Monday, November 21, 2011

My Thoughts on Newborn Diaper Absorbency

One of the most common questions people have is how many layers to use in their newborn diapers & inserts.  Having only one child; who was only cloth diapered part-time as a newborn, I am certainly not an expert, but I have done a few “experiments” to help offer some guidelines for newborn absorbency.

When my daughter was a newborn, I started out with premie prefolds laid in a cover.  She never had leaks with those, and I don’t recall them ever being sopping wet (I did change very frequently; as I am sure most parents of newborns do!)  When she was a few weeks old, I moved up to infant size prefolds laid in a cover, again, I don’t recall them being sopping wet.  So, I figured that the absorbency of those prefolds will offer some general guidelines for how much absorbency is needed in your mama-made diapers.  (The prefolds I used were Indian cotton prefolds from cottonbabies.)

The experiment:
I ran a test to determine the absorbency of the premie prefolds, infant prefolds and also the BumGenius 4.0 newborn insert.  (I never actually used the BumGenius inserts on a newborn, but figured I would include them in the test.)

To test the absorbency,  I laid the prefold/insert in a dish and poured a pre-measured amount of water on it.  Then, I lifted the insert out of the dish and held it up and let the water drip off of it for one minute.  Then I measured the amount of water left in the dish so that I could figure out how much the insert had absorbed. 

Test results:
The results were that the premie prefold held  5oz, the infant prefold held 11oz, and the BG insert held 5oz.  I will note though, that the inserts seemed a lot more soaked than I would actually want to leave on a baby, so I would say this is a measure of maximum capacity, not of actual expected capacity.  But, at least this gives a good general baseline against which you can test your mama-made diaper absorbency.

Given these test results, my goal is that my premie diapers and tiny newborn diapers will hold about 5 oz and my newborn diapers will hold about 11oz.  Since I make fitted diapers, I will measure the absorbency of both the insert and the shell.

I randomly picked 3 of my newborn diapers to test the absorbency of them.  I make my diapers with an outer layer of either stretch french terry or cotton interlock, a hidden layer of an old t-shirt, and an inner layer of cotton velour.  The diapers averaged out to about 6oz.  So, that means I need to make inserts for them that hold about 5oz.

No-Sew Insert Options:
If you don’t want to sew inserts for your diapers, there are a few no-sew insert options that I came up with.  These are all absorbent enough to be used in a fitted diaper; if using in a pocket diaper or all-in-two, you may want to double up on the inserts.

(Click on the chart to view it larger)

Insert fabrics:
If you want to sew inserts, then I came up with some absorbency figures for some common diapering materials, using the same testing technique that I described above.  These are just rough estimates.  I prepped the fabrics ahead of time by washing & drying a few times, but some of the fabrics are likely to get more absorbent with more prepping.  The pieces of fabric that I tested were cut 6.25” wide by 10.75” long.  I make my newborn inserts bifolded, so that is why I cut my fabric that size.  I used my testing results to also calculate the absorbency of straight/contour inserts or trifolded inserts.

(Click on the chart to view it larger)
So, since I want my inserts to be about 5oz, and I make them bifolded, I might use a layer of cotton velour, a layer of bamboo fleece, and a layer of flannel.  That insert would hold about 5.25oz.  If I made trifolded inserts, I might use a layer of microfiber with a layer of flannel, for a total of 5.25oz.

Since all newborns are different and it is hard to guess before they are born whether or not they will be a heavy wetter or whether they will sleep through the night (lucky!), I would recommend making some extra doublers (or extra cloth wipes, which can be used as newborn doublers).  I think a good doubler would hold about 2 oz.

Disposable newborn diaper absorbency:
All of this absorbency testing made me really curious about how much disposable diapers hold.  I got my hands on a Target Brand Up & Up newborn diaper, and I poured water on it until it seemed to be at the point where it couldn’t hold anymore without bursting.  It started to seem really full around 12oz, but I did manage to get 2 more oz poured onto it before it started pooling in the gussets.  So, I would say a disposable  newborn diaper holds around 12-14 oz.  So, very comparable to the 11oz estimate for an infant prefold!

If you test your homemade diapers/inserts using the same procedure I used, I would expect newborn diapers to hold around 11 oz.  For the tiny diapers that you might only use for the first 2 weeks, or for premie diapers, I would expect them to hold about 5 oz.  I will note that in hearing from other mamas who make newborn diapers, there is a HUGE variance in layers used in the inserts.  Some mamas say that only 4 layers of knit from an old t-shirt is fine for their newborn, while others say that their newborn outpeed 6 layers of heavy bamboo fleece.  So, you might prefer to make the inserts thin so that they won't be unnecessarily bulky, but then also make extra doublers to use if your baby ends up being a heavy wetter (or to use at night).


  1. I love this post! So helpful. Thanks!

  2. Thank you, Rachel! It seems like forever since I made a nb diaper (6 months!) and this was super helpful. :-D

  3. Thank you for your hard work and your reviews! I have found them very interesting and helpful in my quest to make cloth diapers and covers for my grandbaby due in April.

  4. this was extremely useful! thank you!

  5. Thanks for giving information regarding new born baby diapers, healthgenie provides baby diapers in different sizes and style

  6. How do you suggest going about cutting out the non-absorbent core of a Gerber Prefold?