This has to be the most controversial choice that we have made in our whole pregnancy, I feel like it is probably the most under-represented but rewarding choice. That could be a complete hyperbole, but I really have no doubts about the decision. The benefits out weight the tribulations for our small family and I think that is really what matters most here. Every parent has to consider what things they value for their child’s life and make the decisions that they see as best. I am no exception, despite still being very pregnant! Even my mom was not on board when I first told her that I was strongly considering cloth diapering! She was coming from a place of her own experience, which is understandable. When she had me, she tried to cloth diaper but was very grossed out by the idea. I don’t blame her! A diaper change isn’t the glamorous side of having a baby. Cloth diapering in some ways takes away from the façade. When I say that, I just mean that with disposables, you are much more easily protected from the fact that you’re handling human feces. With cloth diapering, you aren’t given that same façade and you must be a little more conscious about what your baby is putting out of its wee body. And my mom is very much so the most feminine of females, i.e. she has no tolerance for icky! But I do respect her opinion, given that she has more experience than I do so I set out to make her see my side more clearly, so that she could at least understand why I’ve made this choice. I think I have successfully won her over after showing her the cute prints cloth diapers are available in. The facts were inconsequential but the cuteness definitely convinced her to join me on the cloth side! However, as my pregnancy progressed and more people found out about my decision to cloth diaper, I realized quickly that she is not the only one who had these same ideas about cloth.
In this post, I intend to show the benefits that my family sees in cloth diapering, as well as dispelling some myths that friends and family have made me aware of about cloth. I understand that this choice is not preferable for everyone. I understand that there are certain lines people don’t want to cross. I also understand that what works for our family may not work for others. But I hope to at least educate those that have no knowledge or misinformed knowledge about a great option for your baby. Even if you do not commit to cloth full-time, a part-time inclusion of cloth to your disposable diapering routine can still bring many of the benefits that I will explain later.
One major reason why I love cloth diapering is because of how much cheaper it is to do! I frequently have been told, “Oh, that’s $20 for one diaper?! That is crazy!” Yes, I can see how that seems to be such a large amount of money when disposable diapers are anywhere from 10 cents to 65 cents per diaper. But, when you do the math on how much you spend on both options, it’s clear what the better deal is.
On average, a baby uses around 3800 disposable diapers a year. If each of those diapers costs around 50 cents, then that’s $1900 you’re spending every year on diapers alone. If your baby is in diapers for two years, then you’re easily spending $4000! That doesn’t even include the costs of disposable wipes, as well! Conversely, if you buy a stash of 24 newborn prefolds, 5 newborn covers, 25 one size all-in-one diapers and 12 doublers that costs $401 using Nicki’s diapers brand. This set up is what I would consider to be a great starter stash for the average parent. (Nicki’s Diapers donates a diaper to a family in need for every diaper you purchase from their brand, a purchase you can truly feel good about.) You could use very different cloth diapers and brands for your baby but this is just for example’s sake. The main point here is that the difference between the two options is over $3000! Over $3000 of savings! The stash you have hypothetically built with Nicki’s Diapers is going to last you through diapering your first child and even children to come after the first. After all, cloth diapers are reusable! If you take care of your diapers and buy some of a decent quality they WILL last you. You will be saving money, compounded on money, compounded on money by cloth diapering if you have more than one child in cloth!
The initial cost of cloth diapering can make a transition into doing it very hard for the average parent. $400 at one time seems like a lot in comparison to a $45 pack of diapers. We combatted this problem by planning! I know, sigh. No one likes to plan and no one likes to be told what to do with their money. But if I have sparked your interest at all, hear me out here! Since we knew very soon that we were having a baby and I had started researching this topic early on in my pregnancy, I had lots of time to see how I could make this choice feasible for us. We took this idea that it would cost us somewhere around $400-$500 to start a stash for our baby and just approached it with a pie ideal. I like the pie ideal. It’s this sense of approaching things in smaller portions as opposed to all at once. This is why it feels cheaper to buy those $45 pack of diapers every week or two. It can really add up over time but however with cloth you won’t be doing it nearly as often! Since we’re young parents, we use this approach to a lot of our expenses! But we simply broke this $500 cloth diaper cost into smaller installments throughout the pregnancy. At first just by putting the money to the side and then by slowly buying the items we needed until the baby was here. Simple! It could be that you use the money you would spend on your morning coffee or one meal eating out and instead put that to the side for your diaper stash. It could be far more intricate or even simpler! I’ll blog about my budgeting for baby a little later but you get the idea! It is possible to cloth diaper on any budget if you make the preparations to do so.
The other added benefit of cloth diapering is that most diapers have a pretty good resale value. If you take care of your stash, then you could get a good portion of what you have spent on your diapers back. Sometimes you can even get more than you spent because certain prints and colors are coveted by cloth mamas! Not only would you be saving money from initially purchasing cloth, but you could even see a return on some of your purchases if you take care of them. This also comes in handy when initially building your stash. You can use Facebook Marketplace and diaper swap pages or websites like Craigslist to find diapers for lower than retail value by buying them used. I will post more information about how I bought some of my diapers used and saved even more money in cloth diapering.
You could save even more money by making your own cloth diapers or repurposing household items. If you own a sewing machine, I would encourage you to try making your own diapers. I have done this for some of my stash and I have really loved the process. This is obviously optional but it definitely saves even more money. For me, making my own cloth diapers has allowed me to bond even more with my baby and create some unique items that only my little baby girl will have. I can customize absorbency and combine the styles of several different branded diapers that I like to really get diapers I love.
The money that would have been spent on disposable diapers can go towards buying cute prints you love in cloth diapers or expanding your stash. That money could be spent on quality food for your baby. That money can be spent on childcare. That money can go towards your bills. That money can go towards a COLLEGE FUND, hello! I mean, the options are endless here! It’s your money! Keep that money going towards more beneficial things for your baby and your family’s life instead of ending up in piles in your local landfill!
No Weird Chemicals!
There are no government agencies that disposable diaper brands have to answer to as far as regulations are concerned. The FDA DOES NOT regulate disposable diaper composition. Under section 876.5920 of the FDA’s subchapter on medical devices, which technically should include diapers for infants but explicitly DOES NOT, diapers for incontinence, pads, and tampons are exempt from good manufacturing practice requirements of a good quality system but are required to meet general standards of protection. Disposable diaper brands, however, do not have to release information to the public about what chemicals are used to make these diapers and what chemicals may have come in contact with these diapers. This is a scary concept for me to wrap my head around. Disposable diaper brands can do whatever they want and have very little consequence because they have no requirement to disclose how truly toxic or realistically safe their disposable diapers can be. This information may not concern you and that is also understandable, but I encourage you to at least skim over this next section and see some of the chemicals that have been found in diapers from popular disposable diaper brands in independent studies.
Over the years, I have been trying to slowly transition both my life and Bryan’s life into to being just a little bit more conscious. By saying that, I would like for us to be more aware of what we are putting in our bodies, on our bodies and surrounding our lives with. Although Bryan was not the biggest advocate from this ideology, over time and as both of us learn more and more about some of the common things we come into contact with, it is scary and he is more and more willing to hear me out on certain issues. All of that to say we have so many chemicals and unnecessary “advancements” that don’t benefit us in any way in products we consume on a daily basis. In a lot of ways, they are to our detriment. This same thought carries into disposable diapers! They are riddled with chemicals that make life “convenient”.
In the case of disposable diapers, one of the chemicals they use is called sodium polyacrylate. Sodium polyacrylate is a polymer that can absorb 100-1000 times its mass in water depending on what other chemicals it is combined with. It is definitely a cool discovery and it has its usefulness in the soil for agriculture and wires and cables but I just don’t want it on my sweet bundle of joy’s little booty. This substance has hazards that range from a warning to keep it away from foodstuffs, to storing in only small amounts in households and/or to wash skin thoroughly if contact is made. These are not the things I want to be told about something I would have been using on a very regular basis. This chemical was removed from tampons because it is a significant cause of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Because it is a known skin irritant, it pulls all the moisture away from baby’s skin, which as you can imagine, would lead to dry skin. Dry skin is a huge proponent of diaper rash. The skin is so raw that the exposure of urine is extremely uncomfortable and painful for baby. This then starts the cycle of diaper rash cream that adds even more unnecessary chemicals introduced into baby’s life.
Another chemical that is found in disposable diapers is dioxin. Dioxin is a byproduct produced by chlorine which is what’s used to bleach the cloth-like fabric in disposable diapers. Dioxin accumulates in the immune system and weakens it over a lifetime. Your baby’s immune system will never have the chance to be as strong as it could have been with the absence of dioxin introduction. Dioxins have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems, as well as, general hormonal imbalances and even cancer. Yes, Dioxin is a known carcinogen. Over the years since the introduction of disposable diapers with dioxins, girls have been beginning puberty at a much younger age and hormonal disorders are becoming more and more common in children.
The dyes and dying agents, that many newer diapers use, have several harmful chemicals in them, as well. Unfortunately, the composition of some of these dyes contain Tributyl Tin or TBT, which I’ll speak about in more detail later. These dyes and agents are used as indicators for wetness present in conjunction with sodium polyacrylate. These dyes are also used in just general coloration of the diaper. Essentially the diaper is made of tissue like paper that doesn’t hold on to the dyes as effectively so they are being exposed to baby’s skin all while it is on baby. There have been various studies that have shown that these dyes and agents lead to what’s being called diaper dye dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis. It is a rather minor skin irritation but in combination with the exposure of diaper rash from sodium polyacrylate, it can flare up to be extremely uncomfortable and painful for baby. The common remedy prescribed (yes! Prescribed!) is a corticosteroid to be given orally or by injection. Personally, I would just prefer to not subject my baby to it at all.
Some other chemicals present in disposable diapers are Toluene, Ethylbenzene, Dipentene, Styrene, Phthalates, and Tributyl Tin.
Toulene has been known as a central nervous system depressant. Long-term exposure can cause numbness in the hands or feet, female reproductive system damage, pregnancy loss (dangerous for us Mama’s, as well as, little babes), and difficulty sleeping.
Ethylbenzene is a possible carcinogen that has been known to have detrimental effects on developing organs and the nervous system. Ethylbenzene also produces styrene, another nasty chemical found in disposables.
Dipentene is typically considered safe unless it is in contact with skin. It is heavily regulated because of this reason, however, it is still present in some disposable diapers. If it is found in the brand that you are consistently using then it is possible that you are exposing your baby to this skin irritant long term.
Styrene is considered a respiratory and gastrointestinal irritant in low exposure. With long-term exposure, there is the anticipated concern that it is also a carcinogen in combination with the other chemicals mentioned in this section. Some studies have been done that potentially link this chemical to adult asthma developing, as well.
Phthalates are present in the plastics used in disposable diapers. They are endocrine disruptors that mimic human hormones and send false signals to baby’s brain and in turn baby’s body. This disrupts the development of their own hormonal significance and developing nervous systems.
Tributyl Tin (TBT) is one of many heavy metals found in some disposable diapers that are considered highly toxic. TBT has been speculated to cause sterility in boys as it spreads through the skin with the same effect that human hormones have. Absorption into the skin can lead to delayed skin burns. Short-term exposure can also lead to depression of immune function. It’s been shown to have effects on hearing in some mammals, as well.
I have been referred to as an Earth Mama, Treehugger, and Free Spirit Hippie but I have yet to take offense to any of these terms or their derivatives. There is nothing wrong with caring about the planet we live on. We only have one and there is significant evidence that shows the majority of us have not shown it very much care. I try my best to make the small choices on a daily basis to improve my carbon footprint or negative environmental impacts. I believe the biggest help to achieving my personal goals with this is to not use disposable diapers on my baby! It could be a way that you help our planet, as well.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 20 billion (that’s 20,000,000,000) disposable diapers accumulate in United States landfills every year. This amounts to roughly 3.5 million (that’s 3,500,000) tons of waste every year. These numbers are far larger than my brain can realistically conceptualize. I can’t imagine contributing to the tons of waste already present. These numbers over 2 years or even 5 years is already ridiculous and imagine the amount for how long disposable diapers have been available. Disposables take 500 years to decompose just one diaper. While they are decomposing, they release methane into the air which is highly flammable and toxic to humans because it replaces the oxygen content in the air that we breathe. Methane poisoning is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide poisoning, just for perspective. The chemicals from disposables and viruses that are sometimes present in baby feces can contaminate groundwater and end up in local water supplies. On top of that, landfills produce many of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to the Earth’s climate change.
There is a large number of natural resources that are consumed in the process of producing disposable diapers, as well. Over 200,000 United States trees are used to make disposable diapers every year. Over 3.4 billion (3,400,000,000) gallons of non-renewable fuel oil are used to produce disposable diapers. This translates to almost 20 times more raw materials, 2 times more water and 3 times more energy to manufacture disposable diapers than cloth diapers.
There is an argument that it takes more water and energy to clean cloth diapers, especially in drought-prone areas. In an average American household, a cloth diaper washing routine would account for only 5% of the total water use. If you drink one cup of coffee, growing the beans required to make that one cup of coffee requires more water than a single load of cloth laundry. It also takes 9 gallons of water to produce one disposable diaper. The average amount of diapers used in 2.5 years is 4,750 which totals to 42,750 gallons of water used to produce those diapers. With a typical and recommended wash routine, cloth diaper cleaning would account for 15,300 gallons of water used in 2.5 years. You would only be consuming 1/3 of the amount of water it takes to produce disposable diapers by cloth diapering. It is still more environmentally sustainable to use cloth diapers than to use disposable.
This reason does not top the list of why I’m choosing cloth, but it sure has won over more people in my life than I suspected it would! People seem to be very impressed by the wide range of colors and patterns that are available for cloth diapers, and even more impressed by how many styles are available. Your baby will be in diapers more often than any other clothing item during their first couple years. It makes me very happy to see some of the prints that I have carefully selected for her wardrobe. There are some to match outfits that have been gifted to her and some that are plain enough not to clash with her outfits, as well. The designs that I really love, I’ll get to see her in over and over and be happy each time. When she gets a little older, I’m sure she will have her favorites, as well. It may sound superficial, but this is another way that I have gotten to bond with my baby girl before she is even born but also will continue to be a way that we bond even after she is born.
Different brands have different styles of cloth available, as well as, the differences in colors and patterns. The more you use cloth you may find which styles work for your babies and which styles don’t. The more I’ve collected for our baby’s stash the more I’ve found about brands that I personally love so much more for their ethics and business practices. This could not be that big of a deal to everyone but it is worth mentioning.
Well, there you have it. I think it is pretty obvious that I really love cloth diapers and have grown to love them more and more as I anticipate the coming of our new babe. There are pros and cons to cloth and I feel that there aren’t nearly enough people showing the pros to cloth! So here is my 2 cents. I plan to incorporate more information specific to our journey but also more things that I found helpful in my cloth diapering. Thanks for reading and I’d love for you to share this information if you found it informative or helpful in any way!
Disclosure: None of the information is strictly my own. My opinions are all my own. I have pulled information from various resources online and books. If my information was from an online source, it has been linked. It is still important to do your own research but I hope that this article is informative and a good starting point for some curiosities you may have about cloth diapering.