Cloth Diapers Or Disposables? Regular Baby Food Or Organic?

Cloth diapers or disposables? Regular baby food or organic? These issues probably run through your mind often as you prepare to bring your new baby into the world. Believe it or not, it takes some thought -- and a few financial calculations --o figure out what' right for your family budget and for your baby when you'e opting for "environmentally friendly,"organic (pesticide-free) or natural products.
Jennifer Newton Reents

Whether you are in your first trimester or your last, now is the time weigh your options. Of course, you never know: Your baby could be allergic to disposables or, later on, really dislike the organic baby food you purchased by the case over the Internet. Planning helps to set your mind at ease -- but it's smart to have alternatives in mind.

Cloth vs. disposables
Today, cloth diapers are priced competitively if you use a diaper service, though buying a set of diapers and washing them yourself is much cheaper. Many people use disposables for convenience. Others use cloth (typically a cotton or cotton/hemp blend) because they feel it's better for the environment and for their babies.

Mel Williams of Atlanta, Georgia, uses cloth diapers and wipes not only for the environment's sake but also for financial reasons. "I have always been an avid recycler," says the mom of one. "Part of it is cost. Disposables [are about] $50 a month for an average of three years. That's $1,800 per child! I invested in some one-size-fits-all cloth diapers -- they were a bit more expensive than others, and I spent about $600. I intend to use them on all future children. I am saving a huge amount of money!"

Lindsey Osterloh of San Diego agrees that the low cost of cloth diapers is an important factor when you're looking at diapering additional children. "After the initial investment, it is much cheaper in the long run," she says. "A lot of people are put off by cloth diapers like it's a lot of work. We don't even own a washer or dryer. I thought it would be a big pain, but it's no big deal."

The cost differences, however, aren't as significant as you might think. Disposables do indeed cost about $50 per month, estimating five to seven diaper changes per day. (The amount varies with the child's age: Infants need more changes than older babies and toddlers.) The initial one-time investment for cloth diapers, including diaper covers and diaper pail, is about $80, the Ohio State University Extension reports. Home laundry, including depreciation of equipment and washing one load per day, costs about $40 per month. According to the university, commercial diaper services with weekly delivery and pickup of soiled diapers average $10 to $15 per week, or $40 to $60 per month.

Other factors may influence your decision, too. Amy Gault, of Indianapolis, Indiana, started using cloth diapers when her first child was 11 months old. "We thought it might help him potty train earlier," she says, adding that the cost was also a consideration. "In fact, I make my own diapers because we can't really afford to buy the ones I want."

Organic baby food
Whether to use organic (pesticide-free) baby food is a choice that often comes with a little research. Often, organic baby foods cost a little more, but experts and some moms agree: Keeping pesticides out of a baby's diet is best.

"Babies and children need good food because their bodies are developing and growing," says Lizzie Vann, founder of a Great Britain's Baby Organix, and author of the Organic Baby and Toddler Cookbook. "We use fully organic ingredients because young bodies develop very quickly, needing large quantities of food at a time when their eliminative organs -- blood, kidneys and liver -- are not fully able to excrete complex substances. Clearly, it makes sense to give them food that is pure as possible."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), infants and children may be especially sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides for several reasons:

  • Their internal organs are still developing and maturing; in relation to their body weight, infants and children eat and drink more than adults, possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides in food and water.
  • Pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for normal healthy growth.
  • There are "critical periods" in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way an individual's biological system operates.
For these reasons, and as specifically required under the Food Quality Protection Act (1996), the EPA carefully evaluates children's exposure to pesticide residues in and on foods they most commonly eat, i.e., apples and apple juice, orange juice, potatoes, tomatoes, soybean oil, sugar, eggs, pork, chicken and beef.

Even though organic foods cost more, Erin Kirk of Athens, Georgia, says it is worth it. "I feel that the more pure a food is, the healthier it is," she says. "I know I can't shield my daughter from bad food forever, but I hope to give her a healthy start in life."

Dr Peter Degnan of Equinox Health and Healing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a health organization that integrates conventional and alternative medicine, encourages parents to use organic baby food. "Although there are no head-to-head research studies comparing outcomes of organic versus nonorganic foods, it makes good sense to think that a small, rapidly growing and developing body should benefit the most by foods that are not contaminated by pesticides or toxins," he says.

On the other hand, Dr Andy Spooner, pediatrician at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee, says pesticides, antibiotics and food additives serve important purposes. "Remember, one of the reasons foods are exposed to pesticides, additives, antibiotics and 'unnatural' processes is to make them more healthful -- to reduce the risk of diseases like botulism in honey, E.coli in meat, listeria in dairy products, and naturally occurring toxins in just about anything," he says.

Taste is a factor, too. Spooner says, "Organic baby food, in some cases, tastes different. One might find that one's child detests 'regular' green beans, but loves a certain brand of organic beans. But that has less to do with the 'organic-ness' of the food than a baby's personal tastes."

Anita Van Kats of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada isn't so sure about organic foods. "To put only organic foods into your body or your baby's is to become used to this perfect, untouched food," she says. "However, in all reality, not everyone does this, and the daycare you send your child to or the relatives who babysit him/her will not always have organic foods on hand. What happens then? Why not just minimize exposure to preservatives instead?"

Natural remedies and household cleansers
Some parents choose alternative and natural health remedies and household cleansers. Osterloh says she uses all-natural soaps and detergents because they're better for the environment as well as sensitive skin. She also uses alternative health remedies, such as homeopathic teething tablets. "When [the baby] gets bites or rashes, we use calendula oil (known for its pain-relieving properties) instead of diaper cream," she says. "If it doesn't clear his skin up the first time, it will the second." So what led her down this route? Osterloh says she and her husband did a lot of research before their son was born. "We wanted things to be as natural as possible."

Lynn Siprelle, a Portland, Oregon-based homemaking activist and publisher of, says she is of the "if it can't hurt not to use it, don't" school. She says everyone in the household, not just babies, benefits from using natural cleansers. "All those fumes aren't good for anyone," she says. She also notes that natural products steer away from the antibacterial ingredients flooding the marketplace. "Scientists are warning about overuse of anti-bacterial products," she says. "The concern is that continued use will lead to 'superbugs' -- bacteria that resist antimicrobials and antibiotics."

Siprelle says not all natural cleansers are as effective or as strong as regular, chemical cleansers, and they may be more expensive overall. But she points out that some of the best natural cleaners are the least expensive. "Baking soda and plain white vinegar can do 99 percent of the cleaning in your home and are dirt cheap -- even cheaper than chemical cleaners."

Dr Degnan warns that "natural" doesn't necessarily equal "safer." He does say, however, that infants may have less of a sensitivity reaction to natural-based products, and avoidance of chemical-based products may reduce the chance of a toxic reaction. No matter what kind of cleaning products you use, be extra careful in play areas (particularly with carpets and flooring) and when washing toys and baby clothing.

So many choices
Going green doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You can ease into new buying habits, and make decisions over time to meet your changing needs. For example, cloth diapers may be what you use at home, but disposables could be handy when you're out for the day. You might want to make your own baby food when fresh produce is available, and use store-bought brands for additional variety. You can also start experimenting with safer household cleaners on the baby-friendly areas of your home to see how effective you think they are.

The decisions to make when having a baby are many -- so are the available options. Ultimately, you will discover what works best for your family, and what keeps your child healthy and happy.

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