SO I got started with cloth diapering because I wanted to save my family big bucks over the course of our baby-years. Then I got hooked because they are ridiculously cute. Then I felt really good about my decision when I learned about all the chemical grossness in disposables, and about all the potential health risks inherent with them.
Now, not everyone's baby will have a reaction to disposable diapers. Some families will use them exclusively for all of their kids and never notice an issue. Some unlucky families will have issues though. And some of them will be pretty bad. I just think that every mom and dad should know what the possible health ramifications are no matter what you choose. An informed parent is a smart parent. Our babies are too precious to stick our heads in the sand.
I can't tell you that my baby never gets rashes now that she is exclusively cloth diapered. She has sensitive skin like her momma, and that means a red tushie now and again. The wonderful thing for us though is that she's gotten a lot fewer rashes since switching to cloth, and the ones that she does get are much milder. She got some pretty nasty rashes in the first month of her little life, and I just felt so horrible for her! I feel a lot better knowing that she spends a lot fewer days with an irritated bum now that she's in cloth. Any time you expose your baby's bottom to wetness there is a possibility for rashes to occur. That is why, with either cloth or disposables, it is so important to change their diapers as soon as you know they've done their business.
The thing I like about cloth is that, even with stay dry options, you know as a mom that your baby will need to be changed often in order to keep them comfortable. With disposables, it's easy to put off diaper changes because they can soak up so much urine. In fact, by some accounts, disposable diapers can soak up almost 800 times their weight. This let me slack off on my diaper-changing duties a few times, and I know I'm not the only one. The problem is that while baby may feel dry, they are still sitting in their own urine, not to mention the chemicals that are absorbing them. It's not good for their sensitive skin.
The chemical that allows a diaper to soak up so much urine is called Sodium Polyacrylate. You know those little gel-like crystals that you sometime see on your baby's behind when you change them? That's Sodium Polyacrylate. This chemical is thought to be part of the cause of skin irritation and respiratory problems in babies. In fact, this same chemical was taken out of tampons because it was causing Toxic Shock Syndrome. We don't really know what kind of long term effects this chemical may have because it hasn't been used for very long in diapers. The thing is that your baby's skin, like our adult skin, absorbs some of whatever chemical substance that comes into contact with it, especially for long periods of time. I personally don't feel comfortable letting this potentially toxic chemical sit against my baby's skin for a few years. Not only that, but since it doesn't always stay in the diaper, it freaks me out that these little gel crystals could be making their way into my little girl's lady parts. Yikes.
Most diapers, usually with the exception of "green" disposables, are bleached with chlorine to make them that nice white color. The problem with this is that it creates a chemical byproduct known as dioxins. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has listed dioxins as a highly carcinogenic chemical. It is extremely toxic. The World Health Organization has stated that exposure to dioxins can cause skin irritations and reactions, impairments to the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, altered liver function, and impairments to reproductive functions. All I can say about that is, why in the world are companies still bleaching their diapers? And why aren't they made to post a warning on their packaging like cigarette companies since their product contains cancer-causing chemicals?
Another thing to think about if you a diapering a little boy is that there is some evidence that disposable diapers can adversely affect male reproductive health. Disposable diapers trap more heat in them than breathable cloth diapers, and with little boys this heat can contribute to higher scrotal temperatures. Doctors believe that this can have a lasting affect on male sperm count and the ability to reproduce. There is nothing conclusive yet on this subject, but it has been raised as a concern amongst some pediatricians and others in the medical field. Definitely something to think about.
There are a lot more chemicals and potential side affects than the ones I've listed here, but I don't want this post to be just a scare tactic. I really want to be clear that I believe every parent should be aware of the potential risks and complications with both cloth and disposable diapering. Personally, when I weighed them out I decided cloth was a safer and healthier way to go for my baby. She still gets the occasional red bum, but nothing like when she was in disposables for a month. I also feel good about keeping her skin away from all of those gross chemicals. She'll be exposed to chemicals her entire life. I'm not naive enough to think that I can protect her from all chemicals all the time. I do, however, want to protect her from as much chemical exposure as I can. Choosing cloth is one way that I can do that, and I feel really good about it.