The number two question I got as a pregnant mother (after the biggie, "When is the baby due?") was, "Are you gonna go cloth?" Perhaps this type of question is a characteristic endemic to urban centers where greenie mommas tend to abound and congregate en masse. I usually responded with, "I don't really know yet." Here's why.
What do I know about cloth diapers?
Answer: not very much before baby was born. I wasn't raised in a home that used them (at least as far as I could remember). My mother admittedly used them on me, diaper pins and all. She stopped after my umpteenth poopy diaper leaked over my visiting grandmother's white pants. It was, she says, too much for a new mother to keep up with. While considering the plethora of diapering options as a young mother-to-be myself, I was totally on the fence about whether to go disposable or not. I wondered if I would have time to do all the laundry that I knew such diapers would require. I wondered whether the amount of water needed to clean diapers would actually be less than the amount required to create disposables. I don't live in New York City, where diapering services are much more abundant (and likely more affordable than those available in my area). However, I'm not sure I would have used one even if they were, because of the copious amounts of chlorine bleach normally used in the cleaning processes of commercial diaper cleaning services. Is there no value to disposable diapering? I was completely in the dark. I needed to do some research.
Cloth diapers in the 21st century
Diapers have come a long way since my mother had me in diapers. Today, there are numerous brands and options for busy working parents in search of a greener diapering option. Diapers that pin are a thing of the past (unless that's something you really want to do). Cloth diapers these days snap, buckle and Velcro into place. There are one size diapers, hybrid diapers and all-in-ones. The options are staggering.
How do I choose which diaper is right for me?
This is a most excellent question. And fear not, there are options out there for you to choose what diaper or diaper system works best for you and your family.
Rather than go through every type of cloth diaper there is (which would require an entire month, easily), I recommend two things. (1) Talk to cloth diapering friends and get their take on what they like/don't like about their cloth diapers. Some may even loan you a diaper or two to try out. (2) Consider doing a cloth diaper trial. There are many, and I mean MANY, vendors out there with a cloth diaper trial or rental service which allow you to try out anywhere between two and ten (or more) different cloth diapers for a nominal fee. Some will even apply the fee you pay toward your cloth diaper purchase. Here are some I found when I did a basic internet search for myself, in no particular order: Mom's Milk Boutique
, Jillian's Drawers
, Cute Caboose
, Diaper Junction
, Diaper Daisy
, Earth Angels Diaper Co.
, Sew Crafty Baby
, Itsy Bitsy Bums
, Modern Cloth Diapers
, Kissed By The Moon
, Nell's Natural Baby
and The Green Baby Store
, just to name a few. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Don't forget the wipes!
Yes, you have to keep in mind all those pesky diaper wipes that you'll be working through in the life of your diapering duties (and beyond). Most baby wipes are made of some type of polyester blend material and are not compostable, including Seventh Generation
. However, their wipes contain no alcohol, synthetic cleaners, dyes or fragrances. They are also readily available in most grocery and mega stores (big plus if you are out traveling and need to stock up at your final destination).
wipes are compostable (only the "wet" ones) and biodegradable baby wipes. Any wipes that do get tossed are toxic free, so you can rest easy. Check here
for purchasing options. Naty
brand wipes are also 100 percent compostable and biodegradable. They are a bit harder to locate in your local retail stores, so check online
for locations to purchase them. Both of the above products are made from natural materials and are chemical and chlorine free.
In the alternative, you can also go the reusable wipe route. There are many cloth wipe options, several offered by the same companies that make cloth diapers. Several retailers, online and in-person, also offer organic cotton baby wipes. The various resources I looked at all recommended having at least two to three dozen cloth wipes for your diaper cabinet. This assumes doing laundry just about every three days or so at the very beginning. If you or your partner are anything like my hubby, however, who goes through 6 or 7 wipes for one poopy bum, perhaps consider adding another dozen to your list.
So is disposable diapering totally out?
Well, that completely depends. Nowadays, there are several diapering options that are disposable and much less environmentally damaging than the paper diapers of decades past. There are several options free of chlorine and petroleum based products. Others even offer plastic-free options or use recycled paper to create their disposables. Some of the most versatile and interesting products out there are hybrid diapering options, such as gDiapers
system diapers, which allow for either a cloth or a disposable diaper insert. GDiaper inserts are completely plastic-free and biodegradable, making the convenience of disposability much easier for your greenie conscience to accept. You may also need to switch to disposables while you are traveling, unless staying with loving and supporting family.
The skinny on biodegradability
Keep in mind that even if you do purchase compostable/biodegradable items, many may still take a long time to biodegrade in landfill conditions. Some sources claim that no items ever biodegrade in landfill conditions. Regardless, if disposability is what works for you and your life, choose items that are chemical free and non-toxic. It's better for both the planet and your baby.
Be reasonable with yourself
Ultimately, the best diapering option is the one that keeps you happy and sane. If you are just not a happy mom or dad dealing with cloth diapers, do you and your little one a favor: change to different diapers, be they a different cloth diaper system or — dare I say it — disposable. It's very important that you are happy in the precious moments you share with your little one. The moments of bliss will pass all too quickly.
And you always reserve the right to change your mind. Which means that what wasn't right for you at the birth of your baby may actually become a viable option at 6 months. Or a year. I have spoken with several parents that said disposables were absolutely what saved them from completely losing their minds as first time parents, but they had no problems using cloth from the start for subsequent babies. Many parents switched to cloth after solids were introduced or to help with potty training. Some others I spoke with encouraged potty training using the Diaper Free Method
, only relying on disposables for 12-18 months, making the financial investment in disposables about the same as cloth (although yes, disposables still go to the landfill). I also found that parents with family or close friends nearby also had an easier time choosing and sticking to cloth diapering than parents with no family/old family friends around. This makes sense if the daily running of the home and home maintenance falls entirely on the new parents' shoulders. Long story short: do what's right for you.
Mother Earth, what do you say?
If Mother Earth had her way, there would likely be no diapers whatsoever. Babies would be tucked into slings across their mother's bellies, held out to pee (or poo), wiped down with cotton or leaves, and strapped back in again. Our modern lives and conveniences (not to mention our expectations of not dealing with anyone else's baby poo) have made diapering a complicated task, and a heated topic. Cloth diapering advocates are staunchly adamant that cloth diapering is absolutely the only way to go for green parents.
Admittedly, there is a lot to support that contention. The energy required to create one cloth diaper versus one disposable diaper may just about break even after harvest of raw materials, processing those materials into the final diaper product, and shipping to wherever you and your Little One may be. However, after that, the only energy required for cloth diapering is expended by you in cleaning and maintaining your diapers, while there will always be another disposable diaper requiring new raw materials, processing, shipping, collection, transportation and then general landfill maintenance. If you acquire used cloth diapers, or reuse the ones you have from baby #1 on baby #2, then that input goes down even more. In the 1980s and '90s, the water needed to clean/sterilize cloth diapers may have been higher per diaper versus disposables. Nowadays, with high efficiency machines everywhere, the amount of water used over the course of your diapering days ends up being a little less, when taking all aspects of diaper creation, movement, and use into consideration.
But choosing the right diaper is a personal decision. Whatever you decide, just be sure you can look your baby in the eyes 20 years from now and tell them it was the right decision at the time you made it. And know that throwing a diaper away does not make you a bad parent or negate your green parent status. Do what you can where you can. Buy organic food. Make your own baby puree. Don't use harsh cleansers in your home. Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth. Use a reusable glass water bottle. Buy a low-flow showerhead. Teach your baby how to recycle, to grow a home garden, to turn off the light when they leave a room. We all want to lead by example. We all want to be the super green parents we dream about in our heads before Little One comes. Diapering is just a part of that. Do cloth if you can, but it's OK if you need to choose disposables. Just make conscious, deliberate choices. Go green somewhere else when you can. Diapers take up two, maybe 3 years of your child's life. Good green habits? Those are for life.