Hey, Baby! (The Case For Cloth Diapers)

Bummis organic cotton cloth diapers mean comfort for baby! Easy to use, prefolded. Available at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

I have seven children, six of whom could be classified as young adults. They all have lots of friends and some days I feel as though I live in baby central. Somebody is always expecting a little one and I really enjoy picking out the perfect baby present. While my presents may seem a bit, well, bland compared to lacy layettes and electronic gizmos that do everything but burp your young one, I can always be counted on for being practical. I can also guarantee that anything I give will have a shelf life that is longer than five minutes.  I am fond of books as gifts. Grandchildren can count on a boxed set of Little House books before their first birthday and wooden toys are also in the running. But after reading about the impact of disposable diapers on our landfills and on our water system, my new favorite gift is a starter package of cloth diapers.

Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Nuggets clean thoroughly, rinse completely–perfect for baby’s clothes and diapers. Available at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio or Lehmans.com.

I raised my kids in cloth diapers. Contrary to what mothers are led to believe, washing diapers is not a lot of work and, goodness knows, it will save you a lot of money. New diapers are pre-folded and you can buy brands with either Velcro or snaps. There are diaper liners (I’m a fan of fleece) if you want to use them and covers made of soft breathable materials.

There is a learning curve to caring for your diapers but none of it is difficult. Likely you will develop your own system but this is the one that worked for me. When I removed a diaper it went into a diaper pail. Any bucket will do but it should have a child-proof lid. If the diaper is soiled I gave it a swish in the toilet. If it was really soiled I might let it set for ten minutes, then ring it out and toss it in the diaper pail.

Wonderfully rich, Should’ve Worn Gloves helps repair the driest skin and nails. Fortified with emu oil, shea butter and other emoillents. Available at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

Your hands can get raw from all the washing so invest in a good hand cream for the duration. Every two or three days I washed a load of diapers. I used hot water and a very mild soap, formulated for babies. Once in a great while I would add a cup of bleach to the wash water to remove any stubborn stains. (Let me share some mommy advice here. No baby ever died from a stained diaper.) As long as the diaper is washed well in hot water and dried, preferably in the sunshine, a cloth diaper will not cause diaper rash nor will it make a child ill. I did not use a fabric softener except for some vinegar in the rinse water.

Choose washable fleece or woven viscose rayon disposable diaper liners. The disposables work great when traveling. Available at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

I always dried all our laundry outside on a clothesline but with diapers, I did give them about five minutes in a drier just to soften them up. I never used disposable diaper liners as we had a septic system and I didn’t think that liners would flush well. I do like the new fleece liners as they protect the both baby and the diaper, especially if you use a diaper cream on your child. I didn’t use commercial creams. A little petroleum jelly or cornstarch in hot weather seemed to keep my kids rash free.

The initial outlay is high. Your child will need a couple of dozen diapers in each size, the  waterproof covers or pants and absorbent liners. You will spend perhaps $200.00 or a bit less for everything. But as the cost of disposables can run up to $20.00 a week, there is no doubt that cloth is the better value. Add in the environmental cost and there is no comparison. When you consider that you can hand down diapers from child to child for years then you really start to see the wisdom in this choice. A further plus is that cloth diapers feel wetter than disposables. The sensation of being wet is not pleasant and I found my cloth-bottomed babies trained quicker than their disposable-bottomed counterparts.

Are there downsides? There usually are. This is a chore that needs to be done if you don’t want to find yourself with a messy baby and nothing to diaper with but a cut up flannel sheet so make a schedule and stick with it. Travel is a bit more complicated but not much. Personally, I would rather have somebody change their child and take home a wet diaper in a sack than leave me with a smelly disposable to deal with.

I think that a group of friends or beloved aunties could get together and completely outfit a baby’s bum for a welcome gift. As they wouldn’t need to do it for any later children they could then check out the book store or even splurge on a lacy layette.

Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.