While cost and environmental impact are usually the big motivators to choose one method over the other, there is so much more to the decision. While cost is easy to calculate, and environmental impact may be the null set, there are tons of personal factors to consider. Here is a lengthy run down of what seemed to be the most popular arguments from either side. Check them out and see what you all think.
I add the disclaimer here that all of this is purely FYI and the commentary is based on my personal experience. Consider this guide a selection of talking points, not the gospel according to Alexis.
Cute Factor- Hands down cloth wins here. I have noticed that disposables are not that adorable and are often plastered with licensed characters, not my favorite things in the world. The colors and patterns of cloth are fabulous (said in my Tim Gunn voice) and if you are really crafty, you can make your own in any variety you like. If I were choosing on fashion alone, cloth would be my number one pick, despite my current allegiance to disposables.
Diaper Rash- Many cloth supporters contest that babies in cloth diapers get fewer diaper rashes, or even none at all. I am willing to believe people who say that their kids did not get as many, or any, with cloth or who found that their kids got rashes from disposables. I would, however, argue that personal anecdote may not define a trend. I know moms who CD and I would say a pretty even split have still dealt with diaper rashes. An added caveat: no use of treatment creams and ointments with cloth diapers. If you do get a yeast rash, or a raw bum from the obligatory run in with “ROTO“, you will need to swap out to disposables, or be willing to sacrifice a few cloth ones to the cause. Additionally, not all materials are created equal. Many kids who use disposables will get rashes from some brands and not others. Personal sensitivities probably play a role here too. Here it looks like a matter of what works best for your baby.
Potty Training- Another gospel of cloth diapering is earlier potty training. The logic being that since kids can better feel when the are wet, potty training is easier. I think this makes sense, but is being more aware of wetness for the preceding infant months better? I am genuinely not sure, and since infants don’t poll well, we will never know. My personal experience (thank you working at a daycare) is that kids train when they train, and my pediatrician says the same. In our case, we used disposables and our daughter was day-potty trained at 26 month. Nights may be a while since she sleeps like the dead, and no diaper will change that, so we shall see. I will say that cloth diapering is part of a lifestyle that may also support other parenting methods such as elimination communication, so that may be a big factor too. Not sure if this helps make the choice or not, but it is something to consider.
Parenting Styles- If you are a die-hard convert to some “parenting systems” cloth diapering is a must. It is considered the gold standard for some forms of attachment parenting, any natural or organic lifestyle and by self-proclaimed “progressive” parents the world over. Since most parents I know subscribe to the “what works for us” philosophy and therefore combine tenets and techniques as needed, this probably wont swing the decision either way. Personally, I am lazy, so my parenting methods embrace disposables, this certainly need not be the case for all.
Daycare/Childcare- The unfortunate, and widely unfair, truth of the matter is that many child care options don’t support cloth diapering. Where I worked it was not done under the pretense of health codes pertaining to the “storage of biological materials” that ensued when soiled cloth diapers needed to be collected and stored until pick-up. I think that is BS. While no one but you should get to decide what diapers you use for your family, this will need to be a consideration for many parents who will be working outside the home.
Chemical Exposure- This is a dicey one with lots of biased data on both sides. Most of the information out there is produced by large companies with something to gain by proving that silica is not only safe, but a great food additive too (YUM!) OR, on the flip side, marketed by organic extremist who blame disposable diapers for everything from diaper rash to infertility. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Not to use my own scare tactics here, but it is possible to get more “bad chemical” exposure from being breastfed for a year than you will get in a lifetime of diaper, maxi-pad and tampon usage, yet no one would dream of being anti-breastfeeding. I guess it is all about perspective. As with all exposures, it is a matter of personal comfort level. With the jury still out on the proposed dangers and benefits of such things, just do whatever you feel is best.
Convenience- Again, it is all about perception. Some argue that having to do the extra laundry would be crippling while cloth users cite the “inevitable rush to the store late at night when you run out of disposables.” Let’s face it, raising kids is a giant pain in the ass and when it comes to diapering, you will have to be on top of it one way or the other. Whether that means paying attention to your wash schedule, or keeping cases of diapers in the closet, it is a matter of what you find to be easier. I hate doing laundry, and I have never had a diaper supply crisis, so there you go. Works for me, doesn’t have to work for you.
Type of Cost- Having established that cost is variable and worth calculating for yourself, the type of cost may make a difference. For some the increase in utilities month to month may be more budget friendly than the cost of buying diapers. Some may find a planned, one time investment of a few hundred bucks to be easier to stomach than monthly budgeting for disposables. Did we mention yet that babies require you to embrace fiscal planning since they can be pricey little buggers? Yeah, so see what fits your money plans best and go for it. (I will note here that many of my CD pals say it is hard to promise it was cheaper since the allure of all the cute new patterns and designs creates monthly spending anyway. That would so be the case for me. My desire to have new diapers to coordinate with each season’s wardrobes would soon cripple us. Again, my hang-up, but worth considering.)
Technology- Diapers in general have come a long way. Disposables were wonderful as compared to old style cloth with all the pins and leaking, but with new cloth designs, that is hardly the case. On the other hand, disposables have evolved too, including ever softer, more absorbent fabrics with better fasteners and lower profiles. Since both flavors offer options to suit all tastes, the decision can be tough. Bleached cotton cloth or organic, chlorine-free disposables. The choices are endless. My advice, because I am totally an expert, check them all out, something will strike your fancy.
Yuck Factor- Which is grosser? A diaper pail full of soggy and soiled disposables or a similar container of rinsed cloth ones that then go in your washer. The same washer you use for your face towels and place mats. Honestly, they are both disgusting. Final note on babies, they are pretty gross. Honestly, with that much body goop floating around, it is bad news either way. Personal tolerance is the deciding factor here. My DH has no, as in zero, zilch, nada, tolerance for poop. While he does more than his fair share of diapers, especially now thanks to my amazing gag reflex, he draws the line at washing cloth diapers. If “we” CD, it is a solo mission and well, I get enough of that “single parenting flavor“ without adding diapering conundrums to the list. Again, do what suits you best.
I think I hit the major highlights here. When all is said and done, it will be another round of disposable diapers for us. At least now I can say that I thought about it, and actually did some research. In reality, the more I read about it, the more it seems like a total tie on most fronts, so if all else fails, pick the one YOU LIKE! Parenting is supposed to be enjoyable after all.