Why Cloth Diapers Are Better for Health
Photo by @isabelplett
Are you considering getting cloth diapers and wondering where the benefits lie? In this article, I will clearly demonstrate the health disadvantages associated with disposable diapers. Likewise, you will learn about the health benefits that cloth diapers can provide for your baby.
Here's what you'll find in this article:
- What makes cloth diapers special?
- Benefits of cloth diapers: Skin-friendly, promoting early potty training, enhancing mental health, and supporting long-term healthy development
- Health disadvantages of disposable diapers: can cause diaper rash, may be the cause of various diseases, chemicals from disposable diapers are in our environment
- Eco-diapers are no better than traditional disposable diapers
What Makes Cloth Diapers Special?
Disposable diapers are predominantly made from plastic and a chemical absorbent core. You can read more about what exactly is in disposable diapers and how much more sustainable cloth diapers really are here.
In contrast, cloth diapers are made from natural materials like cotton, wool, or hemp. They can be washed and reused. There are various cloth diaper systems. If you want to learn more about them, check out this article from us.
With Judes, we have developed a cloth diaper that is as easy to use as disposable diapers. Many of our parents even say they are easier to use in everyday life.
Photo by @isabelplett
Benefits of Cloth Diapers
How do Judes cloth diapers prevent diaper rash? I'll mention the most obvious reason first: Judes contain no chemicals. Therefore, they also do not cause any unwanted skin reactions.
Cloth diapers are breathable. At Judes, we use organic cotton for our inner diapers. It is not only absorbent and soft but also super breathable (see here). The air circulation allows your baby's skin to regenerate itself and eliminates the need for unnecessary creams or ointments.
Important: Diaper rash can also be caused by the introduction of solid foods, for example. Thus, a cloth diaper is not a guarantee for a healthy baby bottom.
Judes Cloth Diapers are Exceptionally Breathable
Judes' innovative, super-thin Twill allows the diaper to breathe and protects the delicate baby skin. We designed Judes to be especially breathable. We achieve this through two technical innovations:
We use organic cotton for the inner diaper, which is especially breathable. We choose a very thin and at the same time extremely tightly woven cotton twill.
This combines multiple benefits: It fits snugly, is highly absorbent, and also breathable. In Europe, we have not found any supplier that uses a comparable twill.
We use at least 10 layers of this cotton twill, which are layered on top of each other. This creates spaces where air can circulate.
When using cloth diapers, we recommend not using ointment for the baby's bottom - it's simply not necessary, as the skin barrier is not compromised. The bottom maintains its natural temperature and thus remains healthy!
Promoting Early Potty Training
A certain sense of wetness is good for your child's development. Your baby receives a very natural bio-feedback: It directly feels what happens when it wets the diaper. Through this immediate sequence of action and result, even a small child can recognize this "if-then" connection and thus gain a (subconscious) understanding of it. This learning effect is missing when diapering with disposable diapers: The disposables deceive the child into always feeling dry, thereby preventing this important basic experience.
This is why children who use cloth diapers are diaper-free much earlier than those who use disposable ones, as you can learn here.
Cloth Diapers Allow Perception of Natural Bio-Feedback
When a child realizes that it has wet the diaper (by receiving the natural biological feedback that the diaper is wet), it can communicate this. The parents or caregivers can then respond: This is "Responsive Parenting." The child learns that its core, personal needs are addressed when it signals them. This helps your child develop self-confidence and strengthens their autonomy. More on this shortly.
By the way: Babies show signs when they need to "go" from an early age. If you respond to these signals from the beginning, your child will not lose this ability. The best response is to hold your child over the potty at regular intervals (more on this later).This piece of content does not contain any text to translate. If this is an oversight, please provide the correct content for translation. Otherwise, there is nothing to translate from the given content.
A Wet Diaper is Not as Uncomfortable as You Might Think
For your baby, a wet diaper does not feel as uncomfortable on the skin as you might think. That's because as long as the baby wears the diaper, it retains body temperature; even when moist. As soon as you take off the diaper, it cools down and therefore feels unpleasantly wet. A damp Judes diaper thus initially poses no problem for delicate baby skin!
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Cloth Diapers Can Strengthen Your Child's Mental Health
I wrote about natural bio-feedback above. Unlike disposable diapers, cloth diapers allow your child to perceive this feedback. Therefore, children who are diapered with cloth diapers gain a better sense of their body. But that's not all.
The child feels the wet diaper and communicates this. Now, the child's signals are heeded and the diaper is changed. In this way, the child is supported in its development with attachment-oriented care. Children learn that they can influence their environment and become more independent. This independence of the child also leads to greater self-confidence.
Responsive Parenting - Confident Children by Attending to Their Needs
According to the meta-study on the impact of attachment, temperament, and parenting on human development, Responsive Parenting involves responding to a child's needs. This teaches the child that the world is not uncontrollable, but rather that there is a response to their own signals. As a result, the child develops a stronger sense of curiosity, self-confidence, and independence - for the rest of their life.
"Wetting the diaper" is one of the most central physical experiences a child has several times a day. The more awareness a child can develop in this regard, the better. This way, the child can respond to it. However, a child can only develop this awareness if they feel something when they wet the diaper (e.g., that it gets wet).
Experiences of Vietnamese Mothers - Babies Potty Trained by 24 Months
That intensive parent-child communication can lead to early potty training was also shown by this study. Here, 47 Vietnamese mothers were interviewed and observed from the birth of their children until they reached 24 months of age. The interviews were then evaluated using qualitative content analysis. Traditionally, the Vietnamese mothers rarely used diapers.
Instead, the mothers reminded their children to eliminate at certain times using a whistling sound. They also frequently checked for signs that the children needed to use the toilet. With this process, all children were using the potty by 9 months old. By the age of 24 months, potty training was complete, and most of the children managed the entire process independently.
According to a study on Natural Parenting, children can control their eliminations at a very early age. Children whose signals are attended to can complete toilet training between the ages of 6 months and 2 years.
Typically, children are dry during the day first, and later at night. It may sound like a one-year-old child could go to the toilet completely on their own. Naturally, that isn't the case. The little ones still need help on their way to the toilet, with undressing, and also with wiping.
The study describes elimination communication as a gentle and respectful way of dealing with one of the baby's basic needs. It is based on teamwork involving mutual trust, intimacy, and continuous communication.
A Brief Explanation of Elimination Communication
More and more parents are seeking alternatives to the commonly used disposable diapers - one form of diaper-free care is elimination communication. The term reveals in a double sense what it's about: You prevent your baby from going in the diaper by holding them over the potty.
This often sounds a bit unusual, as we were brought up quite differently. However, the method is very natural and has been used by indigenous peoples for a long time. In Western culture too, a majority of parents say that their child signals when it needs to go.
How Do I Properly Implement Elimination Communication?
Whether over the toilet, the sink, or the potty - where you practice elimination communication is up to you. Make sure that both the baby and you are comfortable. The key is communication - as is often the case with caregiving.
Here’s what you can pay attention to:
- Particular sounds or words that your baby makes before they need to go
- Your baby's gestures and facial expressions, like eye contact, fussing, stretching, or straining
- Individual times that repeat themselves (e.g., after nursing or sleeping)
Are you both ready? Now give your baby the signal that it can start. Some parents use sounds like “shh” or “pfff”, others blow gently over the baby’s head.
There are various elimination communication positions. Depending on the age and preferences of the baby, one position may be more suited than another. Especially for newborns, a close-holding position is better, so the head and back are well stabilized.
You can start with elimination communication right after birth, as long as you feel fit enough. But joining in later is also possible: we have parents in our community who started elimination communication when their child was eight months old. It is never “too late” to start with this topic.
- A really good video is this one from “artgerecht”. It shows how to start diaper-free life with a newborn.
- Windelwissen.de has a great overview of comfortable and back-friendly positions, which you can find under this link.
Judes Support Elimination Communication
We have intentionally designed Judes so that your baby feels when it gets wet from urinating in the diaper. We could have sewn in a polyester layer – but that would not align with our values. This way, your baby can learn this important connection. Your baby can then signal to you sooner that it needs to go. It has learned what that means.
We are convinced: Judes enables your child to become a confident and happy person.
Health Disadvantages of Disposable Diapers
Below, I will give you reasons why wearing a disposable diaper can be harmful to your baby. A French agency conducted a test and found 38 dangerous chemicals in disposable diapers. For this reason, 21 non-governmental organizations submitted a letter to the European Commission. They demanded the ban of some chemicals and the restriction of chemical use. However, this was rejected by the European Commission.
In short: Disposable diapers contain a lot of chemicals, and this is not going to change anytime soon. As promised, I will now move on to the possible health effects of disposable diapers:
Disposable Diapers Can Cause Diaper Rash
There are two types of diaper dermatitis: There is a rash in the diaper area, known as ammoniacal dermatitis. Diaper thrush, on the other hand, is a fungal infection in the genital area. You can find an in-depth article on diaper dermatitis and what helps against it here.
A baby's diaper rash can have various causes:
- poor/no breathability
- reaction to contained chemicals
- wearing the diaper for too long
Disposable diapers are often not breathable. They are designed to seal everything hermetically: nothing should leak, it should feel dry around the clock, need little changing, and ideally even prevent unpleasant odors with artificial fragrances. All these are artificial factors that prevent the skin from doing its very natural (and evolutionarily tested and optimized!) job.
Diaper Rash Due to Poor Breathability
The impermeable material of disposable diapers inhibits air circulation. As a result, the skin can no longer react naturally to thermoregulation and a warm and moist environment is created, which is perfect for the development of bacteria, as explained by Dr. Corinna Schultheis.
Diaper Rash as a Reaction to Contained Chemicals
How does a disposable diaper keep a baby’s bottom dry? With super absorbents or, in short: with chemicals. Babies’ skin is especially sensitive to external factors. Chemicals can very easily enter your child's body through the genital area, also stated by biologist Katie O’Reilly.
Diaper Rash from Wearing a Wet Diaper Too Long
Advertisements promote the long-lasting dry feel for children. A wet diaper is said to be uncomfortable. The diapers often stay dry for 12 hours. So why change every 2 hours? The advertisement actually encourages infrequent diaper changes. Plus, each diaper costs money. Unfortunately, this often means the baby's bottom is exposed to urine and feces for too long, which can also be a reason for diaper rash, according to Dr. Corinna Schultheis.
In conclusion: The perfectly devised system that the body naturally employs to protect itself and its largest organ, the skin, is prevented from functioning properly.
Disposable Diapers May Contribute to Later Potty Training
You might be wondering: "Why would disposable diapers cause children to be potty trained later?" Well, they don't feel the wetness from the urine because of the absorbent core in the disposable diaper. It sounds good to us, but it's not.
Disposable diapers simulate (artificially!) a constant state of dryness. Thus, your baby cannot develop a sense of its body's reactions. The natural feedback of "feeling the urge to urinate → wet diaper" is missing – and so is the learning success.
Interestingly: The absorbent core in disposable diapers is so effective that it doesn't just soak up your child's urine. It also draws moisture away from your child's skin, which is why many disposable diapers contain some type of cream/panthenol.
Disposable Diapers Prevent Natural Bio-Feedback
Cloth diapers, through the sensation of wetness, provide a natural bio-feedback. However, what happens with disposable diapers is the exact opposite. Disposable diapers are optimized to feel dry for as long as possible. This could be why children who wear disposable diapers often take longer to become diaper-free. As mentioned, according to our study, now one in four children are being diapered with disposables for 4 years or longer.
Enuresis - Bedwetting After Age 5
You may have already heard of enuresis. It refers to bedwetting up to (and sometimes well beyond) the age of 5. Studies increasingly link prolonged wearing of disposable diapers to enuresis. Children are demonstrably slower to become dry when they use disposable diapers.
The rule of thumb that we can derive from this scientific essay on the topic of becoming dry and disposable diapers, as well as the experience of our Judes Parents, thus reads: Those who are constantly dry stay wet for longer!
Disposable Diapers Can Be the Cause of Various Diseases
I've already let you know that the chemicals in disposable diapers can be responsible for diaper rash, among other issues. Unfortunately, those are still the least harmful effects.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children are particularly vulnerable to chemicals. As you now know, disposable diapers contain a lot of chemicals. The French agency ANSES estimates that over 14 million European children might be suffering from potentially very severe, variable, and latent diseases because of wearing disposable diapers, diseases that could affect their quality of life throughout their lives. This includes concerns such as cancer, endocrine disorders (hormone and metabolic diseases), reproductive issues, and diabetes. According to researchers, the effects on children could be irreversible.
The Fertility of Men Can Also Be Affected by Disposable Diapers
The fertility of men can be impacted not just by chemicals in disposable diapers. Poor breathability alone can lead to damage. Studies have found that testicles can quickly overheat in disposable diapers. This in turn leads to developmental disorders of the Sertoli cells, which are important for sperm production.
Photo by @isabelplett
Chemicals from Disposable Diapers are in Our Environment
The ways in which chemicals from diapers get into our environment vary.
If you want to learn more about the chemicals in disposable diapers, read our article on the sustainability of cloth diapers.
Residual Waste is Burned and Then Taken to Landfills
Our residual waste in Germany is stored in landfills and incinerated in waste-to-energy plants. What remains after incineration, along with the substances filtered out during combustion, is hazardous waste and is taken to landfills. Our waste is still present, albeit not in its original form. Toxic substances can leach into our groundwater over time in landfills. Der Spiegel Online reports on this in this video.
Illegal Waste Exports Have Direct Environmental Impact
Germany exports waste. While we legally export only plastic waste, unfortunately, much of German waste is exported illegally. Thus, our disposable diapers, which should properly go into residual waste, cross German borders. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch a video from Weltspiegel here.
Our waste is therefore taken to landfills in non-EU countries. These landfills are not as technically advanced as ours. That is assuming they are proper landfills at all. Most of the time, illegal waste exports are simply dumped in nature. Toxic substances can evaporate or seep easily into the groundwater there. Our waste can directly affect nature, animals, and also humans.
Chemicals Found in Rainwater
There are chemicals known as 'forever chemicals.' They are called Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS for short.
Recently, a research team came to a shocking conclusion: PFAS are now found in rainwater all over the world (regardless of where a sample is taken). The concentration of PFAS in rainwater has become so high that it is classified by our health authorities as hazardous to health (the Spiegel reported on this here).
Eco-Diapers Are No Better Than Traditional Disposable Diapers
Eco-diapers sound pretty good at first, right? That's what I thought too. But honestly, I see no advantage. Instead of petroleum-based plastics, bio-based plastics are often used. I thought that would be a good thing. However, studies show that bio-plastics also contain a lot of chemicals.
Eco-Diapers Contain Hormone-Disrupting Substances
Furthermore, studies have shown that bio-plastics can even affect our hormonal balance more strongly than conventional plastics. Hormone-disrupting substances such as plasticizers are suspected of causing infertility when they are absorbed through the skin into the body.
Also, the absorbent core is still made of chemicals in most cases, just like with other disposable diapers. To make matters worse, eco-diapers also cost significantly more money.
Photo by @isabelplett
Conclusion: Disposable Diapers Can Be Harmful to Health - Cloth Diapers Offer Advantages
Cloth diapers provide health benefits:
- Judes are made from natural materials
- Judes often have a better fit than disposable diapers (thanks to our innovative cotton twill)
Judes are gentle on the skin and can prevent diaper rash
(good breathability, skin can perform its natural functions)
Early potty training thanks to Judes
(natural bio-feedback of the skin)
- Judes can strengthen your child's mental health
Disposable diapers, on the other hand, bring several health disadvantages:
They can cause diaper rash
(poor breathability, reaction to chemicals, wearing for too long)
- They can lead to delayed potty training (enuresis)
According to researchers and NGOs, they can be the cause of various diseases
(cancer, reproductive issues, diabetes, hormone & metabolic diseases)
- They contain chemicals that can be absorbed directly by children or enter our environment
Eco-diapers are mostly made of compostable materials but still contain harmful chemicals. In addition, eco-diapers contain hormone-disrupting substances that can have worse effects than conventional disposable diapers.
Did you like my article?
Do you know more health benefits of cloth diapers or health disadvantages of disposable diapers?
Let me know in the comments.
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