Dirty Disposable Diaper Secrets Revealed – What They Don’t Tell You (but you Must Know)

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I remember the day that I found out that I was pregnant as if it were yesterday… how fast that nine months passed… it was a great time, as expecting a baby is one of the best things that can happen to you, isn’t it?

Any is 3 months old now, happy and healthy. She is a great baby and I can’t stop thanking God for blessing me with this pure gold!

I switched from disposable to cloth diapers a month ago when she was 2 and I have to say this was a great move (thanks Jena!).

Now, to put it into perspective I absolutely love cloths.

  • Are cloths hard to deal with? No!
  • Are they better for your baby? Yes.

Jena, my best friend, has been telling me to get rid of disposables for ages when I was pregnant with Make.  But in my little naïve world of wanting a convenient diaper I hadn’t even thought to look into what disposables were all about.

What I came up with shocked me to the very core and I have no doubt it will shock you too.

Almost all disposables are quite literally toxic and may cause rashes, severe skin irritation, allergic reactions, immune system suppression, and…

Disposables can 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.

Is this true?

Yes, you should be alarmed.

Read on, I spent a great deal of time on researching and I am glad I have a way to spread the word. You might be familiar with most of these things that you’ll read but I am sure that some will be news to you as nobody in the millionaire diapers industry is going to confess what disposables are really all about. You will hardly find a manufacturer who will list what potentially harmful chemicals are used on their website and/or packaging.

What Scares Me About Disposable Diapers

Did you know these marvels of convenience contain some chemicals such as dioxins?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) these chemicals can be linked to long-term health conditions which I’ll cover in more detail a bit later.

But it’s not just that – that gorgeous soft and sensitive skin will also be more prone to rashes and allergic reactions due to the chemicals in them.[i]

But it doesn’t end there – there are also dyes in disposable diapers that have been linked to damage to the central nervous system.[ii] More on this a bit later.

I had experienced some rashes on my first little one, so I continued in my search and came up with some interesting findings, although I have to say there is some controversy that surrounds this topic.

Let’s take a look at each element of the disposable diaper and see what they contain, so that you too, like me, can make an informed decision about what to choose.

  1. Inner Layer

The inner lining is apparently much safer. It’s made of a material called polypropylene, which is also found in thermal underwear, so I could breathe a sigh of relief here. There are some diaper brands that put calming natural oils on the inner lining like aloe and Vitamin E, which helps to soothe the skin.

  1. Absorbent Core

This layer is to absorb fluids, but if your baby moves then some of the fluid can move out of this core layer and then come into contact with your little one’s skin. These are normally chlorine bleached as well.

All diapers use some fluff materials as well as something called Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) which are like chemical crystals which soak up the fluid. The fluff that they use is normally made from wood pulp and most likely has wheat or corn based materials. This moves the liquids around while the SAP absorbs the liquid and locks it in – well at least hopefully unless there is a leak.

  1. Waterproof Outer Layer

This part of the diaper is made up of polyethylene film, which is what you find in plastic wrap. Although apparently some companies use a material called bioplastic instead, this comes from renewable resources like vegetable oil instead of petroleum. Yep, there’s petroleum inside of this lining in some disposables[iii]!

What’s Really Inside Disposable Diapers?

Well, quite a lot actually…

The research was somewhat confusing in places but I what I found out was enough to scare me off, that’s for sure.

  1. Dyes

Those cute little characters on diapers that I tend to choose have dyes in them that come into direct contact with my little one’s skin and they can cause some irritation.

One study in Pediatrics in 2005[iv] examined a number of babies who suffered from rashes. They found that the rashes were only found in places where their skin was in direct contact with the dyes.

Even more alarming was the fact that they found heavy metals like Tributyl Tin (TBT) in the dyes which is a highly toxic environmental pollutant.

It can have a major impact on the immune system and can also play havoc with the hormonal system. It is thought that it might even be linked to sterility in boys.

  1. Sodium Polyacrylate

There have been a number of studies done on sodium polyacrylate and most of them point to the fact that these are not harmful for babies as the amount in each diaper is so minimal. In fact it’s considered nontoxic to some[v].

However, other sources have said quite the opposite.

When the powder gets wet it turns into a gel like substance and can apparently have the following effects:

  • It can stick to your baby’s genitals which can in turn cause an allergic reaction.
  • Other side effects can be skin irritation, blood oozing from the perineum and scrotal tissues, fever, vomiting and staph infections too! This is some serious stuff…
  • In 1985 it was banned from tampons due to its link with Toxic Shock Syndrome.
  • It was tested on rats and when injected caused hemorrhage, cardiovascular failure and death.
  • Children have been killed after ingesting as little as 5 grams of it[vi].

Just this alone was enough for me to be put off for life, but I continued in my quest nonetheless to find out more…and more there was!

  1. Dioxin

This chemical is found in most disposable diapers and is considered by the EPA as one of the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals!

So what the heck was it doing in disposables?

As if that wasn’t enough, it can have the following terrifying effects:

  • Birth defects
  • Skin disease
  • Liver disease
  • Immune system suppression
  • Genetic damage in lab animals.

Hardly surprisingly it has been banned in most countries, but not in the US.

One 2002 study[vii] tested four brands of diapers and tampons and found that there were dioxins in all of them. However, the study showed that it was in way lower concentrations than what we get from our diets.

So is it worth being worried about? Well I guess you could make your own choice, but I’m personally not taking that chance, even if it’s in teeny tiny doses.

  1. Perfumes

Many disposables contain citral perfumes in them and some babies can be sensitive to these. From what I could find, there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence to point to the fact that this is a real problem, it is more hearsay. The only evidence that this is a real problem from what I could find was that there was one report in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health done in 2009[viii] that stated that the amount of perfumes that are in disposables are about a million times too low to cause any problems at all. I’ve actually experienced some skin irritations with my little one, so I’m staying well away.

  1. Phthalates

In 2003, researchers at the US Center for Disease Control documented widespread exposure to a high level of a group of chemicals called phthalates[ix] across the American public. These chemicals act as binding agents and make plastics flexible.

After a number of studies the CDC introduced the Consumer Product Safety Bill, which was passed in 2008 which banned the chemicals in only some children’s products but not others, and that includes diapers.

So we’re still walking around unaware of the fact that these are quite literally in close contact with our kids delicate skins.

But what’s the harm?

According to research done over the last couple of years, phthalates have been linked to the following:

  • Asthma
  • ADHD
  • Breast cancer
  • Type II Diabetes
  • Low IQ
  • Neurodevelopmental delays
  • Behavioral issues
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Altered reproductive development
  • Male fertility issues.[x]

According to Pediatrics[xi], “Children are uniquely vulnerable to phthalate exposures given their hand-to-mouth behaviors, floor play, and developing nervous and reproductive systems.”

Let’s not Forget the Environment

Now that we’ve covered most of the chemicals, there’s still more to consider, and that’s the impact on the environment.

Now I have to tell you that the jury is out on this debate – and it’s a hotly contested one.

On one side we’ve got the people who believe that cloth and disposables do just as much damage as each other, whilst others believe that disposables are major contributors to environmental damage.

I did a little digging and here are some interesting facts to mull over:

  • Around 90-95% of American babies use 4 billion plastic diapers every year. This alone generates 7.6 billion pounds of garbage each year. Yes you read right!
  • They are the 3rd largest consumer item in landfills which represents 30% of non-biodegradable waste.
  • You might be thinking that each individual child doesn’t really have much of an impact; however each baby that wears disposables creates around 2,000 pounds of garbage over a period of two years. Now that’s something to think about…
  • Without sun and air, even diapers that are labeled as “eco-friendly” do NOT biodegrade in landfills, and cause just as much of a problem as regular diapers.
     
    However, in a mere 5 minutes another 200,000 diapers get thrown into landfills in the US, where it takes about 500 years for them to decompose.
  • Our landfills contain 5 million tons of untreated human waste!
     
    This is just a breeding ground for disease, which could contaminate groundwater. The EPA notes that “…a significant portion of the disposable diaper waste dumped in American’s landfills every year is actually biodegradable human waste preserved forever.”
  • If you are literally just tossing used disposables into the trash you’re adding to the 84 million pounds of raw fecal matter that is making its way into the environment every single year. That’s a frightening statistic. The American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Public Health Association advise parents to not dispose of urine and fecal matter in regular trash as it contaminates ground water and spreads disease.[xii]

I’m certainly more the wiser after conducting this unbelievable and quite shocking research, which I had no idea about, and I believe that you need to know these facts too.

There is no way that I’m going to expose my little one to any of these chemicals or in any way harm the environment more than it is already being harmed.

So What – Washing Cloth Diapers?

Oh No! I am too busy!

Honestly speaking, despite the fear, when Make was born, I decided to stick with disposables AGAIN due to the sheer convenience.

I was busy enough looking after my first daughter so you can imagine what a shock having a newborn around again came as.

I didn’t want to spend my time washing diapers – I would have rather devoted it to my family or maybe even put a proper family meal on the table now and again!

I had chosen the disposable diaper route and I was sticking with it.

I went off and purchased enough to sink a battle ship.

To be fair I hadn’t really researched the topic back then at all – I had well-meaning friends that gave me the ‘looking after our planet’ speech, but I knew what I wanted and I went with it. I wanted to spend quality time with the people I loved and in my little world disposables would allow me to do that.

Well, I am glad I researched disposables!

I love the convenience of disposables BUT I wanted what was best for my little one and I think you do too. 

Do yourself a favor and give cloths a try.

Yes, it is not easy at the beginning but it’s a smart move in the right direction. I am sure you will come back and thank me for this.

Are Cloth Diapers REALLY better for my Baby?

We’ve looked at disposables, but I didn’t want to end there. I wanted to make sure that I was going to make the right choice, so I did a lot of research on cloth diapers too, to ensure that I was indeed making the right choice and I wanted you to know the facts too.

I like that cloths are made of natural fibers or man-made materials or a combination of both and the cotton can be bleached white or left the fiber’s natural color.

I’d suggest going the unbleached route for starters or choosing from other natural fiber cloth materials, including wool, bamboo, and unbleached hemp, which are a far better choice for babies bum and the environment.

Another benefit is that you can feel that they are wet immediately, which means that you experience less bum rashes due to the fact that those nasties aren’t sticking to your baby’s skin for a long time, so you can save money on bum creams.

Cloth diapers are also a cheaper option in the long run.

Nowadays there are really cute cloth nappies that imitate a disposable in how you put it on, so they are convenient in that way too.

Are there some cons too?

Yes of course.

It does take a little bit of extra effort, but in my opinion it’s worth it to keep my baby happy and healthy and to take care of the environment too.

Bearing all of this in mind I know what I’m going to do – I’m going cloth all the way despite some of the cons. How about you? What’s your opinion on this hotly debated topic?

References:

[i] http://www.livestrong.com/article/111348-chemicals-disposable-diapers/

[ii] http://www.chemistryexplained.com/Di-Fa/Disposable-Diapers.html

[iii] https://www.babycenter.com/0_whats-in-disposable-diapers-8211-and-are-they-safe-for-your_10335425.bc

[iv] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/3/e450.full?sid=a13491bc-4318-4181-940b-d3d406ec7427

[v] https://www.babycenter.com/0_whats-in-disposable-diapers-8211-and-are-they-safe-for-your_10335425.bc?showAll=true

[vi] https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/dangers-of-disposable-diapers

[vii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240689/

[viii] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15287390903212246?needAccess=true

[ix] https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/pdf/Pthalates_FactSheet.pdf

[x] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/feb/10/phthalates-plastics-chemicals-research-analysis

[xi] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/2/e260

[xii] https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/dangers-of-disposable-diapers

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Lisa Morales
Lisa Morales never gave up on the dream of having a child, even after doctors told her that she never would. These days, she writes about the little miracle that came into her life—her daughter Joy—and the challenges she’s faced as a first-time mom.