A lot of environmentally conscious parents feel like making
the decision between disposable diapers and cloth diapers is a kind of Sophie’s
choice. Do you choose convenience at the sake of the environment, or more work
because it's supposedly good for the planet?
Let’s examine the choices.
Disposable diapers are convenient and make life easier for
parents, but an estimated 27 billion disposable diapers (weighing in at more than 3.4
million tons) end up in landfills where they can take up to 500 years to degrade. And let’s not even talk about the potentially dangerous chemicals that might be
in some of those diapers.
As for cloth diapers, they seem more eco-friendly, but are
they? Maybe not. Cloth diapers need to be washed at least once, if not
twice, in hot water after every use to kill germs. That's a lot of water. Then you have to consider what the reusable
diapers are made of because if they are made of cotton that isn’t organic,
well, the pesticides used in cotton production are not good for the environment
or for the humans involved in the manufacturing of it.
See? A total Sophie’s choice. Unless you decide to use no
diapers—and yes, that is totally an option. At least according Los Angeles-based Drs. Jeffrey Bender and Rosemary
She, who recently published a perspective
piece in the journal Pediatrics sharing their experience going the no-diaper route
with their third child.
Maybe you’ve heard of “elimination communication” (EC), also
referred to as natural infant hygiene. It’s the practice of figuring out the
timing of when a baby naturally needs to go potty, using their physical cues to
recognize their need and then holding them bare-bottomed over a toilet so they can
go about the business of eliminating what needs to be eliminated.
"Contrary to the notion that infants
relieve themselves randomly and constantly throughout the day, babies naturally
eliminate at predictable times such as upon waking or after feeding,"
explained Bender, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at
Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
A few years ago, elimination communication was getting a lot of press because
celebrity parents such as Mayim Bialik and Alicia Silverstone were doing it. Most
people reacted like EC was the craziest thing they’d ever heard of and some kind of
new fad, but really it’s not.
"It's funny that we think of it as modern
and new, where it's probably a very old and ancient practice and what people
did before there were diapers and still do across the world where they don't
have the luxury of disposable diapers," said Dr. She, a pathologist and
medical microbiologist at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern
Besides saving money on diapers and allegedly being good
for the environment, EC has other benefits which include reducing the risk of
health issues like diaper rash, urinary tract infections and methicillin-resistant staph(MRSA) infections. The drawbacks?
It’s most definitely not for everyone, especially if your
baby goes to daycare. Ain’t nobody got time for elimination communication at
"The way our society is, with a lot of
children in daycare, this probably isn't feasible," Bender said. "By
no means do we feel this is for everyone. We were fortunate and in a position
to ... take alternate months off [when our daughter was a newborn], and a lot
of parents don't have that luxury."
So is EC just another thing to feel guilty about
if you can’t do it? No, it’s not. Think of it as another option for the diaper and potty training phase. Do what works
for you and your family while considering the environmental impact. If you want
to do disposable diapers, get ones that are manufactured without dangerous
chemicals and are compostable (that’s assuming you can afford the luxury of
choosing regardless of cost, of course); if you want to do cloth diapers, there
are ones made out of bamboo or organic cotton; if you want to do EC and have
the time to do so, then go on with your bad self.
Don’t beat yourself up about it, just know that you have
options: cloth diapers, disposable diapers or no diapers.