One of the most common questions asked in our boutique is “do cloth diapers leak?” Whether you are new to cloth diapering or you are in the throes of your cloth diapering journey, you may eventually encounter leaks. Leaks are not normal by any means, but they can be easily prevented.
A common misconception about cloth diapers is that ‘all cloth diapers leak’. When in fact, leaks mean there is an issue to be addressed. No quality cloth diaper should leak when used properly. If you are having problems with leaking, check our list for a possible cause and our solution.
In this article, we will discuss the common causes for leaks and the easy solutions to these problems.
1. Not Enough Absorbency
Babies grow so fast! And because we are with them everyday, we often forget how much they have grown from stage to stage. Outgrowing the absorbency of a diaper often happens between the newborn diaper and one size diaper stage. Newborn diapers start to leak and caregivers are so wrapped up in caring for baby (as they should be!) that they forget it might be time to move up to one size.
Outgrowing absorbency can happen in other stages too. As baby grows, you may have a smaller prefold than you need and then, leaks occur. You might be using one size All In Ones that can no longer compete with toddler pee. Or you might just be using only one insert that your diaper offers, when it’s time to move up to two.
Whatever the reason, check your baby’s diaper when wet. If the soakers are completely sopping soaked and you have been changing baby frequently, it’s time to add more absorbency!
Our Fix: Add more absorbency! If you are in a newborn diaper, check the fit on a one size. It might be time to move up. If you are using prefolds, make sure to check to see if you need to size up. If you feel that the size of your prefold fits your baby well, consider a booster in your prefold to bump up absorbency. If you are in All In Ones, it’s time for a booster like the GroVia Stay Dry Booster. If you are approaching toddlerhood, try the GroVia ONE’s super absorbent inner. It might be just right.
2. Poor Fit
Getting the perfect fit can be tricky when you are new to the cloth world however, it is essential to making sure that your baby stays leak free. Leaks due to fit most commonly stem from gaps between the diaper and your baby’s leg. You should choose the snaps or position the hook and loop so that the elastic of the diaper touches baby’s thigh all the way around. You should still have enough room to put two fingers between the diaper and baby’s skin and run your finger around the edge of the diaper comfortably.
Leaks from the back of the diaper often result in the diaper being snapped or fastened too loosely. You want to choose the snap or placement that allows the back of your diaper to lay flat against your baby’s skin with only enough room to do the same finger test to determine tightness.
You’ll also want to make sure that you are selecting the correct rise snap, if the diaper you are using has rise snaps. If it seems like the diaper is pulling down in the front panel, you’ll need to go down a rise. If it seems like the diaper is too bulky between baby’s legs and you also notice some leg gaps, it’s time to move up a rise.
Our Fix: Choose your rise setting first before assessing fit in other places. Once you have chosen your rise setting, then select your waist snaps or hook and loop position. Remember, the perfect fit is flat! Flat across the front panel, flat through the crotch and flat across the back of the diaper.
3. Too Much Absorbency
Too much absorbency can actually be just as bad as not enough. If you are overstuffing your diaper, you may actually be causing leaks rather than trying to prevent them.
Overstuffing is common and it does make sense. Caregivers feel like they need to bump up their absorbency, so they bump it up a lot and end up with the same result, leaks. More does not always equal better when you are talking cloth diaper fit.
So, why does overstuffing cause leaks? Overstuffing your diaper with more absorbency than needed causes the diaper to be so thick that the leg elastics (that are specifically designed to prevent leaks) cannot touch baby’s leg and leave a gap between diaper and baby. This gap will create leaks very frequently and rather then end up improving your absorbency, you will just end up frustrated.
So, what do caregivers do to fix this problem? The most common reaction is to let out the diaper’s rise snaps and fasten the diaper looser around the waist, making the diaper or cover even bigger to accommodate the overstuffing. The problem with this is not only that the waist will be far too big for your baby, but also that because your diaper doesn’t have a snug fit, you are at risk for blowouts and leaks from the waist. I promise, the fix is easier than trying to manage all that.
Our Fix: Consider switching fibers! If you are using microfiber inserts that absorb fast, but maybe not as much as a hemp/cotton blend, change it up. If you are using prefolds, consider moving up a size rather than overstuffing with lots of boosters. Natural fibers like Thirsties Hemp/Organic Cotton Inserts also tend to be thinner, eliminating bulk. Switching to a more absorbent fiber will help eliminate bulk, gaps in your diaper and therefore, leaks.
Flooding occurs when babies manage to hold their bladder for longer and longer periods of time and eventually, they flood their diapers. Flooding can be frustrating for parents because it often results in leaks, but it doesn’t have to.
There are several techniques you can use to prevent flooding and most of them are very small tweaks to your routine. Depending on age, flooding also may be a sign that baby is ready to begin potty learning, so be on the lookout for those cues as well.
- Using an extra booster folded in half and placed at the point the flooding begins. (If you have a little boy, this may be towards the front of his diaper, if you have a little girl, this may be towards the back of her diaper.)
- Folding the inserts themselves to put more material closer to the site of the flooding. On an All In One, this may mean folding the insert in half or in thirds.
- Remembering to put the fastest absorbing material closest to baby’s skin. For instance, if you have a pocket diaper, you would want your microfiber layer on top of your cotton or hemp layers.
- Use wicking materials when possible. Thirsties Stay Dry Duos are great for this situation with a microfleece top layer and several layers of thirsty organic cotton/hemp underneath
5. Damaged PUL/TPU
The PUL (Polyurethane Laminate) or TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) layer of your cloth diaper is the waterproof layer that keeps leaks away and seals in moisture. This would be the layer that shows you all those cute prints and colors on your diaper. If and when this layer is damaged, leaks can occur.
The damage you see will most likely be in the form of cracks in the PUL or TPU, mostly around the inner leg area. To check for cracks in your PUL/TPU, turn your cover or pocket inside out so that you are looking at the side without the print or color. You can stretch the fabric slightly in your hands and what you should see is a smooth surface. If you see cracks or pieces of laminate missing, you have damaged your waterproof layer. Once you have determined that your PUL/TPU is damaged, it will always be a source for leaks when used as a traditional cloth diaper.
The important thing to remember is that your cloth diapers shouldn’t ‘just leak’. If you are having trouble with leaks, it most likely stems from one of the issues discussed above.
In my almost 10 years of cloth diapering, almost every single leak that we have encountered has stemmed from one of the above issues. The good news is, all of these issues are easily fixable and can usually be fixed without any further trouble. There was a time when my second son was leaking through absolutely everything and I was ready to give up altogether (even though it had only been a few short weeks) when I finally realized that although he hadn’t outgrown the size of his newborn diapers, he had outgrown the absorbency!
So, if you’re having leaks, don’t give up! And don’t be so hard on yourself either. Parenting is hard! (But cloth diapering shouldn’t be.)
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