Diapers 101

You have at least two in every bag (and one in your glove compartment). You change 'em up to 10 times a day. You shell out a small fortune for them. Still, how much do you really know about diapers? Read on for the scoop.
baby grabbing feet

Alexandra Grablewski

Are some diapers better for girls -- or for boys?
Depends whom you ask! At one point, Pampers and Huggies designed diapers specifically for each sex: "Boys and girls have different areas where they need more absorbency. We've dubbed them 'pee points,' and we used to target the absorbent materials there," says Tricia Higgins, a spokesperson for Pampers. "As the technology improved, we were able to make diapers that have absorbency in the areas that all babies need it with only one design." Since the mid-1990s, only unisex diapers have been sold. That said, some moms (including American Baby's Facebook fans) swear by certain brands for their li'l guys and others for their gals. You'll have to do a test drive to see what keeps your bambino dry!

Guilt check: Just how much worse are disposables for the environment than, say, cloth?
The waste and energy that go with the former are obvious: You see all the plastic you're tossing. Cloth diapers, though, also take a toll on Mother Earth, concedes Isabelle Silverman a green-living expert for the Environmental Defense Fund. They're usually made from cotton, which -- if not grown organically -- is one of the world's most pesticide-laden crops. Plus, laundering cloth requires significant amounts of water and electricity. In fact, with average use, the impact of disposable diapers and cloth ones is virtually the same, according to a 2008 report from the Environment Agency (the British version of our Environmental Protection Agency). You can lessen your impact by reusing cloth diapers on a younger sibling, laundering in full loads using energy-efficient appliances, sending them out to a diaper service, or line drying. If you'd like to give cloth a whirl but want the convenience of disposables, try a hybrid, like gDiapers, which have reusable outer covers and liners that you can flush, toss, or compost if it's just pee. Eco-friendly disposables, such as those from Seventh Generation or Earth's Best, are greener choices because they're made without chlorine. (Processing chlorine can release dioxins, which are toxic chemicals that get into soil, water, and air.) Whatever you decide, don't sweat it. "You can minimize your environmental impact in plenty of places, not only diapers," Silverman says. For instance, wipe Baby's mouth and clean up spills with cloth rather than paper towels. Serve snacks on washable dishware instead of paper plates.

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