Why We Need to Make Cloth-Diapering More Mainstream

One mom learned everything about cloth diapering a newborn—the hard way

Luci Petlack//lucismorsels.com

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A few months into my pregnancy, I decided we would try cloth diapering. I knew how wasteful diapers were and it seemed like the right thing to do. I registered for shells and liners after getting some helpful recommendations from friends and assumed we were all set.

Then, I had a baby and cloth diapering went out the window. I was so caught up in new parent life, breastfeeding struggles and my new reality that cloth diapering wasn’t really even on my radar.

Safely settled into our first home in a new city, I started to remember those shells on the shelf, but I was scared. One older mother at my baby shower made a comment that I should start cloth diapering my baby as soon as possible or he wouldn’t like it. Was four months too late? Had I failed at this part of parenting too? Probably!

It wasn't too many decades ago that cloth diapers weren’t a choice--they were the only option. Given the simplicity of disposable diapers (and, let's be honest, with how hard parenting can be), cloth diapering quickly and easily took a back seat for many parents.

Cloth Diapering vs. Disposable

For those of you who already cloth diaper, there's no need to convince you how great it is for your baby, the earth, and your wallet. And while I'm not here to force reusable diapers in anyone's face, there is an important conversation to be had about cloth diapering, especially for those who are on the fence or running for the hills. 

The truth is, cloth diapering is currently an insider's circle. Only a small number of us use them, and so many "outsiders" are intimidated by the process - and even by cloth diaper users. I know I was!

So, as I spent too many hours pumping with a four-month-old by my side, I began researching cloth diapering online, and slowly got a handle on the basics. I finally decided that it might be too late, but I had to give it a shot just to say I did, right?

I made a plan, texted my best friend, and one day, I started! I wasn’t perfect from the get-go (in fact, I was quite forgiving of my imperfections back at the beginning), but I stuck with it! It was a lot of work, I won’t lie, but our little guy didn’t give a hoot where he did his business while I slowly started to get the hang of it and found my “system!” 

My learning curve certainly wasn’t over and--with our little guy nowhere near potty training at the moment--I probably still have a lot to learn. Now that I’m a cloth diapering insider, however, I’ve become aware of the need for mainstreaming the practice--for several reasons.

First of all, cloth diapering isn't just for one kind of parent, and we need to break down any barriers about it. In my early searches for online information on cloth diapering, I ran into two groups informing the internet world about reusable diapers--the environmentally-driven parents and the economically-driven parents. 

The former group left me with a sour taste in my mouth–there was so much politics mixed in with telling me what temperature to wash our diapers, I couldn’t stand it. I just needed to know hot or cold and how many rinses (and in case you’re wondering, we do cold water, with one extra rinse, every other day).

While most parents in North America likely want to save money and maybe even adopt more sustainable practices, it isn’t easy to identify with either of these groups at times, so they turn away.

But let’s turn to that group who wasn’t scared off by the internet. With so much out there about the environmental and the economic reasons for reusable diapering, it’s become portrayed as an all-or-nothing practice. Since going all-in on cloth diapering is a decent amount of work, many people opt for “eco” alternatives, or some sort of disposable that will never come close to being as sustainable as cloth. 

Progress, Not Perfection, in Cloth Diapering

We need to encourage parents to use cloth diapers as often as they can, but using a disposable doesn't need to be a guilt-ridden experience. If we can move the conversation toward more reusable instead of only reusable, perhaps we can each save a few hundred or thousand diapers from hitting the landfills. This would be a feat in itself!

And before I move on, can we all just accept that each of us is going to do this differently? We might swear by the shells, liners, toilet sprayers, and stain removers that we have, but whatever method works for a parent and baby is the perfect way to do it.

Finally, the knowledge out there is too scarce, even for those of us actively looking for it. My son suffered from serious skin irritation for months because I didn't know we needed more absorbency in the diapers as he got older. I feel funny disclosing private information like this about my son’s health (is that weird?), but I’m not referring to a diaper rash issue–no, this was more worrisome.

Over the course of six months, as the problem wavered from bad to worse, we saw three different pediatricians, all of whom knew we cloth diapered, and not one of whom mentioned adding another liner to his diaper or doing a deep clean on our system. We were even prescribed antibiotics! Trusting my motherly instinct, I never gave him those antibiotics and somehow figured out the need for more absorption and deep cleaning with treatment pods in the washer (and, yes, hot water with extra rinse cycles). We also had to turn to disposable diapers overnight. I wish his skin could handle them all day, but I’ll take at least 6 diapers per day saved from the landfill!

So what do we do about the lack of knowledge and open conversations? The reality is, we have even more work to do to make cloth diapering mainstream–I know we probably don’t have time on our hands, but I think we can handle it. It isn’t going to happen on its own, so let’s each take a few steps to bring it to the mainstream conversation.

Commit to Continuing the Cloth Conversation

We need to have more open conversations about reusable diapering. If people ask about cloth diapering, be honest. Don't try to sugarcoat how divinely wonderful it is. Let's just be open about it - cloth diapering is a bit more work, but we all think it's worth it.

While I doubt anyone is deliberately hiding their cloth diapering, we need to join the (diapering) conversation and bond with other parents in similar situations (loudly). It isn't as though the dirty similarities aren't all the same! We belong in the disposable diapering conversation as much as any parent belongs in our conversations.

Share what you know to grow

Be generous with information. Before you start cloth diapering, there are many questions. In very little time, you get the hang of it. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but for some reason, we often try to go it alone. There's no need! Be willing to share all your tricks, tips, and systems - and learn some new ones as well.

As much as you might find yourself answering questions for beginners, you should also ask your own. It's unfathomable to think how hard I had to search for some of the answers I was looking for at various parts of this process. If you have questions, ask away! Ask friends, ask cloth diapering companies, ask EcoParent or ask me!

Finally, and this is so important, we need to start those conversations. After I figured out what our problem was, I decided I needed to tell our regular pediatrician (whom I adore!) about the problem and the solutions. So at the end of our last checkup, I said that I wanted to share an experience so she could help another parent, should the chance come along. I recounted it all: the irritation, what each pediatrician prescribed, and how simple the solution actually was!

Even she was surprised by the antibiotics prescription. She also asked me questions about products and said she’d bring it up at their next roundtable! I’d like to think she did. She told us she sees fewer than ten cloth-diapered babies, but I’d like to think we might help one of those parents and kiddos out here at some point. But I did my part; I opened up the conversation; I shared my experience; and I’d like to think Mother Nature smiled a little bigger that day!

You may also enjoy: The Ultimate Cloth Diaper GuideCloth Diaper Buying 101, and Your Questions About Cloth Diapering Answered!