Why cloth diaper?
I’ve been a cloth diaper instructor and consultant for nearly four years now and it’s a job I find immensely satisfying. Through the company I work for, I have met with hundreds of parents and parents-to-be who are trying hard to make wise, intentional decisions for their burgeoning families.
If you have children, do you remember those early days as you were expecting your first child? The number of decisions that new parents face can be overwhelming – what stroller do we choose? or should we use baby carriers? do we need a crib right away or should we use a bassinet? maybe we should co-sleep. do we need a change table? where are we going to store diapers? are we going to circumcise our son? should we vaccinate at birth? what about the Vitamin K shot and the eye smears?
I applaud new parents these days, especially those who are very proactive in the midst of what seems like a gazillion decisions that have to be made before the baby arrives. I myself gave up in the middle of the overwhelmedness and decided to just get used to being a parent before making any of those decisions.
By far the most common questions I get from parents are, “Why cloth diaper? Isn’t it lots of work? Isn’t it messy?”
So, here are 10 reasons I share with new parents why cloth diapering is absolutely worth it:
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #1: Save Money
Assuming your child potty trains around the age of 3, you will change more than 7,200 diapers in that time. That adds up to about $3,200 if you use standard, brand-name disposables and nearly $4,000 if you use one of the cool eco-disposables on the market today.
This is compared to $400 – $950 for a stash of cloth diapers, plus an extra $15-25/month for detergent and the extra utilities used for washing and drying.
If you use the diapers on more than one child, the savings are compounded even further, as well!
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #2: Health
This is a widely debated issue, but I consider cloth diapering to be more healthy for babies for one primary reason:
Natural fibers (and even the synthetic fabrics) allow more airflow than plastic-woven disposables. Strictly from a health point of view, this is important because it regulates heat for boys, which can affect scrotal temperatures, and it keeps yeast from growing in girls, which can cause urinary tract infections, thrush, and a host of other yeast-related issues.
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #3: Sustainability
Cloth nappies offer a sustainable option for families – “sustainable” meaning “able to be sustained over a long period of time.”
In this case, the sustainability is both financial and environmental. Any good cloth diaper that’s cared for well can be reused on a second child. And prefolds will easily last through 3-4 children, so the financial savings can be significant and the environmental impact absolutely minimized, even when considering there is extra water and power usage associated with washing and maintaining diapers.
Now, admittedly, your environmental impact will be determined according to where you live. If you live in the desert, water is likely at a premium, so washing diapers every two days may be an irresponsible use of resources. If you live in an area where your power comes from coal, using the dryer regularly to dry your nappies may likewise be irresponsible. If you live in an area that creates energy by incinerating waste instead of using a landfill, the waste impact will differ. Too often we only calculate our environmental impact according to what ends up in the landfill.
Cloth diapering can still be an option for you, but you may need to choose your types of diapers or decide how often you can wash accordingly.
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #4: Baby’s Comfort
When any diaper gets wet or soiled, the skin gets hot and sticky due to the combination of body heat, moisture, and uric acid. Cloth diapers allow for better airflow, which helps the moisture that’s sitting on the baby’s skin to evaporate, leaving your baby drier and less prone to diaper rash.
Many parents I’ve talked to have also cured their baby’s already existing diaper rash by switching to cloth, once again due to the increased airflow. Granted, this could also be due to the fact that the moisture isn’t wicked away with cloth and the baby feels wet and likely cries, thus urging the parents to change more often than with disposables.
And have you felt some of the diapers on the market today? Many diapers are made of absolutely luxuriously soft fabrics! And even those that aren’t – say the old-fashioned standbys, cotton prefolds – tend to soften and quilt up the more they are washed.
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #5: Ease of Potty Training
The engineering involved in a standard disposable diaper is amazing – it truly is a feat of engineering. Due to this, moisture is “locked away” and, as I mentioned above, the child has no sensation of being wet.
With cloth, however, there is the immediate feedback of wetness.
When it comes to potty training, this is a wonderful thing. As you’re teaching your child, there is already an instinctive knowledge of what being wet and being dry is like and subsequently, many cloth diapering parents potty are able to train their children earlier and more quickly.
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #6: Fashion
This list would be incomplete with making mention of the fact that modern cloth diapers are downright fashionable. There certainly are the wonderful, rectangular old standbys (which, oddly enough, are my favorites), but if you look through any cloth diapering store (for example, New & Green Baby Company in Canada, The Good Mama in the US, or Tots Bots in Scotland) you will see how much diapers are now being crafted with chic and ease of use in mind.
I think it’s especially fun when little girls are able to wear their cloth diapers as bloomers or when a just-learned-to-walk toddler is cruising around in nothing but a diaper – now that’s the definition of cute!
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #7: Reliability – catches more blowouts
A few years ago, one cloth diaper company started putting elastic not just around the leg gathers, but in the back too. Within a short time, this became standard on a number of cloth diapers and covers and because of it, cloth diapers win hands-down over disposables due to their ability to keep poo right where it should be (that is, not up the back!).
And even if you use prefolds like I do, which have no elastic whatsoever, you can still get a snug fit in the back, which is usually coupled with a cover that has the elastic all the way around and thus you’re doubly covered.
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #8: Promotes conversation between partners
One of my favorite reasons to promote cloth diapering is because it gets partners talking. Just by asking the questions, “Why cloth diaper?” and “Should we cloth diaper?” gets the conversation rolling about expectations and roles and opens the door for conversation about other baby-raising and home-making issues. Ultimately, your partnership, your family, and your household will be the better for it.
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #9: Promotes conversation with the larger community
Asking the question, “Why cloth diaper?” promotes conversation within the larger community as well. It’s not uncommon when you’re changing your baby in a public washroom and another mom sees that you’re using cloth, for her to come up and either start asking questions or to share about her experience with cloth.
Ultimately, though, this isn’t just about chatting and connecting with other moms (which is wonderful), but it’s about bringing to light sustainable living options that ultimately are good for the community as a whole. As more and more parents hear and see other parents cloth diapering, there is more and more conversation about how to make it work and new parents become equipped to decide what will work best for their family.
This applies on a larger scale, as well. I know of one suburban area that successfully lobbied for a tax credit for cloth diapering parents when the city moved to biweekly trash pick-up. The initiative didn’t last long, but it certainly created a stir and a much-needed conversation about the city’s vastly overflowing landfill.
Why Cloth Diaper Reason #10: Solid waste ends up where it’s supposed to be
When you cloth diaper, you dump all the solids in the toilet, which ends up either in a septic tank or processed as black water. Any remaining bits on the diaper end up in the wash, which is treated as grey water. These are the appropriate ways to dispose of human solid waste.
When you use disposables, even if you faithfully dump what solids you can into the toilet, there is still quite a bit that is left clinging to the diaper as it is tossed in the trash. When that diaper sits in the landfill, viruses and disease can live for up to 2 weeks, and with the sheer number of diapers in landfills (in 2009, it was about 27.4 billion diapers in the US), there is enough raw sewage present that if there is a breach or a leak, nearby water sources could become contaminated.1
What Are Other Options?
If you can’t decide what method of diapering would work best for you, I urge you to read this report at Mindfully.org. It’s excellently written and gives balanced critique of each option.
If you’d like to forego diapering altogether (or even just partially), you could also look into Elimination Communication. Read more at Mothering.com.
Have you cloth diapered? Would you recommend it to others?
- There have been no known cases of leakage in North America to my knowledge, which is why I say merely that the problem is with the amount of raw sewage sitting in a place where it cannot be properly treated. [↩]