Parents opting for cloth diapers over disposables

Fran Kefalas

Cloth diapering is making a comeback.  A far cry from the cloth diapers of past generations, there is a growing trend fueled by the environmental movement and the Internet to cloth diaper children.

While many people think of “going green” in terms of fuel economy, Holly Salegna, co-owner at the Papoose in Norwich, said environmentalism is spurring much of the natural parenting store’s diaper sales.

“People are so much more aware of what they are consuming now,” Salegna said. “The environment is the No. 1 reason we see people cloth diapering.”

Lori Taylor, a founder of the Real Diaper Association — a non profit-based organization in California dedicated to raising awareness about cloth diapers — said most people don’t think about the impact of disposable diapers beyond their own use of them. But most disposable diapers are made from plastic, which is a petroleum product. Cloth diapering is one more way to reduce our dependency on petrol-chemicals, Taylor said.

Both Salegna and Taylor said the debate regarding cloth diapering becomes much simpler when people examine what is in disposable diapers. A 1994 Greenpeace study showed disposable diapers contain traces of dioxin, a highly toxic chemical banned in many countries. The dioxin comes from the bleaching process. A 1993 study showed disposable diapers also contain sodium polyacrylate to absorb moisture. A similar substance had been used in super-absorbency tampons until the early 1980s when it was determined the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome.

Maria Pope had landfills on her mind when she decided to cloth diaper her daughter, 4-week-old Anna Marie.

“It was in line with the way we want to live,” Pope said. “I was thinking of my diapers floating in some landfill somewhere for hundreds of years.”

Pope said she has been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to cloth diaper. With just one month under their belt, the family is still adding diapers and trying to find the best match for Anna Marie.

The average infant needs about 24 to 36 cloth diapers, with the amount depending on the family’s laundry habits. The cost can vary dramatically but is generally less than disposable diapers, according to the Real Diaper Association. Based on eight diaper changes per day, it is estimated a family will spend about $1,600 on diapers per year per child. Cloth diapers can cost as little as about $300 for the most basic set to about $1,200 for more elaborate diapers.

Pope said she is finding the cost to be an unexpected positive benefit. The cloth diapers are also more luxurious on the baby’s bottom, she said.

“It’s just a nice way to pamper her, literally,” Pope said.

Salegna said the choice to cloth diaper for her family started nine years ago when her first son, Cole, was an infant. Cole had severe rashes and the only disposable diaper that worked was a Pampers rash guard diaper. The difficulty in finding the more-expensive diapers lead Salegna to ask a friend who cloth diapered her children for some advice. Once she tried the cloth diapers on Cole, the rash disappeared and so did the disposable diapers from the Salegna home.

“It was overwhelming,” Salegna said. “I was so glad I had a friend — a resource — I could talk to.”

Salegna stuck with the most basic cloth diaper — a prefold with a cover — with Cole.

Prefolds are the same kind of cloth diaper used by previous generations. They are rectangular pieces of cotton which, when folded correctly, form a diaper. Prefolds need a cover to prevent moisture from wicking onto a child’s clothing. Some diapers, such as all-in-ones, do not require an additional cover.

When her second son, Jack, arrived five years ago, Salegna branched out to other kinds of diapers and realized cloth diapering was becoming more popular. The Internet had exploded and cloth diaper manufacturers were taking advantage. Finding numerous types of cloth diapers online was easy, but local resources were still scarce, even after Salegna had her third son, Sam, 20 months ago.

Salegna’s collected knowledge of cloth diapering and a desire to share it with others was one of the guiding forces behind the opening of Papoose in March 2007.

“It’s nice to be able to touch and feel the diapers and have someone explain them to you,” Salegna said.

Taylor said the more local resources for cloth diapering the more “normal” it will become.  However, she is also hopeful more environmentally conscious celebrities will cloth diaper and share their experiences. Taylor said when Dave Matthews said during Live Earth concerts the most important thing he does for the planet is to cloth diaper, it was a real boost to the movement.

Cloth diapers are a growing niche product, Salegna added.

“It’s part of the going green trend, but I hope going green is a trend that stays,” she said.

Norwich Bulletin