Diaper blow-outs are a common phenomena known to virtually every parent, no matter what kind of diaper system is used. While some diaper blow-outs are pretty much unavoidable, brought on by illness, unforeseen delays, forgotten diaper bags, etc, most leaks can be avoided. Taking a few minutes to figure out what is the probable cause of your particular leak problem can mean the end of most diaper blowouts and make diapering more comfortable and reliable for both you and your baby.

Let’s start by discussing what a diaper blowout is and is not. If urine and bowel movements escape the diaper but remain within the cover – is that a blow out? I vote no. A blow out is when wetness or fecal matter escape both the diaper and the cover – wetness or fecal matter within the cover but outside of the diaper is an example of the cover doing a great job.

 

The most common cause of diaper leakage is the diaper – not the cover. It is the responsibility of the diaper to absorb all wetness and hold it until a diaper change can occur. Covers are not really intended to act as a second diaper – covers are meant to keep the diaper wetness from spreading to the outside and that’s it. Wool covers, adequately lanolin zed, are an exception – wool actually absorbs and holds a significant amount of moisture before it begins to wick wetness to the outside.

The number one cause of diaper leaks, in my opinion, is an inadequate diaper. If your child can wet enough to get a diaper to leak in a 3 hour period then you probably plain old need more absorbency. Rather than buying new diapers try boosting the current absorbency of the ones you have by adding diaper doublers or soakers. Diaper doublers and diaper soakers are one and the same thing – fabric inserts that you lay inside a diaper to increase the diaper’s absorbency. These inserts can be found in a myriad of different fabrics, thickness, widths, and lengths and can be specifically made to be used as doublers or can be as informal as a washcloth or preemie prefold diaper folded in half. I personally prefer thinner doublers made from super absorbent hemp or micro-fleece and will use one of these during the day, two for naps, and up to 4 at night or for long car trips. Other people prefer using a thicker, more absorbent doublers at all times. There is no right or wrong way to use a doubler – what ever works for you is what is right for you.

I’ve had customers complain that diapers were faulty because leaks occurred during challenging diaper times. My response is that a diaper is part of a diapering system – and that diapering systems include more than just the diaper and the cover. While it is possible to make a super-duper night-time diaper that can absorb vast quantities of output it is not very practical – your super-duper diaper might not wash as clean because of the multiple layers of fabric required and it might much, much longer to completely dry. Really thick diapers are also prone to mildew because it is tough to get the inside layers really dry. Adding a doubler is a practical and flexible way to get the absorbency you need while retaining the most flexible diapering system possible.

Do you have leakage problems when a diaper is mostly dry? Then perhaps your child has a very strong urine stream and literally blasts through the diaper – the challenge we have with our son. Adding an extra layer inside the diaper and perhaps doubling that layer in front for boys and towards the bottoms of the diaper for girls can slow down the urine stream enough so that the diaper has a chance to absorb it.

Does your diaper seem to repel moisture rather than absorb it? Brand new cotton and hemp diapers require several washings to remove natural plant oils before they become absorbent. Try shaking a few drops of water on your diapers – does the water bead up on the surface or get instantly absorbed? If the water droplets bead up then your diapers need a few more washings in hot or warm water using detergent.

Are your diapers not new but still seem to repel moisture? Then check your detergent to see if it contains fabric softeners. Fabric softeners work by coating fabric fibers – and this coating can greatly decrease absorbency. Avoid using softening sheets in your dryer for the same reason.

Is your baby a newborn? Newborns are notoriously challenging to diaper. Why? Because a newborn baby’s digestive system is immature at birth and produces lots of gas. Gas pushes any bowel movements out with great force – and blowouts can happen through the leg openings, up the front of the diaper, and more commonly, up the back of the diaper. Newborn blowouts are rarely caused by inadequate diaper absorbency because newborn bladders are small and emptied frequently. A diaper with gentle elastic around the legs and at the back of the diaper waist can be very effective at helping to control newborn blowouts.

Is wetness happening around mostly around the legs? Check to make sure that all parts of your diaper are completely tucked inside the cover. Even a teensy bit of diaper fabric sticking outside of the cover can cause a surprising amount of urine to wick out quite quickly. Are you using prefolds laid inside a cover without pins or a Snappi or a contour diaper? Both of these diaper styles are super simple and quick to use but because they are not fitted around the legs urine and feces can just run out the cover. Try wrapping/tucking the diaper around your baby’s leg area before closing and securing the cover and see if that helps control leakage. Better yet, secure your prefolds or contour diapers with a Snappi or pins to turn them into wonderful fitted diapers.

If you still get wicking at the legs the next step is to check your cover. Do the cover leg openings fit your child’s thighs snuggly without leaving red marks? Are there signs of peeling or disintegrating waterproofing on the inside of the cover? Does the cover have a fabric binding or cotton thread that might be wicking? Has the cover been washed using bleach, non-oxygen bleach, or similar wash additives that are known to damage waterproofing? Has the cover exhausted its normal useful life span and need replacing? If the cover is wool, does it need to be relanolinized? If the cover is windbloc fleece, has the waterproofing worn off? If the cause of the leakage problem is not apparent I recommend that you try calling either the vendor who sold you the cover or the cover manufacturer and ask them for help in troubleshooting the problem.

Leaks and blowouts happen – but the good news is that tend to happen less and less as your child grows and as you develop hands-on expertise using your cloth diapering system. The challenges definitely shift and change with different stages in your child’s development but using the above ideas, suggestions, and troubleshooting steps can help you handle new challenges with ease and expertise.

© 2003, Cathy Cagle. May not be reprinted without permission.

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1 Comment on Diaper Basics: Why Diapers Leak and What You Can Do to Control Leaks

  1. Emily says:

    What about literal poo blow outs? My son is teething and his poo has been intense to say the least. We use diapersafari one size covers and infant prefolds. (He is 6mos-18lbs) 3 of the covers hold everything perfectly, but 3 of them blast out the leg elastic like mad! He is exclusively BF so his poo isn’t solid at all and never has completely soaked into the prefolds. What can I do to keep these 3 leaking covers from leaking? It’s starting to get really old!

    Thanks!

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