On cloth diapers

Let me begin this with an asteroid-sized disclaimer that I have not changed a cloth diaper yet or dealt with human poop or its aftermath. I am not an expert.

But I do seem to have developed an obsession over the last two weeks with all things related to cloth diapers. It’s a fast-growing obsession. I can’t seem to stop myself – it’s all I feel like talking about. Maybe this is a byproduct of being pregnant and conducting fanatical research for hours on end. Then again, if I weren’t talking about cloth diapers I’d be disinfecting the spice cupboard again or bothering Mike about dusting the top of the fridge, so it could be worse, depending on who you ask.

Here are the top five reasons I’ve decided that cloth diapering is worth doing.

1. Chemicals. I’m not a terribly paranoid person but I do absolutely distrust 80% of the ingredients that go into our food, drinks, drugs, and supplies. I also distrust the FDA or any other regulatory agency that is supposed to protect consumers. Disposable diaper companies don’t have to disclose all of their ingredients or all of the fragrances and dyes they put into diapers. I think that’s disgusting, though really not surprising given the way we let giant corporations and their lobbyists influence most of what we eat and are exposed to. But enough of my general diatribe; here are the specifics.

Aside from dyes and fragrances, disposable diapers contain traces of dioxin (an agent orange ingredient), tributyl-tin (TBT), a hormone disrupter and toxic pollutant, and sodium polyacrylate, the substance responsible for absorbing moisture. Sodium polyacrylate used to be used in tampons and was associated with toxic shock syndrome, but hey – diapers are outside the body, not inside, so why not. Again, I’m no expert on chemicals and what levels are safe to have in, around, or near your body – but these all sound totally insane to me. If parabens in hand soap and basic household cleaners creep me out, then these chemicals are enough to really give me nightmares, especially when considering their proximity to a baby for 2-3 years of life.

This is my #1 reason by light years. Cloth diapers could totally ruin the planet, kill small birds, and cost 4x what disposables cost and I would still choose them for this reason alone.

2. Cost. Luckily, they don’t cost 4x more (or kill birds). I’ve read all kinds of estimates about this, that cloth diapering saves $1,000 or as much as $4,500 over the diapering years of two children. I don’t care which two of those numbers is closer to accurate, I’m just happy to save any money at this point. Thanks to the help of a local cloth diaper consultant and friend of friend (check her out here or here) we’ve already purchased half our “stash” (cloth diaper lingo) and have spent just over $200 on the diapers. When all is said and done – once we get the rest of the supplies (disposable wipes, a diaper sprayer, waterproof/smell-proof bags, etc.) the total will be $500 to $600. You can also get an entire stash for as cheap as $200. Disposables cost way, way more than that across two or three years ($1600 to $2500). On a second child, you spend nearly nothing on cloth diapers, so the total savings can be immense.

3. It’s not that difficult. This is my #3 reason, even above environmental reasons. I’m generally a green person and I care about our planet, but if cloth diapers were so inconvenient it would wreck my life, I would probably still use disposable (chemicals aside). I’m a vegetarian, I don’t drive that much, I recycle, and I contribute to the planet in lots of other ways – so I could always let myself off the hook on this one. The truth is – based on what I’ve read and what friends have told me – it’s really not that much work. All parents have to deal with poop and change diapers. With a disposable, you throw it in the trash. With cloth, you throw it in the laundry – so the extra step comes with laundering. I generally hate doing laundry, but throwing in a load of diapers and wipes every 2-3 days does not seem life-altering. Sure, you have to stay on top of your laundry and spend an extra 20 minutes a week (literally – that’s how long it takes to push buttons, switch the load, and put the diapers away) but how much time would we spend trekking to Costco, purchasing 300 diapers in a giant box as big as a coffin, unloading that box and recycling it, and then storing that many diapers in drawers around my house? I’d prefer doing laundry, honestly. And this will be a chance for me to tackle my nemesis. On top of all this, I will be working from home once Baby Love Bean is here, so I really have no excuse not to make time for this.

4. Environment. It really is horrendous when you read about how bad disposables are. Each baby contributes 7,000 diapers to a landfill by the time s/he is potty-trained. Each diaper takes 500 years or so to decompose. I read somewhere an illustration of that – that our city’s namesake, Christopher Columbus, would still have diapers remaining on this planet today. Ew. For some people, this is the #1 reason to cloth diaper, and I respect that. For others, they realize all the pros and cons but still don’t have the time, energy or interest to use cloth. I respect that, too. We all have to make decisions that work for our kids and families and we have to pick our battles.

5. All the other reasons. There are loads of other reasons I’d lump into this category. Cloth diapers allegedly are associated with fewer diaper rashes than disposables. They prompt babies to potty-train faster. And they’re really, really cute. This last reason is a big one for me, though it sounds so shallow that I reserve it for part 3 of #5, so I don’t sound totally out of whack. But seriously – the cloth diapers I’ve seen are so SOFT and adorable and I’ve fallen in love with them. This love fest may not last long. They won’t be cute when they’re filled with shit, I’m sure. But I do have to believe that wearing a super soft pile of cotton and hemp is more comfy for a baby than wearing a trash bag that smells like artificial fragrance. Or maybe she won’t care at all.

Big thanks to friends and connections who have helped shed the light on the realities of cloth diapering and how easy it can be. And to Mike for being open-minded even though I’m sure by now he’s tired of some of my tirades against the dangers of chemicals.

I’ll close with a picture of a cloth diaper that I think is cute. And I’d love to hear from anyone who has CD’ed and wants to share their experience!