Consumer Choices Selecting baby’s first clothes

Janis Stone
Textiles and Clothing Extension Specialist
Iowa State University
Copyright Access Information

You can make wise consumer choices about the kinds of clothes
your baby needs.

Part of the excitement of planning for a new baby is gathering
the tiny clothes. As you select the clothing, your baby's comfort
should be uppermost in your mind. If your child feels comfortable
and secure, it doesn't matter if clothes are pink or blue, purchased
or inherited.

A large selection of infant apparel is available today, and you
may be tempted to buy impractical items or more than your baby
needs. The information in this publication may help you decide
about clothes for your infant, but the final decision is yours-based
on your family needs, income, life style, and available time.

Infants grow very fast. You don't need many items in the smallest
sizes because your baby will soon need the next size larger. If
there are other children in the family or if friends and relatives
have hand-me-downs, you'll need to purchase fewer clothes.

Basic layette

Clothes help you keep your baby comfortable, warm, and healthy.
You adjust the number of layers of clothing your baby wears according
to the surrounding environmental temperature. If you are a new
parent and are unsure how to dress your baby, you can ask for
advice from someone who is more experienced in child care.

As you prepare for baby, keep in mind the most important needs.
(See table 1.) Hooded baby bath towels (two or three) and special
washcloths, a sleeping bag or bunting for outings, and bibs are
optional items. Even if you plan to use disposable diapers, some
flat cloth diapers are handy to use folded as protection for your
shoulder while burping your baby or for placing under baby when
he or she is not in a bassinet or crib.

Table 1. Basic layette

 3 to 6 gowns, kimonos, or
one-piece sleepers
 4 to 6 undershirts (cotton
 3 to 6 receiving blankets
 2 to 3 crib sheets
 1 to 2 crib blankets (waffle
weave, fleece or quilted)
 1 sweater and cap
 booties or socks
 waterproof pads of assorted
 3 to 4 dozen diapers and 3
to 6 pairs of waterproof pants (unless using disposables)

Choosing baby clothes

Infant clothing is designed to appeal to adults. Unfortunately,
comfort and appeal don't always go together. Read labels and examine
clothing features carefully.


Soft, lightweight fabrics are best for baby's clothing, but
not all fabrics are equally comfortable. A fabric must have “breathability”
so body moisture can evaporate. This is particularly important
in summer months when baby will be uncomfortable and perhaps develop
a rash if perspiration can't evaporate.

Cotton is an absorbent, breathable fiber. Baby will be most comfortable
in clothes that are cotton or blends with a high percentage of
cotton. In nylon or polyester/cotton blends, the cotton helps
provide absorbency and breathability. If a garment is made entirely
of synthetic fiber, such as nylon or polyester, use a cotton undershirt
next to baby's skin.

Knit fabrics are a good choice for babies. Good quality knits
usually retain their shape, do not shrink, and do not need ironing.
Some labels may mention that they are shrink resistant.

Look for care information on labels. Infant clothes should be
machine washable in hot water. Dryer drying may cause shrinkage
of some untreated cotton knits.


Comfortable fit and allowance for rapid infant growth come
through the design of a garment- not by buying it several sizes
too large. In children's clothing, simplicity is usually associated
with good design. Some features to look for are:

  • garments that hang from the shoulders;
  • raglan or kimono sleeves (if set-in sleeves, make sure armholes
    are large);
  • a minimum of seams, non-bulky seams;
  • large neck openings, full-length openings, and a minimum
    number of easy-to-manipulate fasteners, to make dressing and
    undressing baby easy;
  • easy access to diaper so outfit does not have to be removed
    to change diaper;
  • either no collar or a collar that lies flat and does not
    add bulk;
  • smooth, flat seams that are flexible; and
  • finished edges and trims that are not bulky or irritating
    to the skin.

Avoid clothing that has tight bands or cuffs; tight elastic
that goes all the way around arms, legs, or body; and exposed
zippers near the neckline.


Children's sizes vary from one brand to another, but labels
may indicate the weight and height the manufacturer had in mind.
There is no standard sizing in the children's wear industry. Manufacturers
may voluntarily use the standard size tables, issued by the American
Society for Testing and Materials, that are based on nude height
and weight as well as numerous other measurements. (See table
2.) When buying for a new baby, three-to six-month sizes are recommended
since babies grow so quickly.

Table 2. Size standards issued by the American Society for
Testing and Materials

Age in months

0-3 3-6 6-9 9-12 12-18
 Height (in.) Up to 23.5 24-26.5 27-28.5 29-30.5 31-32.5
 Weight (lbs.) Up to 12 12.5-16 16.5-18 18.5-20 20.5-24


Diapers and health

Infants wear diapers all of the time. Most parents today use
single-use disposable diapers, but you may decide to use cloth
diapers for your baby. Babies can be equally healthy with either
cloth or disposable diapers. Most child care providers cannot
accept children unless they have disposable diapers. Studies have
established that disposables tend to keep babies dryer and maintain
normal skin pH. With cloth diapers, babies must be changed more
frequently to avoid conditions that lead to diaper rash. Sometimes
the older generation and grandparents have strong opinions about
diapering, but parents today have different time constraints.
You must decide what fits your life style.

Disposable diapers

Single-use diapers are made with plastic (polyethylene) covers,
cellulosic fluff, liquid-absorbing materials that form gels in
the middle layer, and polypropylene liners next to the baby's
skin. The diapers are shaped to fit and hold urine; they keep
baby's skin dryer than do cotton diapers. Single-use diapers leak
less than cloth diapers with rubber pants and are considered more
sanitary in child care settings.

Studies show families use an average of seven disposable diapers
per day. The cost per diaper of the various sizes (newborn through
toddler) has decreased over time as nationwide use of disposables
has increased. Today, if all the costs associated with doing the
laundry are considered, there is little difference between the
cost of using disposable diapers and the cost of using cloth diapers

Caring for disposables

Proper care of disposables will help maintain a germ-free environment
for your baby. Empty feces in the toilet. Fold diapers with soiled
area inside. Wrap in a recycled shopping bag or newspaper and
put with garbage for disposal. Do not leave soiled disposable
diapers on diaper tables in public restrooms or other public areas
such as park benches.

Cloth diapers

Reusable diapers are almost always made of cotton because of
its absorbency. You can find birds eye, flannelette, knit, or
gauze diapers if you shop around and consider mail-order sources.
Gauze diapers usually are 21-by-40- inch rectangles of fabric
that must be folded differently to fit as the baby grows during
the diapering period. Cloth diapers can be doubled up for extra
absorbency as needed.

Form-fitted, prefolded, or preshaped multi-layered diapers also
are available. They are convenient and some styles have attached
waterproof covers with adjustable snaps. If you opt for these,
remember that they will be outgrown and you'll need to get a supply
of the larger size for the toddler years. Fitted diapers are more
expensive than regular cloth diapers and take longer to dry in
the dryer, adding to utility bills

Caring for cloth diapers

Proper laundering of cloth diapers is essential to baby's health.
Follow these steps:

1. Rinse soiled diapers in the toilet bowl to remove solid waste,
being careful not to flush the diaper and clog the drain.

2. Collect the day's soiled diapers in a pail containing a soak
solution of cold water mixed with either borax and detergent;
all-fabric bleach and detergent; diaper soak product; or one or
two tablespoons of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

3. Launder diapers daily for better sanitation and odor control.
Pour diapers and soaking solution into the washer and spin.

4. Use detergent and warm water in the washer presoak cycle; spin

5. Wash in hot water with detergent and diluted chlorine bleach
to sanitize. It probably will not be necessary to bleach with
every wash.

6. Rinse thoroughly in cold water to remove all detergent residues.
Avoid using too much fabric softener too often because it can
reduce absorbency of diapers.

7. Use regular dryer setting or line dry.

The type of detergent probably is not critical, but carbonate-based
detergents tend to build up in fabrics if wash water is hard.
This will make diapers feel harsh. Fabric softeners will not help
this. You can avoid this problem by using heavy-duty liquid detergents,
phosphate detergents, or soaps advertised for diaper laundering.

Diaper service

In some locations a diaper service may be available, but few
exist in Iowa now that single-use disposable diapers have become
so popular. Diaper service costs more than home laundering or
using disposables. Nevertheless, if you have strong convictions
that cloth diapers are your choice and time is limited, a diaper
service might be just what you want.

Waterproof diaper covers and pants

With disposable diapers that fit closely around the waist and
legs, waterproof pants may be unnecessary. Diaper covers are needed
for cloth diapers.

Covers may open out flat for changing and have Velcro®, gripper,
or snap fasteners. Plastic pants may look big, but they need to
be roomy to cover the diaper. As the baby grows, larger sizes
will be needed because with cloth diapers, two diapers may be
used at the same time for extra absorbency. Be sure that elasticized
waists and legs don't get too tight so that they “cut”
or leave red marks on the baby's skin.

Plastic pants can be washed with diapers to prevent odor and staining.
Do not put plastic pants in the dryer because they could melt
or catch fire.


Baby spends most of the time sleeping. Sleepwear ranges from
gowns that open partway down the front and tie at the bottom,
or kimonos that open all the way down the front, to sacques (short
kimonos sometimes called diaper shirts) and one- and two-piece

Lightweight jersey knit fabrics are the most popular for sleepwear,
but some woven fabrics also are used. Terry, napped, and plain
textures are available in a variety of fibers. Federal law requires
that all children's sleepwear in sizes 0-6X and 7-14 meet specific
standards for flame resistance.

Flame resistance or flame retardance means that fabrics resist
catching fire, burn slowly in contact with a flame source, and
may self-extinguish or be easily extinguished by slapping or smothering
when the flame is removed. Flame resistance and flame retardance
mean the same thing.

Sleepwear may be advertised as “chem-free.” This means
that flame retardancy or flame resistance is accomplished by changing
the fiber so it is inherently flame resistant. Flame retardant
fibers found in children's sleepwear are vinyon,
modacrylic, and some polyesters. These fabrics do not have an
extra chemical treatment to pass the children's sleepwear flammability

Look for sleepwear with large neck openings, fasteners that are
easy to manipulate, and reinforced, durable flat seams. Any trim
should be simple, non-bulky and non-irritating. Pay special attention
to pajamas with feet-there should be ample room for baby's feet
to wiggle and grow.


In cool temperatures, baby may need an undershirt under the
sleepwear. Undershirts of 100 percent cotton knit may be most
comfortable for baby and will be outgrown before they wear out.
Cotton blends may hold their shape better and may be more durable.
Wrap-style undershirts may make dressing baby easier than those
that pull on over the head. The double-breasted wrap styles either
tie or close in front with grippers. Grippers tend to pull out
of the fabric easily unless reinforced. Pull-on shirts are easier
to manage if they have expandable neck openings (overlapping at
front and back shoulders). In hot weather, sleeveless shirts with
wide shoulder straps may be enough; a high-back neck will help
keep straps from slipping off shoulders.

Receiving blankets

Receiving blankets usually are made of flannel, but knits and
terry are other popular fabrics. They are available in several
sizes or weights. They may serve as towels, light-weight wraps,
or blankets.

Crib deaths are very rare, but you should be aware that placing
babies on their tummies with lots of blankets around them increases
the risk of smothering.

Crib blankets, buntings, and sleeping bags

All three are not really necessary. Look for maximum warmth
and minimum weight- several lightweight layers are preferable
to one bulky layer. Look for growth features in buntings and bags
– raglan sleeves and bottoms that can be let out, for example.
Zippers should have an underlay of fabric to protect baby's skin.
Avoid slippery or slick fabrics that make it difficult to hold
onto the baby.

Sweaters and caps

Cardigan style sweaters are best; they should be closely knit
of soft, fine yarns. Look for raglan sleeves, no collar or very
flat collar, and cuffs that are not too tight. Fiber content may
be acrylic, cotton, or lambs wool. A cap should fit snugly but
not tightly over the child's head, cover the ears, and fasten
comfortably under the chin. Caps that come in a set with sweaters
often are too small; if possible check the fit before buying.

Infant footwear

Footed pajamas, slipper socks, socks or booties are adequate
protection for baby's feet. Shoes really aren't necessary until
baby begins to stand/walk and they are only needed then for protection,
not support. Make sure anything that goes on baby's feet is roomy
and does not bind or pinch. Cotton socks are best because they
are absorbent.

Dress-up clothing

Thin cotton/linen blend voiles with embroidery designs in tiny
dresses and diaper sets are almost irresistible. Before you buy,
consider how often these clothes will be worn, how soon they will
be outgrown, and that dress-up outfits are favorite gift items.
As you select dress-up clothes, avoid tight bands, tight elastic,
bulky or scratchy trims, fabrics that don't “breathe”
and designs that make dressing and undressing a chore. Keep in
mind that comfort and safety are most important for baby's clothing.


National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the
National Extension Service Children Youth and Family Educational
Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials
in whole or in part for educational purposes only(not for profit
beyond the cost of reproduction) provided that the author and
Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is included:

Reprinted with permission from National Network for Child Care
Stone, J. (1994). Consumer choices series, Selecting baby's first
clothes. [Pm 1582]. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension.

Any additions or changes to these materials must be preapproved
by the author.

Extension Distribution Center
119 Printing and Publications Bldg.
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
PHONE:: (515) 294-5247
FAX:: (515) 294-2945

Jan Stone
1055 LeBaron Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011

FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Print – 4 pages
Level 2 – Iowa State University Extension
ENTRY DATE:: June 1998
NOTE:: Revised from a previous publication by Kim Williams,
retired assistant professor of textiles and clothing, Iowa State



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