What's the best fabric for baby to wear?
Whether you're expecting your first baby, you're trying to find a gift for a friend, or you're an experienced parent wondering if you made the right choice, you may find yourself wondering what fabric is best.
Unfortunately there's no easy answer - it depends. It depends where you live, the season, how warm or cold your baby runs, and what you value and prioritize as a family.
Personally, I have a daughter that tends to run very warm. All of the advice everyone gave me about making sure baby was warm enough? I had to throw it out the window. She was happy as a clam in just a short sleeved onesie with no pants on in the middle of winter near a door. She takes after her father. Suddenly I was worried about preventing her from over-heating.
We were lucky though that she takes after her father. I have fairly sensitive skin, so I was worried she would too. For babies with sensitive skin, it's important to discuss fabrics to try with your doctor - not all sensitive skin is the same.
For us, the there are three different fabrics that we typically dress Kennedy in - organic cotton, viscose by bamboo, and synthetics. I generally haven't found many reputable peer-reviewed research studies to back up the differences between organic cotton and viscose by bamboo that are widely reported by those that love either fabric. Both cotton and bamboo claim to be breathable, soft, hypoallergenic, and to have benefits for sensitive skin. I included some highlights below. To save you some time though, I will say that people that love either product think their fabric of choice is perfect for all situations. I do think they have similar benefits though, so I included some of the differences below.
I will keep this list updated over time, and will continue to look for research. In the meantime here are some things to consider that are different between the fabrics.
- Soft. Incredibly soft.
- Slightly stretchy, allowing for slightly longer use of the outfit.
- Bamboo grows primarily using natural rainwater, so creating clothes made of viscose by bamboo requires less water than cotton.
- Bamboo theoretically helps regulate temperature, however parenting groups and reviews everywhere are full of anecdotal evidence that bamboo keeps kids cooler than cotton in warm temperatures but also in cold temperatures.
- Bamboo products can be found that meet the OEKO-TEX 100 label criteria, meaning they've been independently tested to verify the product is free of harmful substances
- Difficult to find information on the chemicals or pesticides used in bamboo production and processing for any individual piece of clothing.
- Processing bamboo into the soft material in the viscose by bamboo clothes is a chemical-intensive process.
- Most bamboo products do not have certifications related to human rights or social impact of production.
- Organic cotton is very soft, often noticeably softer than non-organic cotton because it is often hand-picked instead of machine harvested.
- Organic cotton is believed to be more durable than regular cotton because the fibers aren't broken down by chemical exposure in processing.
- Cotton theoretically helps regulate temperature, however parenting groups and reviews are full of parents reporting that their child stays cooler during warm temperatures in bamboo and stays warmer in cold temperatures in cotton.
- Many certified organic cotton products are GOTS certified, which is a reputable global certification ensuring not just the product is organic and free of harmful substances, but also the product is made meeting ecological and social criteria.
- Growing and processing cotton can be water-intensive.
- Cotton has historically been associated with human rights violations, including the use of forced labor, as well as violations surround chemical and pesticide use. GOTS certified organic cotton ensures not just that the cotton is organic, but also ensures the full supply chain of the product is free of social and chemical human rights violations.
- Non-organic cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop.
- Synthetic fabrics are often very soft. Some synthetic fabrics we have are as soft or softer than the viscose by bamboo clothing.
- Synthetic fabrics are cheaper than bamboo or organic cotton, sometimes significantly cheaper.
- Most waterproof materials are synthetic. For rainy or cold climates, having synthetic waterproof outerwear can allow you to spend more time outside with baby appropriately dressed for the weather throughout the year.
- Information is typically unavailable about the manufacturing processes, labor practices, or chemicals included in synthetic materials.
- The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends dressing baby for sleep in breathable materials, and synthetic materials are not listed in their recommended breathable materials.
Most of Kennedy's clothes are organic cotton, followed by bamboo, then synthetics. She has more bamboo in her summer clothes and will have more synthetic materials and cotton in her winter clothes. We also have some other fabrics mixed in thanks to gifts, hand-me-downs, and adorable buys I couldn't pass up.
Overcoats, swimsuits, and one-time wear situations like holiday-specific clothes or apparel supporting a local sports team are primarily synthetic fabrics for us. Overcoats barely touch her skin, and it's important to us to have waterproof outerwear on cold or rainy days so we can still go outside.
We are lucky that we can afford organic cotton. Kennedy loves it, and tends to do well with regulating her temperature while wearing it. I find that organic cotton outfits are more likely to be appropriately tight-fitting at night which helps reduce risk in case of fire. Also I slightly prefer snaps to zippers (I know, controversial and probably not the preference of most of you reading this) and snaps are more likely to be found in organic cotton outfits. Finally organic cotton clothes are fantastic for stain removal - I rarely use stain remover even on blow-outs and typically the stain comes right out*.
We also like the temperature control of bamboo, particularly in summer. For variety it's nice to have some zippers mixed into her wardrobe for days where she isn't appreciating the snap process. The bamboo outfits we have tend to last a few weeks longer than the cotton outfits due to their stretchiness. We sometimes have some issues with the particularly stretchy bamboo outfits as Kennedy is now mobile - occasionally the fabric stretches to go below her foot or knee and it can cause her some trouble, this has happens only rarely but has happened in outfits from a variety of brands.
At the end of the day most of you will dress your baby in a variety of fabrics. The most important factor is how comfortable your baby is in a fabric. So long as baby is comfortable and safely dressed, at that point it becomes preference of the parents.
Find out more:
- You can find out more about OEKO-TEX 100 label criteria here and more about GOTS certification here.
- You can find the AAP's (American Academy of Pediatrics) tips for safely dressing baby here.
*Except for blueberries. I can't get them out of anything. If you are a blueberry stain whisperer, hit me up and help a friend out with your secret!
Photo by Ethan Bodnar