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Third Trimester

Q&A: Cloth Diapers Vs. Disposable?

Cloth or disposable diapers? How do they compare as far as health and comfort, price, convenience and the environment?

These days, there’s not much difference. (Cloth diapers have come a long, long, way…) Here’s how they stack up:

Health and Comfort: No huge disparity, as long as you change baby’s diaper when it’s full (more often with cloth). Leaving on a soiled diaper increases risk of diaper rash, and isn’t too pleasant for baby. Your baby might prefer the softer feel of cloth diapers. Disposable diapers are more breathable, but their moisturizing, absorbent chemicals irritate some babies.

Convenience: Forget the complicated folds and scary pins your mom had to deal with. Cloth diapers now come with Velcro or snap closures, shapes fitted to baby, waterproof bands around the waist and legs, and removable linings, making the cloth change just as quick and easy as the disposable. Cloth diapers aren’t as absorbent, though, so you’ll have to change them more often.

Price: Disposables will set you back about the same amount as cloth diaper laundering services — roughly $2,000 to $2,500 over three years. Wash the diapers yourself, and you’ll pay about $800 to $1,100. For future kids, laundering hand-me-down diapers will cost about $400.

Environment: Not as clear cut as you might think. Yes, disposables use resources like trees and plastics during manufacturing, then collect in landfills (most are 40% biodegradable). But, consider the process of washing cloth diapers — clean water and energy are used up, and nothing but dirty water is produced.

**For daycare or travel, disposables are the clear winner. Studies show they reduce the risk of infection when used in a group setting — in fact, many daycares don’t allow cloth. When traveling, cloth are simply too inconvenient… unless you’re into carting around soiled diapers and madly searching for laundry machines at every stop.