Ages & Stages Grow Newborn & Infant Sustainability

Diapering Your Way

Mother with toddler in blue cloth diaper.
Written by Amy Phoenix

There’s a lot of pressure on parents these days. It seems that if we don’t do this parenting thing just right, our kids (and the world as a whole) will suffer, maybe endlessly or at least to their own demise. When we consider the immense pressure we face as stewards to the next generation, it’s important to remember that nothing is really all or nothing, not even cloth diapering.

When my oldest neared her first year of life I was convinced that we’d switch to cloth diapering forevermore. I tossed the disposables aside and jumped both feet into the world of covers, inserts and all-in-ones. The cute cloth companions became a treasured part of our lives (and budget). Sure, we’d use disposables while traveling or other times it felt convenient, but for the most part I was a cloth diaper die hard (although not so hard that I did all wool all of the time, I left that to other moms).

The red rash on my second child’s rear end soon after he was born signaled me to look further into cloth diapering. For some reason, he reacted significantly when wearing them for any length of time, even when he wasn’t wet. Through some soul searching I contacted the woman I bought diapers from, made some detergent changes, stripped the diapers and even bought a handful of different types in case the irritation was due to the materials used. Guilt hung heavily over me as I decided to try disposables again.

No welts, no rash, no nothing. My son didn’t react at all to the supposed evil disposable diapers. I still felt awful. I’d read the articles about how cloth is best and the damage that disposables could do to our babies and our planet. I didn’t want to contribute to that, on any level. I felt stuck. I would put him in cloth during the day for short periods, taking off the cloth diapers to let him get some air and then put him in disposables at night. He remained comfortable and I got some much needed rest. I needed rest.

As I would discuss the issues with other cloth diapering moms they had many solutions. Have you tried stripping the diapers? Maybe it’s the detergent or something completely unrelated. Have you looked into your diet, maybe that’s causing the rash? What about the covers? For a long time I tried the suggestions, to no avail (except more guilt). My son’s response to cloth diapering only ended when he potty trained and was no longer exposed to cloth diapers on a regular basis.Full time cloth diapering isn’t for everyone. Sometimes it’s because of reactions. Other times it may be due to a person’s feelings about elimination (or the products it creates). For some, it may be about working away from the home, child care providers, schedules or the cleaning of cloth. Whatever it is, it is okay to find a way of diapering that you feel good about in your heart and mind.

It took me a while to let go of the cloth diapering mentality I had adopted. Along with it came a bit of a strict adherence to cloth being “best.” While there are certainly benefits to using cloth, what determines “best” for one may not be the same for someone else. Also, if “best” results in more stress than benefit, it may be helpful to consider other options.

As I looked into my other options I noticed first that guilt was holding me back from really pursuing anything other than cloth diapering, so I stuck with it for a while after my third child was born. A close friend showered me with handmade wool covers, a little potty to hold baby over to pee and poop and we learned about the gifts of elimination communication. Instead of relying on diapers all of the time, I learned my daughter’s signals of needing to eliminate and held her over a potty. I was pleasantly amazed that I could reduce our dependence on diapers while honoring my daughter’s ability to communicate about needing to eliminate. It was a clear win-win and we chose to shift from diapers to training pants around eleven months of age. I felt relieved to make the switch and didn’t look back.

As a mom of five, I’ve been through many ups and downs. We’ve moved across the country and back, twice. I’ve single parented for extended periods of time, more than twice. Some of the kids have various skin and food sensitivities. We’ve experienced financial woes, and abundance, and everything in between. Along the way, I’ve worked through some intense squeamishness in relation to bodily products (you know, those that you get to deal with on a regular basis once you become a parent). Dealing with diapering and elimination, while being a necessary part of parenting, could sometimes feel like an inconvenience, until I chose to be real with myself about my values and priorities as a parent.

Now, two more children into the mix (for a total of five), I’ve created a diapering approach that works for our family. At this time, it’s a dash of cloth, with a small side of chlorine-free disposables, and a generous helping of elimination communication along with the sweet overlay of realistic expectations. My way isn’t your way, though, so instead of sounding like another voice in the choir prescribing a certain set of diapering rules, I’d like to leave you with a few things to consider as you create an approach to diapering and elimination that works for you and your family.

Know, and stretch, your limits. If you absolutely do not want to spend money upfront for cloth diapers or wash an extra load of (smelly) laundry every other day, it’s okay to acknowledge these limits. Explore disposable diapers you can feel good about like those that are chlorine-free, made with natural materials and fit into your budget. If you feel like handling poop and pee isn’t your forte, you will be challenged to excel at this as a parent. While we need to know our limits, we can also benefit from stretching them at times. In this case, you might stretch yourself to learn about the digestive processes of the body in more detail while considering that the waste products were once food and drink, and are now simply transformed to exit the body as they are no longer needed. Parenting will challenge us in more ways than this, so it’s a helpful area to practice acceptance since it’s not going anywhere.

Decide your priorities. As you consider your diapering and elimination options, what is really important to you? Is it money, comfort (for baby and you), reducing environmental impact, communicating with your little one about elimination along the way in- stead of when he gets older, or do you just want to get through this stage already? Write down your priorities, let them sit for a few days, come back to them and reorganize as necessary. Do this often if you need to; no one says they have to remain the same forever.

Once you feel like you know what’s at the top of the list, choose an approach that lines up with your values. If you want to honor your child’s ability to communicate the need to eliminate, learn about elimination communication. If comfort is your goal, try a few different types of diapers and see what works best for you and baby. If money is at the top, compare the costs of various options.

Give yourself a break. Regardless of the method you choose, be gentle with yourself wherever you are in your diapering and elimination journey. We live in a world where elimination is looked down upon in some ways. Dealing with it on a daily basis may be a challenge for some. Also, if you want to cloth diaper but it’s not going well or you want to try elimination communication but your family or daycare provider thinks you’re nuts, it’s okay to find a way that you can live with for a while. Talk with a supportive friend or soak in a warm bath. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel about this diapering business; it’s okay to be where you are with your decision making process.

Appreciate working bodies. One of the things that I find really helpful to transform the dominant culture’s view of elimination being nasty is to appreciate that we have working digestive systems. If a child is peeing and pooping, something is magnificently working in his body. This is something to celebrate. If we counter each thought of inconvenience in regards to elimination with a thought of appreciation, we change our feelings about the overall process, and we also remove the shame for our children (which they do not need). So, if you find yourself with anything negative coming up around elimination, try some continual appreciation of your child’s ability to eliminate. It may help.

Know this too shall pass, or we can let our resistance pass. I don’t mean that as a pun, but if it fits and brings a laugh, that works too. While diapering part of our focus with babies and young children, most of them won’t be depending on us for long in these ways.

For children who do need assistance long term, parents are invited to allow their resistance about elimination to pass. In other words, we can make the most of this part of our parenting experience too. Instead of looking at it through a lens of stress, we can choose to allow this to be an invitation to stretch ourselves and connect with our children meaningfully through even the most excretory of experiences – elimination.

About the author

Amy Phoenix