When you begin researching cloth diapers, one question you’ll ask is, “How many diapers do I need?”
While every baby is a little different—there’s heavy wetters vs. little-at-a-time wetters, etc.— and you may need to adjust your cloth diaper stockpile a tiny bit as you learn your baby’s quirks and discover your preferences, there is some predictability in how often your little one will need a new diaper each day.
Here, we’ll take a look at how many diapers, per day, by age, you can expect to need and therefore how large of a cloth diaper stash you’ll need to create (I’ll be writing about building a “cloth diaper stash” later on, but the spoiler is that I don’t recommend buying it all before baby arrives, and diversity is a good thing). We can quickly determine your optimal number of diapers to have on hand for your baby by looking at:
- how often you should wash cloth diapers;
- the typical estimations of how many diapers is usual in each age range (newborn, infant, and toddler);
- typical weight gain compared to diaper sizes; and
- your budget.
How Often Do You Need to Wash Your Diapers?
If you’ve ever left a load of wet laundry in the washing machine for more than a few days, you’ll know why leaving wet material in a bunched up ball in a space with little ventilation (like a washing machine or a diaper pail) is a bad idea. According to Women’s World, even clean clothes in the washing machine that sit in a washing machine for more than 24 hours can start to form mildew. If clean clothes in a washing machine can start to get problematic, you can bet the farm that urine and faces soaked diapers in a diaper pail also has a limit on how long you want them to marinade.
My personal experience, mixed with recommendations I’ve seen elsewhere leads me to recommend the following time limits:
- Diapers stored in a diaper pail: no more than 48 hours between the first diaper hitting the pail and the lot hitting the washing machine for at least an initial rinse.
- Diapers stored in a hanging diaper wet bag (like this): No more than 72 hours between tossing in that first diaper and washing the load of diapers.
Why the extra day for hanging diaper bags?
A wet bag, though water resistant, is not waterproof, and therefore the diapers kept in a wet bag will get some air that diapers stored in a a plastic or metal pail with a waterproof pail liner won’t. Even still, these are maximums, so if you can wash them more often, you should; not only to prevent mold and mildew, but also as another step to prevent stink issues caused by bacteria build-up.
What This All Means When Figuring Out How Many Diapers You Need
So, if you need to do laundry every two to three days, that means that if you would like to stretch your laundry commitment as far as possible, you’ll need to get approximately three days worth of diapers for each stage.
How Many Newborn Diapers Do You Need?
Babies grow quickly during the first four months.
According to Ask Dr. Sears, a breast-fed baby will gain 4-7 oz a week during the first month, and an average of 1-2 lbs per month for the first six months.
This article also referenced a 1992 study, titled the DARLING study, which showed that breastfed and formula-fed infants grow at basically the same rate in the first few months (though formula-fed babies tended to gain weight faster between four and six months of age).
Using those weight gain numbers, and assuming a small starting of 6 lbs, we can estimate how long those newborn cloth diapers could last that newborn. Here’s a sampling of some popular newborn cloth diapers with estimates for how long they will last you:
|Brand||Type/Style||Weight Range||Approx. Length of Wear*|
|Thirsties||Diaper Cover (hook and loop)**||4-10 lbs||2.7 months (11.5 weeks)|
|Rumparooz (Kanga Care)||Diaper Cover (snaps)**||4-15 lbs||6 months (26 weeks)|
|Kawaii Baby||Pocket/All-in-Two (hook and loop)||6-22 lbs||10.7 months (46 weeks)|
|GroVia||All-in-One (snaps)||5-12 lbs||4 months (17 weeks)|
|Imagine Baby||All-in-One (snaps)||5-13 lbs||4.7 months (20 weeks)|
*Once again, this assumes a birth weight of 6 lbs; it also assumes a growth of 1.5 lbs a month (contact me for my full calculation) but most are born larger, and many babies will gain weight faster, meaning these diapers will last much less time.
**Diaper covers must be paired with diaper inserts like prefolds, flats, or flour sack towels.
How Many Times Does a Newborn Need to Be Changed?
For the first few months, babies eat and dirty their diapers in a short and constant loop means they need to be changed often. Newborns will need to be changed about every 2-3 hours, which means you’ll be putting them in a new diaper about 8-12 times per day.
Wait, So How Many Newborn Diapers Will I Need?
Ok, so we know that newborn diapers will only last for about 5.6 months (the average length of wear of the example newborn diapers listed above), which is when babies tend to use the most diapers per day; 8-12 times as we just learned. It’s possible your baby will use closer to the 8 diapers per day, but since we’re talking newborn diapers, the stage where you’re still figuring your baby out, it’s always best to use the maximum because having a diaper or two extra is WAY better than not having a diaper when you need it, so we will use 12 diapers per day in the calculation below. We also know we can only go about three days before we need to do laundry.
So, the minimum number of newborn diapers you’ll need to buy is about 13-14, where you would be doing laundry daily (using those one or two extra in the morning while you wash yesterday’s diapers). The maximum you would need washing as infrequently as possible (three days) would be 37-38 (12 per day, with that one or two extra to use on the fourth day during laundry time).
How Many Diapers will a Baby Use During the Infant Stage?
More coming soon.
What about the toddler stage?
More coming soon.
Factors that Can Affect How Many Diapers You’ll Need
As I mentioned at the top of the article, you many need to adjust your cloth diaper stash as you go to adjust to the particular quirks of your baby and your own preferences. Here are some common experiences that will affect the number of diapers you use as you go:
- Your baby is a heavy wetter.
You will want to add a a half dozen or so more diapers and purchase some extra inserts to prevent leaks.
- Your baby is a light pooper.
Some babies poop several times a day, and some babies only poop once a week! If you’re lucky enough to get a light pooper, you may be able to get away with less diapers.
- Your toddler only wets about 4 or 5 times a day.
First, it sounds like potty training is on it’s way, so congratulations! You’ll likely need a lot less diapers during this stage, which is good because of course you’ll be looking at larger sizes. You may even want to consider swapping for trainers.
- You’re on a budget.
I hear you. get the minimums set out above, buy used, prowl your mommy groups for people giving diapers away, and get a stack of flour sack towels and a cover just in case. Also check out my post about the cheapest way to cloth diaper here.