Babies do a lot of pooping. In fact, the average baby goes through 6-8 diapers a day. Unless you practice elimination communication, your baby will use between 6,500–10,000 diapers before potty training around 30 months old.
It’s hard to imagine life without disposable diapers. After becoming widely available in the late 1960s and early 1970s, disposables are now the norm in much of the world – and for good reason. Though they raise complicated environmental issues, there’s no denying that throwaway nappies are a major convenience for many parents.
Disposables are so ever-present, in fact, that few wonder what they’re made of. But it’s a reasonable question for a product that spends so many hours in direct contact with your child’s most sensitive areas. What’s really in disposable diapers, and is there any chance that these materials could harm your baby?
Dangerous Contents of Diapers:
Most babies wear diapers nearly 24 hours a day, and those diapers are in constant contact with both skin and mucus membranes. This means that any chemicals in diapers are likely to wind up in your baby’s system if he or she wears disposable diapers. Many parents are surprised to learn the amount of chemicals in disposable diapers that can wind up in your child’s system.
Dioxins – Many baby diapers are bleached with chlorine, resulting in remaining traces of dioxins. According to the World Health Organization, dioxins are “persistent environmental pollutants” that can cause an array of health problems including developmental delays, damaged immunity, hormone interference, and certain cancers. Even if dioxins don’t wind up in the diapers after bleaching, they do wind up in the water and thus, the food supply, creating an environmental health problem from the manufacture of diapers.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – Many disposable diapers release VOCs such as ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene. According to the EPA, some VOCs are carcinogens. Others can cause neurological problems, eye irritation, and decreased immunity.
Sodium Polyacrylate (SAP) –
One of the dangers of disposable diapers is that they all contain something called Sodium Polyacrylate. Even the “eco-friendly” diapers contain this chemical, too. This is the chemical added to the inner pad of a disposable that makes it super-absorbent.
When the powder gets wet, it turns into a gel that:
- Can absorb up to 100 times its weight in water.
- Can stick to baby’s genitals, causing allergic reactions.
- Can cause severe skin irritation, oozing blood from perineum and scrotal tissues, fever, vomiting and staph infections in babies.
- Was banned from tampons in 1985 because of its link to Toxic Shock Syndrome.
- When injected into rats, has caused hemorrhage, cardiovascular failure and death.
- Has killed children after ingesting as little as 5 grams of it.
Diapers are Disaster to the Environment:
Many parents feel the convenience associated with disposable diapers mitigates the negative environmental effects the diapers have. Dioxins are one of the unfortunate side effects of diapering with bleached disposable diapers. The other environmental issue is their lake of quick biodegradability. Disposable diapers wind up in landfills and won’t break down for about 500 years. Likewise, because the diapers contain human waste, they may contain viruses and bacteria that can seep into the groundwater.
Health Hazards for your Baby:
Even if sodium polyacrylate was completely safe (and there is some debate about this), the super-absorbent qualities of disposable diapers are not really the blessing they seem to be.
Super-absorbent disposables can do three things:
- Facilitate less diaper changing from parents, which leads to rashes because of exposure to the super-absorbent chemicals, bacteria, and ammonia from accumulated urine in the diaper.
- Reduce air circulation and pull natural moisture (not just urine) our of your baby’s skin—which can cause irritation.
- Raise the temperature of a baby boy’s scrotum far above body temperature, to the point that it can stop his testicles from developing normally, according to a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
What do pediatricians say?
In general, pediatricians and experts say that disposable diapers do what they’re supposed to: protect babies’ skin without much mess, hassle, or reason for worry.
“We see a lot less diaper rash than we used to,” says Ilona Frieden, director of pediatric dermatology at UC San Francisco’s Children’s Hospital. Because modern disposables absorb large amounts of moisture – a key ingredient in most diaper rashes – diaper rash outbreaks tend to be less common and less severe, she says.
Opt for Healthy Alternatives:
With so many issues surrounding conventional disposable diapers, what’s a parent to do? Here are some great alternatives.
1. Cloth Diapers: Today, as they were decades ago, cloth diapers remain the environmental gold standard in diapers. These diapers have more than 100-200 uses before they are relegated to the rag bin. Parents can buy several sets of washable waterproof diaper covers and just change the diaper inserts unless more cleanup is needed. With the easy closure diaper covers, there’s no need to worry about pins, and diapers go on quickly. Opt for unbleached, organic cotton.
2. Diaper Service: Disposable diapers are quite expensive. In fact, the Real Diaper Industry Association estimates single use disposable diapers costs more than twice what a diaper service will cost. Diaper services deliver clean cloth diapers weekly or monthly, removing used diapers and cleaning them for redelivery. Diaper services are a great way to provide a baby with environmentally friendly cloth diapers with minimal work for mom and dad.
3. gPants and gDiapers: gDiapers makes cute, colorful gPants, which are environmentally friendly diaper covers that contain biodegradable, compostable, flushable, plastic-free inserts. The diapers are also dioxin-free and chlorine-free.
4. Flushable diaper liners: Parents can also purchase soft, flushable diaper liners to line cloth diapers, making clean up much easier. When the baby soils the diaper, remove the liner and flush it down the toilet.
5. Chlorine-free disposable diapers: Sometimes parents do need to use disposable diapers. While this should only be a sometimes option instead of every day use, there are environmentally friendly, biodegradable, chlorine free diapers. Brands to try include Bambo, Nature Babycare, and Tushies.