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Die-Hard Disposables Mom Switches to Cloth Diapers: 5 Surprising Ways the Change Is Good

Taylor Hengen Newman

Just when I thought we’d surely never be cloth diapering people – Kaspar’s potty trained by day, so we’re only using diapers at night -- we’ve switched over. The results? I’ve been surprised by how easy the change (so to speak) has been. See, I had my heart set on eco-friendly diapering from the get-go, given how long conventional disposables live on in landfills (thousands of years, people... Ain’t no way my family’s longest-lasting legacy is gonna be a pile of petroleum-encased poop!). But after a pricey, and ultimately disappointing, attempt at hybrid-diapering – flushable inner, reusable outer – our lofty dreams of colorfully, consciously-clad baby bums gave way to the realities of 24/7 parenting. We lived in a third-floor Brooklyn walkup, without in-home laundry, when Kaspar first arrived. And our fancy hybrid diapers weren’t as leak-proof as promised. Not at all. Disposables were irresistably convenient, and honestly just made the most sense for us. We found a brand that makes biodegradable disposable diapers and called it done at that; we were getting the best of both worlds. The ability to toss a dirty diaper felt like a liberating load off, and I did so for two years, blissfully guilt-free and with no plans of looking back.

This month, though, in honor of Earth Day and Real Diaper Week 2012 (and because I write a Natural Parenting blog so should probably know my stuff, first-hand), I've given cloth diapering an earnest try with the intent to report back, from the front lines. I definitely still feel some situations, like the one we brought our baby home to, don't make sense for cloth diapering. I don’t recommend it unless you have a washer and dryer actually in your home. But if you do, and you can make the investment and create a simple routine (something parents generally excel at), cloth diapering turns out to be a viable, realistic, option! For, like, real people with busy lives, and budgets. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

1.Cloth diapers are actually convenient. (No, really). I always assumed moms who cloth diapered, and spoke about how ‘easy’ it was, had never actually thrown a diaper away. It seems like no contest, right, on the ease-of-use front? When I recently began asking around about cloth diapering, however, I discovered that most of those moms do appreciate disposables when their families are traveling, or otherwise away from their usual routines. When they’re in their usual routines and environments, however – and this is what I’ve discovered in our home, too – cloth diapering really isn’t all that different from disposable diapering, convenience-wise. When I change Kaspar’s diapers now, I still toss them in a bag; it’s just a wet-bag instead of a trash bag. Then, later, I throw the bag’s contents in with our regular wash (sometimes with a bit of pee-busting pre-wash). Done and done.

2.Cloth Diapers are Better for the Planet Than Eco-Friendly Disposables A lot of disposable brands that claim to keep the Earth happy still contain all kinds of nasty chemicals and plastics – lots of stuff you’re likely hoping to avoid by buying them. I went to great lengths to find a brand that actually rocked their environmental responsibility profile, and I’m so glad we found Nature BabyCare when we did. That being said, I’ve been throwing those sweet corn-derived diapers into the same landfills as their chem-heavy conventional brothers, and... sorry, but... biodegradable or not, there’s not a lot of breaking-down going on in those dark, dismal places. They’re too full of trash, and too closed off from sunshine and air, to allow even diapers made from corn to return to the soil.

As for cloth diapers, I always questioned the amount of water required to keep those suckers in rotation. Clean water’s a limited resource, too! But having a child of diapering age dictates that we’re doing tons of laundry on a near-daily basis anyway, so throwing those diapers in with the rest of the wash isn’t increasing our water consumption by much, if at all.

3.Cloth diapering doesn’t have to cost a fortune up-front. I’ve been trying several different brands of cloth diapers on Kaspar, to get a sense of what’s out there and what works best for us. And yeah, these diapers cost a pretty penny, brand new. Most of them are designed to grow with babies from infancy through toddlerhood, though, so it really is a one-time purchase that keeps on giving back (whereas disposables keep on costing... much more, all told, than what you’ll pay stocking up on cloth). Even so, there are ways to make this investment on the cheap. Namely, other moms. In fact, just last week I got a giant bag of FuzziBunz from a mom-friend who posted on Facebook that she was selling them for six dollars each. She was then so happy to see them go that she ended up giving them to me for free. Anyway, social media, local mom listserves, and even children’s resale shops make finding second-hand cloth diapers easy. Put the word out there and watch the magic happen.

4.Not all cloth diapers are created equal. I did some sleuthing to find brands of diapers that are made in the US or Canada, rather than China, and that boast reputable manufacturing and company practices. Cuz, hey, if I’m going to care enough to cloth diaper at all, I might as well go the distance, right? Turns out I didn’t have to go very far. There are a ton of great brands out there. To name a few:

  • Mud Butt cloth diapers are made by a WAHM and fully customizable, right down to the snaps. Cuteness to the max. They also perform as well as the pros.
  • Organic Caboose are made from super-soft organic cotton. Super. Soft. Their design – diaper plus cover – works, too. No leaks.
  • Bummis take social responsibility seriously, and make a great diaper (actually, several designs of great diapers) to boot. They offer organic options, too.
  • FuzziBunz are all-popular here in Austin. Their adjustable one-size design is way cool (you can adjust the waist and leg-hole straps) and makes them a good long-term budget buy.
  • GroVia is rocking the organic diaper scene with a less bulky diaper and colorful, graphic designs. (Kaspar's doing yoga in one in that photo at top). I don’t love their inserts yet, but they’re supposed to gain absorbency over time, and if I put an extra insert from one of the others brands in the diaper, it'll last through the night without leaks. I actually prefer these for daytime if I know we’re going to be waiting in a long line somewhere, making a pee-accident more likely. They feel more like underwear and less like diapers to Kaspar, since they're more slim, so they've saved me a wet car seat more than once (ATX traffic, sigh...) without backtracking our potty-training progress.


5.There’s a method to this madness. It took me a few days (well, nights) to get the hang of using the cloth diapers. Kaspar still likes to have a beverage before bed, and he’d been wetting through disposable diapers pretty frequently; the cloth diapers leaked at first, too. We’ve begun limiting his evening water and hemp milk intake – something we’d been procrastinating on-- and I now double-stuff the diapers before putting them on him. (Translation: I stick two absorbent inserts into the diaper instead of one). I also have a stash of prepped diapers within easy reach for night-time changes, and the wet-bag’s hanging on a hook nearby. Since switching to cloth, however, we’ve had fewer wet beds (and thus wake-ups) than before. So this system’s working for everyone.

Anyway, I’m sold! Cloth diapers look so cute that I’ll be sad to see them go when Kaspar’s dry by night... No, wait, I won’t be sad, but I’m glad we switched over and that I got to round off our green diapering experience with a positive cloth finish.

Have you dabbled in cloth diapering? Are you a die-hard fan? Do you use both cloth and disposables? Hybrid diapers of any kind? If you’re using disposables, do you ever consider trying cloth? I’d love to hear about your experiences and to answer any questions you might have about mine.

Kaspar in a Mud Butt cloth diaper creation. Love!