[Image description: A baby lies on its back. You can see the feet and a blue diaper.]
Before my oldest kid was born we looked at diapering options. We were young, dumb, and blindly stumbling around the capitalism that pervades the baby years. I’m not sure how I got it in my head, but I wanted to cloth diaper. I was hoping for an upgrade from the rags my parents used to diaper me, but never having had experience with diapers or diapering I wasn’t especially prepared to make a choice with diapering systems. I stumbled on gDiapers and we invested in them knowing it was a hybrid system (cloth or disposable liner options) and didn’t look back. Cloth diapering proved impractical with our first. I was just not prepared for the extra work involved and I was totally lost so we just used the biodegradable/compostable liners for her babyhood.
When I got pregnant with our second I decided I had enough of a handle on being a mom and the baby years that I wanted to try again with cloth diapers. Not to mention I was a lot more clued in to environmental issues. Thus far it’s worked fairly well, but I have a few thoughts about the whole cloth versus disposable that I wanted to address.
The first is that you need to choose something that is going to work for you and your baby. We’ve struggled with some pretty nasty diaper rash and sometimes need to use disposables. I’m not sorry about that. At all. Health comes first. And there are plenty of other completely valid reasons for using disposables over cloth diapers (keep reading).
Second, investing in a cloth diaper system is EXPENSIVE. So is washing if your water is metered, electricity is expensive for drying, or you need to go to a laundromat (even just in your apartment complex) to do your washing. Sure, in the end reusables may cost less than all the disposables you have to buy, but cloth diapers come with an up front price tag that many folks may not be able to come up with or part with. And, as I said, water, detergent and electricity aren’t free either. There are economic justice issues involved with this that I never hear being addressed.
Third, while technically nothing ends up in a land fill, cloth diapering is not zero waste. There is water and electricity waste, which if you are considering cloth diapering, you should weigh against disposable diapering. As I mentioned above, cost is part of that, but we also live in the Central Valley of California where we’ve been in a drought for years now. Using water to wash extra loads of diapers isn’t exactly earth-friendly. I balance it out by only doing two-three loads of laundry a week total. That’s one-two of diapers and one of clothes. But not everyone can do that. Or maybe you have an old washing machine that uses a ton of water and buying a new high-efficiency washer isn’t in the cards. Cloth diapering isn’t a great option in that case either. You’ll have to assess the situation where you live.
Finally, cloth diapering isn’t difficult but there is a time commitment associated with it and if you are tired, suffering from postpartum depression, work long hours, don’t have a partner, etc. etc. etc. it may not be the right choice for you. It might just add one more thing to an already overwhelming list of things that need to be done in caring for an infant. Take a nap, feed yourself, see your doctor, call up a friend, or read a book instead of rinsing poop off a diaper insert.
My point in writing this is not to have yet another opinion out there on why you should be cloth diapering. I alluded to this above, but I want to make explicit what I rarely see, the complexities of people’s situations and how those are tied up in our white supremacist society taken into consideration when recommending cloth diapering and many other low impact living solutions. I think in part this is by design. So much of low impact living is steeped in capitalism, but we can’t buy our way out of the crisis we’re in and we need to be cognizant of that and of people’s circumstances. It’s not as simple as saying that in the long run cloth diapers (or metal straws) are cheaper. All of this is tied up our world’s interlocking systems of oppression and exploitation of people and resources. I see no recognition of who might be actually washing the dirty diapers wealthy suburban moms send off with their diaper services. By paying closer attention to the systems that prevent people from accessing and choosing low impact solutions we can fight institutionalized oppression and create a world that is both lower impact and more just.
I’ve been very happy with our choice to cloth diaper this time around and I’m glad I have this choice, but I also recognize that I’m in an incredibly privileged position to make that choice and I wanted to complicate the narrative around that.