Why Choose Cloth Diapers?
SIX SIMPLE REASONS…
For your baby’s health...
There are no negative health consequences associated with cloth diapering if baby is changed frequently and diapers are washed properly.
On the other hand, research has revealed possible links between disposable diapers and the following health problems:
● allergic reactions, including rashes. Many babies are sensitive or allergic to one or more of the many chemicals (such as sodium polyacrylate) that are found in disposable diapers.
● asthma(1) . A 1999 study published in the Archives of Environmental Health showed that laboratory mice exposed to different brands of disposable diapers had increased eye, nose, and throat irritation. Some mice also suffered from bronchoconstriction (similar to an asthma attack). Cloth diapers did not cause respiratory problems in the mice. The methodology used was to bring the diapers out of the package, one at a time. Study results showed that in a mid-sized room the emissions from one diaper were enough to product symptoms in the mice.
● diaper rash. An often quoted statistic is that in 1959 100% of American babies wore cloth diapers and diaper rash rates were as low as 7%, while in 1991 only 10% of American babies wore cloth diapers (i.e., 90% of American babies wore disposable diapers) and diaper rash rates were 78% (2) . In 1979 a Montreal study of one-month old infants found that 54% of the babies who were diapered in disposables had diaper rashes, of which 16% were considered “severe”. By contrast, only 18% of the babies diapered with cloth had rashes, none of which were considered severe (3) .
The truth is that babies diapered in disposables tend to be changed less often than babies diapered in cloth . One astounding fact is that today’s disposable diapers can absorb as much as 500 ml of liquid (4) . Is this really necessary? Does anyone really want their child sitting in two cups of urine? Less frequent changes increases the risk of certain diaper rashes as bacteria have a longer time to multiply near your baby’s skin.
● male infertility (5) due to heat build-up in disposable diapers, leading to increased scrotal temperatures. Cloth diapers, if used either without a cover or with a breathable cover (which most modern diaper covers are) do not have the same heat build-up effect.
● Skin lacerations/bleeding (6) : The super-absorbent gels contained within disposable diapers draw moisture away from babies skin, including not just urine but also natural skin moisture.
Disposable diapers, subjected as they are to a chlorine bleaching process, may contain dioxin, a known carcinogen. They also release toxic chemicals such as toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and dipentene, all of which have been shown to have negative health effects such as cancer and brain damage with long-term or high-level exposure(7) . One such chemical, sodium polyacrylate (those little beads of gel you sometimes see on your baby’s bottom during a diaper change), was banned from tampons in 1985 due to its link to toxic shock syndrome (8) . It can also cause allergies.
Disposable diapers and wipes can amount to well over $2200 per child, more if your baby takes longer than the average 32-35 months to toilet train. If you have more than one child, that amount is multiplied accordingly.
Cloth diapers and reusable wipes can cost as little as $1100, including the cost of laundering. And the best part is that cloth diapers can be used for more than one child with minimal replacement costs. A family with two children can save over $2500 if they choose cloth diapers instead of disposables! A family with three children can save over $4000!
For your baby’s comfort…
Cloth diapers are made of soft, absorbent fabrics (cotton, flannel, hemp, bamboo, microfleece) which are gentle on baby’s skin. Cotton, bamboo and hemp are breathable (many waterproof covers are also breathable) and allow air to circulate, thereby cooling baby's skin and preventing diaper rash. Also, hemp and bamboo have natural antibacterial properties. Cloth is naturally more comfortable on your baby's skin. The first time you cradle your baby’s bottom in a soft, cuddly cloth diaper you’ll know you’ve made the right choice!
Disposable diapers are essentially paper covered in plastic...would you wear paper underwear?
Better for the environment…
Many people believe that scientific studies show little or no difference between cloth and disposable diapers in terms of their impact on the environment. Many of these studies are sponsored by manufacturers of disposable diapers, thereby bringing into question their credibility. Independent studies. In fact, a recent study in the UK making such claims is found to be “seriously flawed”, for a number of reasons, including limited sample size and over-generalized assumptions (9) .
Environment Canada has stated that cloth diapers that can be washed at home are the preferred choice for the environment. Why?
Some fast facts:
- Each child diapered in disposables generates 2.7 tons of garbage that ends up either in a landfill or being incinerated and therefore contributing to air pollution. Cloth diapers, as they are reusable, take up very little space in landfills.
- Each disposable diaper takes over 500 years to decompose (10) . So-called "biodegradable" disposable diapers will not biodegrade in landfills as conditions within a landfill do not provide the necessary environment for biodegrading. Cloth diapers are biodegradable (although synthetic water-proof covers may not be).
- The disposal of human waste into landfills from disposable diapers increases the possibility of contaminated water supplies. With cloth diapers, contents end up in the toilet and sewer systems, then on to appropriate water treatment facilities. Carl Lehburger, in his 1988 article, stated that:
Once they are used, roughly 90 percent to 95 percent of the ...feces-and urine-filled disposable diapers enter the household trash stream and ultimately end up in landfills, creating an immediate public health hazard. Leachate containing viruses from human feces (including live vaccines from routine childhood immunizations) can leak into the Earth and pollute underground water supplies. In addition to the potential of groundwater contamination, air-borne viruses carried by flies and other insects contribute to an unhealthy and unsanitary situation. These viruses could include Hepatitis A, Norwalk and Rota Virus (11) .
- Environment Canada has also stated that Hepatitis B and Polio could be among those viruses that can propagate in landfills from disposable diapers (12) .
- In manufacturing, disposable diapers produce three times more waste than cloth and use 20 times more resources (raw materials)(13).
- The emissions from the manufacture of disposable diapers are more hazardous than those in cotton growing and manufacturing (14) .
- Cloth diapers do use more water and energy than disposables over their lifetime due to being washed.
Faster potty training…
A recent American study found the average age for daytime dryness was 32.5 months for girls and 35 months for boys (15) . According to Dr. Barton Schmitt, a leading expert in toilet training, many parents postpone toilet training well past age two or three. "The predominant reason," Schmitt says, "seems to be the availability of disposable diapers. Delayed toilet training has been legitimized, and that's good for [disposable diaper] business.” (16)
Disposable diapers and disposable training pants, which are very absorbent, do not allow the child to feel that she is wet. Many experts and parents believe that using cloth diapers speeds up the toilet training process because a child can feel immediately when she is wet and uncomfortable. Anecdotal information suggests that babies diapered in cloth are toilet trained up to 6 months earlier than babies diapered in disposables.
With today’s cloth diapers you don’t have to worry about complicated diaper folding and giant safety pins (unless you want to!) like our mothers and grandmothers used, because they come in a wide variety of styles (including pre-folded, fitted, all-in-ones and more), fabrics (such as cotton, hemp, flannel), and colours (every colour and pattern imaginable!). Plus, cloth diapers are as easy to use as disposables, and are easy to wash...and no, you don’t have to “toilet dunk”!
With cloth diapers you never have to make a late night dash to the grocery store for a package of diapers. You never having to empty and re-bag a smelly Diaper-Genie®, not to mention you’ll have two less bags of garbage to haul out to the curb every week.
For all these reasons and more, isn’t it time to think about cloth diapering for you and your baby?
Cetta, F., Lambert, G.H. & Ross, S.P. (1991). Newborn chemical exposure from over-the-counter skin care products. Clinical Pediatrics. 30, 5.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Integrated Risk Assessment for Dioxins and Furans from Chlorine Bleaching in Pulp and Paper Mills.
Anderson, R. & Anderson, J. (1999). Acute respiratory effects of diaper emissions. Archives of Environmental Health. 54, October.
9 Women’s Environmental Network. (2005). Environment Agency nappy report is seriously flawed. http://www.wen.org.uk/general_pages/Newsitems/ms_LCA19.5.05.htm, May 19, 2005
15 Schum, T.R., Kolb, T.M., McAuliffe, T.L., Simms, M.; Underhill, R.; Lewis, M. (2002). Sequential acquisition of toilet-training skills: A descriptive study of gender and age differences in normal children. Pediatrics, 109(3).