Full disclosure: Our first child is due in about three weeks, so I have no practical experience with cloth diapering. What I do have are hours of research on the topic and positive firsthand accounts from at least ten parents who cloth diapered one or more children for multiple years.
It’s an icky, unattractive topic for those who aren’t parents. Heck, even people who are parents probably don’t enjoy thinking about diapers. Initially, when I heard about the concept of buying diapers to wash instead of to throw away, I was turned off. Who would want to add to the amount of laundry they already have? My thoughts then turned to the mini landfill we’d be creating if we decided to go with disposable diapers. I thought of how much I hated going outside in the frigid, long winters of upstate New York and how, when my husband was traveling for business, I’d find myself trudging outside, through the snow with a bag full of stinky diapers to put in the trash. I also hate going to the store for just one thing and I can just imagine, in the haze of being a new parent, using the last diaper and needing a midnight, snow packed trip to the store. Finally, a Catholic should be a good steward both of the world God gave us and of the income we’ve been blessed with; I figured it was at least worth looking into, if a little unpleasant in theory.
What I found was… today’s cloth diapers are not your grandmother’s cloth diapers. They’re multi-colored, double leg gusseted, multi-layered, fitted adorableness. I would not be surprised if the innovative cloth diaper companies put disposable diaper companies out of business in a matter of decades, based on their product’s cuteness alone. So, they’re cute, help the environment and are much less of a burden on the wallet. I also read numerous testimonials on non-biased websites about how these diapers last through multiple children (making it even more affordable to be open to life), have a high resale value, and are very simple to wash.
There are no “official” numbers that I’ve been able to find on the amount of waste you’d save landfills when you cloth diaper, but one source I read said that diapers are the second most ubiquitous item filling up our city dumps. For someone who’s hoping for a big family, that horror only multiplies when you think about multiple children and the hundreds of pounds of you-know-what taking centuries to decompose. Add that in with the gas you’d use making more frequent trips to the store and the fact that the brand of cloth diapers I like are made with alternative energy sources, and you’ve got a good case that cloth diapers help us be good to the earth God gave us.
Second, there is the indisputable cost factor. Being Catholic means rejecting artificial birth control and being open to the life God gives you. Large families are such a blessing, but it’s a little hard to deny that each child does cost additional money. I hate thinking of children as merely an expense, but it remains a fact. Even with diligent coupon-ing, disposable diapers and wipes can cost upwards of 80 dollars a month (I’m not denying you can get them for cheaper… where you live and where you shop are variables that could make that number go up or down.) The average child takes about 30 months to potty train, putting your total, per child, at about $2,400.00.
At this point, I have what most would consider a “full stash” of cloth diapers (a few of each different kind) and I’ve spent around $200.00. Granted, we have generous friends who purchased some for us and I bought some used from a friend at a discounted price. I’m definitely not finished buying them (there are different kinds of cloth diapering systems and I want to use a trial and error process to see what works for me) and I haven’t factored in the costs of detergent or the energy my washer will use. Still, if you can reuse the diapers for multiple children, thus dividing the amount of money you’re spending diapering, whereas the cost of disposables just keeps multiplying, you’re looking to save quite a chunk of change.
Finally, I’ve read a few places that cloth diapers reduce the incidence of diaper rash, and are kinder on your babies’ skin. I’ve heard mixed opinions about this, so it’s not as strong of a claim, but to put it in one blogger’s words, “If I had to choose between wearing soft fleece on my nethers and a giant Depends, I’d go for the soft fabric any day.”
I’ll be sure and write a follow-up piece in about six months when I have actual experience with this. For now, all I can say is that I’ve been convinced that cloth diapers make the most practical sense. From a spiritual point of view, I also think we’re called to use our resources (natural and financial) wisely, and that this is conducive to that goal.
If you’re interested in learning more for yourself, there are lots of resources out there! What I found most useful starting out was going on Amazon.com and searching diaper covers. I then spent hours reading reviews and people’s unvarnished opinions of the different brands and systems. Below are some blogs that I’ve found useful for further reading. Good luck!