by Margaret Murray
Betsy Larsen succeeded in what many mothers never dare to do. She bucked the trend of using disposable diapers when she opted for the controversial cloth.
Disposable diapers such as Pampers and Huggies have been the go-to choice for mothers for decades, and today around 90% of babies in the US are in disposables. Though Larsen did use Pampers for her first child Carter, now eight, she made the switch to cloth four years ago when her second son, Evan, was born. And she wasn’t the only one resisting the disposable trend.
“By the time I had Evan, I developed a group of friends using cloth so I had a lot more support and resources” Larsen, a Wallingford resident, says.
Larsen’s decision to go with cloth diapers was primarily for the environmental benefits. “I always felt really bad about using disposables with Carter. My husband and I are committed environmentalists and got a yucky feeling every time we threw away diapers.”
However, Pampers and Huggies do have their up-sides. When it comes to traveling, disposables are much more convenient. “You have to be a little more prepared and plan ahead with cloth.” states Larsen. Disposables are also preferred by parents for their softness and lower up-front cost.
The cost of cloth versus disposables is just one myth that Larsen helped debunk. “They really are more cost effective” she says of her Mother-ease cloth diapers. Larsen’s brand of diapers sells for an average of $12.95 each, whereas a 31 pack of Pampers Cruisers from Target is only $9.99.
Yet this up-front cost is misleading in the long-run. With babies in diapers two to three years, they can go through 7,000-10,000 diapers changes costing parents $2,500-$3,500 total. On the other hand, Larsen, whose diapers could be folded to fit Evan from newborn to toilet-trained, and her fellow cloth users tend to spend as little as $300-$400 while their children are in diapers. Cloth can also be used for more than one child, doubling the savings. “Cloth diapers were more of an investment at first, but I never had to buy more!”
Another myth Larsen helped straighten out is that cloth diapers do not work as well as disposable. “Disposable diapers have blow-outs that are a mess and require a whole-clothing change. But in two years of using cloth Evan never had a blow-out” Larsen claims.
“People want to think that disposables are easier and cleaner, but they’re not.” Larsen says, speaking from experience. “Cloth really is better for babies’ skin – there was no diaper rash or yeast rash.”
Though Larsen raves about the benefits of going against the disposable norm, she acknowledges that there are downsides to cloth as well. “Figuring out a good method for washing them was the biggest challenge” Larsen says. “Since they’re cotton you have to avoid harsh detergents with agents or softeners. And the covers can’t be machine-washed too often or they wear out. The whole process was a learning curve for me.” Though Larsen stayed at home while Evan was young, she knows that many daycare services do not use cloth diapers, which is a main issue for working mothers.
But one Swarthmore mom found a happy medium between cloth a disposable that was perfect for her busier schedule. Melissa Zerserson used Nature Baby diapers with her son Declan, now four, while working part time as an emergency medical physician. “Nature Baby diapers claim to be biodegradable. They’re a bit more expensive than Pampers, but they’re just as absorbent and convenient. I believed that if they really were biodegradable it was worth the price.” Zeserson says. Though Zeserson’s sister-in-law used cloth, she thought they’d be too time intensive. “You have a lot going on with a newborn at home” she notes. As a working mom, Zeserson found an in-between diaper that worked perfectly for her; it’s disposable yet declares to degrade in a landfill. For Zeserson, this claim was worth it, but she could never be positive if Declan’s diapers were truly biodegradable.
But for Larsen, bucking the trend and using cloth was just another way to go green and know she was making a healthy choice for the planet. “Though they take a little more time and effort at first, I found them to be easy and better for my kids.”
Margaret Murray is a rising senior at Strath Haven High School.
Profiles in Green is a continuing series featuring innovative environmentalists in our community.