It is impossible to read the news without hearing about how chemicals are ruining our health. Those stories hit really hard to home as parents. For me, I avoided chemicals whenever possible while pregnant, ate organic veggies and eschewed many of my favourite beauty products to make sure my little one was healthy. But what about what we put on them once they are born?
Disposable diapers have many great properties - even I can't deny that. They can allow the baby to pee multiple times without them feeling wet, and the only outward sign of it is a blue line on the front of the diaper. But how do they accomplish these feats? With chemicals.
Chemicals in Disposable Diapers
Have you ever accidentally washed a disposable diaper in the washing machine and wondered what that gel is? It is sodium polyacrylate. It can soak up many times its weight in moisture and is used in other fun stuff like fake snow. According to its MSDS (it's Material Safety Data Sheet) "Substance is not considered hazardous. However, not all health aspects of this substance have been thoroughly investigated". While saying that it is not hazardous, it also recommends to "Avoid contact with eyes, skin, and clothing. Wear chemical splash goggles, chemical-resistant gloves, and chemical-resistant apron". So while it is not known to cause any health issues, it is recommended to protect yourself while working in the lab just in case. But putting it right up against baby's bum is awesome.
Diaper Company Laws and Ingredients
Diaper companies are not required by law to list the ingredients in their products, but they are thought to contain phthalates, styrene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, and dioxins. These all have their own health impacts - some are carcinogens, cause reproductive issues, allergic reactions etc. This post is not intended to be a scientific paper delving into the well-researched effects of each - just a brief mention of some of the substances present in 'sposies and the fact that they have known or suspected impacts on human health.
The Science of Chemicals
I'm not preachy on the subject of chemicals - I'm not. Chemicals are a reality, and the vast majority are harmless. Myself, I am a dihydrogen monoxide addict. If I go three days without it, I will die. (I hope some chemists got a giggle - dihydrogen monoxide is water.) But science is continuously finding that chemicals in everyday items are in fact harming our health. Take BPA for example. It was found in tons of plastics, from baby bottles to food packaging, until further investigations linked it with a variety of diseases. It has now been banned from many products. Will further research lead to many of the chemicals in disposable diapers being banned?
This is my view on exposing babies to chemicals - don't drive yourself crazy trying to keep them away from everything, but minimize their exposure where you can. And cloth diapers is definitely a way to do that. Instead of having a mixed bag of chemicals pressed up against their tender skin 24 hours a day, we chose to use cloth. We now have control over what our children are exposed to. By choosing detergents without a ton of harmful chemicals (shout out to Rockin' Green), we've reduced a lot of potential toxins from our kid's environment.
Another health aspect of cloth vs. disposables is diaper rash.
We tend to change cloth diapers fairly soon after baby pees (and immediately after poop!) because it is more obvious that their diaper is wet. With disposables, it is easy to ignore a wet diaper, because of those magical chemicals I mentioned before. But even though the pee is sucked up into the moisture absorbing gel, it is still there, touching the baby's skin. Plus baby's skin is essentially plastic wrapped all the time, getting absolutely no air to it. Put these factors together, and you get diaper rash.
Cloth diapered babies get fewer rashes, as they sit in pee less. Maybe it sounds like more work to change baby more often (I'm not talking every 5 minutes - maybe an extra change or two a day!) but it is healthier for them, and diaper rashes are unpleasant for everyone. Happy bum = happy mom.
Another reason for rashes in disposables is allergic reactions. There are lots of inks, dyes, and fragrances in disposables, any of which a child can develop a sensitivity to. My daughter is particularly sensitive and breaks out in a nasty red rash within minutes of being put in a disposable. Her poor little bum looks like a baboon bum!
Wow, that was a long post! But in conclusion, our priority is our children's health. There are no scientific studies that flat out say that disposable diapers cause disease, but the potential definitely exists. Yet another reason that cloth is awesome!
Now that we've dealt with the doom and gloom, let's look forward to the last post in this series - The Awesomeness of Cloth Diapers.