This week Margaret Jane takes on the great diaper debate – disposable versus cloth diapers. There are great arguments from both camps, but which choice makes the most sense for you and your baby?

Ok, so it isn’t exactly paper or plastic, but as 21st century moms we are faced with the choice of disposable versus cloth diapers. When I had my son just two years ago I didn’t think twice about cracking open a pack of Huggies. I knew some people used cloth, but I thought they were just ‘far out’ environmentalists. Then as my son grew I began to meet moms of all types who had made the choice to use cloth. When we had our second son, my husband and I bounced around the idea of cloth, but it seemed so easy to throw away all that waste and it seemed cumbersome to think about using cloth with one child and disposable with the other.

Then we had two babies in diapers. If you have had the same experience you know that a month’s worth of diapers for two children is expensive, not to mention the astronomical amount of waste that came from our home. If you live near us, sorry – that smell was coming from our trash can. Anyway, after a few months of this I started to think back to my friends who were using cloth and decided to solicit a bit of input. I also asked a few of my friends who used disposable why they had made that choice.  All of my friends were a fountain of information and I’ve compiled their input here.

First, a pro and con list:

Pros for Cloth Diapers:

  • More economical in the long run.
  • Better for the environment. Disposable diapers will sit in a landfill until the end of time.
  • Most mothers found it better for their baby’s bottom in the way of fewer diaper rashes.
  • Made of natural materials, not synthetic.
  • Can encourage a child to potty train faster because they have more experience with the uncomfortable feeling of being wet.

Cons for Cloth Diapers:

  • Can be a serious investment at the start. ($200-$500)
  • Extra washing and drying.
  • Though you can buy diapers that are ‘one size fits all’, they can wear out or loose absorbency if not properly cared for.
  • Difficult to take on trips, to daycare, the nursery or with a babysitter.
  • You really need to change cloth more often to avoid a rash.
  • Difficult to use when you want to leave a diaper on for long stretches, like at night or on car trips.
  • Bulky fit on baby.

Pros for Disposable Diapers:

  • They are disposable. You can just throw that sticky poo away!
  • They are light and not very bulky, easy to pack in a diaper bag or suitcase.
  • No added laundry.
  • Need to change less. You don’t have to worry about baby waking up just to have a diaper change.

Cons for Disposable Diapers:

  • More expensive (between $2500-$3000 per child)
  • They sit in a landfill forever, or worse. I’ve seen them on the side of the road.
  • Synthetic material can by irritating to your baby’s skin.
  • The added absorbency can make a child less willing to move on to potty training.

After reading the glowing reports on how well many of my friends used cloth diapers we decided to give it a go. I went to the store and spent $175 on a starter kit that included 12 cloth diapers, three plastic covers and a wet bag to put dirty diapers in if we weren’t at home. As I drove home I could just taste victory. I was going to make this cloth diaper thing work and declare myself a supper mommy. I washed the diapers and immediately slapped them on my four month old son. He didn’t seem to mind the extra bulk, however, with that first diaper I did encountered a few problems. First, I didn’t change it when I should have and he got way too wet and soaked my husband’s pants. The second diaper he pooped in and it ran out both sides. I also tried the diaper on my two year old son who cried for 30 minutes until I took them off. I was devastated. Not only was I not a super mommy, I was now a broke mommy because I spent nearly $200 on a product that I couldn’t use. I decided to never speak to those lunatics who raved about cloth diapers again and put disposables back on each child.

That night, however, I decided I was not ready to give up. Maybe I just needed to adjust my expectations. Even if I couldn’t go all cloth, every disposable diaper saved is money in the bank and more space available in a landfill. So, I tried again, and it actually went really well. I gave up on my two year old. I don’t blame him for being upset with me for changing his diapers. I think he is way too aware of his surroundings to adapt to that change. However, my four month old took to the new change really well. I started to change him by the clock, not by when he felt wet, like you would with a disposable.

It has been about two weeks now and things are going great. I use cloth when I can. The extra washing and drying is no big deal at all. Last week we were gone all day on a field trip and I changed several cloth diapers on-the-go with no problems. We still always use disposables at night because I am way too addicted to sleep to get up and change a wet diaper. I’d like to think we are a cloth/disposable hybrid and it works great for our family.

Recommendations for mom’s thinking about cloth diapers:

  • Do your research. There are several different kinds of cloth diapers so check them all out.
  • Seek out another mom who is using cloth diapers for help and advice.  Since few people are using cloth, you’ll need a special resource.
  • Make sure all caregivers are on board with your cloth plans.
  • Don’t be afraid to use disposables as well. It’s good to keep some disposables on hand for those times when you run out of clean diapers, if a babysitter is coming over who has never used them before, or if you’re traveling and won’t have access to a washing machine.
  • Because cloth diapers can be a serious investment at the beginning consider having a diaper shower or make sure to register for them.

Recommendations for mom’s sticking with disposables:

  • If you feel guilty for going with disposables, don’t. Go with what works best for your family.
  • Experiment with different brands and styles to find the best fit for your child.
  • As your child grows consider using an overnight diaper. My toddler used to be wet every morning until we started going with the super absorbent overnight diapers.
  • Buy diapers in bulk, they are much cheaper that way.