« login »
This was originally published in the Winter 2005 edition of the Forza Vitale.
Whenever I am talking to someone who uses disposable diapers and the subject of cloth diapering comes up, the response is almost always “I know I should, but…” and then they offer a number of different reasons, usually along these lines:
I would like to dispel the idea that cloth diapering is complicated, inconvenient, or gross. (Well, no more gross than with disposables anyway!) With just a little information and a little encouragement, cloth diapering is a snap. So, when people say to me “I know I should, but…” I say:
Yes, You Should!
In case you are one of the many people who haven’t given a lot of thought to cloth diapering, let me give an overview of the main reasons to choose cloth over disposable. Actually, let me rephrase that. Here is why you should choose cloth over wood-pulp-gel-plastic diapers.
I first chose cloth diapers out of a concern for the environment. When you really look at the issue, it is astounding. Millions of trees, millions of barrels of oil, billions of dollars’ worth of resources to manufacture, distribute, and then “dispose” of billions of diapers each year. Though these diapers are not really disposed of at all — they are just hidden away in landfills. Putting untreated sewage into landfills is a health hazard, and a potential for spreading many diseases and viruses. Did you know you are supposed to dump the poo into the toilet even with a disposable? It says so right on the package. And the diapers themselves will require many, many decades to decompose. You can find more information on the internet.
I soon discovered another powerful motivator for using cloth: money. When we were expecting our first child, we were dirt broke. I was working as a teacher’s assistant, and my husband was working on an internet startup that managed to make negative money. Though there is a considerable initial layout for cloth diapers, I knew it would pay off in the long run. A quick look at my favorite catalog suggests an initial layout (for a comprehensive system from newborn to toddler) of about $300. Add an estimated $160 for washing at home (a load every 2 days for 24 months, calculated from Consumer Reports estimates on water and energy costs), for a total of $460.
Alternatively, a diaper service might cost $1700 for 24 months of service. A common conservative estimate for disposables is $2,700 for 30 months. (That is the actual cost to the family, not to the municipality for waste removal, or the cost to future generations.)
Why 30 months? Because children who use disposable diapers take longer to learn to use the toilet. And it may be even longer. Children of disposables generally don’t learn to use the potty consistently until 36 — 40 months, while cloth diapered children often learn to use the toilet dependably around 24 months. My son was 20 months when we moved exclusively to undies. Why the difference? The gel in disposable diapers makes them feel dry to the touch even after absorbing many ounces of liquid. The natural feedback loop (release of muscles, feeling of wetness) is masked by this artificial dryness, so it takes the child longer to understand the basic mechanics of his/her own body.
The greatest benefit of shorter potty training is not economic — it’s less poo. Just think of all those extra months of midnight diaper changes, stinky car rides, and rushing off to the changing room to find what you need is a hose and a new outfit (for both of you). Other benefits are growing independence and self esteem. I cannot overstate the importance of toilet learning to the developing child. Caring for one’s self is one of the first ways that a child experiences responsibility and empowerment. As the young child is finding order in his world, we want the message to be clearly “poo goes in the toilet.” Aside from delayed toilet learning, disposables are also linked to a number of other health risks. Do a quick internet search and you will find concerns about asthma, male infertility, toxic shock syndrome and a five-fold increase in diaper rashes.
And Yes, You Can!
Anyone can use cloth diapers. In fact, 99% of your foremothers used cloth diapers! As everything else in this modern world, we have managed to turn something simple into a sea of jargon: prefold, DSQ, bird’s eye, fitted, contour, full-wift, pocket, doubler, liner, gussets, snappi, all-in-one, almost-in-one, wrap, soaker… (Actually, one of those was a fake; can you even tell which one? My husband couldn’t. It’s “full-wift” — ewww!) I know it’s overwhelming and confusing. Let’s ignore most of it and stick to the basics.
To avoid getting pee everywhere, there are two things you need: a diaper to absorb the pee, and a wrap to keep it contained. For diapers, I’m recommending prefolds. That’s probably what you think of when you hear “cloth diaper”. It is a big rectangle of cotton that has a thicker panel down the center. (It’s a dumb name, though, because the first thing you do is fold it.) The wrap is just a water-proof (and more importantly, pee-proof!) shell that closes around the diaper, holding it in place. Usually they are made of vinyl, fleece or wool; I even heard of someone who used a plastic grocery bag in a pinch! But you might find it easiest to use something vinyl that closes with velcro. The brand LiteWraps are cheap, durable and widely available.
So, you’ve got a prefold, a wrap and a dangerously naked baby. Now what? Fold the prefold in thirds, set it in the center of the wrap and put your baby’s butt on it. Fasten the wrap and you are done. Yes, it’s just that easy.
Aside from the actual diaper and wrap, you will need a good pail to put the wet diapers in, an all-natural detergent (I prefer Bio-Kleen), and (optionally) a magic item called a toilet sprayer. It attaches to the pipes at the back of your toilet and allows you to spray poo off your diaper into the toilet. You may have heard horror stories of diapers soaking in large buckets of stinky water. I never soak my diapers. When I do a load, wet ones go straight into the washer; poopies get shook or sprayed into the toilet first. Into the dryer, and, viola, you are done.
Depending on how often you do laundry, you will need a supply of 15-25 prefolds and about 5-8 wraps (you will often be able to reuse a wrap if it is not pooey or really wet). I have 2 dozen prefolds and I rarely run out, doing laundry every 2 or 3 days. In addition to the fast and easy velcro wraps, I also use a hefty wool wrap for at night. Mine have snaps, some have velcro. They stay on securely, don’t soak through, and unless they get poo on them you only have to wash them once every 2 or 3 weeks. And you don’t have to use cloth 100% of the time. Many families choose a disposable diaper for long outings (or for laundry day!).
Ok, so that wasn’t too bad. “But Katy,” you might say, “I don’t have a washing machine.” Well, if you just can’t do the washing, the easiest thing is to use a diaper service. When my first child was born, we didn’t have a washer. We used Tidee Didee diaper service http://www.tideedidee.com/), which is more economical and ecologically friendly than disposables, but not quite as much as doing it yourself. We actually procrastinated in calling them, so our son was born before our first diaper delivery. My husband washed the first few day’s worth of diapers by hand! That was really not fun. A diaper service is really the ultimate easy. Fresh diapers magically appear on your doorstep every week, and the dirty ones are quietly spirited away.
Use Cloth Diapers at your School.
You might think that cloth diapers are not feasible at your school. You know how many diapers you go through! However, it is entirely possible and just think how many resources you will be saving and what a benefit it is to the children, even if (or especially if) they don’t use cloth at home. Depending on your community, your school could opt to invest in prefolds and wraps, or ask the parents to supply them. Alternatively, instead of asking parents to bring disposable diapers, ask them to chip in for a diaper service.
When I was working at our infant/toddler school All Roads Learning Community, we had a relatively simple system of prefold diapers and wraps that the parents supplied from home, supplemented by diapers owned by the school. During our 4-hour morning, we generally had 3 rounds of diaper changes and toileting, with variation based on need. With 4 children in diapers (the rest in undies who were learning to use the toilet) we generally had 10 to 15 dirty diapers at the end of the day. We rotated diaper-washing duty daily and it generally only took 10 minutes to shake the poo into the toilet, use the toilet sprayer (see above) and put it all in the washer.
Where Can I Find Out More?
There are many, many great cloth diapering resources on the internet. They are usually from work-at-home moms (“WAHM” is their code word) who have tested different products extensively, and have a lot to say. One site that I have particularly enjoyed is Green Mountain Diapers (http://www.greenmountaindiapers.com/). I will say that, as can be expected, everyone has their own opinions about what is best. I have offered my opinion here, but you will find many other points of view. Open the floodgates by entering “cloth diapers” into your favorite internet search engine.
And in Portland, you are lucky enough to find one of my favorite cloth diaper resources at Baby Works (http://www.babyworks.com/). They are primarily a mail-order business, but they do have a store front in NW Portland with limited hours. It is worth the effort to go see them. The people there are friendly and knowledgeable. They have everything you need for a working cloth diapering system. They also offer organic cotton children’s clothes and other beautiful products for natural baby care.
So cloth diapering is good for you and your family. It’s good for the environment and for future generations. And it’s not even all that hard. You know you should, and now you know you can!
Katy Pine is a former guide at All Roads Learning Community. She is currently cloth diapering her second child, Ruby. She and her family recently moved to Oslo, Norway and miss Portland ever so much.
© 2005 Katy Pine
Katy(posted on Oct 25, 2005 at 12:00 am)