…The next issue that came to mind in the cloth versus disposables debate was the health argument. Other than a select few brands of (very expensive) organic disposables, most diapers are comprised of a plethora of chemical substances that will sit next to baby’s skin nearly 24 hours a day for the first two to three years of his life. They also contain chemical fragrances to mask odours and give babies that artificial “fresh baby” smell that we have come to associate with cleanliness. The more I thought about this, the more I was not okay with the idea of subjecting our baby to all of these potentially harmful substances on an ongoing basis. And as a matter of fact, I was also not keen on the idea of subjecting J and myself to them either. I find most strong fragrances to be quite nauseating; in particular; the dreadful artificial baby powder smell that diapers and other baby-related care products seem to contain.
I also find it objectionable that disposable diapers are designed to hold such vast amounts of fluid — as much as one and a half litres (almost three and a half pounds!), depending on the brand. This means that babies diapered in disposables can go for hours without being changed, and according to several studies, they usually do. Whereas cloth-diapered babies are changed about every two hours on average, babies who wear disposable diapers tend to spend an average of five hours in each soiled (wet) diaper before it is changed. Or to put it another way, babies who wear cloth diapers receive about twelve diaper changes per day, whereas babies who wear disposables receive five.
In order to keep babies as comfortable as possible while toting around a potential three and a half pounds of urine, disposable diapers are designed with next-to-skin layers that quickly wick moisture away from the baby’s skin and retain it in a central core. These “stay dry” liners contain chemicals that have been known in some babies to cause such a severe form of diaper rash that it resembles (or may in fact be) a chemical burn. They are also thought to wick the baby’s natural moisture from his skin, causing excessive dryness, chapping, cracking and rashes, which are then exacerbated by chemicals used in both the diaper and the wipes.
A number of people have warned me that cloth diapers don’t manage moisture as well as disposables — the logical conclusions being that a) we will have issues with leaks; and b) kids who wear cloth are going to be more likely to suffer from moisture-related diaper rash. Numerous studies (including some conducted by diaper manufacturers themselves!) have shown that the incidence of diaper rash has increased in tandem with the rise in use of disposables. It seems to me that the best way to “manage” moisture is through frequent diaper changes — something that is by necessity more likely to occur with the use of cloth diapers than with disposables.
Finally, regardless of the environmental and health considerations, the financial incentives of cloth diapering cannot be overstated. Depending on the type, brand and number of diapers purchased, it can cost anywhere from $300 to $700 to outfit a baby with cloth diapers and wipes for the entire diapering period of two to three years. While this may seem like an enormous outlay at the start, when compared with the ongoing cost of disposable diapers and wipes (upwards of $1000 per year), cloth diapers are a bargain. Add to that the fact that cloth diapers can often be re-used for subsequent children, and the savings are even more staggering. While my comparison does not take into account the additional hydro costs for laundry (one wash load every two to three days; hang to dry), I am fairly confident cloth diapers will always come out far ahead of their disposable counterparts in the long run.
In Part III, I will discuss the pros and cons of some of the cloth diapering options we have explored, but in the meantime, here is my belated Week 25 belly picture from last Friday: