The Village: Building strong families & communities

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Why Should Black Parents Cloth Diaper?

None of the women I grew up with, family or friends, used cloth diapers. In contrast, baby showers were exploding with Pampers and Huggies disposable diapers, matching wipes, diaper cakes, diaper pails, diaper bags, diaper rash cream, and talcum powder. Childbirth classes consisted of learning how to fit the diaper on a doll and how to treat a diaper rash. Basically, disposable diapers and their inevitable problems were a given part of motherhood.     

As a black mother of three, (7, 5, and 5 months) I have had three opportunities to cloth diaper and I seriously tried each time. Only this last time have I been successful at maintaining my cloth diapering crusade and it led me to reflect on (1) my motivation for cloth diapering, (2) my life circumstances which allow me to do it now but made it difficult to do before, and (3) the feasibility of making cloth diapering the given choice for both new and experienced black parents.

This is the first of a three-part blog post analyzing the underuse of cloth diapers and the overuse of disposable diapers by black parents. Hopefully this will begin the process of taking back control of our parenting choices.

  1.       Why did I want to cloth diaper each of my children?

When I became pregnant with my daughter I wanted to protect her natural purity. I felt that her skin was too precious to expose to plastic and chemicals. I had not done a lot of research but I knew that cotton was better than perfumed super absorbent chemical balls. Unfortunately, I stopped using cloth diapers after a couple of weeks when my hands started blistering over from wringing out the hand washed cloth prefolds (I did not have a washer and dryer at home). But it turns out that I was on to something because after I switched to disposables she got the worst diaper rashes and the only solution was to keep clean cotton cloth diapers under her butt for a few days. Desitin, A+D, and Butt Paste tubes lined the tables and counters but nothing relieved her pain better than cool water, air, and cotton. I started out wanting to protect my baby girl from the harsh world but the struggle of handwashing got the better of me. She wore disposable diapers and suffered serious bouts of diaper rash several times a year until she potty trained at 3.

       When I became pregnant again, this time with my son, I knew from the start I wanted to cloth diaper. I quickly remembered the torture of hand washing but I rejoiced because I lived in a place with a washer and dryer! Problem solved right? Wrong! I could wash them if I could only afford to buy them. The cheapest choices were $15 on average per diaper! I had learned from my experience with my first that using prefolds (a rectangular piece of cotton several layers thick in the middle) was an at home endeavor. They are meant to be changed, not to be worn. Babies pee every 45-60 minutes and prefolds do not protect their clothes, your clothes, the bed, the couch, or any other surface they sit or lay on. This time around I wanted the more complete cloth diaper system – covers with inserts, all-in-ones, and the like. But I just could not justify the expense as a single mother of two, working full time, on a fast food paycheck. I never bought a single cloth diaper and my son wore disposable diapers, rashes and all, until he potty trained at 3 1/2.

       The third time around I was more committed than ever to successfully cloth diapering my newest son. I scoured the internet for information on styles of cloth diapers, washing techniques, fastening options, cost-effective options, etc. I also learned more about the environmental costs of using disposables. One disposable diaper takes hundreds of years to decompose. One baby goes through 8-12 per day for 2-3 years. That’s tens of thousands of years of decomposition required to eliminate one baby’s pee and poop meanwhile the landfills overflow and add to global warming. I learned that the chemicals in the diapers that make them smell good and the ones that increase absorbency were contributing to the diaper rashes my older two experienced. The other factor was the fact that disposables use airtight plastic to prevent leaks but which exacerbated the problem. I was also struck by the reality that in most of the world babies aren’t subjected to full time diapering at all. In fact, babies are often taught to pee and poop on demand!

This leads me to the strongest reason for cloth diapering: black parents have been duped into believing that we have one choice and that’s disposable diapers no matter the economic, social, health or environmental costs and this just isn’t the case. We could choose to use no diapers, cloth diapers, or disposables. Or we could use a combination of the 3! This lack of choice is based on myths, misconceptions, and misunderstandings about the ease/difficulty, convenience/inconvenience, and expense/value of cloth diapering. Not every family looks the same and operates in the same way so the reasons for and methods of diapering babies will vary quite a bit. However, variation among families is healthier for us than a monolithic approach to parenting dictated not by our culture, or what is best for us or our babies, but by corporate CEO’s and Wall Street.

In Part 2 of this series I will explore in more detail the life circumstances which helped or hindered my desire and ability to cloth diaper my kids. Part 3 will explore ways of overcoming the barriers to cloth diapering which will give more Black parents the freedom to choose this parenting option.

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