Cloth Diapering 2: Health and Environment.

25 07 2011

Now that I have talked about the financial advantages of using cloth diapers, what else do you need to consider when choosing what kind of diapers to use?

Disposables are made to be super absorbent. This might be attractive for some people, but not me. When we were in the hospital my newborn was diapered with disposables and most times we could not even tell if he had urinated or not. As you may know, the number of wet diapers is an indicator of how well a nursing newborn is feeding. We had no clue if he was wetting the diapers because they were constantly dry. Now, the stool too would become so desiccated that we would have to scrub his skin to clean it! Also, I want my baby to know that he is wet or soiled, so he will tell me about it, I want to change him promptly and have him clean. I think no one deserves to be sitting on their own stool.

And besides, cloth diapers are so cute!!! 🙂

There are also health concerns. When a child feels wet or soiled, he will be uncomfortable. This will prompt him to stop using diapers sooner in childhood, which will save money and environmental resources (the less your child is in diapers, the less diapers he’ll use), children in cloth diapers potty train earlier than children in disposables. There has been an increase in young children showing lower urinary tract and bowel conditions, likely related to the extended age at which they are remaining in diapers; once the average age to be potty trained was 18 months, now it is 3.5 years!

While both cloth diapers and disposable diapers proponents advocate that their choice is best against diaper rash (cloth diapers because they are changed more often and have no harmful chemicals, disposables because they keep baby drier) there is contradictory information and no real support for either claim, so don’t decide on one system or the other based on this. There are a multiplicity of factors affecting your baby’s skin and it includes the sensitivity of the baby’s skin itself, things a breast feeding mother might have eaten, kind of detergent being used to wash the diapers, etc. The important thing is to change baby as soon as possible and to avoid using alcohol or fragrances that might affect baby’s skin.

What about the processes that go into making these diapers? There has been much debate about the environmental impact of this, with people saying that the cotton industry pollutes as much as the chemicals used in disposables (though there is always the organic cotton option). There has been also debate about the energy and water used in washing cloth diapers (though criticism has been drawn to the studies saying that the impact is the same given that they were commissioned by the disposable diapers industry, and that the data collection was flawed).  However, when it comes to health I find cloth diapers safer, disposable diapers contain polyacrylate as an absorbent, this chemical has been reported to be of moderate concern as a non reproductive toxin. I know that I will never be able to protect my child of everything out there, but I can try to reduce his exposure to toxins as much as possible.

There is one major thing that would decide me against disposables even if I believed that the environmental impact is the same for both systems, though, and it is the millions and millions of diapers in our landfills, more than 2% of landfills are used by piles of soiled disposable diapers. I do not want my child’s diapers to be still here after the children of his children are long gone! Cloth diapers are not made out of plastic, so they will rot more promptly, and even if they were in conditions so anaerobic that they would not, the amount of cloth diapers that one child uses along infancy is much less than the amount of disposables. As I mentioned earlier, my baby goes through 12-15 diaper changes per day, that would be about 400 in a month; I have 16 shells with 40 cloth diapers for him; and even when I will buy some more, the waste that we can generate for all his diapering age is one order of magnitude less than what we would use in one month alone!

Additionally, there is concern about all the bacteria and viruses that are being contained in these diapers in the landfills and could potentially leak to the water shed. A very scary thought.

This is not to say that I will never use disposable diapers, I have in certain occasions, and I will talk about that in the future, but I can reduce my impact by restricting those instances and using cloth diapers in my every day life. You don’t even need to commit to full time cloth diapers to reduce your impact on the planet. Most daycares do not want cloth diapers, but you could still use them when you are back home; or you can choose to cloth diaper during the day and use disposables at night to keep baby drier during sleep time. In the end the decision is entirely yours, but if you would like to pick the cheaper, healthier and more environmentally friendly choice, cloth diapers are the way to go.

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11 10 2012
When I do use disposable diapers. « Sensibly Green

[…] 11 10 2012 I have blogged several times about cloth diapers and how much I like them. The other day I was on my Facebook account, and this CD company’s mom posted that she […]

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