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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Nappy Confusion

My take on cloth nappies vs disposable nappies

There is an endless debate between tree huggers and earth lovers and disposable nappy users and manufacturers on the benefits and otherwise of cloth nappies and disposables. Being a self proclaimed tree hugger I campaign for cloth nappies and shorts for kids any day. On a regular basis I use cloth, sometimes the nappy pad, but when I am going out, I swear by the disposables.
Since I use cotton shorts the entire day nowadays and used to use cloth nappies when they were younger, I had the practice of taking them to the washbasin or their potty chair and making them pee very often- as soon as they get up from sleep, before taking bath, before making them sleep, before putting a diaper, sometimes if they wake up in the middle of the night, every 45 minutes- 1 hour during the day, when they are playing. I feel it is comfortable for the baby also to pee comfortably rather than tied in a nappy. Also, after breakfast and after evening snacks I make them sit on the potty for the big job. According to me, when they pass it in their diaper/ nappy they do not do a thorough job.
At night I use the nappy pad so that the wetness does not spread to their clothes or the bed and they stay dry for some part of the night.

In this post, I offer my opinion on the good and the bad side of both kinds

Cloth Nappy

Comfort-Cool cottons / terry cloth used for cloth nappies is good for the skin as long as the baby is not left in the wet nappy for a long time. The frequent changing and may be washing/ wet wiping at every nappy change helps in airing the skin too. A wet nappy is extremely uncomfortable for the baby and the wetness/ poop tends to leak out creating a messy and embarrassing situation. So what if they are babies? They do have their self respect. Since it is changed more often it may be less responsible for rashes or skin infection. Cotton shorts or a cloth diaper is much more comfortable any day.

Convenience- Extremely inconvenient when outside. May need to carry the soiled ones back home in a separate bag or anyway you might throw it away and that adds to the garbage. Cleaning them is a lot of hard work and time taking. And then one has to dry them and fold them back and keep them within easy reach for the day’s use.

Cost- Low or no cost. Many people use old duppattas, saris for making cloth nappies. Best of waste. They are recyclable and can be used atleast for 6 – 8 months. Some people also invest in the washable foam & plastic nappy wraps that holds the cloth nappy and does not allow the wetness to leak out. Some people iron nappies and therefore there is electricity cost added.

Environment- In terms of not creating landfills, this is a good one. But one does waste a lot of water in washing soiled nappies and pumps in a lot of detergents into the earth. Better to invest in energy saving washing machines which uses far lesser water than the standard ones. Eco friendly detergents could be another answer. And offcourse club the washing. Important to train the maid/ child care person in this. And since cloth diaper tends to leak, the bed gets wet and adds to the wash load.

Aesthetics- Low on the aesthetics score. Especially while going out, the look of the dress is spoiled by the cloth diaper. Take a lot of space in the cupboard. Soiled nappies in the bathroom are not a grand sight and neither a good one for the senses.


Comfort-The latest ones are getting baby skin friendly. There are diapers with wetness indicators to alert the parents too. The discomfort factor with the wetness in a diaper is less. But the problem comes when the diaper is left overnight or beyond 4-5 hours and one tends to become lax and does not frequently check the diaper for soiling. The baby may be left in the soiled / wet diaper for a long time causing rashes/ skin infection/ fungal infection. And my famous thought- may feel like wearing a sanitary napkin all while.

Convenience- Scores highest on convenience. Use and throw, no need to worry about washing, drying, ironing. Space saving. Tightly packed in the pack it comes in. Does not spoil the chair, does not wet/ spoil the bed. A blessing when you are outside. Easy to carry spares.

Cost- Expensive especially in India. Atleast Rs 10 per piece. Minimum 5 diapers daily if there is no poop done in a newly changed diaper is Rs 50 per day and therefore Rs 1500 per month. One needs to be prepared for the expense. Not affordable to someone below the consuming class/ middle class. The nappy pad costs Rs 5 per piece and tends to be more economical but cannot be conveniently used inside shorts. If one can get the diapers from abroad during their trips, it may cost as less as Rs 8/ I believe Naidu Hall has their own brand of diapers which is Rs 8-9 per piece and available in the T Nagar Branch. Some statistics-

  • A baby will use around 5,000 nappies over their nappy-wearing life. That produces a mountain of waste equivalent to 130 black bin-bags full.
  • Nearly 8 million nappies are thrown away every day in the UK; that's 3 billion a year.
  • More disposable nappies are found in UK household waste than anything else. It is thought the plastics in disposable nappies could take hundreds of years to decompose.

    Environment- Bad for the earth. The 8 million nappies that are thrown away each day, contribute to about 4% if the UK's total waste. We are running out of room in landfill sites and as the plastic used in disposable nappies may take up to 500 years to degrade, the impact this 'convenience' product has on the environment is questionable.
    The long term impact of chemicals used in nappy production has not been studied.
    - Disposable nappies contribute an average 2.4% of household waste which equates to around 0.1% of total landfilled waste. Paper and card contribute 17% to household waste and garden waste contributes a further 15%. Household waste is a fraction of all waste which is landfilled in the UK.
    - Manufacturers have decreased the overall weight of disposable nappies by around 40%. Technology ensures the continued improvement of the overall environmental profile of disposable nappies.
    -Disposable nappies are compatible with all prevalent forms of waste management.\
    Biodegradable diapers may be the answer. And may make the tree huggers happy.

    Aesthetics- High on aesthetics score. Does not spoil the look of a good attire.

    Training- A baby may get used to passing urine only in the safety and comfort of a diaper. A friend mentioned that a child she knew used to poop only in his diaper and he refused to use the potty for a very long time. Trainer pants are extremely convenient for potty training and for older children when traveling and one does not have access to a clean bathroom- especially for girls.

As parents it is left to us to decide what we wish to use without feeling guilty either way as the impact of both on environment, wallet, convenience, comfort in total is more or less the same. Depends on what is the key to one as parents, is it comfort, convenience, cost, water or landfill.

To me the prime deciding factor is comfort for the baby. I rather leave them in shorts and let them run around comfortably than tie them in either diaper or cloth nappy which they try to remove nowadays. But at night, they may wet themselves or the bed and that is very annoying for them. Therefore I use a nappy pad on the cloth diaper or sometimes the diaper.


Artnavy said...

...... and therefore Rs 1500 per day........ u mean month

IN INDIA- largely cloth nappies are very handy given the weather
during the monsoon they can be a bother in terms of drying

and yes my take on this for Anushka- i use cloth nappies/ cotton panties during the day and only PAMPERS during outings and for the night

both need to be changed regularly in any case

immediate washing of soiled nappies is a must- followed by a wash in the machine once again

a bit of baby lotion on their bottom before using diapers or nappies helps prevent chapping/ rash

last trip I ran out of pampers & had to use wipro baby diapers and Anush found it very acceptable!!

Artnavy said...

wow that looks like a mini post

Hip Grandma said...

That was useful information.Tho' expensive diapers are a boon when babies are taken out.But using cloth nappies makes mothers 'potty train' their children earlier than their american counterparts who are on diapers for as long as 3-4 years.

mommyof2 said...

"To me the prime deciding factor is comfort for the baby. I rather leave them in shorts and let them run around comfortably than tie them in either diaper or cloth nappy"

But incase of the accident its hard to clear the spots & stink out of the carpet. So for me the choice is diaper until she is ready.. :-)

Anonymous said...

First of all, I can't believe you are still using the word "nappy" after all that Imus nonsense. Or, may be you don't follow American useless news.

On to the diaper issue.

I want to put this in perspective for American readers. We mostly used cloth-diapers for our son. We used disposables when we went out and sometimes in the nights. We used a diaper service. They come every week and pick up the soiled cloth diapers, wash them and return then next week. Cloth diapers are only slightly inconvenient at home.

We attribute the following two to cloth diapers (some studies prove it too):
1. He never got a diaper rash
2. He is completely potty trained by the time he is 25 months old.

Unknown said...

came by this post on desicritics.. glad I did as i enjoyed all the others too..
disposable nappies are a nightmare for the environenment though so convenient..
in water starved delhi they have even permeated the slums and are choking the overflowing drains
not to speak of the nappy rashes and other related problems
my girls grew up when we only had cotton ones..

Sunita said...

I think a good mix of both(cloth & diapers) is absolutely required. During the day Joyce is in cotton panties, its changed when its soiled and that is like 8-10 times a day. When we are really tired & need a break we use a nappy pad for a few hours to save us the wiping, washing, drying saga for a little while. At night, she is genrally in nappy pads but there are days when we leave her with her in cotton panties and change them once or twice once we find it soiled. Potty training yet to happen. Good informative read.

the mad momma said...

oh yes.. i only used cloth nappies and now cotton undies and shorts for the Brat...he is pretty much potty trained but we use diapers at night and for outings...

the mad momma said...

oh yes.. i only used cloth nappies and now cotton undies and shorts for the Brat...he is pretty much potty trained but we use diapers at night and for outings...

Rohini said...

Agree with most of the above comments above, definitely nappies at home and diapers when out of home. But if I didn't have either a maid to wash them or a diaper service, I would have switched faster than you can sayb 'Diaper Genie'

Anonymous said...

my babies are way past diaper age - but in my experience, a good mix of both cotton and disposables works well with most of the families :-)

By Deepa and Supriya said...

Here, cloth nappies was not even an was diapers all the way in our problems there :)

Fuzzylogic said...

This is such a great post Itchy. I agree on all the points. I did the cloth diapers thing for few months when I had a little help around with mum who came down here but soon enough it got harder. We did want to stick it out but I guess we ended up using the disposables ultimately. But Ina never developed any diaper rash whatsover anytime till now except when she had diarrhoea. Though I feel extremely guilty about the environment part I am now so dependent on the disposables. But perhaps this will motivate me again to try to balance the two:)

Still Searching said...

I guess I'll use this info when I have a baby! Cool..

Poppins said...

I am one of those iresponsible ecologically challenged women who uses disposables. At home it's barenaked bottoms, for outings it's disposables. Sleeptime too.

There I said it ! * runs for cover * :-)

Has to be me said... u said v can meet up....mail me on

Anonymous said...

ITW, I read this post @ Indianmommies quite a while back. Very well written. Taking twokids to the bathroom every hour? You do that? Wow!

Avni said...

I used cloth diapers with all my kids but they have changed much over the years. With my last two I had the convenience of using modern cloth diapers like bumGenius which kept my baby dry. I was really happy with these diapers but I had to special order them from the US. I'm so glad to find that they are now available in India directly and I have bought a few from