Why don’t more hospitals use cloth diapers?

Our daughter just after birth in her hospital supplied Pampers diaper

I recently read an article about a hospital in Boulder, Colorado seeking to become the first zero waste hospital in the country. They aren’t there yet, but they have taken huge strides toward sustainability (and also lowering expenses), including the use of cloth diapers. Which had me wondering, why didn’t anyone think of this sooner? It actually makes sense to use cloth diapers in a hospital setting. Hospitals already have a large scale sanitizing laundry facilities in place. Gowns and sheets are already being washed and reused. Labor and delivery produces some pretty serious mess so I can’t imagine washing cloth diapers could be any grosser.

Plus, let’s face it, those early hours in the hospital with your newborn have the potential to be greatly influential. I knew I was going to use cloth diapers and couldn’t wait to get my daughter home and get her out of her hospital disposables. But if I hadn’t yet considered it, seeing the hospital staff using cloth diapers would have made me interested. It’s not like most hospitals use cheap store brand diapers either. They put our daughter right into a Pampers diaper. Talk about creating a brand loyalty at birth. Just as hospitals now encourage breastfeeding by providing lactation consultants and breastfeeding classes, rather than giving out free samples of formula; more hospitals should send parents home with a couple of cloth diapers and give a few quick lessons on how to use them before leaving the hospital. I even read an account once of a mother of preemie triplets whose doctor recommended cloth diapers as a healthier choice for preemies. (I admit I don’t remember everything about the article, so please don’t freak out that I don’t provide a link or documentation). I think the doctor’s recommendation was based on the air flow provided by cloth diapers and helping to prevent infections which preemies can be so prone to.

My husband and four day old daughter, in her Bummis diaper cover and prefold

Just imagine if hospitals began using prefolds and covers or even inexpensive cotton fitted diapers like GM Infant Fitteds, in the nursery instead of disposables. That would save thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I can’t imagine what it must cost a big hospital to keep their nursery and mother baby ward stocked with disposable diapers.  According to the above linked article, Children’s Hospital of Aurora, Colorado used 43,506 disposable diapers a month. That’s 522,072 disposable diapers a year! What must their local landfill be like? Yikes! Assuming most diapers used are in smaller sizes and that the hospital is able to negotiate a bulk buying price of approximately $.20 a diaper on Pampers diapers that is $101,414.40 per year. Now maybe some hospital’s use generic diapers and perhaps they don’t send any home with their patients (which I doubt), but either way it is still a lot of money. People all over America are up in arms about the cost of health care, both citizens and politicians alike, but few are willing to discuss voluntary reusability and sustainability as ways to lower cost. I wonder what it would take to convince our local hospital to use cloth diapers?


5 thoughts on “Why don’t more hospitals use cloth diapers?

  1. I agree!! I am a big fan of cloth diapers. I didn’t start with my 13 month old until her stump fell off, but with the next baby (arriving in June) I am starting right away. I am even considering taking my own cloth diapers to the hospital!

  2. Unfortunately, I don’t think most hospitals pay for the disposable diapers that they use. I think that they are given to them, or they get them at an even bigger discount than you think, with the stipulation that they are the only brand used at that hospital. It’s awful and I’m hoping to figure out a way to use cloth immediately from birth when we have our second. The big issue will be getting diaper laundry done while in the hospital since my DH doesn’t do it currently.:)

    1. I wondered if most hospitals get diapers given to them by companies hoping to create brand loyalty, just as formula companies used to give hospitals free samples to hand out. However, at least in the case of the hospitals I mentioned, they saved a great deal of money by using cloth so they must have been paying something for their diapers, though certainly not the typical market value.
      As far as diaper laundry goes, it depends on how long you think you’ll be in then hospital. You could bring a hanging wet bag for the diapers and just wash them when you get home if you are only going to be in the hospital for 2 or 3 days. Obviously if it’s going to be longer someone at home would have to wash the diapers. My husband isn’t too keen on diaper laundry mostly because he has trouble remembering things like temperature and detergent amount. But in fairness I have also altered my washing routine at least 3 or 4 times over the course of 18 months.

  3. The nurse at my hospital actually told me that they get the diapers free from the diaper company. The idea is that Mom’s think that if the hospital is using pampers then it must be the best thing for the baby. So, the Mom buys Pampers when she gets home because she thinks it’s best. I’m sure that they don’t give to every hospital but the ones that are getting their’s donated are unlikely to make the switch because it would cost them more money. Most hospitals will let you bring your own cloth diapers in if you want to though. That’s a step in the right direction.

    1. I wish more cloth diaper companies could afford to donate to hospitals as well. But most are still smaller operations, at least compared to giant companies like Kimberly Clark. But then I’d also like see hospitals use California Baby instead of Johnson & Johnson. Perhaps as more hospitals focus on sustainability (which in many cases also saves money too), cloth diapers will become the norm. I imagine they probably were the norm before disposable diapers were invented. I may bring my own cloth diapers to the hospital next time, but depending on how many days I end up in the hospital, it may not be feasible.

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