Post contains affiliate links I’ve talked many times about how I started my stash with 3 Bumgenius pocket diapers, followed by 3 more. I washed those 6 diapers twice per day (3 at a time) in order to keep my son in cloth full time, as we added diapers one by one as we could afford them. I never even considered using prefolds & covers because they seemed scary, confusing & complicated to me.
Again, I’m repeating myself if you’ve been around for a while. In 2004 when I was expecting my daughter, an acquaintance gave me a photocopied packet of info about prefolds, and I was definitely scared away by the thought of prefolds, pins, plastic pants & wet pails. It did encourage me to do some research, but even looking through many pages of web searches, the most “modern” cloth diapers I could find were Fuzzibunz perfect size. XS, S, M, L, XL, Petite Toddler & Toddler…24 of each size. *thud* Of course, I was terribly wrong about needing that many sizes or diapers, but that’s neither here nor there. Bumgenius and all the other one-size diapers didn’t exist at that point. As I understand, there were other options out there (WAHMs and such), but they weren’t necessarily easily found, nor were cloth diaper support groups & blogs appearing on the first dozen search pages for me!
When I finally did start with those first 6 diapers, I still didn’t consider prefolds; I wanted the “easy” pocket diapers, and just didn’t see prefolds or flats as an option for us. Anyhoo, the point of this post is to tell you that prefolds aren’t hard or scary, and they are an awesome way to get started in cloth!
There are lovely, premium prefolds out there made of luxurious fabrics like bamboo and hemp. The most affordable are unbleached (or bleached as I have pictured here) cotton prefolds. They are typically 8 layers in the middle with 4 layers on each side (some newborn sizes are 2/6/2.)
These lines where the layers are sewn makes it super easy to fold in thirds. There are some brands that are the same thickness all the way across. To confuse you before I begin, some brands call these “flats,” but a true flat is one layer all the way across (think a receiving blanket.)
If you do a search for prefold folds, you will find many including “angel wing,” “jelly roll,” “bikini twist,” and “newspaper fold.” I’m here to tell you that prefolds are much easier to use than all this terminology would make you believe. You don’t have to worry about perfectly following a tutorial – just practice, find a fold you like that works for you, and adjust it as needed. It doesn’t have to be an exact science!
In my photos below I’ve pictured a newborn prefold, but it hasn’t been “prepped” (washed & dried several times.) When you wash & dry prefolds before the first use, they fluff up and shrink a bit. I just grabbed what I had on hand that would best fit my bear model & didn’t take the time to prep it, since, well, he doesn’t wet. 😉
Forget diaper pins and plastic pants. Prefolds and hook & loop covers alone can be as easy to use as disposables. In fact, if you have 2-3 covers ready with a trifolded (folded in thirds) prefold inside, you can just change the diaper, remove the wet prefold and air out the cover for next time. With a snug fitting cover, you can use just about any fold and simply close the cover over it. Goodies like a Snappi or Boingos allow you to quickly & easily secure the diaper without using pins.
What I consider to be the simplest fold (after trifolding) is the “angel wing,” which is really quite intuitive. Again, you truly don’t have to be exact with this, but you essentially trifold the front but spread the back out into “wings”
If the prefold is a bit long (as it is in this case, particularly since I hadn’t washed it yet!) you can fold the front down first. The “newspaper fold” is similar to this, but you interlock the sides. Again, it’s truly not necessary to follow any guide exactly; these folds were all developed by people finding what worked best for them!
Pull the front up, then bring the “wings” around your baby. Over time, you’ll discover what works best for you to get a good fit. Some moms prefer to have the back a bit higher with the wings coming down towards the front.
This is the point your mother probably would have secured the diaper with pins, then pulled on a plastic “pants” type cover. With a wrap style cover (that fits snugly) you can simply stop here and close the cover over the diaper. Or, use a Snappi or Boingos to secure it first.
Another way to shorten a long prefold is the “bikini twist.” You start the same way as the angel wing, but twist the prefold before pulling it up. This is also great to get some extra absorbency right in the wet zone.
In my case the prefold was still quite long, so I folded it under before securing it.
For a new baby, their “output” can be a bit messy, and you can roll the sides of the prefold in to create a barrier to keep your covers clean. You can start with the same basic angel wing, then roll the sides of the prefold in. Variations of this are called the “jelly roll.” This may not be picture perfect technique, but it is what works for me!
If you’re concerned about your baby feeling wetness, you can buy stay-dry fleece liners to lay inside, or cut fleece purchased from the craft store. Osocozy even has some prefolds with stay-dry material on one side, specifically sized to trifold!
PUL covers are quick & easy to hand wash in the sink & hang to dry if they are soiled (if you don’t have enough covers to get you through to “wash day.”) and you can easily rotate 2-3 covers throughout the day. The flats challenge showed me that using flat diapers, flour sack towels or even receiving blankets as diapers is a very valid option. In fact, once you fold them into fourths, you can then trifold them (called a pad fold) or use them the same way you would use a prefold. The big benefit of single layer diapers is how quickly & easily you can wash and dry them, along with their versatility. I thought I was scared of prefolds; I was terrified of flats, but I was surprised by how much I liked them!
Of course, prefolds aren’t the only option for low-cost cloth diapering. Other ideas: Put cloth diapers on your baby registry, or set aside your disposable diaper budget each week during your pregnancy. By the time your baby arrives you will have a huge chunk of change saved! There are cloth diaper banks for families who qualify, you can shop for used diapers or “seconds,” sew your own, upcycle and more! (Oh and of course, entering to win cloth diapers on my Friday cloth diaper giveaway roundup!)
Great resources: Combine Dirty Diaper Laundry’s tutorial for upcycled DIY, no-sew fleece covers with The Eco Friendly Family’s no-sew t-shirt diaper tutorial, and you’ll be cloth diapering for next-to-nothing. Be sure to visit Dirty Diaper Laundry for free downloadable booklets on inexpensive cloth diapering options.
I wish I had known how simple prefolds really were, so I didn’t have to struggle with those few pocket diapers for so long!
Have you tried prefolds? Were they easier or harder than you expected?