Saturday, July 21, 2007


Cloth diapering - why is it so controversial?

Even though our baby isn't here yet, Mr. Savvy and I have had to make a lot of decisions, some of which are somewhat controversial... are you going to breastfeed? cosleep? vaccinate? babywear? Where will you give birth? Will you have a doctor present? Are you going to circumcise if it's a boy?

To most of these, the answers were easy. For some it was more difficult. I think in many cases, Mr. Savvy and I have decided to go against the norm when we decided what was best for our baby. However, out of all of our decisions, including giving birth out of a hospital with a midwife, not circumcising, delaying vaccinations, breastfeeding, cosleeping, etc, NONE has caused us to get more flack than our decision to cloth diaper.

Why is this? I've had this issue come up over and over and over again, ever since we were going to cloth diaper during our first pregnancy, which unfortunately didn't last long enough for that baby to get to try out the soft luxury that is organic velour diapers. I was discussing this with friends online and one of them shared her theory, which I think might hold a little weight... people who use disposables get defensive because they know they made the easy decision. What I think she means is, rather than do research, weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision based on what's best for their baby, them, and the environment, they went ahead and just did what everyone else is doing.

Unfortunately, what the disposable-choosing parents missed is the awesomeness that is modern cloth diapers. The fabrics, the styles, the technology... it's all there. And when you think about it, washing two extra loads of laundry per week (often less, many women wash their diapers with the towels), cloth diapering isn't any more work. Less trips to the store (this is big for me, as our local Target is so over crowded that it easily takes 1 hour to get in and out, more on a weekend), less trash to take out, and less up-the-back poop blowouts that disposables are notorious for (ahh... less clothing laundry with cloth diapers!).

When I started researching diaper options, baby's health was my primary motivator. I had heard from friends and coworkers that disposable diapers contain some nasty chemicals, and I heard from my own mother and mother-in-law (both cloth diaper veterans) that cloth diapered babies almost never get diaper rash. My MIL would know, she was the oldest of nine (they used disposables in those days), cloth diapered four of her own children (including twins), and has done licensed childcare for 30 years. She's seen it all.

I came across some scary info about these chemicals I'd heard about. I was already an avid user of reusable menstrual products, both for comfort and environmental reasons, so I was familiar with some of these chemicals from previous research. Here's some info (backed with sources) from the Real Diaper Association...

Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process. It is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals. It is banned in most countries, but not the U.S..1

Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.2

Disposable diapers contain sodium polyacrylate, a type of super absorbent polymer (SAP), which becomes a gel-like substance when wet. A similar substance had been used in super-absorbancy tampons until the early 1980s when it was revealed that the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome.3

In May 2000, the Archives of Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis.18

This stuff scares the crap out of me. Many of these chemicals are banned in European countries, where, incidentally, cloth diapering (as is breastfeeding, and midwifery) is the norm. Most European countries also have lower incidences of infant mortality; which is not related to cloth diapering, but I tend to think that that is a result of better health policies and better education in general. Also on that same page linked above is a great list of environmental reasons to choose cloth.

Another essay that really helped me make up my mind is this one, from Mothering Magazine. It's ten years old, but still very relevant. It touches on the convenience factors (the author was a working mother with three kids in cloth at the time of the writing), as well as environmental factors, baby's health and safety (less diaper rash, as well as the absence of chemicals), convenience, cost, and EARLIER POTTY TRAINING!

So after I read a ton of information online, I started asking people, both online and in real life, about their diapering experiences. I didn't find a single person who had been committed to cloth diapering who decided to switch back to disposables. And I asked a LOT of people. I heard about a lot of "friends" and "sisters" who tried it for a short while and stopped because it was too much work, but I didn't get to hear any negative first hand experiences. I did hear from a lot of parents that they used disposables for their first baby and subsequently switched to cloth and wished they had done it from the beginning. I also heard from a lot of professional, working women who cloth diaper (this surprised me at first). Most said that having a routine is key, and many said that they actually enjoy cloth diapering because they now know they are doing what's best for their baby... and isn't that what's most important to all of us?

Below are just a few links about cloth diapering. There are tons of resources on the web, and I encourage anyone who is interested to do their own research.

Different cloth diapering systems from the Diaper Pin.

An essay on Why Cloth? from a cloth diapering mom.

Diaper Dilemma - the Health of Your Baby

The Diaper Dollar

The Diaper Pins Diaper Cost Calculator

The Diaper Dilemma - the Environmental Cost of Diapers

Cloth Diapering -- are you serious?

The first diaper on this page is from Christenson Creations, home of Suzie's One Size (SOS) diapers, a diaper business owned an operated by a work-at-home mother.

The second diaper picture 3 step rise, 1 size diapers from Muttaqin Baby.

The third diaper picture is of Indian cotton prefolds. These will blow away your discount-store prefolds in durability and absorbency. Combine these with a wool, fleece, or PUL cover and you have a time-tested, realiable, cost-efficient, easy-to-use, diapering system.

The forth diaper is a BumGenius one-size diaper from, another mother owned diapering business.

The last diaper is a FuzziBunz, probably one of the most popular and widely available cloth diapering options (next to prefolds and covers). There are literally hundreds of online stores that sell them, and they are often available locally at natural baby and parenting stores.


Great post! You need an RSS feed so I can keep up with this great blog!
Thanks for the article. We're having a baby soon and are hoping to do it on a budget ... I've added you to my daily reading!
I do have an RSS feed...
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