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    Why We Loved Cloth Diapers – Until We Gave them Up

    “You’re going to use CLOTH diapers, aren’t you?” they asked.

    We were just married and not even thinking about kids, but that was the first thing the in-laws asked when they found out I was an environmentalist. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted kids, but I was sure that I would use cloth diapers. After all, I tried going zero waste. I was surprised that what we might put on our future baby’s bottom was so bitterly divisive. Even my own mother, a woman that cloth diapered my sister and me, thought we were crazy.

    When I got pregnant, the scientist in me needed the numbers to back-up my claim that cloth diapers were better for the environment. Well, it ends up that mothers, diaper companies, and environmentalist have been dueling it out over the cradle-to-grave effects of cloth vs. disposable for years. I wasn’t going to win this battle. So, I hushed the scientist and charged forward, determined to prove all the naysayers wrong and make cloth diapering my baby look easy!

    How we got started with Cloth Diapers

    We rushed off to a free cloth diaper class, but I also had a backup plan just in case things went south: Philly Diaper Service. I researched the options and read a million blogs.

    Today’s cloth diapers are vastly different and much easier than those used by my mother (no dangerous pins either). In the end, we bought a couple cheap lots of used diapers and just started trying things.  Cloth diapering is only as complicated as you want to make it. And if you need help, Philly has cloth diaper retailers and facebook groups.

    By using cloth diapers, we saved money and time, we learned a lot and taught others, and most importantly, we have never had to deal with a gross blue diaper genie sausage.

    We spent about $200 on diapers, wipes, and supplies. We repurposed a trash can for the wet bag/ dirty diapers and a spray bottle we already had to wet the cloth wipes (no wipe warmer needed). A variety of diapers is great: pre-folds are cheap and versatile, velcro is great for grandparents with arthritis, pockets can be adjusted for night time and great for going out.

    We never run out of diapers and never have to make the journey to the store to buy more (which can be exhausting with an infant). Instead, we just walk to our basement and push a button on the washing machine. If we’re too busy to get the diapers out of the dryer, we have plenty of extras to hold us over for a few days. And there is no taking the dirty diaper trash out either (in the cold and snow and rain).

    I loved trying out all the countless ways to use a pre-fold (plus the folds have fun names: angel, newspaper, bikini twist, jelly roll, and divi). Newborns are super easy to diaper since they don’t move around much. I had plenty of time to fold or adjust or redo something that didn’t quite fit. I also enjoy teaching friends, family, and babysitters (especially when I was able to convert a skeptic).

    weaning Away from cloth Diapers

    It all changed when my son started rolling over and fighting us on the changing table, something we later found out is very typical. In a state of frustration, I went to the library intending to get a head start on our potty training research but accidentally checked out a book on Infant Potty Training (aka Elimination Communication (EC)).

    Infant Potty Training is about learning to recognize the signs your baby makes when he needs to pee or poo and using timing, signals, and cues to help him use the toilet instead of a diaper. Within one chapter, I was sold- it couldn’t get any worse than a wrestling match with my Incredible Hulk-strong baby. So began our journey to give up our cloth diapers.

    Potty training our crawling baby boy was exciting, frustrating, disappointing, and absolutely amazing. Just like cloth diapering (and parenting in general), we jumped in and figured it out as we went along.

    We started with diaper free observation which was like waiting for a ticking time bomb to explode (not having rugs was helpful). However, it also gave us the motivation to start genuinely paying attention; we were learning to observe and communicate. We added a sound and hand signal and then started sitting him on the potty during transition times. We quickly gained confidence, and now it’s just part of our daily lives.

    Being open-minded enough to try something new taught me that this tiny human is capable of more than I ever gave him credit for and he continues to amaze me every day.

    Most American children don’t master potty training until 3 years old.  When parents are changing over 4,000 diapers a year, that is over 400 loads of cloth diaper laundry or over 13,000 disposable diapers trashed and landfilled. Instead of debating the environmental impacts of cloth vs. disposable diapers, let’s reduce the amount of time our babies spend in these bulky, uncomfortable diapers with, in some cases, potentially harmful chemicals place on their soft bums 24/7.

    Infant Potty Training can be combined with cloth or disposable diapers and can be done part time or full time starting as early as birth.

    We are five months into our potty training adventure, and we haven’t completely given up our cloth diapers, yet. However, every diaper we don’t use is one less moment of discomfort for my son, one less battle for me on the changing table, and one less diaper to argue about.

    Dr. Chris Arnott

    About Dr. Chris Arnott

    Dr. Chris Arnott is a local environmental scientist who is passionate about zero-waste and sustainability. She has worked for government, academic, and non-profit organizations researching a variety of ecological issues and advocating for common sense environmental policies. Chris lives with her husband, her one-year old son, dog, two cats, and 2000+ worms (for vermicomposting) and enjoys traveling, playing volleyball, hiking/ backpacking, and flying trapeze/ circus acrobatics.

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