YES I WILL EVENTUALLY WRITE SOMETHING NON-DEPRESSING/NAVEL-GAZING/MOM-ESQUE. This is not that day. For some reason Cecil has decided that he wants to wake up at 6 or 6:30 and I CAN’T DEAL, GUYS. My brain, it is dead. I just cannot get to sleep before 11 and I don’t have time to nap anymore. I really hope this is just a phase.
Anyway, now that I have six months of parenting under my belt, I thought I would weigh in on the eternal controversy…well, eternal for the past 20 years or so when disposable diapers became common…should you use cloth or disposables?
I use cloth diapers myself, and I’m happy I made that choice, but there are reasons it is not for everyone.
Here are the pros:
– Cheap set-up if you can sew. I made Cecil’s diapers out of thrift store flannel sheets for a total cost of around $20. I bought 4 diaper covers at $7 each – I’ve replaced them with better quality, more expensive ones now, but the $7 ones were just fine for the first 3-4 months. So if you can sew and you have a couple spare afternoons you can diaper your baby for the cost of two boxes of disposable diapers.
– Even if you pay for commercial cloth diapers, still much cheaper than disposable in the long run. It’s saved me about $500 so far, I figure. If you use a diaper service it’s a wash (pun intended).
– Environmentally friendly. I’ve heard that this depends on your water/landfill situation – if you live in a place short on water and big on space, this may not actually be the case. However, I live about 300 yards from Lake Ontario and we’re shipping some of our garbage to another country, so I can safely say it is the better choice here.
– You know what’s going on. There is no chance that your doctor will ask how often the baby pees and you won’t know. This can be important in the first few weeks or if the baby stops gaining well; it’s one of the ways you can tell if the baby is getting enough breastmilk, for example.
– Possibly an easier time toilet training. I have heard anecdotally that toddlers are more enthusiastic about toilet training if they can feel the wetness. I don’t know if there’s any data on this, though.
– Less chance of diaper rash IF you change the baby promptly.
And that brings us to the cons:
– More frequent diaper changes. It was only when Cecil started teething that a wet diaper ceased to be an emergency. Once he got a taste of real pain he was able to deal the discomfort. Disposable diapers wick moisture away and are comfortable until saturated. If your baby doesn’t mind being wet, s/he can end up sitting in a wet diaper for too long and getting diaper rash.
– LAUNDRY. I had 19 newborn size cloth diapers. The longest Cecil EVER went before I had to do a load was 36 hours. Sometimes is was only 18 hours or so. Now I have 30 standard size and he only goes through 8-10/day, so it only adds 2 or 3 extra loads/week. But still. Laundry. Multiple kids in diapers means even more of it.
– The gross factor. Are you a squeamish person? Then don’t use cloth diapers. If your baby is exclusively breastfed it’s not a big deal – the poop is soluble and will just come out in the wash. Once they start solids you have to deal with the poop before you throw the diapers in the machine, and honestly it can be pretty gross. I’m not really squeamish at all so I don’t mind.
– Equipment. You need a modern high-efficiency washer and, unless you live in a really dry climate/have a zillion diapers/are really organized, a good dryer. I try to line-dry my mid-week diaper loads, but if the weather doesn’t cooperate or I don’t time things right they go in the dryer.
– Fiddliness. Unless you buy/make a full set of all-in-one cloth diapers (more on those later), diapering your baby is now a two- or three-step process: diaper, any added soaker pads/stuffers, diaper cover. And if you’re using prefolds you will also have to fasten the diaper somehow. (I use Snappis.) It’s not a big deal or anything, but it can be annoying.
– Giant night-time pees. When Cecil was tiny people would say “Oh, we used cloth too, except we had to use disposables at night,” and I had no bloody clue what they were talking about. Why would you have to use disposables at night? Then when Cecil hit around 5 months he started peeing through diaper, cover, and pyjamas. Do you know what’s worse than changing an unhappy baby at 2 AM? Changing an unhappy baby’s diaper, outfit, AND SHEETS. I had received a couple of highly absorbent all-in-one diapers – the best way to describe these is disposable diapers made out of cloth – as gifts, and these were the only diapers he didn’t soak through. I got hold of some PUL fabric for the outer shells and made myself some more, but even so I sometimes find myself having to use a disposable in the middle of the night.
– People will think you’re a dirty hippie. Well, they will. Granted, these are the same people who think it’s sexual abuse to breastfeed a baby past six months, so whatever, but it can still be unpleasant.
Anyway. I am really glad I went with cloth, because I am cheap/poor and I do have a modern washer/dryer, the sewing skills to make my own all-in-ones (they retail at about $25-$30 each, FYI), the time to do the extra laundry, and the ability to tolerate poo. However, if I were lacking in any one of these things I would probably have just sucked it up and spent $30-$40/week on disposables.
I realize that when I was an infant those thirty-AHEM years ago pretty much everyone used cloth. Disposables existed but were expensive and bulky and didn’t work that well. But by the time I absorbed our cultural narrative of what baby care looked like, it looked like disposable diapers and formula bottles. So it’s not like cloth diapers are some kind of insanely inconvenient imposition on your time – after all, not too long ago, everyone used them and they got along OK – but there is an easier option now, so cloth diapers do involve extra time, effort, and tolerance, and these things are all in short supply when you’re dealing with a small baby. So cloth diaper people, go easy on the disposable people. And disposable diaper people, don’t call me a dirty hippie. I am relatively clean, considering.