The Diaper Question: Cloth, Disposable or None At All

While many of the early days of parenthood will be filled with gently rocking a beautifully sleeping child, there will also be a large amount of time spent changing dirty diapers, sorry to be the bearer of this reality! A newborn baby will usually use 10-12 diapers each day. That’s nearly 1,000 diapers in just the first three months of their lives.

This number reduces to around eight diapers a day by the time they reach five months, and while these numbers will continue go down, you can still expect to use nearly 3,000 diapers between your child’s first and second birthday. That’s a lot of poop!

It’s also important to note children will be growing rapidly in the first two to three years of their lives and will often move through at least four to five different sizes of diapers before they successfully master the art of potty training.

Making an informed decision on what diapering methods will work best for you and your family, even before baby is born can help eliminate some of the guess (and stress) work. There are so many variables to consider before you make a choice, whether it’s factored on convenience, environmental leanings, finances, or a combination of all of these aspects.

As many new responsibilities and the plethora of decisions required surrounding the imminent arrival of your bundle of joy begin to add up, it is nice to have a point of reference to help you in your decision making process. Here are some items for consideration, and insight from other parents, to think about before you answer the question of will it be paper or cloth.

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15 Modern Cloth Diapers

Long gone are the dangerous pokey diaper pins and thick layered cloth diapers to prevent leaks and blowouts we experienced as recently as just a generation ago. Ben, father of one says, “Once we started researching reusable diapers it was impressive to see how much more sophisticated and easy-to-use they became.”

Ben added, “They were fantastic: easy to put on and take off, comfortable (as near as we could tell), absorbent.” With the introduction of Velcro, button snaps, and more absorbent materials parents have less mess, and laundry to worry about than they ever had before.

14 Get Caregivers On the Same Side

“I always wanted to go with reusable diapers, but it took a bit of convincing (and research) to get my wife on-board.” Parenting decisions should be a team sport with all decisions made together, particularly with a parenting activity you’ll be engaging in many times each day for several years.

Someone is going to resent tackling seemingly endless loads of laundry if they wanted to go with disposable diapers. If one person is interested in cloth and the other not, consider a diaper service to outsource the heavy lifting in terms of washing and cleaning. Compromise is king (or queen) in the world of parenting decisions.

13 Cloth Is Great for Stay at Home Parent

For parents at home, cloth may be a handy and convenient option that will save you money. Jennifer, mother of two says, “I chose cloth diapering with my first as I had a couple of reliable new moms say how well it went for them.

At the time I was working from home and my newborn was going to a home sitter so the washing was not a worry. Plus I was hopeful I would have other children so figured the payback would be worth it. Fast forward to today with my 3-year-old I do not find the maintenance of cloth to be a hassle since I am used to it.”

12 Laundry Game

People who went the cloth route did better sticking with it when they came up with a solid routine. Those with ready, in home access to laundry facilities were able to integrate cloth diaper cleaning into their routine with ease.

Caroline says, “I would do laundry all the time anyway so it wasn't a big deal washing the cloth diapers. I would lay them in the sun to get the breastfed pooh stains out, and when solids were introduced I used these flushable liners to catch solid poop so I could just toss it and them in the toilet.”

Ben added, “Best of all, cleaning them was simple. When one was soiled we'd just toss it in a lined bin. When that was full I'd just take them and dump them into the washer, set it for a normal wash, dry them and boom, done.”

11 Consider a Cloth Diaper Service

For people who live in a building with shared laundry services, or those who rely on weekly trips to a laundromat, washing your own cloth diapers might be adding more headache to your routine than it’s worth, and that doesn’t even consider the dirty looks you’ll receive from other patrons as you unload poop stained diapers into a communal washer.

Brenda, Mother of two says, “I lived in an apartment when my daughter was born so we couldn't wash our dirty cloth diapers there, so the lovely little reusable diapers many of my friends were using just weren’t an option for us.”

Laundry services can provide parents with weekly services to meet their diapering needs, but remember you’re going to need a safe and smell free space to store those dirty diapers between pick-ups and deliveries!

10 Elimination Communication

Elimination communication is a diaper-free method of child-rearing which is becoming increasingly popular in trendy crowds in North America where parents aim to reduce their environmental footprint, and revitalize an ancient concept is used in other cultures.

In elimination parents look for cues that mean their child has to use the bathroom and simply put them over a toilet or designated reusable container.

Brenda says, “I know, though, with my daughter, I could have tried communication elimination. We co-slept, and I knew every morning when she was about to have a poop. Don't know if I could have paid the same amount of attention to my second, as my daughter was 21 months when he was born and demanded a lot of attention still. My mother-in-law always told us that her kids were potty trained by a year old, and we all said, 'yeah right.' But I've recently read an article that told about how babies in Vietnam are potty trained super early. So I think communication elimination is just normal everyday baby rearing there.”

Brenda added they were lucky in terms of toilet training anyway, “My daughter potty trained really early anyway, around 18 months she started and was done by 2. My second started potty training recently, around 22 months, and he's already standing up to pee at the toilet like a (little) man.”

9 It Doesn’t Have to Be All or Nothing

While you may have decided you’re completely on team cloth diaper, this doesn’t mean you can’t keep a package of appropriately sized disposable diapers on hand. These will make your lives easier while you’re on vacation, enjoy a dinner out at a restaurant, or somewhere your washer and dryer, or diaper service isn’t readily available.

Despite being a regular cloth diaper user Jennifer, mother of two says, “With all the travelling we do I typically travel with disposables depending on the location set up and how long we're going to be there. No regrets on my end thus far.”

Even just keeping a couple of disposables in the trunk of your car, or the back of your diaper bag can come in handy, whether you’re on the go, or experience the need for some back-ups from your usual cloth routine after a particularly high volume diaper day.

Caroline, who had her son in cloth diapers until he was nine months said, “I always used a disposable (diaper) at night to minimize overnight changing.”

8 You Can Change Your Mind

Caroline, stuck with cloth diapers for the first nine months, and then switched to disposable because of issues surrounding leaks, “I initially chose cloth diapers because I couldn't stand the idea of diapers going into the landfill (our condo complex didn't have a green bin at the time). I used them with Max for the first 9 months but then abandoned them because they leaked all the time. I had to change him more than once an hour.”

Caroline added, “I went straight to disposables for our second child and our condo complex eventually got a green bin so I feel less guilty about that decision as I can put the disposables in there.”

Brenda, ended up switching diapers after hiring a cloth diaper service, “I signed up for a cloth diaper delivery service when my daughter was born. They delivered pre-fold cloth diapers and a diaper storage bin. I bought my own plastic pants for her. Well, the pants fit weird and they chafed her belly. She was too small for the diapers for a few weeks anyway so we hardly used them. I ended up just sending the cloth diapers back and switching to disposable diapers. I never looked back after that, and continued with disposable diapers when my son was born in 2014.”

7 Your Child’s Needs Might Change

Sometimes a child will continually soak through cloth diapers (or specific brands of disposables) and parents will need to make a change. Ben says, “Eventually our son's urine volume was more than the diapers could handle, so we had to switch to disposables. That was a bummer.”

Parents who will be placing their child in daycare should research the facility’s policies on cloth and disposable diapers. Some childcare facilities are happy to put your baby in cloth diapers all day long (as long as you’re okay with receiving a bag of soiled diapers at the end of the day, whereas others may have disposable diaper only policies.

There is no point in investing in a ton of cloth diapers if your child won’t be permitted to wear them five days a week, nine hours a day.

6 Your Diapering Decision Influences Potty Training

Many parents of cloth diapered children and a few studies have suggested cloth diapered children will successfully potty train earlier than kids who are placed in super absorbent disposable diapers.

This means many cloth diapered children may be trained to use the toilet as early as 18 months whereas parents who swaddle their wee ones in disposables may have to wait until their child is 40 months old before they are potty ready.

This is believed to be because the cloth diapers allow the child to feel wet when they have soiled their diaper, making them want to avoid the consequences of time spent in a wet diaper.

5 What Will Make Your Life Easier

Jack, father of two said they switched from a cloth diaper service to disposables for his second child noting cloth diapers didn’t work well with their lives, “It was a pain to lug around both a supply of cloth diapers and the over-wrap and to remember to put the stinky bag outside every week at the same time.”

Personally, as a parent of twins, my time was stretched thin and every spare moment counted. I couldn’t imagine adding in a cloth diaper routine, even with an outsourced laundry service, to our already chore filled schedule so we went disposable. It just didn’t feel like the right fit for us, and our multiples.

4 Environmental Benefits of Cloth

Many parents are able to continue to use these cloth diapers from child to child in their families just as easily as you would a sleeper or a blanket. Ben, said he was happy that he was able to pass on his son’s cloth diapers to a friend for continued use, proving many of these cloth diapers are designed to stay strong, even after one child has outgrown them.

There are numerous sites and communities where parents can trade or purchase used cloth diapers from one another to further the environmental cause of recycling your diapers beyond the first child, so you can get started with a used set of cloth diapers you know worked well for another family if you want to!

3 Have Diapers Ready and Waiting

Whether it’s a trip to your local super store to have a jumbo sized box of diapers waiting, or the delivery of your first set of cloth diapers from a service make sure your diapers are ready and waiting for baby.

When my infant twin developed a diaper rash at two weeks I decided to buy a starter set of ten cloth diapers to see if it helped. Unfortunately I didn’t realize I’d need to wash the cloth diapers ten times before the material would be absorbent enough for use.

In the time it took to run ten dedicated loads of cloth diapers alongside the routine load after load of baby clothes the rash was gone before the diapers were even ready to wear. It became an exercise in frustration rather than the beginning of a love affair with cloth diapers.

I used them maybe three times each diaper before I permanently packed them in and ended up giving them to another mom who I knew was using cloth diapers, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

2 Look at Your Budget Carefully

Babies are expensive. Take some time and run the numbers using the 8-10 a day diaper estimate to figure out what option is best for your budget. Consider all of the factors including additional utilities for laundry, as well as supplies.

Jack, father of two said, “Our initial cloth diaper service base quote was just $20 a week, which seems like a great deal, especially compared to the price of disposable diapers, but this didn’t account for all of the additional costs for the service, like fuel, delivery, and the various sizes of reusable overwrap diapers you need to purchase for your child.”

Large volume supply stores, shopping flyers, and coupon clipping can become a parent’s best friend in terms of getting more disposable diapers for less money.

1 Counter the Environmental Footprint

Some parents feel like they’re doing their environment a disservice by using disposable diapers, but there are other things you can do to help counter the number of diapers you’re producing that have little to do with baby.

Ladies, consider purchasing a DIVA cup and some cloth reusable pads instead of hitting up the drug store for tampons every month. Families can replace their disposable dryer sheets with special static busting reusable wool balls, as well as making their own tea towels, cloth napkins or reusable cloth “paper” towels.

Buy gently used clothes and trade among friends instead of purchasing new. When your child has outgrown their disposable diapers and you still have a few left consider donating them to a local women’s shelter to feel like you’re giving back to your community.

Resources: Bear Bottoms, NY Times

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