by Tiffany Washko
Having a baby is one of the most exciting times of your life. It is also one of the most stressful. So many decisions have to be made about nearly every aspect of your baby’s comfort, safety, and happiness. You spend hours pouring over pregnancy and child rearing books, picking out the perfect crib, finding the most adorable and comfortable clothing, and envisioning the safest and most peaceful birth for your baby as possible. No doubt somewhere in your planning you have thought about how many diapers you will need for your new little one and perhaps you have even purchased some in advance. If you are like the majority of parents out there, then you have automatically decided upon disposable diapers without ever giving it a second thought.
Stop right there! There is an alternative; consider using cloth diapers.
Cloth diapering today is not what it used to be. When many parents think of cloth diapers they think of flat diapers that need to be folded in several, origami-like folds and fastened with diaper pins before they are covered with plastic pull on pants. Generally they also think that the clean-up involved with using cloth diapers would be tedious and messy. Cloth diapers have been stereotyped and it seems as though many parents have missed the total evolution of the cloth diaper that has occurred over the past decade or so. I know, because I was one of them.
My own personal decision to use cloth actually came with my second child. With my first child I used disposable diapers, as most do, and thought nothing of it. When I became pregnant a second time I joined a pregnancy discussion group online and in one particular discussion I saw a signature line that contained a link to a work at home mother that sold handcrafted cloth diapers. It was an “Ahaaa” moment for me. I had no idea how far cloth diapers had come. I had dismissed all previous thoughts about using cloth diapers with an exaggerated “Ewwww!” I didn’t want to clean messy diapers and I didn’t want to stick my baby with safety pins. But these diapers were fitted, they had Velcro-like closures, and they were CUTE. I search far and wide for adorable clothing for my babies so how could I resist adorable diapers?
New choices in materials and high tech fabrics are causing an increasing number of parents to reconsider whether disposable diapers are the best choice. We have options now that provide us with cloth diapers that are elasticized so that they are fitted and snug, waterproof many instances, and manageable with Velcro-like closures or snaps, making them just as easy and convenient to use as disposables. It is not just their functionality and convenience that has been affected by this evolution either. Cloth diapers available today are infinitely more attractive. They are available in a variety of different colors, prints, and textures. Cloth diapers made from silk and cashmere are not uncommon. This is a big selling point for many parents because there is nothing cute about a disposable diaper. Quite simply, cloth diapers are convenient, cost effective, healthier for our children, and better for the environment. I feel as though the real question parents should be asking themselves is why use disposables?
As a general rule, it is almost always cheaper to reuse than to buy new every time. This is no different with cloth diapers. Most parents go through 6 to 8 thousand diapers per child, from birth to about age three. If we take an average of what those diapers cost, that equates to between 2000 and 3000 dollars per baby. Once those children are potty trained those diapers are gone. They can’t be re-used. So a significant chunk of our hard earned money has gone to buying, what is essentially, garbage. In comparison, enough cloth diapers to last for three years will usually cost between 3 to 8 hundred dollars. At minimum that is about a 1200 dollar savings. But wait, consider too, that those cloth diapers may last for one or more successive children and your savings doubles and even triples.
What should also be of serious concern to all parents are the toxic chemicals present in disposable diapers. Dioxin, which in various forms has been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, liver damage, skin diseases, and genetic damage, is a by-product of the paper-bleaching process used in manufacturing disposable diapers, and trace quantities may exist in the diapers themselves. Dioxin is listed by the EPA as the most toxic of cancer related chemicals. Disposable diapers also contain sodium polyacrylate. If you have ever seen the gel-like, super absorbent crystals in a disposable diaper then you have seen this substance first hand. Sodium polyacrylate is the same substance that was removed from tampons because of its link to toxic shock syndrome. No studies have been done on the long-term effects of this chemical being in contact with a baby’s reproductive organs 24 hours a day for upwards of two years. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are free of the many chemicals contained in disposable diapers.
Then there are the environmental reasons for using cloth. According to the Sustainability Institute eighty percent of the diaperings in this nation are done with disposables. That comes to 18 BILLION diapers a year, just in the US. They require thousands of tons of plastic and hundreds of thousands of trees to manufacture. After a few hours of active service these materials are trucked away, primarily to landfills, where they sit, entombed or mummified, undegraded for several hundred years. The idea of a “disposable” diaper is a myth. The ramifications of that myth will stay with us for centuries to come. They are the 3rd largest single product in the waste stream behind newspapers and beverage containers. The urine and faeces in disposable diapers enter landfills untreated, possibly contaminating the ground water supply. When you consider the unnecessary depletion of our valuable forests, the huge volume of garbage created, the toxic air and water pollution and the potential health risks to children, it is very difficult to comprehend how washing and reusing cloth diapers could ever be considered an inconvenience. No, they are a rewarding investment all around; a financial investment, an investment in our children’s health, and an investment in our planet.
Tiffany Washko is president of Jelly Bean Diapers, http://www.jellybeandiapers.com. After working several years in corporate healthcare marketing and public relations, she took time away to be a mother. This new pursuit lead her to a new passion, helping new moms make the decision to return to the basics and use cloth diapers.