The cloth diapering fad: Eco-friendly, but is it convenient for parents?

Parents and manufacturers weigh in on the pros and cons of using cloth diapers for babies.
The cloth diapering fad: Eco-friendly, but is it convenient for parents?
The cloth diapering fad: Eco-friendly, but is it convenient for parents?
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As more and more women switch to reusable and eco-friendly menstrual cups and cloth pads, a similar movement has been evolving in the babywear segment. Cloth diapers are becoming more popular in the market, albeit slowly, by alerting parents about the negative impact that regular diapers can have on the environment.

Cloth diapers are essentially the age-old idea of using cotton fabric to cover the baby’s bottom. However, these days, cloth diapers have a leak proof layer, plenty of padding, adjustable and fancy buttons and a colourful design on them to make them more appealing for the parents to buy.

These diapers are marketed using the ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘reusable’ tags. Freshly sprung entrepreneurs in the segment have added their creative bit to the product.

“My journey started off when I set up a website which has eco-friendly cloth diapers from different brands. I started it in December 2016. Then I wanted to shift to selling my own brand of diapers and hence started in June 2018. I design the diapers and outsource the manufacturing,” says Dhivya Siddharth, who owns the Kiddiehug brand which sells such diapers.

These diapers are made to fit babies weighing from 4 to 17 kgs and claim to be economical in the long run.

“I personally know parents who have spent Rs 60,000 on diapers alone for their baby. I think it is a wasteful expense especially when the product is use and throw. Cloth diapers work out very well in the long-term economical sense. For example, a child needs six diapers in a day. So assuming the parents have a normal laundry cycle, it is prudent to have three sets of diapers, that is 18 diapers. So with each diaper costing Rs 880, it is a one-time expense of Rs 15,840 for the child, till the child stops using diapers altogether. The same scenario with one-time usable diapers would be Rs 54,750 for 2.5 years. Also, these cloth diapers have good resale value in case the parents think that there is no further use for it,” adds Dhivya.

The manufacturers also claim that these diapers have been certified for their suitability to a baby’s skin by international certifying organisations and are hence totally safe to use on babies as young as one week.

“Our diapers have a waterproof layer, stay dry layer and absorbent layers. These are made of natural fabrics like organic cotton and bamboo cotton. They work overnight and most importantly they have the gentlest elastics that don't leave a mark even when worn overnight,” says Poornima Kishen, the owner of the cloth diaper brand Kaupina and runs Cloth Diaper Store.

The pros and cons

However, not all parents are enthusiastic about the idea.

While one side bats for the ecological benefit of cloth diapers, the other side is concerned with the hassle of washing and maintaining the diapers. The latter set would rather opt for the lesser fancy plain clothes for their babies than bother with the multi-layered cloth diapers.

Poornima, a new mother, says that she prefers to use plain clothes as diaper substitutes for infants mainly because it is safe for the baby’s skin.

“They are also very easy to wash and we can even dispose them if we feel too tired to wash. I would prefer the baby to have normal diapers when we go out, which is rare. Cost factor is huge for me and hence would think a lot before changing to a new idea,” she adds.

Prason Christopher Robin, father to six-year-old girl Anya, says that washing cloth diapers is a tedious task and that there is also the problem of leaks.

“So I would stick to using use and throw ones since the child grows up fast and I need not bother about washing and drying these,” he says.

“I had the advantage of having parents at home so we could use cloth diapers until my son Kavin was 1-year-old. Most people manage kids on their own, so throw away ones are like saviours. A few people believe that throw away diapers are not good for babies and it is totally a myth. They are approved and safe to use. Babies develop diaper rashes and it is quite common but diapers are not the reason. Rashes develop because of the contents in the baby poop,” says Arvind Padmanabhan.

Tabassum Fathima, a mother of two children, has a different take on why she wouldn’t prefer cloth diapers.

“Cloth diapers are good and economical. But there are drawbacks to using them. Most products cannot be used when on the go. You cannot obviously carry a soiled diaper along with you since the stink is very obvious most of the time because most children are fed milk or milk products that give the excreta a very unpleasant odour. Also, most people these days aren't willing to clean the (stored) soiled cloth themselves,” she states.

But there are parents, who have opted to go the extra mile in trying the cloth diapers out.

Bhushavali, a new mother, says that the amount of trash generated due to the baby’s diapers during the first seven days in the hospital, horrified her.

“My girl is 10 months old and I have cloth diapered her since birth. From the day we brought her home she's been cloth diapered. Using cloth diapers have worked out very well. There were certain brands that were a let-down, but those are exceptions. I have a routine that works for me. So laundry isn't an issue at all,” she adds.

Some parents also start trying cloth diapers out from curiosity but then stick to it after knowing the benefits of using them.

“I first started cloth diapering my son three years ago, just out of curiosity, but after a little bit of research and knowing just how good they are, there was no going back. They’re eco friendly and with just a little more laundry to do, they’re way more economical (and cuter) and cause way less harm to the environment,” says Madhumitha Ram, who is actively promotes the message of environment-friendly diapers on social media.

Noting that there are diapers that suit all budgets, she says, “Although disposables may seem like an easier choice with the abundance of availability, cloth surely is way more cost effective in the longer run and a greener choice. I’m using the diapers I used for my son for my daughter now.”

Lack of visibility

The biggest challenge that remains for the owners of cloth diapering companies is gaining more visibility in the market and convincing people about the benefits of their products.

“We are now in the process of bringing out a product that could suit newborn babies. Also, we are trying to list our products in online marketplaces like Amazon and Firstcry. This will give us more visibility,” says Dhivya.

Business owners are also wooing customers using attractive packaging for their consignment and combo deals on their products.

At the end of the day, cloth diapers are just a modern, advanced and more convenient way of going about diapering as the women of previous generations did, as Madhumitha likes to put it.  

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