To start with, I am not writing this in judgement of those sisters who don’t cloth diaper their baby’s bottoms… personally, I do not really care what approach to diapering one’s child a mama takes, as long as she is the one making the choice and not having to cave into the demands or expectations of another.
I am writing this post about cloth diapering because a few acquaintances in the community have asked what I think about my experience swaddling my boy’s butt in cloth rather than disposable nappies. So, I endeavour to write this, judgement free, but full of enthusiasm for what I truly believe is the best way to care for little bottoms and bits. If I come across a little harsh towards disposables, I apologize for any offence caused, but I really do believe cloth is best…
My son was born in March of last year and I used disposables full time for 2 and a half months while deciding what I wanted to do about the diapering issue. My mother had cloth diapered me back in the seventies because disposables were uber expensive and I was a first child and the sacrifice of effort was worth it to her, to save some money. By the time my sister came along three years later, disposables were less expensive and she used them exclusively on my sister’s butt. Fortunately for her wallet, my sister toilet trained quickly and therefore the financial burden of disposables didn’t extend much past my sister’s first birthday. So mum is really a cloth diaper enthusiast at heart. From before my son was born she encouraged me to at least cloth diaper at home and use disposables when we head out and about around town. I kept telling her I would think about it but my husband really was not supportive. He knew the hard work diapering in the natural way entails from back home and he was reluctant to think about me having to slave away cleaning up a lot of dirty nappies. (Leaving aside, of course, that I have a washing machine in my home, the vast majority of Africans do not…)
At about two and a half months, I began part time cloth diapering and I gently set to work encouraging my husband that this was the best route. How did I encourage him? By educating him to the truth of the matter, to the advantages of cloth versus disposable. And for any sister considering cloth diapering, the advantages are numerous. The only disadvantage? Well, getting your hands dirty when you have to soak a diaper that has experienced a total poop explosion. Other than that, there are no drawbacks to cloth. I mean really, you are already doing laundry, right? What’s another two loads a week?
First, we should talk a little bit about what goes into a disposable diaper (the name being a total misnomer because they are not really disposable, they are with us forever. They do not biodegrade and any given landfill site is composed of 30-60% disposable diapers. Yuck! That waste, which is a lot more than just human feces and urine, soaks back into our soil and our ecosystem.) Disposables are mostly comprised of wood pulp product that has been created by putting wood fibre under heavy, serious chemical treatment that includes bleach (chlorine gas and chlorine dioxide). A by-product of this treatment is the creation of a chemical from the dioxin family. Anyone who knows about dioxin knows that it is considered the most toxic substance ever created. This toxicity occurs in small amounts and it is unknown exactly how little exposure is needed before its associated diseases kick in – birth defects, miscarriage, cancer and genetic damage.
Finally, the absorption material in the disposable (when wetted with urine it turns into that yucky gel like substance that absorbs your baby’s urine and leads some parents into thinking they can keep their kid in the diaper for hours at a time because the gel helps stop leaks) is called sodium polyacrylate. Sodium polyacrylate can absorb 100 times its weight in liquid. It makes for a very absorbent diaper, but has been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome in tampon use. In the past, use of this chemical has been associated with severe diaper rash and bleeding perennial and scrotal tissue, because it pulls fluid so strongly that it excoriates human tissue. (www.mother-ease.com) So that seems bad enough for a boy’s little bits, but on a girl? There are no long term studies done to show what kind of affect this can have on the vaginal area of a baby girl, but I suspect studies are now in the works as more awareness is coming to light about the virtues of cloth versus the chemical problems of disposables.
As if the impact on baby isn’t potentially bad enough, the impact on the environment is gruesome. As I mentioned before, disposables do not biodegrade and studies stateside show high percentages of landfill sites are composed of disposable dipes, just waiting for the poop to be absorbed into the earth, or eaten and carried off, diseases and all, by animals and rodents, straight back to human kind. Many sisters point out the fact that cloth diapers require laundering and therefore waste water and I admit that I was one of those people who mistakenly believed this, during my pre-cloth consideration phase. In reality, as it took me a lot of research to learn, disposable dipes actually use nearly 40% more water for their creation than home washing the cloth variety!
If you consider that from birth to toilet training the average child uses 5300 disposable diapers (there’s a chunk o’ change out of your kid’s college fund…) and that it takes up to 900 pounds of that chemically treated fluff pulp and nearly 300 pounds of plastic each year to supply one of your kids with disposable nappies, all of a sudden the environmental impact of washing cloth dipes seems minor.
So these are the downsides to disposable diapering. I do realize that when sisters do not have regular or inexpensive access to laundry facilities, or if they are looking after a bunch o’ children, that hauling a couple of bags of wet and dirty dipes to the Laundromat each week can be daunting. You really do have to do a cold prewash and a very hot and soapy wash. You can dry them in a dryer or on your deck, in the sun. you can even toss them on an indoor drying rack and let them dry, though this does not have the extra cleaning power of the heat from the dryer or the natural bleaching properties of the sun.
What changed my mind and pushed me towards the cloth system was not actually the environmental impact, which is serious and ought to be discussed more often during environmental discussions and debates. It wasn’t the pain in the butt of driving to the store every few weeks to buy another mammoth box of disposables. It wasn’t even the kick in the wallet it took to shell out for said disposables. For me, it really was about doing something natural and traditional for my baby’s butt and bits. I thought of muslimahs all around the world and how they cloth diaper, not out of choice but because they do not have any other choice. I thought about how they have to actually hand wash their baby’s dipes and lay them out to dry and all I have to do is toss the soiled items into a large dirty diaper bag inside a large step can garbage and then haul them to my washing machine twice a week, toss them in and let the machine do it’s job. It seemed to me, that since I had the interest in the first place, I was just being lazy by continuing to abstain from taking the plunge.
I strongly encourage sisters who are interested to do the research for themselves, talk to mamas who use cloth, and make the decision. You don’t have to cloth diaper full time, though it is just as easy to change a cloth dipe at the mall or a restaurant as it is to use a disposable. Many cloth diaperers do so part time. You could cloth during the day, and then use disposables at night. It is not necessarily an all or nothing proposition. And if you are thinking that cloth dipes these days are the bad ole’ boys from way back in the seventies and beyond, or what our sisters in developing nations have to use, you are mistaken. The world of cloth diapering today is one of dozens of type, size, style and pattern choices from too many manufacturers to mention. The cost of starting the cloth diapering will set you back anywhere from about 300 to 600 dollars, and depending on the type of diapering system you choose, that may be the grand sum total of your expenditures for the diapering life of your baby. Good cloth dipes will last you more than one child and can be resold after your adventure is complete for up to 40 or 50% of your original purchase. Not bad!
System choices include using one size diapers with a separate liquid proof cover, diapers that are all-in-one (meaning that the cover is attached to the diaper), stuffable (aka pocket) diapers which are similar to the all-in-one, but they have a pocket at the front which you can stuff in more layers of cloth – called doublers- to help absorb urine. The list goes on and on. For an even more economical route, you can use the same type of cloth dipes from back in the day, but now you do not need metal diaper pinsas there are little plastic binders called ‘snappies’ that will do the trick in place of those sharp little weapons of the past.
I hope that this post has been helpful to those sisters who are interested, or even just curious, about cloth diapering and why a modern western mama would bother with a seemingly traditional nappy route. The truth is that many western mamas, particularly in parts of western Europe, mamas never really went wild with disposables or have rediscovered the fun and health of cloth dipes. With the advent of new and very user friendly cloth diapers, it is almost no easier to use disposable than it is to use cloth.
On a final note (and know that I do not say this lightly or attempting to guilt those mamas who really do not want to use cloth, for whatever reason), as Muslims we have an obligation to Allah to be environmental stewards. This is often forgotten as we spend time focusing on the dunya instead of the deen. When you consider that in Canada and the United States alone, each year, nearly 20,000,000,000 disposable diapers are discarded into landfill sites, we know that as Muslimahs we have to affect change on this front. There is reward in doing our part to maintain the health and beauty of Allah’s worldly creation and using cloth diapers is an act of ibadah, if you intend it to be so.