Ask Amma

Cloth or synthetic diapers?

In Why on 26 May 2012 at 1:24 am

Cloth Diapers Vs Synthetic Diapers: My husband feels it is quite strenuous to deal with washing and drying the cloth diapers. I feel, at least during the day time, it would be nice to use to a cloth diaper to develop a bonding and increase the baby’s communication with the parents.

-mom-to-be in Maryland

I have never met a baby who liked to sit in his own waste. Not for a moment. I have often stood by helplessly as I saw babies protest having a diaper put on them.  My husband and I used diapers for months before recognizing, in retrospect, all the signals our baby was giving us to keep the diaper off and allow her to relieve herself in peace and with dignity. Soon after, we started using cloth diapers, easily available in India or from dozens of online diaper vendors in the US. Cloth diapers helped us to reduce overall diaper use and transition to EC. Even if you don’t go entirely diaper-free,  simple cloth diapers, changed promptly, are better for baby’s hygiene than a diaper designed to “hold” and thus be left on even after baby has used it. Whatever diaper you use, allow your baby some bare-bottom time every day, and whenever possible for a few minutes after cleaning up one diaper, before putting on the next. Sometimes they take that opportunity to go potty, so keeping a bowl handy, or being close to the bathroom is a good idea.  In the words of anthropologist Meredith Small:  Dare to bare.

Regarding workload, it does take more effort to wash a diaper than to throw it away (and put out the trash).  However, babies in cloth are likely to demand prompt changing, leaving less time to get poop stuck to their bottoms.  So there is some time saved in cleaning.  Secondly, because babies in cloth demand prompt changing, they tend to learn to use the potty earlier – leaving you with no diapers to wash any more.

Disposing diapers hygienically does require some work – in case of a dirty diaper, one must dump any poop into the toilet. Even though the advertisements might claim that they need not be changed every time they get wet, leaving a wet diaper unattended sends confusing messages. Cloth diapers automatically call for changing when wet, and therefore help the child maintain good hygiene standards from the start.

Cleaning cloth diapers: Just keep two buckets in the bathroom, one for wet diapers and one for soiled diapers. You can simply rinse off the poop in the bathroom (breastfed babies’ poop slides off easily). Have 2-3 dozen of these and just wash them in the machine. Wet ones can just be soaked / rinsed in hot water, not necessarily washed with detergent every single time. If you don’t have outdoor space for drying, you can set up a drying rack inside or use the dryer.

In the US there is a mind-boggling variety of cloth diapers available, very cute, cuddly and practically irresistible. Here are some photos.  Don’t over-do it though.  Simplicity is the key.

Cloth diapers, especially light-weight cloth diapers pave the way for diaper-free because the baby feels the wetness and demands hygiene assistance (i.e. clean-up) immediately.  There are also cloth diapers with waterproof covers that are useful in a pinch while out and about, but one should not get in the habit of leaving a diaper on after use.

You can also keep a potty available and once you begin to read the signals or understand the timings – for example many babies go right after waking up – you can offer the potty at those times. Soon he will make the connection. You can also use the sink or a big bowl if you don’t have a potty. Even if you take him to potty once a day, that is one less diaper and many fewer minutes he sits in urine or stool.

Popularly known in Western and Westernizing societies as elimination communication, diaper-free hygiene teaches us something about ourselves as well. Read about the experience of Miriam Bialik as well as her initially skeptical husband in Beyond the Sling. My story of going diaper-free appeared in India Together: Decommissioning the diaper.

  1. I love this post. Also, I read Decommissioning the diaper a long time ago and it is still among my most favored articles!


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