Babies are messy little things, especially when it comes to mealtimes.
With a newborn baby that needs to eat up to 12 times per day, you’re going to need quite a few burp cloths and bibs to keep them (and you) clean.
If you have relatives who are asking what gifts they can buy for the baby, then bibs and burp cloths are a great idea because you’ll use them every day and you can never have too many.
Now you might be wondering, what’s the difference between bibs vs burp cloths anyway?
Bibs and burp cloths are certainly different things, although they sometimes serve the same purpose. Both are used to keep babies and parents clean during feedings.
The main difference between a bib and a burp cloth is that a bib attaches around the baby’s neck with velcro, snaps, poppers, or string, where a burp cloth doesn’t — burp cloths are “free-standing.”
Newborn babies usually won’t need a bib for feedings in the hospital and early days at home; a burp cloth will be plenty effective. As they get older, they’ll need to start using different kinds of bibs.
Chances are, most parents will need a variety of bibs and burp cloths to make it through baby’s first year.
It’s not the case that burp cloths are for milk and bibs are for food. In fact, both burp cloths and bibs can be used to catch milk, food, and drool.
This article explains the differences between baby bibs and burp cloths, so you know which to buy and when.
What is a bib, exactly?
A baby bib is a piece of cloth, plastic, or paper that can be fastened around a baby’s neck to protect their clothes during feedings — whether they’re breastfed, bottle feed, or practicing with finger foods.
There are various types of bibs:
- Regular cloth bibs: Used to catch milk while feeding
- Bandana bibs: Triangular bibs that can be worn all day to catch drool
- Bibs with teething toys: With a silicone toy attached, these keep teething babies busy
- 360-degree bibs: Can be turned around so there’s always a dry bit available
- Waterproof bibs: Wipe-clean bibs with a shelf to catch dropped food
- Disposable bibs: Single use bibs that are ideal for travel
- Full body bibs: Large aprons or smocks with sleeves for messy eaters
What are bibs made from?
Fabric bibs: Bibs for milk and dribble are generally made of cotton because it is soft, absorbent and easy to wash.
Waterproof bibs: Food-catcher bibs can be made of hard or soft plastic or silicone, which makes them easy to wipe clean or wash in the sink or dishwasher.
Disposable bibs: These are made from paper and are usually biodegradable
Full body bibs: Smock bibs are usually made of coated polyester or a similar wipe-clean, waterproof fabric that can be machine washed when needed.
Which bib to choose?
The different types of bibs are useful for different stages and your baby may need four or five different types of bibs as they get older and move from breastmilk or formula to pureed or solid food.
- Best for milk and pureed food: Regular cloth bibs
- Best for teething babies: Bandana bibs (optionally with a teething toy attached)
- Best for baby-led weaning: Waterproof bibs
- Best for travel: Disposable bibs
Full-body bibs protect clothing, but aren’t ideal because while your baby’s t-shirt will be clean, you’ll then need to wash the bib!
And they can take a long time to air dry. If you want to let your baby feed themselves tomato soup, it may be best to just remove all their clothes and wipe the baby down with a damp cloth instead.
As bibs attach around your baby’s neck, you should never leave your child unattended while they are wearing a bib.
You should also be sure to remove it if your baby falls asleep.
Pros and cons of bibs
- A hands-free way to catch milk spills: One advantage of bibs over burp cloths is that they attach around the baby’s neck, so you don’t need to worry about keeping it in place when feeding and burping
- Keeps clothes dry when teething: Teething babies can drool a lot and it’s easier to change a bandana bib five times per day than it is to change outfits that often
- Catches food before it falls on the floor: Food-catcher bibs give babies a second chance to hit the target when feeding themselves
- Small size: Bibs usually aren’t big enough to catch large quantities of spit up or vomit
- May be uncomfortable: Bibs can irritate your baby’s neck, particularly if they get damp or have velcro
- The laundry: You’ll have a never-ending pile of bibs to wash and velcro can damage other clothes
What is a burp cloth, then?
A burp cloth is a piece of fabric that you place on your shoulder when burping your baby to catch spit-up or vomit. It can also be used in place of a bib to catch any drips of milk while feeding.
Burp cloths are also useful to have nearby during feedings, even when using a bib. You can quickly grab it to blot up any drool or spills that might occur.
Burp cloths vary in size from small ones that are shaped a bit like a fat number eight, to large rectangular cloths that can serve many additional purposes.
Some burp cloths are just a single layer, but can be folded for added thickness when needed.
Others have multiple layers for greater absorption.
What are burp cloths made from?
Burp cloths may be made from various fabrics including:
Some burp cloths have a different fabric on each side – one side with a cute pattern and the other side for maximum absorbency.
Burp Cloth Safety
Burp cloths are generally safer than bibs because there is a reduced risk of strangulation.
Muslin burp cloths are breathable, which means that you can offer one as a comforter, in place of or in addition to a traditional pacifier.
Pros and cons of burp cloths
- Multifunctional: Large burp cloths can also be used as comforters, sun shades or for mopping up any kind of spillage
- No fasteners: If your baby falls asleep, it’s much easier to remove a burp cloth than a bib without waking them
- Large: Muslin burp cloths are large enough for even the biggest messes
- They can fall off: Balancing a burp cloth of your shoulder and walking around with your baby isn’t the easiest
- No good for food: Once your baby moves from milk to food, a burp cloth won’t cut it
- No good for drool: You need something that stays attached to your baby for that
Bibs and burp clothes have different purposes, although there is some overlap in what they can be used for.
Most parents use a combination of burp cloths and different types of bibs.
For the first couple of weeks, you’ll do fine with just burp cloths. But once your baby starts to move around more or starts to dribble, you’ll probably find that cloth bibs are easier to use.
(I’d still keep a burp cloth within reach during feedings in case things get really messy.)
Cloth bibs can be used when you feed your baby pureed food, but when it comes to messy baby-led weaning, it will be time to upgrade to a waterproof bib with a food-catching shelf.
The verdict? Buy plenty of bibs and burp cloths (more than a dozen of each), and ask relatives to send them to you! You’ll go through them faster than you think and the baby laundry truly never ends.
Before you go, check out more explainers like:
Hope this helps!