Sometimes we use products without understanding what they are made of and what the risks are. Disposable Diapers seem to be simple innocuous products but once we understand how they are constructed it is easier to visualize what the dangers could be and take action to minimize these risks.
At the most basic level a diaper is expected to wick away moisture so that the baby’s skin remains dry, while making sure that the moisture does not leak outside. This is what most diapers try to accomplish. Let us see how the construction of the diaper helps with this. A diaper essentially consists of three layers
- Inner Layer – This is layer that lies in close proximity with the baby’s skin and pulls away the moisture and transfers it to the inner layer. The materials and chemicals used in this layer are most risky for the baby and hence we need to make sure that no toxic substances are being used.
- Middle Layer – This layer is supposed to be absorbing all the liquid and keeping it from leaking or flowing back through the inner layer onto the baby’s skin. To aid in this absorption – the middle layer is made up of combination of fluff materials and chemical crystals known as Super Absorbent Polymer. The fluff materials are often made up of wood pulp or wheat/corn based materials.
- Outer layer – As explained earlier the purpose of this waterproof layer is to prevent the water from leaking out of the absorbent middle layer. This waterproof layer is usually made of petroleum plastics or similar products. This is another potential source of toxicity.
It is important to use diapers which list out the ingredients of each of these layers. The sad fact is that many of these manufacturers can avoid full disclosure in the guise of protection of trade secrets. Let us look at where the potential toxins could be.
- Chlorine used in the inner layer to bleach so that it appears white and clean have the potential to release dioxins which are known toxins. Thus it is absolutely important to look for chlorine free when choosing diapers. Remember unless they explicitly state that they are chlorine free it is safe to assume that they contain chlorine.
- The outer surface of diapers is usually colored with patterns and designs. Avoid ones where the colors are too obvious – subtle colors use generally harmless dyes. Dyes can cause allergies and rashes. Generally it is difficult to find the right diapers that satisfy our safety requirement in terms of dyes, but avoid ones that are clearly using cheap dyes.
- Pthalates are used in the plastics of the diapers outer covers and are constantly being released into the environment. There are toxic implications to pthalates but disclosure is not necessary and so it is difficult to track the ones that have pthalates.
- Use perfume free diapers as much as possible as they could impact the child’s organs. As mentioned above the perfumes could be backdoor entry to squeeze in a variety of chemicals into the diaper which may be dangerous for the child.
- The SAP crystals are another source of potential toxins, but till now no study has conclusively proved that they are toxic.
What do Green Diapers do differently.
- Some of them are biodegradable – An ordinary diaper could take as much as 500 years to degenerate completely. Some of the diapers are made of materials that break down faster(less than a year) and hence they are not supposed to clog landfills indefinitely. In reality this may not happen since the breakdown can only happen under perfect circumstances – in most cases does not get access to open air that is needed to allow this.
- They may not be using chlorine(Earth’s Best for example), they may be avoding pthalates( Eg Honest Diapers), others may be fragrance free(normal diapers are also fragrance free in some cases). Some like Seventh Generation claims to include polymer gels that are non-toxic, non-carcinogenic and non irritating. Some others like Nature Babycare do not use plastics, relying instead of corn based substances. Earth’s best also tries to use fewer petrochemicals in the manufacture of these diapers.
Most of these diapers cost more than 30 cents per diaper and fall into the unaffordable range for most parents. Even if pricey, they are suitable for parents who want to go for the eco-friendly and safer options but cannot bring themselves to use cloth diapers.
Here are some thumb rules to follow before you start buying your disposables.
- Don’t stock up on newborn diapers – Both my sons were 7 pounds solid when they were born and around the same size. They outgrew their newborn diapers within a week. Thankfully I had followed the advice of other friends and bought just one pack of 20 something diapers each and did not have to throw away anything. So even if the deal looks amazing, it is not worth stocking up on the diapers before you see the baby.
- Decide your priority before you start the process of trial and error – Before I became pregnant I had always conceived that I would choose eco-friendly diapers for my kids since the diapers were always touching their skin and their anus and constant contact with chemicals could be dangerous. Once I learned I was having twins – we had to let go of such desires and choose a most cost effective solution. However we could not bring ourselves to go with the cheapest diapers available in the market. You have to go with your priorities knowing well that your choice can make a difference of thousands of dollars to your baby related expenses. But put the baby’s comfort above all, even if you are not able to safeguard him/her from all the nasty chemicals.
- As a parent who has bought tubs of diaper rash creams, I will vouch for the fact that rashes are as painful for the mother as it is for the kids(maybe I exaggerate but your know what I mean). Rashes happen when the baby’s skin is exposed to the acid in the urine of poop for long periods of time or when the baby’s skin is allergic to the diaper chemical. So the number one criteria for choosing a diaper should be absorbency of the liquid for longest time possible and the way the baby’s skin adjusts with the diaper.
- The other most important criteria should be fit. In spite of using disposable diapers to avoid having to wash potty stained clothes, I ended up dealing with leaks on a frequent basis till we got the diapers right, after which it became more manageable. All kids are not the same in size or build and ultimately there is no formula for choosing the right diaper. You have to try different diapers and test which seems to be fitting better. If the baby seems comfortable and the diaper seems to fit cozily around the legs without being tight, then it must be right for you. Also the diapers are not constructed of the same material and vary in fit. As a thumb rule diapers which have elasticity in the securing tab and the back are likely to perform better. If you’re experiencing a lot of leaks, it may be time to go up or down a diaper size.
- Avoid diapers which do not claim to be chlorine or perfume free. Perfumes in diapers are exempt from disclosure and hence can include all kinds of dangerous chemicals that do not even need to be tested or approved.
The easiest way to choose the correct size of diapers is by using the weight guidelines provided by the manufacturer. The following chart lists the weight guidelines for each size.
|Newborn||Up to 10 pounds|
|Size 1||8 to 14 pounds|
|Size 2||12 to 18 pounds|
|Size 3||16 to 28 pounds|
|Size 4||22 to 37 pounds|
|Size 5||27 pounds and up|
|Size 6||35 pounds and up|
|Size 7||41 pounds and up|
Here is a Rundown of the major brands
- Pampers – The Pampers brand of disposable diapers is manufactured by the Proctor & Gamble company. The innovation came about in 1956 when a P&G employee Vic Mills influenced by his own negative experiences with cloth diapers decided to ask fellow researchers in P&G’s Exploratory Division in Miami Valley, Ohio to explore the possibility of creating a better disposable diaper. Today Pampers controls nearly a third of the disposable diaper market worldwide. Here are the options available.
- Pampers Swaddlers –Pampers Swaddlers are ideal for newborns. The smaller sizes also include an umbilical cord cutout, so that the diaper does not chafe the cord. The diaper also has an indicator that turns blue when the diaper is wet, saving the parents the need to check constantly. The Swaddlers diapers also come in a hypoallergenic, sensitive alternative for babies prone to diaper rash.
- Pampers Cruisers – This is ideal for babies on the move – crawling, walking, climbing etc. They have a more flexible fit which allow stretching but stay tightly in place even as the child moves.
- Pampers Baby Dry – Since absorbency is the main criteria this one works better for the nights once the baby starts sleeping longer. If you want to opt for just one – this one works decently for the daytime activities as well
- Pampers Extra Protection Diapers – Once the baby gets a little older – this one might be more suitable as a night time diaper as it is more absorbent. They start at size 3 and should be employed if the baby dry diaper is not sufficient to keep the liquid inside.
Not all diapers are the same, and some work better than others do at different stages of a child’s life. The following chart lists the different Pampers diaper styles, their features, and their best use.
|Diaper Type||Top Features||Best Use|
|Pampers Swaddlers Diapers||Blue line on diaper indicates when diaper is wet
Umbilical cord notch on newborn diapers
|Perfect for a newborn baby|
|Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive Diapers||Hypoallergenic
Blue line on diaper indicates wetness
|Ideal for babies with sensitive skin
Aloe sooths and prevents diaper rash.
|Pampers Cruisers Diapers||Stretchy sides allow diaper to move with the child
Snug fit around waist and leg openings, keeping diaper in place
|For mobile babies|
|Pampers Baby Dry Diapers||Three layers of absorbency
Keeps child dry for up to 12 hours
|Pampers Extra Protection Diapers||Provides extra absorbency for overnight||Overnight use|
Overall the Pampers Baby Dry works well for most of the day – if you want to reduce the choice to a single one.
- Huggies – Huggies brand is marketed by Kimberly Clark and was first launched in 1978 many years after Pampers. Huggies sell 6 different kinds of diapers. Their Little Snugglers are designed for newborn infants, and Little Movers are designed for infants that have outgrown the first range. Snug & Dry Diapers have a “LeakLock” feature that captures moisture, and Overnites are designed to absorb nighttime leaks. Pure & Natural are environmentally friendly, and Pull-Ups are for toilet training.
- Little Movers– These disposable diapers fit babies ranging from 16 to over 35 lbs and keep babies dry while they move, wiggle, and play. Little Movers diapers feature a proprietary Leak Lock system, flexible pad, and SnugFit waistband that secures with grip tabs.
- Huggies Little Snugglers -These are disposable diapers for preemies, newborns, and babies up to 3 months old, as smaller infants need the gentlest care possible. With a breathable, comfortable outer cover and quilted inner pad, the Little Snugglers diaper also has a wetness indicator, easily letting parents know it is time to change. This Huggies diaper can fit babies ranging from under 6 lbs to 18 lbs.
- Huggies Little Movers Slip on -The Huggies Little Movers Slip On is a diaper pants for standing babies in various stages of development. Instead of having to change wet diapers by laying the baby down, adults can easily slide the diaper on and off with the Little Movers Slip On. Not only does the Slip On come with stretchy sides and stopping guards for a great fit, but it also has absorbent layers that lock in wetness. The disposable diaper comes in four sizes that can fit babies ranging from 16 to over 35 lbs. Like other Huggies diapers, the Slip On features a Leak Lock System that keeps wetness from leaking out the diaper.
- Huggies Overnites –Huggies Overnites protect the baby from leaks and wetness throughout the night. Overnites disposable diapers come in four sizes for babies weighing from 16 to over 35 lbs. Promising over 12 hours of protection from leaks, this diaper uses extremely absorbent material for its inner pad to do just that. Even better, this Huggies diapers also has a SnugFit waistband along with tabs that help keep the diaper in place. Last but not the least, this diaper also comes with sleeping Winnie the Pooh illustrations. Parents who do not want wake up to a smelly, messy crib should consider buying Huggies Overnites for their baby.
- Huggies Pure & Natural disposable diapers – Huggies Pure & Natural disposable diapers are best for parents who prefer organic, hypoallergenic materials that are soft and gentle on their baby’s skin. This diaper has an organic cotton outer with a flexible, quilted inner pad. Not only does it have a splash of Vitamin E and aloe, Huggies Pure & Natural is also made of renewable materials, which is important for environmentally conscious parents. More than these, the diaper comes with a pocketed back waistband to keep it from leaking. It comes in six sizes, which means it can fit newborns under 10 lbs all the way to toddlers over 27 lbs. Diapers for newborns also include an umbilical cord cut-out to protect the baby’s navel.
Let us look at a table which compares the Huggies offerings with Pampers.
|Newborns||Little Snugglers||Swaddlers, Swaddlers Sensitive, Baby Dry|
|Infants, Toddlers||Little Movers, Little Movers Slip-ons, Snug & Dry||Swaddlers, Cruisers|
|Nighttime||Overnites||Baby Dry, Extra Protection|
|Environmentally Friendly||Pure & Natural||—-|
|Toilet Training||Pull-Ups Learning Designs, Pull-Ups Cool Alert, Pull-ups Night Time||Easy Ups Trainers for Boys, Easy Ups Trainers for Girls|
|Bedwetting||Goodnites||Underjams Night Wear for Girls, Underjams Night Wear for Boys|
Differences between the two diapers can also be noted:
- Huggies have a more artificial, plastic-like feel on the outside. Some parents like this protection while others feel it is uncomfortable. Pampers has a softer, more fabric-like feel on the outside.
- Huggies diapers are fastened with sticky strips that are not part of the diaper itself. They are not stretchy and can pop off while trying to get a snug fit making the diaper useless. Pampers diapers have an integrated tab which cannot pop off and has some stretchiness to it, allowing it to be snugged up securely.
- Huggies boasts a special liner made to wick moisture away from baby’s skin and Pampers touts their soft mesh lining and their extra-absorbent core, however in several studies, Pampers frequently ranks higher in absorption tests.
- Pampers diapers and pants come in a larger range of sizes. Though both Huggies and Pampers offers diapers for preemies and newborns through size 6, Pampers Underjams extend to size 7, offering overnight protection for bedwetters up to 85 pounds.
- There is a difference in the fit of each diaper. This varies from size to size and from baby to baby. Moms have reported that the Huggies diaper has extra length which often prevents a good fit and because of the difference in the closure types mentioned above and the stretchiness of the sides, the Pampers get remarks for a better fit from many moms. However, some moms like the fit of the Huggies on their baby and don’t feel that the lack of stretch is a problem.
These two diaper brands control the majority of diaper sales in the world and for most parents, the choice for disposable diapers begins and ends with these two – Huggies and Pampers. P&G has finally regained top billing the US after decades of playing second fiddle to Huggies, whereas globally Huggies has been increasing its share of the diaper market. In the US Huggies is losing out due to its premium positioning in an age when parents are looking for cheaper value options for their children. It is here that Luvs brand has helped P&G capture some of the market back. In 2014 P&G market share stood at 43% wheras Huggies controlled 37% of the market.
Manufactured by P&G, Luvs is their second line brand. Most parents seem to find Luvs satisfactory in comparison with Pampers and did not seem to notice any difference. Again my suggestions is that you try Luvs and stick with it if it works.
Baby gear lab gives very low ratings for Luvs but Amazon users give a 4 star to Luvs ultra leakguards.
- A quick guide on store brand diapers.
- Target Up & Up – Most reviews I have seen on the web vouch that this is the best among the store brand diapers though recent reviews are not so generous, Babies R Us store brand diaper is also decent.
- Kirkland is at best mediocre and Walmart’s Parent’s Choice brand is probably the worst of all these store brands.
- Amazon introduced Elements branded diapers but had to pull them back. They are likely to come back with a better product soon.
None of these are perfect generally but may work for you. If an occasional leak or rash is tolerable, please go ahead and save a few hundreds of dollars.
Eco-friendly and Safer Options
Earth’s Best Organic: These diapers — available in seven sizes — are made from non-chlorine bleached materials and contain natural absorbent material such as corn and wheat. It’s also made with fewer petro-chemicals, and has breathable sides, a moisture barrier cuff and refastenable tabs. (earthsbest.com)
Whole Food’s 365 Everyday Diapers: With absorbency gel made from a non-toxic, super absorbent polymer, these diapers are sure to protect against leaks. (At your local Whole Foods stores)
Nature BabyCare: The surface of each diaper is covered with a film made from natural maize, and is made from 70% natural materials. (ecofriendlybabies.com)
Seventh Generation: These are made from chlorine-free wood pulp and nontoxic absorbent gel. They’re also latex- and perfume-free, as well as hypoallergenic. (seventhgeneration.com)
Tushies: Tushies is the only baby disposable diaper that contains real cotton and was created for babies with sensitive skin. (Amazon.com)
Broody Chick 100% Natural Fully Compostable Diapers: Broody Chick products contain only natural, fully compostable material from annually renewable resources, with 90% reduction in greenhouse gases.