Solving Your Diaper Dilemma
Cloth vs. disposable: It's the great diaper debate, but is one type of diaper really better for baby and the environment? Experts weigh in.
Do Chemicals in Disposable Diapers Pose Any Health Risks?
Concerns have been raised, according to the Green Guide Institute, a nonprofit environmental research and information organization. But no conclusive evidence of harm has emerged. For example:
- Sodium polyacrylate crystals, the superabsorbent ingredient in disposables, were linked to toxic shock among tampon users about three decades ago. But tampons enter the body, while diapers remain outside. According to the Green Guide Institute, a later study suggested that tampon habits, rather than materials, caused toxic shock.
- A 2000 German study of 48 boys found that those who wore disposable diapers had higher scrotum temperatures than those in cloth diapers. That raised a theoretical risk of lower sperm count. But a 2002 study found scrotal temperatures to be the same, regardless of whether boys wore disposables or cotton diapers with covers.
It's important to pay attention to research that points out potential harm, Jana says. But she reassures parents that she has not seen long-term health problems related to disposable diapers. And pediatricians do not caution parents against their use. "It just doesn't hit the radar screen," Jana tells WebMD.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also told WebMD that it has received no significant reports of health problems, injuries, or safety concerns related to disposable diaper use in infants and young children.
Which Type of Diaper Best Keeps Diaper Rash at Bay?
Diaper rash can stem from several causes: friction, moisture, urine, and feces. Sometimes, the culprit is infection from yeast, such as Candida albicans.
Again, there's no consensus on whether disposable or cloth diapers are best for reducing risk of diaper rash. But according to Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, FAAP, "Most pediatricians do feel that disposable diapers prevent irritation diaper rashes. That's because they keep the baby's bottom drier." Altmann, a California pediatrician, is editor-in-chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics book, The Wonder Years, and a clinical instructor at the Mattel Children's Hospital, UCLA.
Altmann tells WebMD that parents who use cloth diapers can also cut risk by minimizing the amount of time that babies are in contact with urine and feces. "If you're good about changing your baby's diaper very frequently, as we recommend that parents do, you can prevent diaper rash with both types of diapers."
A 2005 study published in Pediatrics found that some babies can develop rash as an allergic reaction to dyes in colorful diapers. Parents can switch to dye-free diapers to remedy the problem.
What Type of Diaper Should I Use if My Child Attends Day Care?
For convenience and health reasons, many day care centers require disposables and will not accommodate cloth diapers. So parents may not have much choice.
"You're really talking about hygiene and minimizing potential for spread of infection, for example with diarrhea," Jana says.