A Poop-o-Phobes Guide to Cloth Diapering: It Really Ain't That Scary

Health & Wellness on 09.09.11
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Photo: simplyla/Creative Commons

Given my now well-publicized fear of dealing with poop before I became a parent, you'd think I would be a less than ideal candidate for cloth diapering. But, much like with successful potty training, there's no easy way to get around the fact that dealing with diapers - cloth or disposable - means dealing with poop. (And by dealing, I mean trying not to cuss or vomit as you accidentally get it under your fingernails.) So you may as well go ahead and choose the diapers that best suit your lifestyle, your budget, and your ethics.

Here's what drew us to become parents of the cloth:

  1. Our child's future: Throwing away vast amounts of disposable diapers is gross. (Some estimates say that 21 billion diapers end up in landfills each year.) Besides the obvious waste, diapers in landfill cause pollution in the form of leachates and methane emissions. There just has to be a better way.
  2. Our budget: While many new parents balk at the expense of fancy cloth diapers, even the most expensive options on the market come out considerably cheaper than their disposable counterparts. Daily Finance ran some numbers on the cost of cloth versus disposable diapers, and estimated that families can save anywhere from $900 to over $2000 during a child's "diaper career" by using cloth.
  3. Common sense: Call us old fashioned, but just never made that much sense to us that we would wrap our child's butt in paper and plastic numerous times a day, only to throw it out once it became soiled. And given the numerous cleverly designed, slim and attractive cloth diapering options that are out there, it hardly even felt like a sacrifice to avoid disposables.

Having said all this, we did learn a thing or two along the way about making cloth diapering easier. Here are a few tips for newbies - feel free to share your own in the comments section below.

  1. Cut yourself some slack: We might be TreeHuggers, but we are not suckers for punishment. We gave ourselves a few weeks in the beginning (you know, when they poop more often than they breathe) using purely cloth diapers. We were too busy finding our bearings as parents to even think about doing a load of laundry anyway. We also sometimes used disposables when we were going out, and were known to leave the cloth at home when we went on vacation. Sure, the landfills filled up a little, but it maintained our sanity. (And our enthusiasm for the cloth diaper project.)
  2. Buy used: We've already established that cloth diapers are significantly cheaper over time than disposables. But by buying gently used (if that is not an oxymoron) diapers, you can save a bundle on the initial sticker shock. We bought a mix of used and new, and almost all of the second hand ones were in excellent condition.
  3. Seek advice: Cloth diapers aren't what they used to be. There are countless brightly colored, cleverly designed diaper and cover "systems", each with their own nuances and pros and cons. I would highly recommend talking with other parents about which diapers they use, and maybe getting your hands on a few to get a sense of which ones appeal the most. From Choosey Diapers to Kelly's Closet to Better for Babies (disclosure: this last one is a former client of mine) there are plenty of online stores to peruse - and you won't have to look hard to find mom blogs with strong opinions about which diapers work best.
  4. Put up a washing line: OK, I offer this advice with a certain sense of hipocrisy. Dispite my TreeHugger tendencies, and despite the significant energy and cash savings to be had by line drying, I must confess that more often than not, our diapers ended up in the dryer. I could blame the NC humidity, or some freak weather, but really we were just often too busy parenting to stop and think about the carbon footprint of each load of laundry. Nevertheless, the fact we had a washing line set up, and easy to access, meant that when the weather was right - and we were not totally sleep deprived - some loads did get dried outside. And the world, and our budget, was better for it.

Ultimately, while cloth diapers did add a level of complication to the already complicated task of keeping a baby dry, happy and healthy, I can't imagine doing it any other way. True, we were far from sticklers about the whole process, and went easy on ourselves in terms of using disposables when cloth seemed too much, but with a little bit of planning and a careful system, cloth diapering should be an accessible option for most young families. And I would highly recommend it.

If, perchance, you do choose to stick with disposables - but you are still concerned about the environmental impact - keep an eye out for natural, bleach-free diapers, and keep pushing for saner disposal options for disposables. (Diaper composting facilities are actually becoming more common around the Globe.)

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