Cloth diapering does not work for everyone or every family. I completely understand this. There are many situations in which cloth diapering would not be an ideal choice. I know plenty of people who are very sensitive to the environment in many other ways but still choose to use disposables. That is completely fine. Every family has to do what works for them; I can respect that.
You may feel like this post is a bit redundant since I’ve already done a couple vlogs on the subject. Well, in the past month I have had three different friends inquire about cloth diapering and either seriously consider the switch or actually take the plunge (Woohoo Kourtni!!). I realized when they came to me with their questions that 1) there was quite a bit my videos did not cover and 2) the videos are a bit long and tend to ramble into tangents because of my camera shyness.
So, I wound up going back to long, drawn-out e-mails trying to think of every possible question I had when I started, as well as answering the questions they had specifically asked me and covering anything I found that came up after I was already well into the adventure. In an effort to simplify the process of responding to future inquiries, I decided that a well thought out and organized blog series on the topic was in order.
Plus, since “green is the new black,” I’ve been seeing cloth diapers and supplies even pop up in some of the larger baby retail stores. Yesterday when I was in Babies R Us they had three different kinds of cloth diapers plus the gDiapers physically in the store (they’ve had them online for some time now). I also saw a wipes warmer specifically designed for cloth wipes with organic bamboo wipes included and extras sold right alongside it. The Target here also has BumGenius diapers from time to time. For these products to actually make it into the store and not just be available online, means that people are requesting them and using them. That means more and more people are going cloth, which is really exciting to me.
So in this first installment, I wanted to talk about why parents should consider cloth diapering.
1. It is environmentally friendly.
Disposable diapers make up one third of consumer waste in landfills today. We don’t know how long it takes them to decompose because no one has lived that long yet — some estimates are around 500 years. One baby in disposable diapers will contribute at least one ton of waste to your local landfill.
2. It is healthier for your baby.
Disposable diapers consist of a plastic exterior, an inner super-absorbent layer treated with chemicals and a liner. These chemicals include dioxin, a chemical by-product of industrial processes, including the paper-bleaching process. Its toxicity is second only to radioactive waste. Disposable diapers also have been found to contain TBT, one of the most poisonous substances known to man. TBT can severely affect one’s immune and hormonal system. And then there’s sodium polyacrylate, the substance that turns urine into gel. This material was in tampons until around 1985, when its link to Toxic Shock Syndrome caused it to be removed. Furthermore, females involved in the manufacturing of sodium polyacrylate have suffered from reproductive organ problems, weight loss, fatigue, and slow-healing wounds. Which begs the question, if it isn’t safe for this chemical to be in contact with the reproductive organs of grown women, why is it safe for it to be in contact with the reproductive organs of our little babies? Could this chemical be why infertility problems are on the rise?
A study conducted by Anderson Laboratories in 1999 and published in the Archives of Environmental Health found that disposable diapers release volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), including toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and dipentene. All of these VOCs have been shown to have toxic health effects, such as cancer and brain damage, with long-term or high level exposure.
The researchers also discovered that mice exposed to the chemicals released by disposable diapers were more likely to experience irritated airways than mice exposed to emissions from cloth diapers. These effects were increased during repeat exposures. The authors suggested that disposable diapers may cause “asthma-like” reactions and urged more study into a possible link between diaper emissions and asthma.
With the toxic chemical exposure of disposable diapers, it is no shock that a study by a major disposable diaper manufacturer shows that the incidence of diaper rash rose from 7.1% to 61% between 1970 and 1995, coinciding with the increase in disposable diaper use. However, no studies have ever been conducted on the long-term effects of these substances being in contact with a child’s reproductive organs for 24 hours a day and upwards of two or three years.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — every single time I put Bean in disposables she gets a rash. When we first set out to cloth diaper, our plan was to use cloth at home and disposables for out-of-town trips and days when I would be out of the house for most of the day. At the time, it seemed to us that this plan would be easier than carting around dirty diapers everywhere. When Bean started getting rashes because of the disposable diapers, that changed our plans.
We knew that these rashes were specifically from the disposable diapers and/or wipes because we could usually clear this rash up without creams by putting her back in cloth diapers for a day. On one particular extended trip out of town, the rash got so bad she blistered and peeled. It didn’t seem fair to subject Bean to a painful rash just for our convenience. So now we cart around dirty diapers in a wet bag (Lisa notes: Stephen thinks this term sounds disgusting and will turn people off to cloth diapering. He would have preferred I used “plastic bag,” but they really are called “wet bags” and I know plenty of moms that use them and don’t cloth diaper so I’m leaving the term. Plus, click on the link and you will see tons of really cute ones!) and when we go out of town we make arrangements to wash them if we are staying for an extended period of time.
Actually, until Bean was around 5 or 6 months old, the only time she ever got a rash was from disposable diapers. That has since changed. We did have a yeast/thrush problem for awhile that caused a rash. Then there are three other main reasons why she will sometimes get a rash: 1) Reaction to a solid food that she ate, 2) Teething, because I think the teething changes the acidity of her digestive system for some reason and makes her poop burn her bum and 3) Negligence on my part — sometimes I forget to change the diapers as often as I should. Still, these rashes are few and far between compared to if she were in disposables all the time.
3. Less blowouts.
I can count on one hand the number of times Bean has had a blowout in her cloth diapers. These blowouts were of such proportion and force that a paper thin disposable would not have been able to contain them either. Actually this is funny to me because one of the main warnings I got when I announced my decision was that everyone who had tried cloth or knew someone that had tried cloth stopped using them because of blowouts. In reality, I had way more problems with blowouts, really gross poop-all-the-way-up-the-back blowouts, than I ever have with my cloth diapers.
One of the first pieces of advice about cloth diapers I got when researching it was that I would see a huge polarization in the reviews of the different brands because every diaper fits every baby differently. As such, I was advised to start out with a stash of diapers with a variety of brands so I could figure out what I liked and what worked best with my baby’s body (I actually ignored this advice, but I’ll address that later in the series).
So, I think this is where friends and others who have tried cloth ran into problems. The diaper they chose, for whatever reason, did not work with their baby’s body type and they had leaks or blowouts. Now, if you were using Pampers, you’d probably just try switching to Huggies or some other brand. I think with cloth though we’re more apt to just say, “Well these ones don’t work, therefore all cloth diapers don’t work for us. I’m going back to disposables because that was easier.” When you’re spending much more for a single diaper (I’ve seen upwards of $35 per diaper for some ritzy brands), I can understand why you might be a little wary of experimentation though.
4. They are super cute.
The diapers I use come in a bunch of really fun colors. So does pretty much every brand I’ve come across. Then, if you want to get into supporting stay at home moms (also known as work at home moms or WAHMies), there are tons of sites where you can buy handmade diapers and covers in a huge variety of fun, beautiful and designer fabrics. Below is just a couple examples of some of the stuff you can find:
5. A lot has changed and it isn’t as hard as it used to be.
As I intend to show you throughout this series, cloth diapering is not as hard as our parents and grandparents made it out to be: gone are the days of stinky buckets of water with dirty diapers soaking in them, the laundry isn’t that bad or that much more than you are probably already doing with your baby and you don’t have to deal with pins and folding cloth diaper inserts if you don’t want to. Modern technology and fashion have really made this a much more fun and simple process.
6. It is cheaper!
This is the point that often wins the economical and practical guys over. Most estimates on the cost of disposable diapers put the figure at $2-3,000 per child, per year. If your child is in diapers for two years, that means you will spend $4-6,000 and if they are in diapers for three years, you will be spending $6-9,000 just on diapers for one child. If you factor in multiple children, that figure skyrockets even more.
I personally have about $800 worth of BumGenius diapers which run between $15-20 each, depending on where you get them from and whether you buy in bulk or not. Of that $800, my husband and I only invested $400 into them, the rest were very gratefully received shower gifts.
For those of you that, like me, hate doing math, I will do the calculations for you. We personally will save up to $5,600-8,600 just on Bean alone. We will likely use these diapers with our next child as well, provided they hold up that long and I can keep up with two kids and laundry. So, that means up to an additional $6-9000 worth of savings for a total of up to $11,600-17,600 for both kids! And that doesn’t even include the amount of money we aren’t constantly spending on diaper rash creams or wipes (since with use cloth wipes as well).
**Edit: After some of your comments I think the above figures are definitely a little high. I originally saw the $2-3K figure as a per child figure some time ago, not per child per year. I couldn’t remember what the actual figure was when I went to put together this post so I did a really quick search and a couple sites said the the per child, per year number so I went with that because the $2-3K part of it seemed familiar to me. Anyhow, check the comments section below to hear from actual disposable users that know what the real cost is. Sorry about that! In any case, over the long term cloth diapers are still cheaper than using disposables.
So that about covers the main reasons to go cloth. I hope you will seriously consider it if you haven’t before. For me personally, the biggest factors that swung me into the cloth diaper camp were the economic savings and the health of my child. I think those two things alone are worth condsideration.