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Diaper 101


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Cloth Diapers...

Ten years ago when preparing for the birth of my first child, it never occurred to me to use cloth diapers. So I was surprised when the hospital birthing center used only cloth diapers. When I saw similar diapers and wraps at a local Target I decided to try cloth at home. By then my baby was 6 months old and I was tired of buying something just to throw it away. I was disappointed when my cheap diapers leaked and my diaper covers fell apart, but by then I was a convert.
I started sewing my own after finding directions online. The biggest hassle was finding good diaper covers but since finding some I have been pleased with cloth diapers and have used them with two more children. I have come to believe they are better for the environment, baby and I know they are less expensive.

Some of the facts: Your baby will spend approximately 20,000 hours in diapers and need about 6,000 diaper changes in the first 2 1/2 years of life. 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown in landfills each year, taking as many as 500 years to decompose. Disposable diapers make up the third largest source of solid waste in landfills, after newspapers and food and beverage containers--a significant fact, considering they are a single product, used by a limited portion of the population. (3) The good news is that each family that chooses cloth diapers for their child prevents one ton of waste from entering the solid waste stream each year. (4) That's each year, per child!

Disposables contain a chemical called sodium polyacrylate, which is capable of absorbing 100 times its weight in water. It is also the same substance that was removed from tampons in 1985 because of its link to toxic shock syndrome. (1) No studies have been done testing the safety of maintaining 24 hour exposure of a baby's bottom to this chemical. There is also concern about dioxin being present in the disposable diapers as a byproduct of the bleaching process used to make the paper white. While it may only be present in the diapers as trace amounts it is nothing at which to sneeze. Dioxin is suspected in causing cancer, birth defects, liver damage, and skin diseases. (2) Your baby's skin is their largest organ, just as you would not give your baby substances that could harm their brain or lungs, why have them sit in diapers laden with suspect chemicals?

This chemically bleached paper is used to make diapers which are promoted as having a "soft, cloth-like outer cover". While they many feel soft and look cloth like they do not have the same properties as cloth. Cloth diapers breath allowing air to circulate keeping baby cooler and the skin healthier by removing the ammonia created by the bacterial breakdown of urine. With paper diapers this lack of air circulation increases the likely hood of diaper rash from exposure to ammonia and raises the temperature within the diaper. The higher temperature inside the diaper has linked disposable diaper use on boys with a lowered sperm count.

While the production of cotton is not the most environmentally friendly task thanks to the heavy use of pesticides and that same chlorine bleach to whiten cloth diapers there are alternatives. Hemp and organic cotton diapers are available as well as unbleached cotton diapers. I feel that the couple dozen cotton diapers I have purchased and sewn is much easier on the planet than the 18,000 paper diapers I would have purchased and tossed out while diapering my three children. I have saved a lot of money using cloth too. While using disposables will result in a total cost of $2,000 (at 25 cents per diaper). Diapering that same child in cloth will cost $400-$1,200 (depending upon quantity and quality of the diapers). By purchasing high quality diapers and reusing them with future children your diapering costs can be reduced even further!

Getting Started
Types of Diapers
Sew your Own

Geek, Green & Great!

(1)Judy Braiman-Lipson, Empire State Consumer Association, Rochester, NY
(2)EPA, "Integrated Risk Assessment for Dioxins and Furans from Chlorine Bleaching in Pulp and Paper Mills."
(3)EPA, "Positive Steps towards Waste Reduction," June 1989

(4)Diapers in the Waste Stream, 1989