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Baby Diaper Dilemmas - Cloth Or Disposable?

Aug 17, 2007
Hmmmm, which one should you choose, cloth diapers or disposable diapers? Well, it really depends on your attitudes and lifestyle. If you are a stay-at-home, earth mother, with a deep interest in environmental issues, it's probably likely that cloth diapers are your (and your baby's) thing. However, if you are a busy go-getting urban mom, disposables are probably an integral and necessary part of your lifestyle.

But are these (stereotypical) characterizations the most accurate way to assess the advantages of cloth vs. disposable? Remember that a baby may need to be changed up to 10 times a day, so you need to get the choice right. Let's look a little more closely at the two types.

Cloth diapers
Cloth diapers have been around for centuries. Modern cloth diapers are usually made of cotton. Their advantages are:

1. They are made of natural materials, so are less likely to cause skin problems such as rashes and allergic reactions.
2. They are very comfortable and can be molded to fit the baby.
3. They are cheap - buy 'em once and re-use countless times.
4. They are better for potty training older babies, since the baby feels the wetness of a soiled nappy.
5. They can be re-cycled as cleaning rags!

However, they also come with a number of disadvantages:

1. They are more difficult to fit - they often require folding, separate safety pins and separate plastic covers (although modern versions have resolved these issues).
2. They have to be cleaned and washed separately to other clothes, with all the time and cost involved.
3. Not convenient to use on trips out, out, since soiled nappies need to be stored away and carried around.

Disposable Diapers
Disposables have been around since the 1950s. They evolved quickly during the 60s and became extremely popular in the developed world during the 70s when they became affordable for the masses. This was followed by many technological advances in the 80s and 90s as manufacturers continually sought to make them easier to use and more effective. The advantages of disposables are relatively obvious;

1. Ease of use - take one off, clean up baby and put the new one on.
2. Ease of disposal - just wrap it up and put it in the trash.
3. Great for using when away from home - just find the nearest trash can and go on you way with a happy and fresh-smelling baby.

However, they also have disadvantages:

1. The artificial materials used leaves baby more at risk to allergic reactions and rashes.
2. They are much more expensive than cloth diapers.
3. They are not as helpful for potty training older babies, since the baby cannot feel any wetness.
4. They are (very) environmentally unfriendly.

The environment question
The pro-cloth group point to the much cheaper cost; it is estimated that in two and a half years, a child will probably use 6,000 disposable nappies, compared to about 24-50 cloth ones. However, the pro-disposable group point out that this massive cost-saving is offset by the various costs incurred in washing cloth nappies, so no-one really knows if they are cheaper in the long-run.

However, the big debate is the environmental one - it's still not known how long it takes for a disposable nappy to breakdown and it's very possible that every one ever made is still around and may last for hundreds of years. No doubt this is extremely harmful for the environment as is the number of raw materials, energy resources and chemicals used to make them in the first place.

Again, the pro-disposable group point to the high level of energy resource used to continually prepare cloth diapers for re-use. However, it is difficult to argue against the environmental effects of 6000 nappies per baby, filling landfill sites around the world. In fact, many national governments and local government organizations are now trying to develop strategies for managing what is fast becoming a major world-wide waste-disposal problem. Disposable diaper manufacturers themselves are also trying to develop more bio-degradable products, but the effectiveness of these has yet to be proved.

The debate will rage on. Disposables rule the roost because of their convenience, but it's difficult not to conclude that - as always - your mother knows best, when she says that traditional cloth diapers are better. But remember, it doesn't have to be one or the other - there can be a place for both cloth and disposable diapers in busy parents' lifestyles.
About the Author
Michael Barrows' website has great info on baby names, baby name lists and lots of baby resources. Get your free ebook packed with baby tips for new parents, visit the baby diapers website.
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