Thursday, May 17, 2012

The skinny on adjustable leg elastic, or: Why leg elastic sets the rise (with visual help from a Tremendously Creepy Doll)

If you're new to cloth, you may be reading reviews that suggest that there's a "learning curve" to using one-size diapers correctly, especially one-size diapers like SoftBums (seen on the right) or FuzziBunz Elite that work by toggling, cinching, or otherwise adjusting the elastic along the sides. That's true! There is.

You may also have heard or read that adjustable leg elastic is perfect for babies with skinny legs.

I'm going to blow your mind: that's not necessarily accurate.

A customizable waist is best for both newborns and older babies with skinny legs. Adjustable leg elastic is perfect for any baby if you want diapers that will grow gradually from around 8 lbs. through toddlerhood.

What do I mean?

Cinching or toggling leg elastic works by gathering the fabric to make a diaper longer or shorter. This is similar to a snap-down rise, but looks cleaner and neater from the front when the diaper is fastened on a baby, and it is much more customizable: there are more length possibilities because there are more--or even practically infinite--settings to choose from.

But since the elastic is part of the leg, you know, the brain's inclination is to eye that elastic and figure out how long or short it needs to be to go exactly around the baby's leg snugly, creating a seal to hold in, well, everything a diaper is supposed to hold in!

Better start with very tight, short settings, you think. This little skinny-legged one has a long way to go to chunk up.

But something must be wrong. The baby's sheets and clothes are always wet; experienced cloth diapering friends are telling you that your diapers are "wicking" around the legs and right at the tummy. The absorbent insert isn't soaked, so it's not a matter of having too little absorbency.

What am I doing wrong?? Are these diapers I've invested in just not going to work for my baby? They're already so tight that they're leaving red marks around his thighs. HOW is the pee escaping? There are no gaps!

Fret not! Most likely the diaper is going to work for your baby... with a few adjustments.

What's happening is called compression leaking. It can happen to any type of absorbent core, from a microfiber terry insert to a trim hemp prefold to an all-cotton fitted, if the outer fabric of the diaper is pulled too tightly around the baby, or if the cinched elastic is digging in, causing the absorbent core to be "smushed" in any area. This forces moisture, which has nowhere else to go, to be sort of "wrung out" onto any surface that will absorb it: your baby's unprotected skin or clothing, your sling, the car seat, or the crib sheets.

So what's the solution? Let the fabric out until the rise falls just below the belly button in the front and right at belly button-level in the back. On a FuzziBunz Elite, that means moving the buttons over to a hole marked by a lower number, possibly even at both ends of the elastic. On a SoftBums diaper, that means using the Slide2Size adjuster to release the cinching of the fabric by a full centimeter or more.

To get that seal around the legs that will hold everything in and let the insert do its job without being "wrung out," tighten the waist as tightly as necessary to ensure that there's not a gap between the baby and the secured diaper's leg hole. On a classic hook-and-loop SoftBums diaper, that means making use of the crossover tab--the little "loop" square on the end of one of the tabs that allows you to overlap them. On a FuzziBunz Elite, that means using the innermost thigh snaps, the innermost waist snaps, and the appropriate hip snaps to avoid "wing droop." If you are using the tightest possible snap settings and there is still a noticeable gap between the fabric of the diaper and the baby's leg, go ahead and bring the rise back down a notch.

Are you a visual learner? Here's a side-by-side comparison. Same Tremendously Creepy Doll (TCD) diaper model, same type of diaper (FuzziBunz Elite), but two different approaches to sizing. On the left, a longer rise, dependent on a tight waist setting to secure a seal around the thighs. On the right, a shorter rise... and more potential for bunching and compression.

(Please note: Creepy Doll is belly button-less, and he has an unusually short rise for his length and chunkiness.)

On the left: Size 3 rise; on the right: Size 6.

The left looks like it might be too big for TCD. The right seems like a more intuitive setting, right?

Wrong! Look at the perfect seal around TCD's leg on the left, and look at how smoothly the fabric lies. Look at the way the fabric is pulling on the right.

The tightness here is causing the insert to bunch and compress. If Tremendously Creepy Doll could wet this diaper, the insert would be "wrung out" and moisture would wick around his creepy almost-lifelike legs and at the tummy.

Here's the same principle applied to SoftBums, but in reverse. This time, on the left, the rise is short and the diaper is taut--and pulling down a little at the tummy. On the right, the rise is a bit longer, the crossover waist tab is employed, and the diaper still fits trimly and smoothly--and the insert is less likely to be compressed by tightened fabric.

There you have it: a couple trim, leak-proof, compression-proof one-size diapers that really will work for almost every baby. Give these adjustments a shot, and let us know how it goes for you!


  1. Thank you- yup, I need to adjust the rise on my baby's cloth diapers!

  2. Wow, thank you, ladies! I'm glad to be able to help! It's a method that has never failed me--but adjustable elastic intimidated me for so long before I started playing with it and figured this out!