What’s in those Things Anyway?

Ever wonder what’s inside your little one’s diaper (aside from the obvious, of course...)? You might be surprised with what you find



baby in diaper and hatMy diapers are made of WHAT?

Though I likely need not reiterate: I love cloth diapers. I love that, in using cloth, we are not contributing to the billions of diapers rotting in landfills. I believe in cloth. But I also believe in doing what I have to do to keep my girl clean and comfortable — and over the past month and a half that has involved a lot of non-cloth diapers.

When Coraline’s yeast rash first broke out, we put her in gDiapers — “hybrid” diapers which involve a reusable cloth cover with flushable inserts — because you can’t use diaper creams with most cloth diapers (it messes with the absorption). When the rash cleared up, we put her back in cloth. The rash came back. So back into gDiapers she went. Rash cleared up, back in cloth. And the rash came back. At this point it is pretty clear that her cloth diapers and the rash are intimately connected. But we had run out of gDiaper inserts, and there are only two places around that sell them — one was out, and the other charges an arm and a leg. So I went to Toys ‘R Us and bought a pack of Seventh Generation chlorine-free disposables. Until I resolve the stinky, yeasty cloth diaper dilemma (and remember to order gDiaper inserts from diapers.com), my girl is in ‘sposies. Shrug.

Later that same afternoon a hardcore cloth-diapering mama friend jokingly asked me “What’s in those things anyway.” I froze, “Wood pulp?” We had a little chuckle, but it made me curious. Honestly, I never thought to look. I had already developed a hierarchy of diapering options in my mind: cloth, hybrid, disposables. And this hierarchy was based almost exclusively on environmental concerns. I mean, I’d heard that cloth-diapered babies get fewer diaper rashes, and products ladled with toxic chemicals are certainly on my radar, but since I had largely written off disposables I never thought to check what was in them, even the chlorine-free ones.

I’ve talked about cloth diapers here, but what about disposables? What is in those things? Here’s a breakdown of what you may find in your standard conventional disposable (Pampers, Huggies, etc.) versus a chlorine-free “natural” diaper (Tushies, Seventh Generation, Earth’s Best, etc.). Please note: Companies are not required to state all the chemicals used in the manufacture of their diapers.

Conventional ingredients may include polyethylene film, polypropylene plastic, bleached paper pulp, petrolatum, stearyl alcohol, glue, elastic, cellulose tissue, perfume, super absorbent polymers (SAP), dioxin (a by-product of the bleaching process), and tributyl-tin (TBT).
A chlorine-free diaper may include chlorine-free wood pulp fluff, sodium polyacrylate (SAP), polyolefin nonwoven fabric, adhesives, polyolefin film, synthetic rubber elastic strands, and color pigments.

Even though the “natural” option has far fewer ingredients, their manufacture relies on petroleum products and is not sustainable. And, come to find out, even gDiapers — which some (including myself) consider a near-perfect compromise — contain a small amount of SAP. Makes me fall in love with cloth all over again. You can just wrap your baby’s bottom in fleece, or hemp, or cotton, or microfiber — clean, green, and non-toxic, soup to nuts. But if you’re still not sold on cloth, perhaps you too will at least read the ingredients next time you pick up a pack.

Disposable diapers in the news — check it out.

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One mom's plan to raise a kid — without raising greenhouse gases

About This Blog

Shannon Gallagher

Shannon Gallagher
Rhinebeck, NY


Dutchess County native Shannon Gallagher is a contributing editor for Hudson Valley Magazine. An erstwhile thrill-seeker, these days she courts disaster of a different variety wrangling a spirited toddler, honing her vegan baking skills, and chasing the ever-elusive work-family balance. She teaches Pilates and does fascial bodywork, and lives in Rhinebeck with Coraline, a cat named Otie, and Sushi the Fish (named, of course, by the toddler).

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