About 20 million disposable diapers end up in landfills each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, having a profound effect: It takes hundreds of years for a diaper to decompose.
However, the alternative — cloth diapers — are much less popular despite advances in design.
Veronica Collins, community liaison for the Gary Health Department and Marram Health Center, works with the prenatal programs at each facility and registers individuals for services. Despite working with expectant and new moms daily for 10 years, she said she hasn’t had any clients request cloth diapers and doesn’t know anyone who uses them.
Collins, who used cloth and disposable for her own children, understands why most moms opt for disposables. “Everyone is on the go. It’s not very feasible for this type of generation,” she said of cloth. “I think those moms who have cloth diapers probably use them as burp rags.”
Collins' first child had cloth diapers, in the early '90s. “I was staying at home and able to use cloth. I had a diaper service that came once a month,” she said. Though diaper services, which collect and launder soiled nappies, while bringing a fresh supply, still exist, Collins switched to disposables with her second child, born seven years later.
She's surprised that despite the benefits she never gets requests for or questions about cloth diapers.
She used them for their economic advantage. “You could spend maybe $800 a year on diapers instead of $2,000 to $3,000 a year, but most moms choose the convenience of the disposables," she said.
Another plus to using cloth is that babies wearing them tend to get fewer rashes, she noted.
Peggy Correll, of Polo, Missouri, has been using cloth diapers for her 5-month-old daughter. She started out using them part time for the first month but went to full time once she built up enough of a stock. Her biggest motivation is the lower cost.
“I chose to cloth first and foremost because it’s cheaper. It can cost a bit upfront, but most people stock up during pregnancy. We were lucky enough to be given most of our stash,” she said. “It also helps knowing we aren’t throwing away so many diapers, so there’s less in landfills. Plus they’re absolutely adorable.”
Correll uses a variety of brands that include Mama Koala, Fluffy Penguin, FuzziBunz and Bumgenius.
The days of the plain white rectangular diapers, held together by large pins and covered in a plastic pants, are gone. Though those products are still available, many better fitting and more attractive cloth options exist. These aren't your grandmother's cloth diapers. Cloth diapers and covers can come with resealable closures, a more contoured fit and in bright colors with whimsical designs.
Mary Puntillo, nurse clinician with Community Hospital in Munster, said she is hearing that more parents plan to use cloth. “Although disposable diapers can be more convenient, some parents are opting for cloth because it is more economical,” she said. “Modern cloth diapers are much simpler than those from years ago. Gone are the diaper pins and rubber pants. Now parents have the choice of Velcro closures or snaps, absorbent liners, as well as cute reusable covers to prevent leaks.”
Puntillo offered some advice in diaper-changing, no matter what you choose. “Whatever we decide to put on baby’s tush, disposable or cloth, it is important to change baby’s diaper frequently,” she said. “Prolonged exposure to urine and poop can cause skin irritation, diaper rash, and sooner or later an irritable baby with a sore bottom. Coordinating diaper change around feeding time can help a new parent remember to change the diaper in addition to keeping track of the number of wet and soiled diapers each day.”