Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hippie Diapers

I have thought about writing this post for a while, but have never been able to get past a few sentences. The topic seemed so big, so daunting; I admit getting a little intimidated. But I finally realized that I just need to forge ahead. I needed to write on. I must finally confront the topic of – drum roll please – cloth diapers.

Soon after becoming pregnant, my wife and I started to discuss diapering. I never knew prior to becoming a parent how important waste collection was going to be. We had a friend that has a son about 6 months older than our daughter and she and her husband decided early on to cloth diaper. My first reaction was probably the first reaction of most people: Nasty. In my mind, cloth diapering amounted to gathering and storing poop. Why would someone want to collect poop? I can just wrap it up and throw it away. Then after you store the poop for some unknown amount of time, I am supposed to empty the pee and poop into my washer, where I wash my towels? My towels would be forever soiled. But, my wife and I are commie, pinko, liberal, acoustic guitar-loving, hummus-eating, microbrew-drinking, Prius-driving, recycling, composting, save-the-planet, hippies – so we knew that we needed to examine cloth diapers to keep our street cred.

What we found was surprising as well as comforting. And some things we didn’t learn until the shit hit the cloth.

First, there are a lot of different cloth diapering options out there. And we needed help figuring them all out. Here is where I give a big “Thank you for helping me find an appropriate vessel for my daughter’s waste” to Diaper Lab in Somerville, MA. My wife and I actually attended a Diaper Consultation, along with about 10 other people that obviously voted for Obama, which is designed to introduce new and expecting parents to the world of cloth. And it is a big world.

There are probably hundreds of different species of cloth diapers, but most fall into a few categories: Pre-fold, fitted, one-size, pocket, and all-in-one.

Pre-folds are probably what your grandmother wore when she was a baby, and what most of us think of when cloth diapers are mentioned. Pre-folds are basically a big piece of cotton (or hemp if you like that kind of stuff) cloth. The manners in which you can wrap it around your child is only limited to the imagination. I call it, origami of the cloth diaper. But the easiest way to put pre-folds into service is just fold it into thirds and stuff it into a waterproof cover on your baby. Pre-folds are also the cheapest option.

Fitted diapers look like disposable diapers, but they are made of cloth – you still need to put a waterproof cover over the top. Pocket diapers are waterproof covers with a “pocket” to put a cloth insert into. One-size and all-in-one diapers are the gold standard. They are simply a cloth diaper with an integrated waterproof cover. They behave just as disposable diapers would, just throw them on and let your baby piss and shit its way to happiness, but instead of throwing them in a diaper pail and then into your trash, you throw them into a diaper pail and then into your washing machine. The only difference is that one-size come in, well, one size – you need to buy larger sizes as your baby grows. All-in-one diapers are expandable so they grow with your baby.

First, my wife and I decided that we would wash the diapers ourselves. I don’t know how I got past my fear of collecting poop or drying myself with a towel washed in the same washer as human excrement, but I did. One can get a diaper service, which will pick up your dirty diapers, and drop off a bag of clean ones each week, but we figured buying is better than renting. My wife and I also decided to start with pre-folds since they are cheapest and we like thinking we are old school, and then buy a bunch of all-in-one diapers. We decided to get the BumGenius 3.0, the Cadillac of cloth diapers. All in all, we probably spent about $500 in diapers. These diapers should last us about 2 years. And if we decide to have another child, we can re-use them. If we don’t, then I can use the pre-folds as rags for years – they are remarkably durable. Considering that an average family can easily spend $30 - $40 a week on disposable diapers, we are saving ourselves thousands of dollars.

So, how is it working out, you ask? The consultation was great, but do the things work, or is my house now covered in a thick layer of excrement? Well, after three months, we don’t know why EVERYONE doesn’t use cloth diapers. First, they are extremely effective. Even when using pre-folds and covers, we have had no leaks and maybe two poop blowouts. And our daughter is not a shy pooper by any means. We do put her is disposables when we are away overnight, and we have consistently had more problems with leaking from them then we had with either type of cloth diaper. Our daughter has yet to be afflicted with any serious diaper rash and we have not had to change a sheet in the middle of the night. Also, the washing has not been much of a hassle at all. I mean, we have a newborn, doing laundry is now part of my usual routine. We do about a load every two days and the diapers come out clean. My towels have yet to smell like poop. Also, despite the added laundry, our electric bill has not gone up considerably. This may be due to us having a high-efficiency washer and dryer, and also to line drying when possible, but it allayed one of my major fears going in to the experience. My parents are still very leery of cloth diapers – I think they have the same collecting the poop aversion that I once had, and they hate that they look bulky on our skinny little baby girl, but they are happy to play along when taking care of her. Everyone is happy.

As far as our street cred goes – fully in tact. There can be no debate, disposable diapers are horrible for the environment. Just terrible, no good, disgusting things. An estimated 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown into landfills each year. Yes, 18 BILLION. Many of those, obviously, contain poop. Gross, untreated, human waste. Do you poop in your backyard? Do you wrap up your poop and throw it into the garbage can? No, you don’t (well, I hope you don’t, I’m not sure who my readership is). You poop into the toilet so that it can then be swept off to a wastewater treatment plant, keeping it out of our soil and groundwater. So why do we dispose of our childrens’ waste so differently? Actually, if you read the directions on disposable diapers it says you should shake the solids into the toilet. Right. Usually we roll it up into a tight little shit-bomb and throw it away. Eventually those billions and billions of nasty diapers will leak their contents and do some serious damage to our aquifers. That is truly nasty.

Also, disposables are, arguably, pretty for your child. Why do we buy organic clothes and apple sauce and milk and make sure that we sterilize everything in our house, but then let them live the first two years of their life in constant contact with sodium polyacrylate, an industrial polymer that absorbs 200-300 times its weight in liquid? Also, some nasty chemicals, most notably chlorine, which begets dioxin, are used in the manufacture of those billions of diapers.

So cloth diapers work better, cost less, are safer, more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and support locally owned businesses like Diaper Lab. Yes, they are a little more work, but I don’t need to gather up bags and bags of trash every week or ever run to the store to pick up diapers because we ran out. It seems like such a no-brainer.

Interestingly enough, more and more people I know are making the choice to use cloth diapers. I know five babies born in the past year, and only one of them is wearing disposables. Again, we run in a crowd of commie, pinko, liberal, green-tea drinking, NPR-listening, Jon Stewart-loving, hippies – but we still think we made the right decision.


  1. You know I never tire of this topic! I've been converted from using prefolds to pocket diaper. Would also like to add that I am pretty un-hippie, but appreciate the cost benefits of cloth diapering. Also, nice that you never have to worry about running out of diapers! Olive is looking very cute in that picture!

  2. Thanks for the shout out and the hilarious post about cloth diapers! I love hearing the dad's point of view because I can talk till I'm blue in the face ... but let's face it, the dad's speak honestly! :)

    Glad to hear everything's going hunkydory!

  3. Glad you (somehow) found the blog, Salina. Happy you enjoyed it. More than happy to give Diaper Lab a link and a recommendation, the diapers and the service is great. Makes wading into the world of cloth diapering a lot easier -- especially for a dad. Never bought diapers anywhere else.


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