Cloth Diapers Shouldn't Leak!
Many people claim that they don't want to try cloth diapers because they are worried about leaks. The truth is, cloth diapers shouldn't leak at all. So if you have leaky diapers, there is a problem.
Used Diapers? First thing, did you buy your diapers used? If so, the downside is that you do not know what the previous owner washed them in. If they are leaking, my first recommendation would be to strip them immediately in hopes that the problem is detergent residue. If you are using a free and clear detergent, or just a really mild one like Seventh Generation or Ecos and having leaks, strip them and change detergents. Detergents I like are: Tiny Bubbles, Bumgenius, & Thirsties Superwash--all found at Cutie Tooties; Tide (Original) & Arm & Hammer Essentials.
Another possibility is that the previous owner (or you) used chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach on the diapers. This is a BIG NO-NO! Bleach of any kind will break down the fabric quickly and compromise the absorbency. It will also eat the laminate (waterproofing) off covers and the outters of AIO's & Pocket diapers. If you or someone else used bleach on your diapers, there really isn't much you can do to repair them. Some people recommend using a waterproofing spray that is usually silicone based. You can find this spray in the camping section of most department stores. Please note that inhalation of this Teflon-like spray has been linked with lung damage, so I am NOT recommending it. Simply stating that some people report that it works on destroyed covers. I have never personally used it myself.
Fabric softener, liquid or dryer sheets is a definite NO-NO for cloth diapers. Fabric softener might make your diapers smell good, but it will also make them leak. Using fabric softener on towels makes them less absorbent. It does the same thing with diapers. If you want something to make them softer, add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle. It will soften your diapers, help with odor, offer anti-fungal properties and cost a lot less. Oh yeah, and it won't ruin your diapers. If you have used fabric softener on your diapers, strip them and start over. You might also need to consider cleaning your washer if you or someone you love is a fabric softener addict. Sometimes the residue from the washer can deposit on diapers and cause a leaking problem. For top-loaders (old style) Use baking soda and vinegar until you get a fizzy effect in a large hot wash. Let it sit for 20 minutes and then close the lid. For HE washers, go to Home Depot or Lowe's and get the cleaning tablets that are made to remove gunk from HE washers.
Not Enough Absorbency
You MUST know how much your child pees and adjust accordingly. If you used a sanitary pad and had a leak, chances are you wouldn't give up on them completely, but you would troubleshoot to prevent the leak from happening again. So it goes with cloth diapers. Perhaps your child just wets too much for 1 microfiber insert. Consider adding another, or adding a help insert. Hemp is far more absorbent than microfiber, and much more trim, but it is slower absorbing. I find that the perfect combo is often a microfiber insert on top of a hemp insert slid into a pocket diaper. Some people go for DSQ prefolds in a pocket diaper. Others use straight hemp. My point here is work with it. There is a solution for your child. Try to be flexible. Email or call me anytime. I am happy to make suggestions specifically for your child.
Not Changing Often Enough
The state of TN recommends that disposable infant diapers be changed hourly. This recommendation stands for cloth diapers as well, though few people stick with that. Personally I find that 2 hours in a cloth diaper is reasonable. 3 hours can be done. Anything beyond needs to be considered an exception UNLESS CHILD IS WEARING A DIAPER THAT IS CONDUCIVE TO NAP OR OVERNIGHT SLEEP-in which cases child may wear same diaper for 12 hours. During the day however, when intake is usually highest and therefore voiding is as well, plan on changing at least every 2 hours.
Cheap Diapers/Cotton Laminate
There are 2 structural possibilities that can be a problem as well. Some diapers are just cheaply made. You get what you pay for most of the time, and this is the case with cloth diapers. Gerber brand prefolds (purchased at Babies R Us and Wal-mart gave me nothing but leaks and messes. I find this to be a common theme among parents who say they "tried cloth diapers and hated it". Very often they tried Gerber prefolds with unpleasant results. Those "diapers" are best used as burp cloths and cleaning rags. Regardless of where you buy them, if you buy prefolds, choose diaper service quality Chinese or Indian prefolds in premium thickness-4 X 8 X 4 layers--which will provide superb absorbency. There are also some other AIO's and pocket diapers that are just made cheaply either by manufacturers or individuals and often these wind up in my consignment basket because owner found that they leaked. This can be a result of poor craftsmanship--person didn't know how to seal the laminate-- lack of waterproofing; inadequate waterproofing; laminated cotton outters which provide super cute prints but also a lot of wicking, which means wet onesies; inner or insert is not absorbent enough; or poor sizing/fit leads to gaps an leaking.
Many of my customers are tempted to size up thinking that doing so will save them money. It might. But it might also lead to some really inconvenient situations like poop all over a child's clothes, your clothes, a car seat...you get the picture. Generally speaking, sizing up with cloth diapers is a bad idea. You are setting yourself up for leaks and frustration. Just like underwear, cloth diapers fit or they don't. There isn't much middle ground. You can only cinch the waste so much, and leg gussets aren't particularly adjustable in most cases. Putting your child in a diaper that is too big can lead to gapping around the legs, which allows pee and poop to run out the sides. It also allows for gapping at the waistline in the front and back. Gapping at the front is a big problem for boys as this lends itself to what we at my house refer to as "run-away toodle" which means little boys peeing straight out the top of the diaper like a runaway water hose. It is NOT a fun experience, I can tell you. Gapping at the back lends itself to poop blowouts that are prevented by well-fitting cloth diapers, because unlike disposables, cloth diapers and covers have elastic in the back too. Finally, larger diapers mean more bulk on baby, which can put unnecessary pressure on their hips and in worst-case scenario can cause damage (his dysplasia) so, again one more reason not to size up. Trust me, the added absorbency for a larger size is usually pretty minimal. Adding an extra insert is a MUCH better choice.
The biggest temptation to size up is during the XS-Newborn stage. All I can say is "Fight the Feeling!" There are a couple of brands that you can cheat with and possibly go with a small, but in MOST cases an XS/Newborn is required, even for 9lb babies.
Brands that Require XS/NB for almost all new babies:
Thirsties Covers (Absolutely always get XS. These run big)
FuzziBunz (Ditto above)
Prefolds (Get Infant)
*Any One-Size diaper--Get XS and plan on One-Size fitting at 10-12lbs*
Happy Heiny's One-Size
Thirsties Duo Pocket Diapers Some diapers that tend to run smaller are:
Bumgenius AIO's (larger babies 10+ can get into smalls once umbilical cord falls off in most cases)
Knickernappies-size small has umbilical cut out making these a reasonable choice in size small for babies 8lbs and up.
Dream-Eze AIO's-these fit pretty quickly after birth for most babies and provide a trim fit.
Happy Heiny's-this one is a toss up. The XS will fit almost all newborns the best, but some can get away with a small. No umbilical cut out.
Bummis Covers-For most babies the NB cover fits for a short period of time. If baby is 6lbs-7lbs, NB is a good idea. Babies 8lbs and up at birth can probably use a Size Small.
**Of all One-Size diapers, Bumgenius 3.0 tends to fit "best" on a new baby. That word "best" is very much relative. I don't think they fit well, but you can usually get them small enough to prevent leaks. Often the bulk is significant and newborn clothing won't fit well over them. Again added hip pressure as well. BUT I do have customers who use these shortly after birth. Thirsties Duo pocket diapers (2-size system) provide a much better fit on a newborn in my opinion as far as adjustable sized diapers are concerned.***