Friday, May 20, 2016

Flats and Handwashing Challenge Day 5: In Defense of the Thin Little Old Fashioned Birdseye Flat Diaper

Techniques and Performance: How I Make Flats Work For My Toddler

I've thought of this challenge mainly as a handwashing challenge, since I've used flats every day I've used diapers for the last 18 months.  I've used them a lot of ways, starting from the day we brought her home as a baby, but I'm going to specifically discuss how we use/used them on my EC toddler.

I like to use the most basic and old school flat diapers that I know of: the Gerber flats that you can get 10 of for $12.50 at any number of big box stores and are made of old-timey thin birdseye fabric, barely more substantial than cheese cloth.  Honestly, they do look pretty much as worthless as everyone says that they are. 

But I actually think they are great.  These are the old fashioned flats from back in the days when everyone did EC, and they just called it parenting.  From back when it was normal to change babies after each pee, even if you just hung the diaper in the window to dry and used it a second time before washing it.  This seems totally gross to modern readers, but I would argue is objectively no more gross than leaving the wet diaper on for several hours before washing, during which time it will likely be peed in several times.  Especially since urea breaks down into ammonia in the presence of water, if the flat dried quickly between pees, that might actually reduce the risk of ammonia.  Think like an open pail, only between pees.  (Nevertheless, I do wash my flats every time they came off my toddler with pee on them.  Because, eww.)

They are designed to catch something like a single pee for a baby younger than a traditional potty training age of around 18 months.  In my experience, they do this.  I think she is starting to get to the point the last few months that she could pee through one of them in one go, but when she does have a pee miss, she normally stops herself and can finish up on the potty.

I think there is something magical about birdseye weave.  It looks like little more than cheesecloth, but let me tell you a little story about cheesecloth.  On Mothers Day, I rendered honey from honeycomb for the first time, using a crush and strain method.  I read that I was supposed to strain the wax bits, debris, and detritus out of the honey with cheesecloth.  So I got some cheesecloth and when I went to put it between my two jars as a strainer, I held it up to the light, and I said, "You've got to be kidding me!  There is no way this is going to get all the crap out of my honey!" So I used 6 layers.  After 2 days, there was still no honey in the bottom jar, so I removed 4 layers and tried again.  After another couple days, there were just a few drops of honey.  So I dropped to just the one layer of cheese cloth.  After a day--which is the amount of time it is supposed to take--all my honey was filtered, and it looks great.  

I don't know what it is about a weave like birdseye or cheesecloth that makes them so much more impervious than they look, but I would guess that there is some scientific explanation of how the large loose strands buy you something with surface tension. This video has an impress demonstration of the power of surface tension.

My experience has been the same with the thin birdseye diapers.  By weight, they hold more than my other cotton diapers, and they absorb incredibly quickly.  They also wring out more easily and thoroughly.  Finally, they seem to "puff up" to fill any excess space between my toddlers bottom and the cover, granting a better fit when pad folded than other diapers I have used.  They hold less than any other diaper because they are so small, but by the same token, they are small, so you can double them up (or do half flats as doublers) without creating a lot of bulk and get the same great performance.  I've used jersey knit, flour sack towels, and flannel, and even though they absorb very well on the kitchen scale test, there is a strong tendency for the water to run off or straight through those materials without being absorbed as well.  Perhaps someday I will come up with experimental methodology to actually demonstrate this, beyond my own personal experience of them just not working as well as diapers.  Of course, you can successfully diaper with those materials.  Many people have, including myself, but I think you end up needing more material and a better fit to compensate.

My baby is wiggly, so I've only pad folded since she was 5 months old.  I either pad fold in a pocket diaper, or I pad fold in a diaper such as an Assunta or Alva diaper that has flaps to help hold the flat in place.  They don't do a lot to hold the flat in place once it is on baby, but they do help hold everything together while I get the thing on, and then as long as the cover is appropriately tight and I get her changed before the second pee, which I always endeavor to do anyway, I've never had any problems doing it this way.  

This week, because her normal padded training underpants are off limits for having multiple layers, I'm also pad folding flats and pinning them inside simple wool shorties to make a sort of pull up wool diaper. I made my woolies specific to this purpose and they have no elastic around the legs in the hopes that she won't pick up on the fact that it's actually basically still just a diaper.  This cover is literally a rectangle of knit wool, folded over and stitched at the hips, with a loop of underwear elastic at the top--itself little more than a flat.  So far, so good.  

That said, if she poops in her diaper, I almost always have a cover to wash.  It's a little annoying, but EC saves the day.  She takes a huge dump in the potty almost every morning, and many afternoons right after nap.  This is partly habit, and partly hormonal.  She poops a lot and it's somewhat hit or miss whether the other 1-2 poops are in the potty or the diaper the rest of the day (although she is getting much more reliable as she gets older, and I think especially now that her chronic ear infections have resolved), but even on a really bad week when only 70% of the poops land in the potty, it's still a big help.

Today's Stats:

Overnight: Woke up way too early, wet pair of overnight flats per normal.  Maybe wetter than normal and messed with sleep, hard to say.  Seemed overtired and very fussy all day.
Daytime: 2 partial pee misses, 3 pee total misses, lots of poop catches, some pee catches.  EC is seriously hard with an obstinate over-tired baby.  Actually, life in general is hard with an over-tired baby.  Laundry produced: 1 pair underpants, 2 diapers, 1 dress, 1 pair of socks, 4 wipes, and 2 rubberized flannel chair protectors.  Let me just say that while rubberized flannel washes up nicely in the machine, it turns out to be the devil to hand wash.  

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