On Saturday, the diapers will be a-changing


Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 4:39 p.m.

Dozens of local moms and dads and their babies will descend on Westside Park Saturday to try to break the Guinness World Record for changing cloth diapers. Participants will arrive at 10:30 a.m. The dirty work begins at 11 sharp.

Facts

If you go

The Great Cloth Diaper Change
Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to noon
Westside Park, 1001 NW 34th St.

For more information, visit gcdcgainesville.eventbrite.com.

The Great Cloth Diaper Change, organized by the non-profit Real Diaper Association, lists on its website the world record for simultaneous cloth diaper changes at 8,251, set in 2012.

Organizers hope to break 10,000. With numerous European, North American and Asian countries participating, as well as Australia and Chile, they think it's possible.

This is the third year of the international challenge, and the second time local parents will be involved. Last year, there were 42 participants and organizers expect 50 on Saturday.

“The Great Cloth Diaper Change is an event to raise awareness about cloth diapering,” said Michelle Neilson, the 31-year-old, local host of this year's event.

Neilson used cloth diapers on four of her five children, including twins.

“I've had two in diapers twice, and three in diapers twice,” she said. “It's not as bad as you think.''

She started using them, she said, because her kids were extremely sensitive to the synthetic materials in disposable diapers. When her first son was born in 2001, there weren't as many options as there are today. It was all safety pins and plastic pants, she said. And without the Internet (as prominent as it is today), it wasn't as easy to learn about available options.

Options? Yes, there are options.

There are prefolds — similar to what your grandma probably used — where you use a big piece of cloth with safety pins or another type of fastener.

There are all-in-one diapers that work just like a disposable, except you wash them. There are all-in-two diapers where you snap in a giant maxi-pad-like insert. There's the pocket diaper, which is basically a cover with a built-in compartment where you put an absorbent insert.

There are fitted diapers that are like extra-thick underwear that attach to an outer layer. And, of course, there are variations on all of these.

Neilson admits that there is some controversy over whether cloth diapers are more environmentally friendly than disposables. She frequently debates the issue with her father, Clay Montague, who is retired after 30 years as an environmental engineering professor at the University of Florida.

“In ideal landfill conditions, disposable diapers can actually be beneficial,” Montague explained. They absorb water and toxic run-off that actually help keep the landfill moist and cause it to act like a giant compost heap, which makes waste break down faster.

But even in ideal landfill conditions, it still takes 250 to 500 years for a disposable diaper to break down, Neilson countered.

Montague said that cloth diapering requires a lot of drying because they are so absorbent. If people could even partially line-dry them, it would reduce the electricity or natural gas used, and be more environmentally friendly.

While there may be disagreement over the environmental benefits, in terms of cost, there is no comparison: Cloth diapers are much cheaper than disposables.

Some people spend $15 to $50 on a single cloth diaper, Neilson said, but you can find cheaper alternatives. For instance, she buys old wool sweaters for $1 at the thrift store and sews them into a fitted outer layer. For the inside layer, she uses fitted cotton diapers. Some people buy flour-sack towels that can be found in the kitchen section at a local store; the towels are thin, 100 percent cotton and versatile, she explained.

Neilson is so passionate about cloth diapering that she even started a lending library for people to try out the different methods and discover what works for them. The group she started, Gainesville Cloth Diaper Enthusiasts, will even loan a “modest stash” of 12 diapers to parents in financial need.

Spreading information about cloth diapering helps moms like Meghan Williams. The 27-year-old mother of two, who refers to herself as “mainstream,” will be participating in this year's challenge. She said she was discouraged from cloth diapering by friends and family when she had her first child.

“Many said I'd hate it, it was super-gross, and I'd be dunking poopy diapers in the toilet,” she said. “So I didn't try.”

When she was pregnant with her second child, a friend shared some research that she had done.

“We decided to try it part time,” Williams said. “We never looked back, and moved to almost exclusive cloth diapers within a month.”

This type of mom-to-mom encouragement is what the Real Diaper Association is trying to foster.

“Since most parents choose to cloth diaper very early in the process,” Heather McNamara, the executive director of the Real Diaper Association, wrote in an email, “the more people are aware of it even before becoming parents, the more likely they are to go in that direction when they do have children.”

She said events like these are having an impact, particularly because they happen in communities where other parents are knowledgeable and encouraging and spread information to their peers.

“Perhaps it's the economy. Perhaps it's an increased environmental awareness. Perhaps it's additional attention to our babies' exposure to chemicals. But it really seems that there's a growing interest in switching to cloth diapers,” she wrote.

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