Parents are obligated to make millions of decisions. Some small - like which brand of mac&cheese to serve and how often - and some very large decisions - such as choosing a child care provider or school. Most parenting decisions impact more than our children on a particular day. Some decisions are made long before we ever hold our babies for the first time. Take, for example, the diaper decision. The way I see it there are three options, none being mutually exclusive: diaper-free, cloth or plastic.
The diaper decision is generally after considering the options and determining the easiest method. Cloth diapers are by far the easiest. They are easy on on our babies, our hearts, our wallets, and our planet.
Easy on our babies. Gone are the days of diapers pins and dunking diapers in the toilet. Cloth diapers have evolved to be as quick and convenient. With velcro or snaps, they are easy to put on... or at least as easy to put on as their plastic counterpart. Washing diapers at home takes the same amount of effort as doing your normal laundry. As cotton contains no chemicals and breathes better than plastic, rashes due to diapering with cloth are virtually nonexistent. Studies show that babies in reusable cloth diapers tend to potty train 6 to 12 months earlier and easier than babies in single-use, throwaway plastic ones. Age-appropriate potty training helps in establishing positive self-esteem and gives toddlers a huge sense of accomplishment and independence.
Easy on our hearts. Changing a newborn in cloth feels very good. Knowing the advantages of cloth instills a sense of pride. Knowing that cloth is gentler on baby and the planet, each diaper change becomes a positive experience for parents and baby. Later on, using cloth offsets some of the challenges of raising of a toddler. In three seconds flat, a toddler can destroy just about anything - from an heirloom quilt to all the information saved on her mother’s laptop. One day a toddler may love a certain food and for some unknown reason, after you’ve stocked up on it, she’ll refuse to eat it. Add diaper after diaper to the mix and the workload more than doubles. A toddler in cloth understands her bodily functions, connecting the feeling of a full bladder with the sensations of elimination, and will naturally begin to potty train.
Easy on our wallets. Using a simple diapering system of prefolds, covers, and washing at home, parents can diaper a baby from birth to potty training for under $400. Most likely the same diapers and covers could be used for a second child, cutting the cost per child in half to $200. Using a diaper service requires even less effort and costs $2350 for two years. Using plastic diapers for three years probably costs about $2300 (assumming $65/month, not including sales tax, disposal fees or the additional impulse buys when running to the store to get diapers). The Real Diaper Association calculates that Americans spend $7 billion annually on disposable diapers (cash register price only, disposal and production expenses are additional). They also estimate that by switching to cloth, Americans would save over $6 billion annually - enough to feed every American child who goes to bed hungry.
Easy on our planet. The diaper-free option, known as elimination communication or EC, has the least impact on our environment. EC will probably surface as its own column topic at a later point but for now, you can learn more about it at www.diaperfreebaby.org. Cloth keeps waste - both plastic and human - out of landfills (and roadsides, lakes, ponds, and any other place where you’re likely to come across a throwaway diaper). The energy and raw materials consumed to produce cloth diapers is minimal, and even less when the product’s reusability is factored in. No one knows how long it takes for plastic diapers to decompose. It’s estimated at 250-500 years. It’s common knowledge that old cloth diapers make the best cleaning rags. Seems to me that cloth diapering is a recycling fundamental- using something again and again until it simply returns to the earth from which it came.