Itasca mom Tina O'Neill laughs about how she once thought that cloth diapers were disgusting.
O'Neill used disposable diapers with her first three children, but when she heard a mom in a baby group mention that she was switching to cloth diapers, O'Neill was intrigued. After researching the benefits, O'Neill decided to use cloth diapers for her fourth child, Elinor, now 14 months.
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"I just thought there's absolutely no reason not to cloth diaper," she said. "You touch pee and poop way more than you want to as a mom anyway, and so you might as well save a couple grand while doing it."
Cloth diapers have grown in popularity in recent years as parents like O'Neill are looking for cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and healthier options to diaper their children.
Laura Smith said parents can save anywhere from $2,000 to $3,500 per child by using cloth diapers instead of disposables. According to Smith, the average initial investment to cloth diaper a child is $175 to $350 depending on how many and what styles of cloth diapers, and accessories are purchased. Later on, parents can expect to spend an extra $100 to $200 purchasing additional cloth diapers and accessories. Smith, of Naperville, is the owner of Comfy Bummy Diapers, an online natural parenting store that specializes in cloth diapers.
While cloth diapers may require more of an upfront cost, Justine Walter emphasizes that parents will save money over time, especially since cloth diapers can be used again if parents have other children. Walter said cloth diapers also have a good resale value with parents often being able to recoup about 50 percent of the initial cost. Walter is the owner of Fluff Envy, a cloth diaper and natural parenting store in South Elgin.
Mundelein mom Nikki Patrick decided to use cloth diapers with her daughter Grace, now 13 months, because it was a more cost-effective option. Hainesville mom Tiffany Sullivan also saw cloth diapers as a way to save money. She was overwhelmed by the hundreds of cloth diapering options, and didn't start cloth diapering her daughter, Madilyn, now 16 months, until after she took a cloth diaper class.
Besides being more cost-effective, Smith says that cloth diapers are better for the environment. "Disposable diapers are kind of a myth," she said. "They aren't really disposable, because they end up sitting in landfills."
According to the EPA, it takes centuries for disposable diapers to fully decompose in landfills, and the U.S. disposes of 16 billion diapers each year. An average baby will go through 8,000 disposable diapers before potty training.
Some parents decide to cloth diaper their children because they see it as a healthier option and are skeptical of the many chemicals used in disposable diapers. It is often argued by proponents of cloth diapers that they are less likely to irritate the baby's skin and cause diaper rashes.
Dr. Shelly Vaziri Flais, a pediatrician at Pediatric Health Associates in Naperville and Plainfield, sees an even distribution of diaper rashes among children in cloth and disposable diapers. For children who develop diaper rashes, simply changing brands often solves the problem, she said.
The choice of whether to use cloth diapers or disposable diapers is a family decision, Vaziri Flais said. "There isn't enough medical information to say that you should use one over the other."
O'Neill's son, Lincoln, now 4, had terrible diaper rashes and was diagnosed with asthma at 6 months old. When Lincoln was potty trained and no longer wore disposable diapers, his asthma went way. "I'm not one to be a conspiracy theorist, but there's no way that's a coincidence," she said.
A study published in the 1999 issue of the Archives of Environmental Health found that some types of disposable diapers emit chemical mixtures that are toxic to the mouth, nose, throat and lungs. According to the study, "Disposable diapers should be considered as one of the factors that might cause or exacerbate asthmatic conditions."
Smith believes that cloth diapers are not only healthier for babies, but she also points out that today, cloth diapers are every bit as convenient as disposable diapers.
"A common misconception is that cloth diapers are hard to use and are not as absorbent as disposable diapers," she said. "Cloth diapers have not only become so evolved, but they are made with some of the best materials out there without using harsh chemicals."
There are no more pins or rubber pants with today's cloth diapers. For example, one-size diapers have adjustable snaps that can fit a child as he or she grows. Many cloth diapers' absorbency can be adjusted with inserts. All-in-one diapers are the easiest to use and are the most comparable to disposable diapers.
One thing Smith said that parents have to get past if they want to cloth diaper their child is the "ick factor." Having to deal with poop or pee is going to happen regardless of whether or not you go with cloth or disposable diapers. Smith says there are "ick factor gadgets" like flushable liners that are biodegradable and can be thrown into the toilet when soiled.
Walter said some parents might not consider cloth diapers because they don't want to wash dirty diapers.
"With disposable diapers a parent is going to end up having to change the baby's clothes, sheets, and anything else involved in the blowout," she said. "It's just planned laundry versus unplanned laundry (with cloth diapers)."
The most common thing that Smith hears from parents who decided to go with cloth diapers is, "You were right. It's so much easier than I thought."
O'Neill regrets not using cloth diapers with her other three children because of how much money she could have saved. Besides, O'Neill loves all of the adorable cloth diaper print options to choose from for Elinor.
"I actually get a little bit sad about her potty training since there's all of these cute diapers," O'Neill said while laughing. "I always joke that I'm not going to potty train her. She'll go to kindergarten in her favorite prints."
How much money will I save?
• Cloth diapers can save you $2,000 to $3,500 per child.
How many cloth diapers will I need?
• For a newborn, you will need at least 18 to 24 cloth diapers. On average, cloth diapers costs $12 to $28 each. The amount of cloth diapers needed depends on your child's age, and how often you want to do laundry.
How much laundry will I have to do?
• Expect to do 1 to 2 additional loads of laundry every 1 ½ days.
What if I think cleaning diapers is gross?
•There are lots of products like flushable liners that can make cleaning the diapers easier. As a parent, you will come in contact with poop and pee even if you decide to use disposable diapers. Diaper cleaning services are also available, but if you go with this option you will not save as much money.
What are some positive aspects of cloth diapering?
• Cloth diapering is cost-effective, has a positive effect on the environment by keeping diapers out of landfills, and doesn't use harsh chemicals.