Five years ago I was just certain I would be a baby-wearing, vegan-baby-food-making, cloth diapering “granola” mom. I was living in Washington, DC, and talking public transit to my environmental protection job. Fast forward to the present day and perhaps only 1 out of 3 of those will accurately describe my approach to motherhood. However, much to my own surprise, it has nothing to do with my radically different lifestyle here in Champaign-Urbana.
When I first discovered that attractive and innovative options had come to market for cloth diapering, I was instantly sold on the cuteness factor alone. From the fun patterns to bright colors, I imagined my baby running around (perhaps not literally) pant-less all summer, showing off her adorable behind. And of course, being a life-long environmentally aware person, it was certain to be the “right” decision.
As motherhood suddenly transitioned from far-off-dream to my own reality, I was faced with actually doing my homework and figuring out whether cloth diapers would in fact be feasible for our family. My husband, an experienced dad, was skeptical, but I set out to prove him wrong. Little did I know I would also prove my own assumptions incorrect. Ultimately, it came down to these factors:
- Lack of environmental benefits of cloth over disposable
- Insufficient evidence of the ‘danger’ of disposables
- My own personal hygiene experience with cloth
- Our family’s laundering convenience/realities
- A need for simplicity
The only real winner for me in this debate is cost. The numbers don’t lie and unless you purchase an excess of the most expensive cloth diapers, cloth is just a fraction of the cost of disposable over the diaper-wearing years.
The eco-benefits are likely a wash. Yes, cloth diapering would prevent thousands of diapers from my child ending up in a landfill, taking hundreds of years to decompose. But at what cost to an already stressed world water system? My husband and I are both water scientists, so we are constantly reading studies that indicate water will be the new oil, the next scarce resource capable of spurring wars. This, on top of a looming crisis due to climate change. From what I found, cloth diapering cannot be touted as less environmentally destructive than disposable. This quote from Allen Hershkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council struck me the most:
“Disposables consume more raw materials and produce more solid waste … but cloth diaper production and use consume more water and energy and produce more … atmospheric emissions and waste water effluent.”
The science says diapers aren’t toxic. If you search Google, you will come across article after article (many of them the same) listing all the horrible chemicals in diapers and how those could affect your baby’s health. I’ve very much become a skeptic of alarmist statements and wanted to actually see some evidence for this. I used the U of I’s library system to briefly search for peer-reviewed publications on disposable diapers and their health effects – I didn’t turn up much. For example, while dioxin is a known carcinogen, one study found the quantity of dioxin in disposable diapers to be 30,000 times less that found in our food supply.
Cloth wasn’t right for me. We’re mostly ladies here, right? So I’ll be frank. Cloth pantyliners made me chafe. Throughout this entire pregnancy, I’ve been plagued with quite a bit of excess moisture in my nether regions, not to mention that thing that happens when I sneeze. As part of my investigation into cloth diapering, I ordered a selection of cloth pantyliners for myself. However, they were bulky and not particularly comfortable. Most importantly, the lack of any true absorbency meant I often ended up with an adult version of diaper rash if they were not changed with high frequency.
Our washer and dryer are in the basement. Not just down the stairs, but out the back door, through the non-climate controlled garage and down the stairs. We don’t do many small loads of laundry because the area is so detached from the rest of our home. While developing a new routine for the laundering of cloth diapers might help me shed baby weight, the inconvenience was a small factor in the decision.
I don’t like to overcomplicate things. With already-busy family and work lives, I can’t see myself spending time figuring out which diaper folding/twisting technique will prevent leaks the best. I don’t want cloth diapering to be an issue if we need to select a child care provider. I’d rather do less laundry and have more time with this angel now in my belly. Life is complicated, but this is one choice for simplicity that I can make.
All this said, I am by no means anti-cloth. I can see why many have made the choice and found ways to fit it into the mothering routines. I’m just not seeing that it will work for me or any strongly compelling arguments that would sway my thinking. Looking into cloth diapers reminded me of what I’m learning again and again about motherhood: so many choices boil down to personal preference and gut instincts.
Tell me about you, cloth vs. disposable?
Jennifer Wilson was a Pampers baby and turned out a bit neurotic but generally OK. She writes 31 and Pregnant, a column about navigating first time pregnancy in Champaign-Urbana.