Debate over Baby Diapers

Many new parents are stumped by the choice of what diapers to use with their children. What’s better, cloth or disposable? Is the convenience of disposable baby diapers a worthwhile tradeoff for the cost? Which is better for toilet training? These are among the many questions a new or expecting parent will have to answer for themselves.

At first, it may seem that cloth baby diapers are a good investment. They are reusable and often tout their environmental friendliness as a positive feature, but are these claims true? In order to use cloth diapers successfully, a parent must purchase a set of diapering cloths, securing clips, waterproof diaper covers, and a specialized container for reserving soiled diapers until they can be cleaned. This represents a substantial initial outlay. Baby diapers containing feces must be pre-washed before adding to the soiled diaper container, adding another washing step and additional handling time.

The result of all this is that cloth diapers trade landfill waste for water waste; instead of absorbing and containing excrement, they oblige the parents to launder diaper cloths daily. The result is a highly increased level of airborne urine and fecal matter in the laundry and surrounding areas. Medical news suggests that high levels of airborne excrement are hazardous to the health. One alternative, subscription to a diaper service, offsets the labor investment of diaper laundry to a third party, but incurs a recurring cost, thereby eliminating the primary selling feature of cloth diapers.

Disposable baby diapers, by contrast, are self-securing and can be disposed of in household trash. A variety of products are available for the hygienic, low-odor containment of soiled disposable baby diapers. These devices generally deposit soiled diapers in a sealed receptacle which can be cleanly disposed of later. This eliminates the laundry step that reusable diapers requires, and sequesters airborne waste particles in a much smaller area.

The jury is still out on which type of baby diaper is preferable for toilet training. One school of thought holds that, since soiled cloth diapers are much less absorbent than modern disposable types, the child finds it very noticeable, perhaps to the point of discomfort, when the diaper is soiled, which thereby provides a stronger motivation to toilet train. Another school of thought holds that disposable diapers, due to their differing texture, are easier for young children to distinguish from underwear, thereby clearly signaling when the child is not diapered, reducing the risk of confusion and “accidents.” Further study remains to be done.


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