It can feel overwhelming when buying products for diapering your baby. There seem to be a million and one opinions on which diaper is the most leak proof, which rash cream is the most soothing and which wipes are the most effective.
As parents, safety is of course your number one concern. While there are many guides on how to diaper safely, many of us didn’t even consider the safety of the actual products we use. Unfortunately, some diapering products contain chemicals that can harm you and your baby.
The main question when it comes to diapering is whether to use cloth or disposable diapers. Besides the possible environmental and economic benefits of cloth diapers, cloth diapers may win when it comes to safety as well.
Disposable diapers contain many synthetic chemicals that may pose dangers to your health at high exposures.
For example, many diapers use the chemical tributyltin (TBT), which is an irritant and which, at high levels, can cause nausea and diarrhea. Disposable diapers may also contain TBPP, a toxic plastic additive, as well as diethanolamine, a chemical used in a number of products that acts as a skin irritant. Lastly, disposable diapers contain sodium polyacrylate, which works to absorb liquids. Sodium polyacrylate is also an irritant and can harm your baby through skin absorption.
It’s worth noting that although disposable diapers do contain chemicals, the level of exposure is likely not high enough to cause health problems. For example, one 2015 study found that while diapers may contain phthalates, hormone disrupting chemicals, exposure levels are extremely low and likely not dangerous.
So while some disposable diapers may be safe, research is still ongoing, and it may be a good idea to avoid disposable diapers for now.
Luckily, picking safe cloth diapers is pretty simple. The safest fabric to use for your cloth diapers is organically grown, undyed cotton.
Many parents rely on diaper creams and powders to help protect their baby’s sensitive skin. It’s important to read the ingredients on these products in order to make sure they’re safe.
When it comes to diaper rash creams, you don’t want to risk causing even more irritation! Many diaper creams contain fragrances and other chemicals that irritate the skin or cause other health problems. For example, many diaper creams use petroleum oil, which penetrates skin, stays there, and may even cause cancer.
A good natural option is coconut oil, which hydrates and soothes skin. If DIY isn’t your style, many brands out there sell non-toxic diaper creams.
It’s also important to make sure that any creams you use have been tested for skin irritation and are not expired. A good rule of thumb is to buy products that have an EWG Verified mark, which shows the cream doesn’t use harmful chemicals. Use their website to search for safe personal care products for your baby.
While baby powder likely does not help diaper rash, it’s still a popular product for leaving the skin soft and dry. However, talc-based baby powder can contain asbestos, which may cause ovarian cancer.
If you must use a powder, opt for a cornstarch based, talc-free baby powder instead. (Make sure to keep the bottle away from your child, as inhaling large amounts is extremely dangerous.)
Finally, you need to make sure that any products you use to keep you, your baby and the general area clean are nontoxic.
For example, some baby wipes contain formaldehyde, a carcinogen, which may be listed in wet wipe ingredients as “diazolidinyl urea” or “DMDM hydantoin,” among other names.
Many other chemicals are used in conventional baby wipes in addition to formaldehyde, so it’s best to simply search for specifically nontoxic baby wipes. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website is a great resource, as they research and rate the safety of baby wipes.
If you’d like to simultaneously stay safe and reduce your waste from throwing out disposable wipes, use an organic cotton cloth wipe with a little water to do clean up. For extra hygiene, use a small amount of nontoxic, gentle baby soap.