TACOMA, Wash. -When it comes to diapering baby bottoms, Lakewood, Wash., mom Christine Young has tried it all.

She has laundered diapers at home, sent cloth diapers to be sanitized by a diaper service, purchased and tossed disposables.

At first, washing cloth diapers for Young’s oldest son, now 7, worked well, she says. But by the time he was 2, he was “running out of them.”

There’s no right way, the mother of four insists. You just need to find whatever works for you and your baby. And that can change over time.

“Both have advantages and disadvantages,” says Young, whose youngest child, at 21 months, has worn disposables since birth.

She finds that she’s out and about more with this baby than with her older children – mostly while she drives the older kids to preschool, gymnastics and other activities.

“It’s easier to put on a disposable to go out,” she says.

For Leah Dennis, a Lakewood mother of three kids ranging in age from 1 to 5, the decision to go disposable was “automatic.”

“Everybody I know uses disposables,” she says. Cloth diapers, she says, sound like “way too much work.”

Likewise, Bekah Olson, a Tacoma, Wash., mom to three kids ages 9 months to 7 years, has always used disposables.

“I didn’t know anyone who used cloth diapers,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about it. I can’t keep up with the laundry I have now. Adding all those diapers would be a bit much.”

But cloth diapers are making a comeback among families searching for a more natural lifestyle. Mothering magazine, the Bible of the natural parenting set, has a cloth diaper cover story in its current issue. The story features testimonials from moms, along with a guide to new products that make cloth diapering easier than ever.

Hillary Ryan, a Tacoma mom, is betting her business on the trend.

In January, she launched Wai Baby, a home and online business selling cloth diapers and their accouterments to parents. (The business name, pronounced like the word “way,” derives from a Buddhist greeting of respect.)

“The inspiration for the business is showing respect to the baby and to the planet,” says the mother of a 9-month-old and a 3-year-old. “I really think (the cloth diaper) is the green product for 2008.”

Arguments for and against both kinds of diapers have raged for years.

Parents who choose disposable diapers point to convenience and sanitation in the nursery. They say babies stay dry longer due to modern materials that draw moisture away from the skin, so babies experience less diaper rash. Most point out that they do fewer loads of laundry, which not only saves time but also lowers household water and energy consumption.

Cloth diaper advocates say they are keeping tons of garbage – not to mention human waste that parents fail to remove from disposables – out of landfills. The Real Diaper Association, which supports cloth, points out that disposables can take generations to decompose. It also says disposables contain traces of dioxin from the paper-bleaching process and other potentially harmful substances. Finally, cloth diaper users say that babies who actually feel wet once in a while may potty train earlier.

“When you use cloth, you end up being more in touch with baby’s rhythms,” says Ryan. “They will communicate when they are wet or dirty. You get to know their signals.”

As for the laundry burden, Ryan says that anyone who has a baby notices an increase in laundry, no matter what kind of diapers she uses.

“Depending on how many (cloth) diapers are in your stash, you might need to do laundry every other day, or every three days,” she says. “For me, it’s not a big deal.”

Some parents, like Barbara Kearley of University Place, Wash., start with one kind of diaper, then switch as children grow older.

“I’m an advocate for cloth diapers,” she says. “I used a diaper service to provide clean cloth diapers for each of my three kids. The cost is comparable to disposables, and I feel like it makes less of an impact environmentally.”

She estimates that she pays about $67 a month for a diaper service to launder diapers for her 15-month-old daughter. She also has two older children.

At about 18 months of age, she switched both of them to disposables.

“Once my kids have gotten really mobile and walking, I have a hard time getting the young “uns to stay still long enough to get the cloth diapers on and off,” she says.

LEARN MORE: www.waibaby.com

What’s new in cloth diapers

These are not your mother’s or your grandmother’s diapers.

For starters, “hardly anybody uses pins,” says Hillary Ryan, a Tacoma mom who sells cloth diapering products through her business, Wai Baby.

Instead, there are Snappis, T-shaped pieces of rubber with soft teeth that grip fabric, not baby.

While start-up costs for cloth diapers are steeper, you pay for materials once, and re-use them. And when your child is out of diapers, the soft squares of fabric can be used as household rags.

The basics: Diaper fabrics range from cotton to hemp. Prefolded diapers are rectangles of fabric that can be unfolded and expanded as baby grows. Contoured diapers are shaped like an hourglass, making them easier to put on. Fitted diapers have elastic legs and waists.

Baby wraps: Plastic pants are passé, although many moms still use them. Modern diaper covers come in a variety of waterproof fabrics, many of them made of the same types of materials used in outdoor gear. Some wraps attach with Velcro, others use adjustable snaps.

All-in-ones: These combine an inner diaper and an outer cover that’s attached to the diaper. The all-in-one is secured with Velcro or snaps. The whole thing gets washed after it’s soiled.

Pocket diapers: Outside is waterproof polyurethane, inside is microfleece or other soft material. The two layers are sewn together, with a pocket opening in the back in which you insert a prefolded diaper or special insert that comes with the pocket diaper. The whole thing closes with snaps or Velcro. When baby wets, moisture passes through the inner layer and is absorbed by the insert.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.