Many natural-minded parents opt for cloth diapers because they believe it’s not only best for the environment, but also best for baby – but do cloth diapers have a downside?
Side note: anyone else go insane pre-baby deciphering the world of wool diaper covers, prefolds, PULs, and beyond?
Not to mention elimination communication (EC), tiny undies, and naked time?
Know this: despite the title of this post, I’m a big fan of cloth. We began our parenting journey attempting EC while using these cloth AIO diapers, which we absolutely loved.
But, sadly, despite all my agonizing, neither our EC nor our cloth diaper journey lasted very long. I was too overwhelmed as a new mama to deal with EC once my husband’s paternity leave ended, and after an awful, infected rash, a million fruitless hours spent at Fluff Love, and one too many incidents with the sh!t sprayer (aka the diaper blaster, aka the toilet-affixed cloth diaper
poo-rinser-offer poo-splatterer), it became apparent that cloth diapers were NOT the workable choice for us after the newborn period.
But it wasn’t just the excreta-splattered bathroom walls that made me think a bit differently about cloth, and diapers in general. It was also my dive in to baby biomechanics for my upcoming parenting program with Meg “the midwife” Reburn – specifically, I learned how baby’s mechanical development (as in, how they learn to move) might be affected by my diapering choices.
This analysis, despite its funding, provides a good beginner’s summary. It’s well-referenced, and those references are contextually robust, culturally aware, and scientifically sound.
The summary is: cloth diapers can interfere with biomechanics more than disposables at important developmental stages, and BOTH can interfere with movement to a fairly significant degree when compared to naked time.
(Cue Dana Carvey’s “Naked Time!” bit.)
Here’s what’s going on: cloth diapers are generally much more bulky and less flexible than ‘sposies. When you add liners and wool covers, they become even more so. I personally observed this to be the case with almost every cloth diaper we tried, from the AIOs to the PULs to the woolens to the workhorses. This added bulk has a positional influence, which can impact gait and comportment (as in, it can mess with baby learning to walk).
Several parents in my online parenthood group have reported their kiddos’ movement going from slightly stalled to much more mobile once they switched to disposables and/or started doing more naked time.
(Feel free to chime in with your favorite low-bulk cloth diaper and EC options in the comments.)
Again, naked time is the takeaway there – no diaper is perfect, even if cloth might generally have a greater impact on movement. So total diaper-free time is a must. And if you can make elimination communication work, even better!
Also, remember that there are many developmental influences that we’re all trying to balance, minimize, maximize, et cetera. This isn’t the only one, and it might not even be the most important one. But it’s what I’m talking about right this second, and my brains can only turn so many thoughts into words at one time, mmkay?
With all that in mind, we opted (selfishly?) to stick with these disposables after the newborn stage – keeping in mind that an overly-full disposable can be just as bulky as a cloth diaper. Since disposables can catch WAY more pee than cloth, they don’t have that built-in control of absolutely needing frequent changing, so keep that in mind.
Plus, of course, we did lots of naked time.
And yes, we clean up a lot of bodily fluid.
Still, though, I struggle with whether disposables add significantly to our chemical load, and that’s something that every parent has to grapple with on their own. Environment notwithstanding, what’s more important to you: reducing the chemical load that diapers carry (some more than others) or reducing the potential negative impact on biomechanical development, which might impact baby’s entire movement foundation?
I’m not sure what the answer is. And my choice, if I’m honest, probably involves a taste for convenience as much as a taste for maximizing the kiddo’s locomotive success. Was I looking for an out? Maybe. But, here we are.
In choosing disposables, however, we did our best to choose wisely. I can’t recommend any of the “mainstream” ones, since they’re often artificially fragranced (hello, pthalates) and when we used one in a pinch (ironically, when we were still cloth diapering), we ended up with what looked like a chemical burn – only to find out that the brand had been named in a lawsuit alleging exactly that.
NO disposable is perfect, although Bambo Nature, which we use, and Honest Company have publicly stated that they don’t use phthalates. (Good rundown here.) Additionally, reducing baby’s overall toxic load involves much more than choice in diapers: lotions, powders and shampoo have been implicated in increasing baby’s toxic load (get the full text via Sci Hub).
(We use Beautycounter’s baby wash, diaper cream and soothing oil, and when needed, Primally Pure’s powder and balm. Read more about why here.)
I know this subject can be sensitive. I’m in NO WAY trying to start a major debate about cloth diapering. This is 100% about looking with interest, and without personal offense, at the evidence available and making the choice that’s right for YOU.
I love and respect those who cloth diaper, and there are kiddos across the diapering spectrum who are movin’ and shakin’ with no issues cropping up as a result of what they poop in.
But it’s important to acknowledge that NO diapering method is perfect, that the choice between environmental conservation/chemical exposure and biomechanical health is a difficult one, and that above all, we should simply observe what’s happening with OUR littles and make the choice we’re most comfortable with.
Naked time, no matter what you do, is an absolute must. (And if you’re concerned about your baby’s movement, I highly recommend a consult with Eliza Parker.)
Quite frankly, I already had concerns about the mechanical/movement issues that bulky cloth diapers might have as my kiddo started moving more independently, so I was happy and confident, although a little sad for the Earth, in making the change.
Still, when we switched, I swore up and down that I’d make OTHER changes to atone for my diapering sins and to help save the planet, like never showering. Like, ever.
You’re welcome, Earth.
If you want details on my upcoming fertility/baby/parenting program with Meg “the Midwife,” go here!
Thanks for reading.
Elizabeth Joy (@esandoz on IG) is a mom, doula, and birth plan advocate who is passionate about birth options, consent, and supporting parents through this