There's a million things to think about before your baby arrives. What should be towards the very top of your list is how you'll diaper them. After all, you'll be changing thousands of diapers!
I hear from a lot of people that they considered cloth diapering for a fleeting moment, but ultimately decided it was too much for them. I'm here to tell you that cloth diapering can be EASY, and even FUN. Yep, I said it. Fun. There are several reasons one might choose cloth for their family, so lets break it down.
A quick note - cloth diapering doesn't have to be an all or nothing decision. Maybe you use cloth at home, but use disposables when out of the house. Maybe you are cloth during the day and disposable at night. Maybe you use disposables 90% of the time, and only use a few cloth diapers that came in a print you couldn't resist. You do what's best for your baby and your family. No judgement here!
#1: The Environment
You smell that oh-so-familiar smell and it's time to change your little one. You grab a new diaper, 1-2 wipes, and get the job done. You dutifully roll the used disposable diaper and wipes into a neat little ball and toss it in the trash can already full of little diaper balls. When trash day rolls around, you lug your full trash bag outside to the curb. Usually you wave at your neighbor who is doing the same, and glance up and down your street to see the trash cans all in a nice row. The garbage truck pulls up, takes your trash, drives away, and you don't give it a second thought. But do give it a second thought. Where does it end up?
Your friendly sanitation worker takes their full truck to the local landfill. There, they are met with other full trucks. Each dumps their load into the landfill. Other times, full trucks are taken to a collection facility where a different truck ultimately takes the collected trash to the landfill. Imagine a giant plastic (geo-membrane) lined hole in the ground (the geo-membrane is used to protect ground water and the underlying soil from leachate - water that has flowed through layers of trash and become contaminated). Every day, the landfill is compacted, and soil is added to the trash to reduce odors, control insects/rodents, etc. As much leachate as possible is pumped out of the landfill, and methane gas (a byproduct of the decomposing trash) is collected in pipes. This process continues until the landfill reaches its capacity. Additional soil and clay are added to the top, and essentially "seal" the trash in the ground.
It is estimated that the typical disposable diaper will take 500 years to decompose in the landfill. 500 YEARS! William Shakespeare was born in 1564. Lets imagine that his parents had access to the disposable diapers used today. That means we'd STILL be about 46 years from his diapers being completely decomposed.
Now that you have a (very general) idea of where a used diaper ends up, consider the impact that the estimated 20 billion disposable diapers thrown away each year amounts to.
Do cloth diapers score perfectly on the no-environmental-impact test? No. There is water and electricity usage to consider during the washing process. Is it a monumental, astronomical, earth shattering amount? Nope. And consider the fact that you can diaper your baby from infancy to toddlerhood with 24 cloth diapers. The same 24 cloth diapers can then go on to diaper their siblings, be passed on to a friend, sold to a different family, etc. That's thousands of disposable diapers you've kept out of the landfill.
Side note - if the water usage from washing cloth diapers has you down, there are several diapering services (especially in larger metro areas) that will bulk wash cloth diapers in high efficiency machines, which would lessen the impact per household.
Still leery of cloth? Read on, and we'll talk about other factors to consider. Or have you made up your mind that disposables are for you? As one of my favorite ladies January Harshe says, "you do you boo!" But perhaps you could consider a compostable diaper. A quick Google search will point you in the right direction!
I've already touched on the numbers - you'll change your baby thousands of times before they are potty trained. 24 cloth diapers (it can be done with less, but this is a very comfortable number) are all that you need. Yes, it's a larger investment up front. But when compared to the thousands of diapers you'll be purchasing weekly over your little ones 2.5-3+ years in diapers, it really cannot compare.
There are several different types of cloth diapers - a topic we'll get to in another post. The prices vary quite a bit, but cloth diapering can fit into any budget. From there, you can make cloth diapering as thrifty or as expensive as you want (raise your hand if you are guilty of owning way too many cloth diapers because of prints/colors you just can't live without! I'm raising my hand!). There's also a ton of nice-to-have-but-not-necessary accessories to consider.
Speaking generally, cloth diapers can be healthier for a baby as they typically cause fewer rashes and skin sensitivities.
Have you ever changed an overly-soaked disposable diaper and seen those tiny gel beads spread across those precious little baby butt cheeks? What is that stuff? Technically, diaper companies are not required to list their ingredients. But they all have the same general structure. A polyethylene film is used as a waterproof exterior, absorbency comes from wood pulp (usually chemically bleached) and super-absorbent polymers, cartoon characters and that handy blue line come from dyes, and some use a perfume to give you that "baby fresh" scent. These are considered generally safe, but there isn't any well respected studies to give you a definitive answer.
Cloth diapers are typically made with a PUL (polyurethane laminate) or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) waterproof layer. Absorbency comes from cotton, hemp, rayon from bamboo, synthetic fabrics like microfiber, or a blend of the aforementioned.
I've had the opportunity to work with so many families that are frustrated by never ending diaper rash, eczema, skin irritations, etc. that have had their lives changed by cloth!
Can we just talk about this now? Sure, you can buy disposables with a very well known friendly mouse printed all over it. But cloth diapers win the cute contest, no doubt. Those thousands of diaper changes I keep talking about....why not use an adorable cloth diaper that will bring a smile to your face during that change?
When I had my first baby my world was turned upside down (duh). It goes without saying, but I loved my little squishy baby with all that I had. I had just left my career as a Registered Nurse to stay at home full time. My career was part of my identity, so I was learning a new life without it. My body was different. This little person depended on me for ev-ery-thing. The days were long. And isolating. Cloth diapers brought a little ray of sunshine, not to mention an entire community of friends.
So, what say you? If you currently use cloth, what was your primary motivation in doing so? If you considered cloth but ultimately chose disposables, what was your reason?
And, coming soon on the blog...
-Cloth Diaper Myth Busting
-I'm going for it, I'm using cloth. Now what? How do I know what to buy?
-Pooooop (spoiler: nope, you won't be elbow deep in poop with cloth diapers.)