How to Choose: Cloth versus Disposables Diapers
Since when did diapering become a moral issue? When I began researching for this topic, I expected to find cost analyses, fabric comparison, comparison of absorption efficiency, and environmental concerns for both. I expected to find information that would help parents decide what they wanted to use for their babies. A simple, logical argument or presentation of facts, statistics, and numbers.
While I did find much of that, I was surprised about the tone of some of the information and the tenacity of the anti-disposable, pro-cloth argument. Some websites I came across are staunchly holding on to their position without providing caveats or explanations as to why they’ve decided to stick to their opinion, and they don’t present the other side of the issue. Only their side.
I’m all for challenging the status quo when there is reasonable evidence (whether experiential according to mothers and families, or substantiation by medical journals and research.) For example, the debate on fluoridating water or not (basically U.S.-based research versus European-based research); midwives versus hospital births; traditional vaccination schedule or adjusted vaccination schedule. My goal in writing these articles is to educate you, moms (and dads), to help you make the right decision for your family. Regardless of my own personal feelings or opinions on any of these issues, that is my goal. What you choose for your family is your choice and you have the right to make it.
Whether to diaper your baby with disposables or not should be a relatively simple debate between costs, ingredients and processing, health concerns, odor levels, and convenience.
Unless you wash your own cloth diapers, there is virtually no difference between cloth and disposables. In fact, cloth may actually end up costing more once you reach the age when baby uses 60 diapers or less a week simply because of the pick-up service. (FamilyEducation.com)
“Go Green” arguments tend to focus on the fact that disposable diapers are thrown away and are actually meant to be emptied in the toilet before throwing them out. Supposedly, these wastes seep into ground water and, admittedly, diapers take a long time to decompose and break down. However, there is also an environmental cost to cloth diapers in the form of water use, detergents, and gas to deliver. Of course, there’s no way to really compare environmental impact statistics for either of these cases. There is no clear advantage either way.
Diaper rash – There is no single “always” cause for diaper rashes. Every baby is different and reacts differently to fabrics, creams, textures, and generally being in a dirty diaper, or even being in a clean diaper on a hot day. Some babies’ skin is more sensitive than others. There is an advantage with babies who react to being wet who wear disposables because the diaper is designed to keep moisture away from coming in direct contact with the baby’s skin. The drier the baby, the less risk there is for diaper rash. But so far, research has shown no clear consensus on which is better in this regard.
One more recent concern has been raised about Pampers Dry Max diapers, which eliminated diaper fill, and repositioned the absorbent gel. This made the diaper extremely thin and more absorbent. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) started receiving complaints about diaper rashes not long after the product’s release. Neither the CPSC nor Health Canada (Canada’s health safety agency) when they investigated these claims, could find any direct link between Pampers Dry Max. Officials recognize the diaper rashes reported were more likely due to simple skin sensitivity, which some babies experienced.
Chemical components – There are a couple of main concerns. One is the use of sodium polyacrylate, which is the main ingredient in the absorbent core of most standard disposable diapers. The concern is that sodium polyacrylate is actually considered a hazardous chemical by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The caveat is—in large enough amounts. The claim is that this chemical actually causes diaper rashes and may be linked with asthma because it’s inhaled. “[T]he sodium polyacrylate in diapers is mild stuff. Inhaling small particles might irritate the airways, but it’s considered nontoxic. Sodium polyacrylate itself is not irritating to the skin…it sticks together in long chains that are way too large to be absorbed through the skin” (Babycenter.com). There have been some complaints from parents about little beads appearing on their baby’s skin, which can sometimes happen when this chemical comes in contact with small amounts of acrylic acid, which is commonly left behind because of the manufacturing process. Again, the amount is so minimal, it is nontoxic. To date, there was only one case (2008) where a possible allergic reaction was investigated and it was actually an adult using an incontinence product, not a baby.
The other issue with this chemical is that it was once linked to increased incidence reports of Toxic Shock Syndrome in menstruating women who used tampons. Sodium Polyacrylate was used to help tampons absorb more. Many proponents of cloth diapers claim that it can do the same for babies. They fail to mention the simple fact that tampons are actually worn inside the body. Diapers are clearly worn outside the body, and that later studies showed that tampon use habits were also a contributing factor to developing Toxic Shock Syndrome. To date, there has been no reported case of Toxic Shock Syndrome in a baby who has worn a disposable diaper.
Here are a couple of sites that I would highly recommend if you want to learn more about disposables versus cloth:
2) MotherKnows.com – I don’t usually include blogs, but this mom has done her research and I found good for basic descriptions of things;
3) ConsumerSearch – Great resource and research on all areas of the issue;
4) BabyCenter.com – again, another well-rounded presentation of the arguments, concerns, and research back-up.
And, again, this is your own personal decision. Whether you choose to go with one or the other, it doesn’t make you a terrible parent or a better parent. You choose whatever you think will make you and your baby happy, healthy, and dry.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for Empowher.com
Diapering a Newborn: Keeping Your Baby Comfortable: Solving Your Diaper Dilemma. Kam, Katherine. WebMD. Web. July 18, 2012.
Disposable Diapers: What’s that Smell? MotherKnows.com. Web. July 18, 2012.
Diapers: Full Report. ConsumerSearch.com. Web. July 18, 2012.
What’s in Disposable diapers – and are they safe for your baby. Woolston, Chris. BabyCenter.com. Web. July 18, 2012.
Diaper Wars: Cloth Versus Disposable. FamilyEducation.com. Web. July 18, 2012.
Health Concerns. NickisDiapers.com. Web. July 18, 2012.
Real Diaper Association – Diaper Facts. RealDiaperAssociation.org. Web. July 18, 2012.
Diaper Rash. Empowher.com.
Review of gDiapers.
A Review of Diaper Brands for New Mothers.