If you’re an expecting dad, you may not know this yet, but it’s my duty to inform you: babies produce copious amounts of bodily fluids (and eventually solids). All day long. And you have to deal with it, one way or another.
One of the laws of baby physics is that if it goes in, it must come back out. It doesn’t have to come back out the same way it went in, but it does have to come out.
In this post, I thought I’d stick to addressing the lower half of the baby, as the messes that come from there tend to get your attention pretty fast…
New Dads Guide to Diapering
You’ve got several choices for dealing with substances from the baby’s bowel and bladder:
- Disposable diapers
- ‘Green’ disposable diapers
- Cloth diapers
- Refuse to acknowledge it – Also known as decorating yourself and your house with the ‘tie-dyed with poop’ look.
Seriously? Are you even considering spending your hard earned cash for something that will get used once and then get buried in the landfill for ever and ever? OK, you might be, but I encourage you to rethink using disposables as an option.
Consider this: your child will go through 10 to 15 diapers each day as a newborn, and then 8 to 10 per day for the next several years. That amounts to around 3000 diapers per year (your mileage may vary). Even if you get them cheaply, do you want to be responsible for adding 3000 diapers each year to the landfill? (Best guess on the length of time for disposable diaper to biodegrade in a landfill? 100 years.) Check out the components of a disposable diaper.
‘Green’ Disposable Diapers
As a die hard green guy, I take exception to the idea that any kind of disposable diaper can truly be green. Call them what you will (biodegradable, flushable, compostable), they are still made to be disposed of after a single use. The gDiaper claims to be compostable, yet for those who don’t compost already, that just translates to ‘flushable’. And flushing more material down the toilet is not a good idea, either for your plumbing, or for your septic system, or your local sewer system.
Another component of issue in disposables is the “super absorbent polymer”, or sodium polyacrylate, which lets you go longer between diaper changes. I’m going to steer clear of putting that in my compost…
Cloth diapers are by far the best, in my book. The overall cost is lower – an investment upfront is needed, but you won’t have to buy them every week, like disposables. Babies tend to get fewer diaper rashes in cloth diapers, as fluids aren’t trapped next to a baby’s skin with a plastic film. Nothing extra gets put into the landfill or sewer system, so you can feel better about the volume of waste produced by your house, and for a ‘natural’ parent, it’s just the right thing to do.
Because cloth diapers need to be washed, there is a higher water usage compared to disposables (at least for the end user, although I’m sure quite a bit of water goes into manufacturing disposables). To help with that, you can run your washing machine water through a biological filter (a mini wetland area for filtering graywater) and reclaim some of the water for your landscape.
Refuse to acknowledge it
You really need to reconsider this option if you want to maintain any sort of social life.
Cloth Diapering Guide
What should you buy for diapering your baby? There are quite a few choices of styles and brands of cloth diaper systems for sale, but the basics are the same: an outer wrap (to keep fluids from soaking through, and to catch any leakage) and an inner liner. The liner is the only part that needs to be washed daily, and you’ll need plenty of them.
We’ve found that standard cloth diapers (tri-fold is one name for them) work great, and are widely available, although some liners have extra features (snaps, fitted elastic leg openings). You’ll need a couple of different sizes – newborn, 3 to 6 month, and toddler – and wraps for each size.
The best wraps we’ve found are made from wool (not scratchy at all!) and know some people who have made their own from old wool sweaters (felted in the wash) or crocheted or knitted their own. You’ll want to start with at least 3 or 4 wraps and enough diapers to go at least two days without having to wash them (you’ll be surprised how fast they go through them).
How do you store dirty diapers? We’ve tried using a diaper pail several times, with water and white vinegar (for smells), but have since reverted to simply using a hamper or basket for dirty diapers. For very messy diapers, you can rinse them briefly in the toilet before putting in the hamper, or consider using a pail just for poopy ones.
How do you wash cloth diapers? Short answer: in a washing machine. We use a gentle, biodegradable laundry soap for our diapers, and just wash them separately from our clothes. I’ve never had to use a long wash cycle, or a pre-soak, but for diapers with dried crusties, it may be needed.
When we lived in our tiny house, we did a fair amount of laundry (including diapers) by hand in a 5 gallon bucket, and when we camp for long periods, we wash diapers by hand. It’s not the most fun thing ever, but it is possible. We also used a laundromat for washing diapers for while, but after seeing the amount of money we spent there each week, we just invested in a washer – it’s way cheaper in the long run.
But what about stains? The sun is the best stain remover for diapers. We’ve never used bleach or similar products, as we hang our diapers on a clothesline to dry, and the sun bleaches out any stains. Even in the winter, when the sun was not out as often, we didn’t use a bleaching product. Our thoughts about it were that having spotless diapers was not a priority for us – they are rarely visible, anyway.
What do you think about baby wipes? I think you’ll definitely need something to clean up the baby, as you can’t just throw them in with the diapers… We use cloth baby washcloths, and wash them with the diapers. We’ve never used disposable baby wipes, even the ‘green’ ones, as the waste involved was too much for us.
If you really want to lessen the impact of diapering on the planet (and your wallet), whether you use cloth or disposable diapers, consider using elimination communication to speed up the potty training and get them out of diapers as soon as possible – our kids were only 1 and a half (average) when they gave up diapers completely. And for some time before that, we were able to cut the amount of diapers they used in half because of it.
Image: IngaMun at Flickr