Not Your Grandmother’s Cloth Diapers
When my daughter told me she was planning to use cloth diapers, I was skeptical; but a visit to a local diapering boutique won me over.
When my pregnant daughter mentioned she was planning to use cloth diapers for my first grandchild I was more than a little surprised. My mind went to the cloth diapers of my generation; the heavy, soggy cloths fastened with big pins and the crinkly plastic pants put over the diaper to contain the overflow. And then the laundry–dirty, stinky cloth diapers that are added to the mountains of laundry a tiny, eight-pound baby produces. Why would anyone choose this troublesome method when modern times have given us the wonderful invention of disposable diapers?
Since I am assisting with child care the first year, she wanted to involve me in the cloth diaper decision. When I questioned Alexandra about cloth diapering I was surprised to learn the whys, whats and hows of cloth diapering.
Alexandra outlined the reasons she is planning to use cloth diapers:
- Environment-As a person who is very environmentally responsible in other areas of her life, she was disturbed to think of throwing thousands of diapers into a landfill where it is estimated they take hundreds of years to decompose. An average child will use about 7,000 diapers before they are potty trained, leaving a big carbon footprint! There are some eco-friendly diapers, but they do cost considerably more, approximately 70 cents per diaper as opposed to 20 cents per regular disposable diaper. They are also more difficult to find in local stores, making those midnight emergency diaper runs a little more challenging.
- Chemicals- My daughter’s more immediate concern was the use of chemicals in disposable diapers that would be next to her baby’s skin. This is especially critical for babies with sensitive skin. One of the ingredients used in disposable diapers is sodium polyacrylate, used to absorb fluid and prevent leakage in diapers. This was the chemical that was removed from tampons due to concerns about toxic shock syndrome. Because it’s only been used in diapers for the last twenty years, there are no research on the long-term health effects for babies. Some of the other potentially dangerous chemicals frequently used in disposable diapers include dioxin, tributyl-tin, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene and dipentenedyes, fragrances, plastics and petrolatums.
- Cost- Alexandra also factored in the cost of the disposable diapers. The owners of Bottoms and Beyond Boutique in Sand Springs estimate the necessary initial investment for cloth diapering is anywhere from 150 dollars for a minimum supply to 500 dollars for a full stash of all in one diapers. The average age for a child to be potty trained is 30 months which means at least 1,400 dollars spent on disposable diapers. Cloth diapers are tough enough to be used for second and maybe even third children, so the initial investment for cloth diapering is well worth it.
When Alexandra and I visited Bottoms and Beyond Boutique, I was surprised at how the look of cloth diapers have changed. Forget the saggy, cumbersome, unattractive, white cloth diapers, the big pins and the plastic pants. These are NOT your grandmother’s diapers! The old-school diapers are still available, but the new diapers are much less bulky and have a wide variety of colorful, patterned covers. The choices are a bit overwhelming, but the owners, Nikki and Heather, were very patient to explain the three most commonly chosen options.
- The easiest to use is the all-in-one diaper. These diapers have a waterproof exterior and an absorbent interior. Simple to use–wrap it around the baby and fasten the snaps.
- The next choice is the two-piece diaper that has a waterproof cover and an insert that either snaps in or lays in. You can also use disposable inserts with these. In most cases, you can use the same cover all day and just replace inserts as needed.
- Then there is the pocket diaper, which comes in two pieces also. It has a water-resistant shell with a pocket opening that you slide an insert into. Unlike the two piece, the entire pocket diaper must be changed each time it become wet or dirty.
My daughter used disposable diapers for the first six weeks because her baby is very tall and thin and the cloth diapers were a bit big on him. It’s recommended that you wait at least two weeks or until the umbilical cord heals before you start using the cloth diapers. She bought some of each of the varieties and will purchase more after she has some experience with them and is able to decide what best meets the needs of her baby and her lifestyle. One of the unexpected problems for me was the difficulty of the snap closures. I have arthritis in my thumb, which makes fastening and undoing the diapers painful for me. Not wanting to give up the idea of cloth diapers, I ordered all-in-one diapers with Velcro closures to keep at my house. Problem solved!
Then there are the inserts and, once again, there are choices. If you’re using the all-in-one diaper, you don’t need to worry about inserts because they are already part of the diaper. This is not a complete list of inserts but once again, the most popular choices:
- Biodegradable, disposable liners are a good choice for travel, bouts of diarrhea or when you need to use diaper cream. They are easy to use and flushable.
- Microfiber inserts are a man-made fiber that is light and the fast drying. The disadvantage is that you must use a barrier, such as fleece, between the microfiber and your child’s skin because microfiber tends to dry out and irritate sensitive skin.
- Hemp inserts are most often a combination of cotton and hemp and known to be very durable and absorbent.
- Pure cotton is an affordable, natural and absorbent option. It’s easily available, and you can even make your own inserts from cotton.
- Bamboo fleece inserts are a very popular option because of their softness and their ability to wick moisture away, making your baby comfortable even when they are wet. Just be aware that although bamboo sounds like a natural product, most bamboo inserts are made from a synthetic material.
There are also choices for wipes. You can use reusable cotton cloths or disposable wipes. A combination of the two might be a good idea.
I admit, part of my hesitation about cloth diapering was the thought of all the logistics and the amount of work involved. I parented during the heyday of disposable diapers and loved the ease and convenience. When Alexandra mentioned her desire to use cloth diapers, all I could picture was loads of stinky laundry. However, according to Nikki at Bottoms and Beyond Boutique, who is getting ready to cloth diaper her fifth child, it’s not as work intense as I imagined. This is the process:
- Unless a baby is exclusively breastfed, rinse off the solids (there is a special rinse attachment you can buy for this purpose) into the toilet.
- Put diapers in an open pail or bag; there are special wet bags designed for this purpose. It is suggested that you wash at least every other day.
- It’s recommended that you do a pre-wash to remove soil before the main wash.
- Because fabric softener can cause repelling which decreases absorbency, it is recommended you choose a detergent without fabric softener. Most mainstream detergents are fine, but if you are aiming for earth friendly, Seventh Generation, Amway, Sun or other eco-friendly detergents should work fine.
- Line drying can reduce energy use and lessen the wear and tear on diapers but can lead to stiff natural fabrics. You can throw it all in the dryer or line dry the covers and machine dry the inserts for softness.
My preconceived ideas of cloth diapering were blown out of the water. The entire process has changed for the better, and I’m fully on board with cloth diapering for my new grandson. The revival of cloth diapering is perfect for a cost-conscious, environmentally aware and pro-active health-conscious generation of parenting!
Bottoms and Beyond Boutique (Closed Permanently)
A good online resource for information about cloth diapering-fluffloveuniversity.com