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May 22, 2018  |  Login
Diaper Duty: Cloth or Disposable?
By Dr. Alan Greene

Among the first items you’ll stock in the nursery are diapers—lots of them. It has been estimated that you’ll change about eight thousand diapers from birth to toilet training! With that many changes looming ahead, this is one baby product that may challenge your decision to go green—the convenience of landfill diapers can be hard to resist.

Most people call them disposable diapers, but this is misleading. It is a positive-spin marketing term invented by the diaper industry. These diapers are easy to get out of your home, but they are the least easy to truly dispose of. Because these diapers will spend far more time in a landfill than on your baby or in the trash, I call them landfill diapers.
Let’s return to our definition of green nursery items: products that are locally manufactured, renewable, reused, recycled, durable, or healthier for us or the planet. Conventional landfill diapers don’t get a clear nod on even one of these counts.

Some also believe that conventional diapers are bad for a baby’s health. The literature on this subject is controversial and conflicting. Studies that have found links between conventional diapers and asthma, toxic shock, infertility in males, and simple diaper rash, for example, are strongly re­futed in other scientific studies. Nothing is proven, but these studies bear watching.

Nevertheless, given that conventional diapers are convenient to use, it’s no wonder that they have become the diaper of choice for 95 percent of North American parents.1 Surely you would want cloth diapers or other alternatives to have some major benefits to make their use worthwhile. We’ll consider today’s cloth diapers as well as two newer options now available: “eco-diapers” and flushable diapers.

New-Generation Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers have changed over the years. Yes, the classic flat square is still sold, but even this basic choice now comes in a prefolded style that includes extra layering in the center, and in a contoured style that is form fitted to be less bulky under baby clothing.

Cloth diapers also now come in a fitted style that has an elastic waistband and leg openings. Most of these have closure systems, such as Velcro, or more innovative snaps, that eliminate the need for diaper pins.

Both the classic flat and the fitted diapers still need waterproof covers. The most common type is the old-fashioned plastic pull-ups that are lightweight and inexpensive, but do not breathe to allow ventilation and do not last long before drying out. New versions to the rescue. You can now buy polyester, wool, or fleece covers in a variety of vibrant colors and designs.

For the greatest ease, try the latest cloth diaper style called all-in-ones. These cloth diapers have a built-in waterproof cover. They have snap or Velcro closings and are size adjustable.

You can also get “pocket diapers” that have a soft, micro-fleece inner layer against the baby’s skin, a waterproof outer layer to keep wetness contained, and a microterry cloth insert that slips in between to absorb the moisture.

I also highly recommend what I call a hybrid arrangement, which is a flushable liner inside a cloth diaper.

Organic Cotton Diapers

If you do decide to go cotton, why not go all the way? Use organic cotton diapers. Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic pesticides or chemical fertilizers. more
1. “Diapers.” Green Guide. . June 6, 2006.    

Seventh Generation. .

2. “Cloth Diapers.” Eartheasy. . 2007.

3. Seventh Generation. “Diaper Daze.” Non-Toxic Times Newsletter, June 2003, 4(8).


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