Cloth Diaper Fit: Preventing Leaks and Keeping Your Baby Comfortable

By April Duffy •  Updated: 05/06/24 •  9 min read

While there are several reasons your cloth diapers can leak, a bad fit is one of the most common, especially when you’re just getting used to using cloth diapers.

Not only that but a poorly-fitting cloth diaper may make movement uncomfortable for your baby.

So, let’s dive into achieving the perfect cloth diaper fit.

What a Perfect Cloth Diaper Fit Looks Like

Legs

The leg elastics should sit comfortably in the baby’s leg creases without being too tight. There shouldn’t be gaps. The fit should allow easy finger insertion for a check, but snug enough to prevent any gaps.

A good way to check the snugness of the leg elastics is to ever so slightly pull on the diaper close to the leg (do this gently, as you’ll lift even a tight diaper if you use too much force) and see if it lifts easily.

If it lifts too easily off the skin, re-adjust the waistband to make it slightly snugger.

Waist and Back

The diaper’s waistband should be snug but not too tight, allowing for a gap-free fit while still being able to fit two fingers comfortably at the top.

The back should be secure without pressing into the baby’s skin, ensuring comfort and leak prevention.

How Tight Should a Diaper Be?

Both disposable and cloth diapers should be snug around the legs.

The leg elastics sitting right in your baby’s leg creases, but shouldn’t be so tight you aren’t able to stick your finger inside easily.

The waist should not have any gaps, but be loose enough to fit two fingers in the top.

When adjusting the fit remember that elastics are made to stretch, so worry more about getting a snug fit than putting it on too tight. Often, when adjusting the diaper, we get worried about it being too tight or worry when we see pink marks after taking a diaper off.

Those marks are called “sock marks” because they are the same as when you get a few indents on your ankle from snug socks. Sock marks don’t hurt you, and diaper marks won’t hurt your baby as long as they are nice and light and disappear in a short while.

Special note: Sock marks are completely normal and can actually be a good thing because you know the diaper is snug. But if those marks are deep, have a white substance in them, or are blistered or bubbled in any way, that’s something else and it should be checked out right away by a pediatrician. Sock marks should disappear at most an hour or so after the diaper is removed.

When is a Cloth Diaper on Too Tightly?

If the diaper is difficult to snap on or leaves angry red lines that don’t disappear, it might be too tight. Cloth diapers should fit snugly, but comfortably.

Any lines that your diaper leaves should fade like a sock compression. There should be no redness.

Around the waist, you should be able to easily slide a finger or two into the waistband and you shouldn’t see a ‘muffin top’ near your waistband as your baby should have enough room to comfortably exhale.

With that said, some babies are made with narrow hips and a big rib cage so worry less about the muffin top and more about being able to slide your fingers in easily if this describes your little one.

5 Factors That Can Ruin a Good Fit With Your Cloth Diapers

1) Putting it on Like a Disposable Diaper

Putting on a cloth diaper is different than putting on a disposable diaper in two ways:

1) They need to sit lower.

If you’re using a disposable diaper, you need to place the diaper up nice and high along baby’s back, well above their belly button, before bringing it up and around their waist. Disposables are made to sit at this height helps to reduce blow-outs, which disposable diapers are notorious for.

However, if you’re using a cloth diaper, you need to begin by sitting the back of the diaper lower, just above the hips, at the smallest part of your baby’s waist (which will be different for every baby).

If you put on a cloth diaper like a disposable diaper, starting high and just wrapping it around, you’ll end up with the wings sitting along baby’s thighs and the elastic won’t sit inside baby’s leg crease, where it needs to be.

2) They need to be pinched in when pulling them on.

When you’re pulling it up between the baby’s legs, you need to pay attention to making sure the elastic is placed in their leg crease, which isn’t a concern with thin, plastic-trimmed disposable diapers.

To do that you’ll want to squeeze in the sides of the diaper when pulling it up and around your baby.

If you don’t do the simple step of pinching in the sides of the diaper when pulling it up and around baby, the elastic will sit on top of the leg, instead of sitting nicely in the crease, which as we discussed is a bad fit for a cloth diaper.

Here’s a comparison of how much difference it makes:

While it seems like a lot of instruction I just laid out the two simple changes of placing the diaper lower and pinching in the middle when pulling it up are very small and will become second nature once you do it a few times.

After a few practices, it will just become how you change a diaper and you’ll find getting a great fit with your cloth diaper easier.

2) Using One-Size Diapers Before Baby is Big Enough

It’s crucial to ensure your baby is big enough for one-size diapers.

While it’s true these are designed to grow with your child, most babies won’t fit into them until about 2 or 3 months of age, and will need newborn diapers for a good fit before then.

Whil there are “newborn one-size diaper hacks” and the like out there, is is a hack and not a way to get a good fit.

How to Tell if a Diaper is Too Big

Look for signs of excessive gapping around the legs and waist. If adjustments don’t fix these gaps, the diaper is likely too large for your baby at their current size. In such cases, consider using a smaller-sized diaper until your baby grows into the one-size option.

3) Overstuffing Your Diapers

If you’re having a hard time getting the diaper to fit in the leg creases no matter how much adjusting you do, make sure you’re not adding too many thick inserts or inserts that are too big for your baby at the time.

This is especially a concern if you’re using pocket diapers, which are made to hold a set number of inserts.

Too many inserts pushing the diaper up and off the body can prevent the elastics from sitting where they need to. It can also compress the inserts inside the diaper, causing compression.

Not only does a poor fit and compression mean leaks, but it can also restrict movement for your baby. A well-fitting diaper that fits nicely in the crease will let your baby move their legs together freely.

4) Using Diapers with Damaged Elastics

No matter how hard you try, if the elastics of your diaper are no longer stretchy enough, you won’t be able to eliminate the leg gaps, at least not without putting the rest of the diaper on too tight.

Here are a few photos of two diapers. Both are the same brand, the same size, purchased roughly around the same time. There’s only one difference: the elastics of the teal diaper are shot (dried out and crackling when stretched).

It’s no wonder that shot elastics make such a huge impact on fit!

Here are three things to check for if you think the elastics of your diaper might be the cause of your fit and leak problems:

  1. Crunch. If the elastic feels hard or brittle, or if it crackles and crunches when you stretch it, the elastic is completely shot and absolutely needs to be replaced before using the diaper. There’s just no way around this one, as the elastic is so dried out and rotten that it has this crunch to it, it no longer has any use.
  2. Roll. Feel the elastic all around the leg, looking for any spots where the elastic is rolled rather than laying flat inside the seam. If you find rolled spots, or if the entire elastic is rolled this can cause gaps and you should consider changing the elastic.
  3. Stretch. A diaper elastic will stretch and snap back a good two inches or more when fresh, an elastic with not much pop back may also cause problems.

If your elastics are crunchy, rolled, or don’t have much stretch, replacing them may be the key to getting the fit to prevent leaks.

5) Not Sizing Your Cloth Diapers Up Or Down As Needed

Babies grow and change shape constantly, especially once they start walking, often becoming leaner and losing their baby chunk.

This growth can mean you might need to let out the rise and waist to accommodate their increased chunk and then bring it back down later as they slim down.

Don’t associate letting the diaper out with your baby growing up too fast and refuse to change the settings as needed. Regularly assessing your baby’s fit is important and is not like giving away their binky! Don’t fear changing it on a whim.

If you notice increased leaks or marks, it may be time to adjust the diaper size. Staying attuned to these changes ensures your baby remains comfortable and leak-free as they grow and evolve.

When in Doubt, Get a Fit Check

If you’re unsure about the fit of your baby’s cloth diaper, don’t hesitate to seek advice.

Join our Facebook Community at Cloth Diapers for Beginners where, you can post photos and get feedback from experienced parents and experts.

This supportive group can help you determine whether you need to adjust the size or fit of your baby’s diaper, ensuring comfort and effectiveness. Remember, every baby is unique, so getting a fit check can be invaluable.

April Duffy

April is the founder of Cloth Diapers for Beginners and author of The Cloth Diaper Wash & Care Handbook. Since 2015, April has helped well over 75,000 parents and caregivers cloth diaper their children through this website, her book, her YouTube Channel, and the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook Group.