Gone are the days when all babies were wrapped in the same large cloth diaper with bulky pins that could easily poke or pinch a baby’s tender skin. The safer, built-in features and wide array of colors have made cloth diapers a cool accessory for a baby’s bottom.

The movement in recent years for less waste and more eco-friendly products has prompted parents to make the switch. Luckily, a multitude of services and community groups make it easy to go green in Austin.

“Moms feel welcomed, safe and supported here,” said Phyllis Brasenell, owner of Austin Born, a one-stop shopping service for women during pregnancy and early parenting.

Which Is Greener?

Hearing that it takes potentially hundreds of years—even the experts can’t agree on exactly how long—for a disposable diaper to decompose has many parents worried about the environmental impact their baby leaves behind. According to 2010 data from the Environmental Protection Agency, about 3.5 million tons of disposable diapers go into our landfills each year.

Add to this that many parents aren’t aware of the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) recommendation to discard fecal matter in a toilet—whether using cloth or disposable diapers. The APHA says fecal matter poses “health risks to sanitation workers and threatens to contaminate ground water.”

Still, many argue that the environmental effects of using cloth diapers versus disposable diapers are comparable, when you account for the costs of raw material, electricity, water and environmental pollution.

But Janae Dunn, a maternity consultant and doula with Stork Maternity Consulting in Austin, finds that parents are mostly concerned with health and safety.

“Disposable diapers can cause a lot of skin irritation and can chemically burn a baby—even exacerbate the effects of dry skin and eczema,” she says. “They contain dioxin, a toxic chemical that could potentially expose babies to harmful carcinogens.”

Let’s Talk Numbers

Top-of-the-line, premium pocket diapers (which contain snaps, micro fiber and micro fleece) may not be cheap, as it may cost $35 to buy just one. And that can seem like a lot when a pack of 100 disposables may cost only $15. But it is also important to note that a baby can go through 2,788 diapers in their first year alone, and a return on investment is inevitable.

“Pre-fold diapers cost $2.50, and can be a very good option for parents,” says Jorge Galindo, owner of Diaper Squad, a pick-up laundering service in Austin.

Knowing how many diapers to buy depends greatly on how often parents plan on washing diapers and the age of the baby. Newborns will need more diapers (about 8 to 15 a day) and will therefore need about 30 diapers, if a parent plans on washing every other day. In contrast, a toddler may go through about 18 to 20 diapers in a couple of days.

Because cloth diapers can be so pricey, Dunn advises moms to buy two diapers each month before the baby arrives. “They should also add this important item to their registry list,” Dunn suggests.

Leah Frederick, co-founder of Stork Maternity Consulting, adds that before committing to just one brand, parents should invest in buying several different brands of cloth diapers to see which works best for them, and then buy a whole stash.

Simple Systems

There are several types of cloth diapers on the market, made of wool, hemp, natural cotton and bamboo fibers. Most diapers are now fitted and fastened with poppers or hook-and-loop straps instead of pins. Diaper systems include:

  • All-in-ones—shaped and fitted, with hook-and-loop or popper fastenings that include a waterproof cover. No folding or pinning is required.
  • Shaped cloth diapers—similar to all-in-ones, but wraps or pants must be purchased separately to provide the waterproof cover. These do not require folding and are fastened with hook-and-loop fasteners or poppers.
  • Prefolds—require folding and a separate waterproof wrap, with fasteners used in some cases.

Why Choose Cloth?

“Cloth diapers can be reused for other children if they are properly cleaned, packaged and stored,” says Galindo.

Frederick, who is also a registered nurse, says many parents find that cloth diapering reduces a child’s time to learn toileting. As a child feels less comfortable being in a wet cloth diaper, they have an incentive to stay dry.

When the diapers are no longer needed, parents can donate them to moms who cannot afford to buy them. “We’ve helped over a thousand moms, but we are still only reaching a tenth of the need in Travis county alone,” says Beverly Hamilton, founder of Austin Diaper Bank.

What About Leaving the House?

For parents on the go, Brasenell suggests packing plastic zippered or reusable wet bags to store soiled diapers. “Parents can also buy flushable liners, which insert inside a diaper and are discarded after use.”

Investing in a stash of eco-friendly, disposable diapers that are biodegradable and chlorine-free may also be advisable for babysitters and day cares.

Laundering Service or Home Laundry?

For parents who work outside the home, do not have time to launder or do not have easy access to a washing machine, a service launderer such as Diaper Squad may be the best thing.

Galindo, who caters to families who live in and around the Austin area, says once-a-week laundering service can cost about $85 a month.


Shopping List

  • 3 waterproof covers
  • 30 diapers (to wash every day or every other day)
  • Zippered bag or wet bag (to hold soiled diapers when out and about)
  • Diaper pail (look into both “wet” and “dry” options)
  • Cloth diaper inserts or liners
  • Cloth wipes
  • Handful of eco-friendly disposable diapers (for camping or last-minute emergencies)
  • Optional: Sprayer, used to rinse waste into the toilet (A DIY sprayer can be made with materials found at the hardware store.)
  • DIY detergent

Nayeli Pagaza is an Austin-based freelance writer and mother to a 4-year-old, adventurous boy. She loves to explore Austin’s trails and lakes with her family.

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