The United States Consumer Product Stafety Commission states that it has no significant reports of safety concerns or health problems stemming from disposable diaper use. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has no position on whether parents should use cloth diapers vs disposable.
That being said, disposable diapers use absorbent chemicals to lock moisture into the absorbant layers. These chemicals include gel crystals, dioxin and toluene. Although these chemicals are not supposed to be harmful to a baby due to the fact that they are worn and not consumed, some parents worry that the chemicals could be absorbed through the skin just like a medicated patch or cream. These parents would rather not have these chemicals around a baby’s private parts. A few babies also have allergic reactions to these chemicals that lead to eczema.
Additionally, because a diaper is manufactured with a plastic outer layer, it will not breathe well. Some babies develop more frequent diaper rashes because of this.
Disposables are made with a plastic outer liner that does not biodegrade. When you consider that the average child will experience between 5,000 and 7,000 diaper changes until they become potty trained, this is a lot of plastic to be throwing into a landfill.
About a cup of petroleum is used to make the plastic that goes into each diaper, as well. With the price of petroleum and petroleum products going up, consumers can expect to see the cost of disposable diapers rising too.
On the flip side, cloth diapers are not without an environmental impact. Parents who use cloth diapers must wash an additional load of laundry every two days. This can waste valuable resources such as water and create pollution by adding detergents into sewers. However parents can cut the environmental impact of these frequent washings by using organic products such as soap nuts.
Some parents also question whether cloth diapers are environmentally friendly due to the environmental impact that comes from chemicals that farmers use in growing cotton and other fibers. However, there are plenty of organic options including organic cotton and bamboo that are more environmentally friendly.
Some parents switch to cloth just because it is a cheaper alternative than purchasing an endless supply of disposable diapers. Cloth systems require greater initial investment. Parents can expect to spend around $500 for a cloth diaper system. However this is a small amount compared to several thousand dollars that a parent can expect to spend in purchasing disposables over the several years between birth and potty training.
In a direct comparison that includes washing, the cost of cloth diapers vs. disposables is 6 cents per diaper change for cloth compared to 36 cents for disposable. If you have multiple children and re-use your diapers, the cost per diaper for cloth goes down significantly.
Convenience is the primary reason that many parents still use disposable diapers on their children. But the advantages of cloth diapers combined with the convenience of using newer types of cloth give added weight to the choice of cloth diapers vs. disposables.
For more information on different cloth diaper styles, you can read this article.