If I’d asked myself ten years ago if I would have ever considered cloth diapering, you would have gotten a pretty accurate rendition of the Sheldon Cooper facial expression suggesting you’d gone mad. I didn’t even have a babysitting career to speak of because I was not into the whole diaper changing thing. Never mind keeping and reusing those things. So I needed some good reasons to cloth diaper.
Now asking my older, wiser, more mature self, the answer would be “Why wouldn’t I cloth diaper?!” Two children in, and I have yet to purchase a disposable diaper. We travel with them, we sleep with them, we run errands with them.
Everything old is new again, and diapering solutions are no different! Cloth diapering has come a loooong way in the last ten years. My mom cloth diapered me for a while as a baby a few decades ago. I vaguely remember those big, white flannel squares of yesteryear’s cloth diapering generation. When that’s the solution, you can’t really blame the disposables for cornering the market. Now there is a plethora of styles, colours, fits, fasteners, and companies available with their own unique twist on cloth diapering. For devotees of this movement, they back their chosen brands with a fiery passion and utility moves into obsession. Like one popular company says, they didn’t invent cloth diapering, they just perfected it!
But fashion and cult followings aside, there are A LOT of good reasons to cloth diaper your little (or not so little) squish! Here are some of mine!
This might not be what you expect to attract one to cloth diapering. I know it wasn’t what I expected when I started looking into it before my first was born.
As part of my research, I joined several different online communities for different brands of diapers. I found it the best way of familiarizing myself with the real challenges associated with different styles and brands by witnessing the experiences of others (and those of their competitors). The information I gleaned from the more experienced cloth-diapering mamas was invaluable in making my decision.
The fantastic community fostered on those pages proved even more useful and important to me! So many different women (and men) from so many different walks of life with a rainbow of reasons for choosing cloth diapering, all coming together to support, encourage, and help one another with more than just cloth diapering for no other reason than because they all chose to cloth diaper their babies. Sure, you run across the odd sanctimommy let loose on a keyboard, but the wonderful, kind, generous souls that compose the vast majority of these communities far outnumber them.
Being a mom can be isolating, not unlike making strict dietary changes, so the profound sense of community in some of these groups was a huge draw for me!
The average age for a child to potty train is 30 months, or two and a half years. When Scott and I ran the numbers on cloth diapers versus eco-friendly disposables over that time, cloth won. Hands down. The cost savings of cloth diapering tempted Scott to consider cloth diapering in the first place, winning out over the “ick” factor.
Purchasing everything brand new for our chosen cloth diaper system came in at roughly $1,500, but much cheaper cloth systems are available. That $1,500 would get us everything we would ever need to cloth diaper our child from birth to potty training. Over that time, the eco-friendly disposable diapers we were considering would have cost us well over $3,000! Even after factoring in potential increased water, electricity, and detergent costs, that still left us with a HUGE saving over the long-term.
To save on costs, I purchased most of our diapers second hand. Buying diapers a few at a time well before baby was due helped lessen the blow further. If you make a point of purchasing brands and/or styles that retain their resale value down the road, you recoup 50% or more of your original purchase price, further reducing your long-term expenses. (2019 NOTE: Since writing this post, cloth diapering resale has changed dramatically. Even the higher quality diaper brands do not sell for as much used as they did. They can certainly still be sold, just not for as much as they once were)
And none of this takes into account the additional savings you would accrue if you use your previously-purchased cloth diapers for a second (or third) child. This time around, I’m basically diapering for free.
Reducing Exposure to Toxins
When I think of a baby spending the first two and half years of his life (on average) constantly wearing diapers, and all the crucial development going on during that time, it makes me very vigilant of what my children are exposed to. The skin is one of the largest and most absorbent organs of the body and there are some very sensitive areas in direct contact with diapers at all times. As such, I ensure that what is potentially being absorbed is as safe for them as possible. Since my children have a genetic predisposition to autoimmune disease, I want to be as proactive about their environmental exposures as possible. I would like to give them the best shot at healthy, disease-free lives!
With the birth of my son, I’m even more cautious about what he is exposed to. Research found that disposable diapers raises scrotal temperature significantly and interferes with the body’s natural cooling process to protect these delicate organs. Authorities link disposable diapers to the drastic drop in sperm counts in the last 50 years. Whether it’s solely from the temperature issue, or a combination of elevated scrotal temperature and direct contact between the genitals and endocrine disrupting toxins is unclear. (1)
What’s in a Diaper?
Disposable diapers have been found to contain xylene (neurotoxin and endocrine disrupter), ethyl benzene (respiratory irritant and neurotoxin), styrene (carcinogen and neurotoxin), isopropylene (hormone disrupter and neurotoxin), sodium polyacrylate (respiratory and skin irritant), dioxin (fat soluable – meaning it crosses the blood-brain barrier, bioaccumulative immunosuppressant , hormone disrupter, neurotoxin, and carcinogen), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (immunosuppressant, carcinogen, respiratory and skin irritant), phthalates (endocrine disrupters, carcinogens), and parabens (endocrine disrupters, xenoestrogens and carcinogens). And that’s just the ones we know about.
Eco-friendly diapers tend to be better in this department, but there is a large range of just how “green” the various brands may be. Most still use some of the same chemicals, just in smaller amounts. Many use plant-based materials derived from wheat or corn, which can be skin irritants and highly allergenic.
Cloth diapers are not without their own potential issues, either. Many cloth diapers have fleece lining, which is usually made of polyethylene terephthalate (a xenoestrogen and endocrine disrupter), but there are some purely natural fibre options available as well. Unlike disposables, there are ways to minimize baby’s exposure to the synthetic materials. There are some talented mums who make their own diapers and can customize the materials used. I am not that talented. The diapers we settled on do have a fleece lining. We lay the organic bamboo insert on top of the fleece lining to reduce skin contact with the fleece.
I’m just going to leave these here…
‘Nuff said, IMO.
In all honesty, environmental concerns were pretty far down our list of our reasons to cloth diaper at the time. But they did register, and we do believe they are an important consideration. In the nearly four years since we first started our cloth endeavour, the environmental and sustainability aspect has become much more of a priority. If I had to do it over again, I can’t say I’d choose the same type of diaper, though the ones we did pick do have their redeeming qualities to be sure. But since I have a good sized stash that works really well for us, we’re going to stick with it.
The average disposable diaper will take over 500 years to decompose in your local landfill. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of my children’s diapers still being around when their grandchildren are having grandchildren. In the mean time, they would be leaching toxic chemicals into the ground and surrounding environment. One cloth diaper replaces roughly 260 (or more) diapers over the average diapering life of one child. That’s 260 reasons to cloth diaper right there.
Some people criticize cloth diapers as being environmentally unfriendly because of materials used and the resources needed to clean them. Cloth diapers that are no longer usable are often repurposed or may even be composted. But if one cloth diaper hits the landfill in place of 260+ disposables, we’ve done the Earth a favour. Since we’ve been washing diapers, our water usage has not changed noticeably. Comparing our water usage, we have found we use less water some months now than we did a year ago. There are also many other areas to conserve water usage. I believe that the overall benefit of cloth diapers outweighs the slightly increased water usage required.