The New Art of Diapering

Remember when diapers were just diapers? When my daughters were babies, in the late 70s to early 80s, there were cloth diapers (most people bought the more expensive “prefolds”), and two brands of disposable diapers—Pampers and Huggies. We primarily used cloth diapers. We used disposable diapers occasionally when traveling, and they always leaked. My husband and I had done some babysitting for our nieces and nephew, and I’d babysat a little as a teenager. So we knew how to fasten cloth diapers, preferably without causing lasting injury from a diaper pin.

On top of the cloth diapers we put plastic covers that did a lovely job keeping the wet and mess contained rather than spilling onto our laps, the furniture, or the carpets. What we didn’t know beforehand was that our babies would have sensitive skin and frequent diaper rashes. When they had flare-ups, we had to leave off the plastic cover. This required either changing diapers several times an hour, or wallowing in the mess that otherwise resulted. So we changed and we changed and we changed.

Fast forward to today, when a diaper is not just a diaper. Now we have a System. There are one-size diapers that, contrary to their name, adjust to your baby’s size as she grows from birth to potty training. They can fasten with either Velcro or snaps. There are all-in-one, pocket, and hybrid systems. Materials can include cotton, hemp, cotton fleece, cotton terry or bamboo. The challenge is that each system has different components that are assembled differently. My daughters seemed to like the pocket variety.

One day when my husband and I were sitting, and the baby was taking a nice long nap, we noticed a pile of clean diapers in a basket on the dining room table. Thinking we could be Helpful Grandparents, we emptied the basket and began the task of choosing which pad goes into which diaper and how. No problem, I thought, I’d watched my daughter do this a dozen times. I’d even “helped” a little by stuffing when she said to stuff.

But left on our own, we were quickly overwhelmed. Was that pad with a snap supposed to be snapped before inserting? Does the resulting fold go toward baby’s butt or away? What were these little fabric squares for? And there were clearly more insert pads than diapers. Were some supposed to have two? We struggled through a dozen diapers. When our daughter came home from work, she thanked us for our efforts. But after this, she laid all the items out in a row, with inserts next to the right diapers. Seeing how we were supposed to fold and stuff, I doubt we got any of the diapers correctly assembled.

Then, there are the tricks for applying the System to the target, that is, the baby. Luckily, the old tricks of distracting a baby and toddler so you can diaper them still work. Things like singing baby songs and handing them a book or toy to distract them. (Grandparents – never give a child your smartphone when you diaper. First of all, the parents may frown upon or forbid such access. But even more critical, you’ll never be able to diaper again without that smartphone drug.) But think of it from the baby’s perspective. When a grandparent is diapering, the babe is not looking up at his beautiful mom or handsome dad. From his viewpoint, he sees chicken necks, sagging jowls, and a scowl as grandma struggles to understand The System.

The System has to go on the baby in a certain way in order to reduce the chance of leakage. Even with much study, reinforcement, re-learning, and hands-on training, I got leakage. It didn’t really faze me so much—all the modern diapers leak so much less than the ones I used on my babies. But I didn’t want to disappoint the mom. If she comes home from work, she wants to sweep the babe into her arms, and it would be nice if that hug didn’t come with urine soaking onto her good work clothes. Plus modern parents who can afford The System are used to diapers working so well that they usually don’t have to wash ten baby outfits a day and a few of their own. They’re spoiled with perfection.

Now the burning question is – when it’s time for grandma or grandpa to wear diapers, will there be a System?