of lies FAQ on their website a few years ago that said babies would catch a COLD from being in a wet cloth diaper.  Not all babies are cut out for wearing diapers overnight that are wet to the touch (some might get a rash or some might just not like it) but if you are having troubles with leaks using your pockets or other stay dry diapers consider trying a fitted, prefold, or even flats to solve your nighttime woes.  You can try using a stay dry fleece liner at night, it will keep the center parts feeling dry while giving a perimeter inside of the diaper of natural fibers to catch the liquids before it runs out.

Myth: There is no way a cloth diaper can work for us overnight.  My baby is too heavy of a wetter.

Truth: I know many parents struggle with finding a cloth diaper combination for nights that works as well as a disposable does.  Even though it is very tempting to use disposables at night (no one blames you if you do) there are combinations that can work.  A few of my favorites for super wetters are the Sustainable Babyish Snapless and a wool cover, Tots Bots Bamboozle and a cover, flats and a cover (yes really!  We used flats or prefolds the most at night for Everett),  or a good WAHM made fitted like Orange Diaper Co. and a wool or PUL cover.  My favorite PUL cover is the Applecheeks Envelope cover for nights.  If you can’t afford wool fleece covers are also an option, they work much the same as wool does as a breathable cover but are cheaper and require less special washing.  (Here is a post on how fleece covers work on Zephyrhillblog).  Using a more absorbant material like hemp, or the new craze, bamboo fleece, will mean less bulk overall.  If you insist on using pockets at night try stuffing with a natural fiber insert- a favorite is the Loopy-Doo- and don’t overstuff.  More inserts≠better.  Overstuffing leads to leaks too, by creating gaps in the fit around the stomach and back.  See my post on troubleshooting cloth diaper leaks for more on why they leak and how to fix it.  

Other Challenges: Other than absorbency, the challenge with overnight diapering can be ammonia or rashes.  Ammonia is when urine has built up in the diapers over time.  You will know if you have ammonia in your diapers because they will stink!  The smell will burn the hairs in your nose.  It is natural- a diaper that has been sitting in your diaper pail for 1-2 days will start to smell like ammonia.  However, a diaper that is being taken off your baby in the morning shouldn’t smell very strong of ammonia, if any at all.  If so then you have a problem and need to remove that buil-up before you start to see rashes on your baby.  Removing ammonia can be tricky- I do think bleach is best but check the warranty on your diapers before using it.  1/4 cup will be enough, use it in your wash, and do several hot washes with no detergent.  This is called “stripping.”  Sunning your diapers can also help to naturally “bleach” your diapers and kill germs so try that if you can.  More information on stripping and washing diapers in this post.

Rashes, if your baby is prone to them due to being next to moisture, or from ammonia, are another challenge you may face.  If it is an ammonia burn then removing the ammonia from your diapers will fix that (easier said than done, I know.)  Rashes caused by being in a diaper and being wet can either be solved by using a stay dry liner, even a fleece one that lays in the diaper, or a diaper with a layer of stay dry material built in.  If you have to change them once or twice a night when they wake up to prevent rashes then it has to be done. Cloth diapering doesn’t have to be hard or complicated and by reading some forums you would think that overnight diapering takes a degree in “Cloth Diaper Science.”   There are very simple ways to diaper at night, like flats, or you can get more complicated by layering inserts are materials like crazy.  I like to keep it simple in my stash, my wash routine, and in my diapering choices.

As an experienced cloth diaper user I’ve tried just about every diaper and every kind of solution for nights.  I had far more leaks at nights with my pockets than I ever had with fitteds, prefolds, flats, or contours.  Take that for what it’s worth and good luck with your overnight diapering.  If you have a favorite solution for nights leave it in the comments, I’d love to hear it.

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Kim Rosas began Dirty Diaper Laundry in 2009 out of a desire to help more parents understand modern cloth diapers. She lives in Florida with her husband of 5 years and her two boys. Even though none of her boys wear diapers anymore she is still just as committed to promoting them. In her spare time Kim enjoys video editing, photography, and coffee.
  • Meaghan

    Thanks for this post! We’ve been using double-stuffed pockets at night for about 2 months now… and so. many. leaks. We have decided to switch back to using prefolds and covers exclusively and have already had two leak-free nights in a row… wahoo! It’s soooo nice to not wake up in a puddle of pee…!

  • Sonja-Marie Thomassen

    We use fitteds (sbish and totsbots) with wool covers at night! I would really love to use flats, but dont know how to fasten snappi without it digging in to babys skin since it’s quite thin around the waist.. I don’t have any pins.. Is it possible to do with a snappi?

    • kimrosas

      Depends on the fold as to whether or not a snappi with touch the skin. I honestly just pad fold them and lay them in a cover for nights which gives you lots of layers :)

  • Samantha Johnson

    I use a prefold with a hemp doubler folded into it. We sometimes have minor leaks when we sleep in, but he always goes from about 7:30 pm to 6 am with no leaks!

  • Jenn G

    My only successful night time solution is to use a bamboo prefold (folded down a little in the front) wrapped around an Alva (newborn) bamboo insert inside a Thirsties duo wrap. Sometimes we get minor leaks around the stomach but nothing that requires changing in the middle of the night.

  • cheeryhomemaker

    We currently use a bumGenius 4.0 pocket diaper at night. I was using a natural fiber fitted but he was waking up with a red booty. I stuff the 4.0 with a cotton prefold and the microfiber insert. No leaks. No rash. Our night time routine is always the one that changes as he gets older!

    • kimrosas

      Pockets can definitely work and I’ve used them in the past. I just like that with natural fibers there is such a higher chance of success, not the case with pockets. I’m a day time pocket girl though. Hopefully no one thinks I’m declaring war on them.

      • cheeryhomemaker

        Not at all! One of my favorite things about cloth diapers is that you are truly able to figure out what works for you and your family. Whereas with disposables you just get to choose which cartoon character you put on your baby. :)

  • Katie Wiley

    We had problems with sposies leaking at night, so i really worried about making the switch to cloth. I use bamboo pockets with a mf sandwiched between 2 4layer bamboo inserts at night on my 17 month old. We have no nighttime leaks now.

  • Courtney

    Great information! I’ve fortunately never had troubles with prefold-stuffed pocket diapers for overnight, but I totally agree that most babies don’t actually mind feeling the wetness of natural fibers against their skin. After all, it’s fastened snugly and has a cover, so it stays warm – nothing like when a bigger kid wets the bed at night and the PJs/sheets get wet & cold – now that would be uncomfortable!

  • Joy Yost

    Thanks for this post! We just switched to cloth about a month ago. I absolutely love it so far! We’re still using up the last of our night time/12 hr sposies and then we’ll make the switch at night too. I have to admit I’m scared to give it a try. We mostly use pockets now but I may have to invest in a couple fitteds with a PUL or fleece cover for our heavy wetter. Hmmm…an excuse to buy more fluff!

  • Rebecca A.

    We have had very good luck with a Kawaii good night heavy wetter pocket double stuffed with one of the bigger MF inserts they come with and one hemp doubler (Best Bottoms large insert). Never any leaks in the few months we have been using this combo.

  • Vanessa Swager

    We started CD full time in April on our 21 month old and have been using them at night since january. She’s tube fed and on a constant night time drip so she is getting from 10-25oz of fluid at night. No disposable could stand up to that amount of pee! We use prefolds and Flip or Thirsties covers and have NEVER had a leak(unless it was user error:) We do two prefolds and a cover, although I am getting ready to try a hemp insert, hopefully that will work well too with less bulk. Good luck to all those struggling with night time CD’ing.

  • meljc

    For my rashy, sensitive boy we have two easy night solutions:
    4.0 + imagine bamboo flat + small doubler (Grovia or hemp babies)
    fab fitted + 2 grovia doubler (or 1 flip daytime flat) + any wool

    Easy peasy!

  • Rinnara Brunelli

    My 22 month old now sleeps with 2 fitteds and wool, fleece or PUL. I usually put a tots bots bamboozle with a size 2 little lamb bamboo nappy lined with their fluffy fleece liner. Today he’s wearing A mama knows (bamboo fitted) with Ella’s House Bumhugger (hemp fitted nappy) and tots bots size 2 wrap. I find that putting 2 nappies is way easier than madly boosting one :-)

  • Adrienne Nolan

    I mainly use prefolds, but have never attempted them at night since my son is a heavy wetter. I’m curious as to how you do it. Do you trifold or use a snappi and a doubler?

    • Sofia

      I use my old cheap cotton prefolds with an absorbent insert in the middle (bamboo fleece or knit terry are good). The most important step I have found that has never leaked so far is to jelly roll the sides of the prefold. It seems to funnel everything back to the center insert. Then a snappi to hold and a PUL wrap on top. Believe it or not this is the least bulky thing I have tried.
      Even if she has a really messy poo it still holds. I also like to put a piece of thin fleece on top of the insert to give the baby a stay-dry feel. I just bought a bunch of different fabrics and am going to sew different prefolds and continue to experiment with different combinations.
      I tried pocket diapers with suedecloth lining. As much as I love the diaper and the stay-dry feel, they leaked at night repeatedly (baby likes to sleep on her side). The suedecloth repelled or didn’t wick fast enough so pee runs down the side. I also tried a bumgenius freetime all-in-one, but it also leaked AND felt really wet inside, not to mention it was extremely bulky and my baby’s legs were sticking up in the air because she couldn’t put them down.

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