Monday, February 22, 2010

The scent of a baby

I recently found a fabulous article at about a Boulder, CO hospital that has made significant efforts to reduce its environmental impact. Included in its new program is cloth diapers for infants! Quite a development considering diapers at many hospitals are provided by the diaper manufacturer for advertising purposes with the idea that if a family starts with a certain brand of diapers at the hospital, they'll look for the same brand at the store. At West Suburban, we were given a package of Pampers Swaddlers. I'm sure many hospitals have Infamil formula provided too, with the same branding process in mind (I received four containers of Infamil formula, unsolicited, free in the mail before Tye was born- obnoxious!). I imagine having cloth diapers at the hospital has a bit of the same effect, though, and parents who are exposed to cloth diapers are hopefully more open to pursing them in the future.
I've thought several times about my next birth (already!), and one detail I think I'll pursue is bringing our own cloth diapers to the hospital for those first few changes. As it was, Tye went diaperless her first 24 hours. We kept her wrapped in hospital blankets, and whenever she went, we knew right away- and celebrated like only parents can celebrate bodily elimination. The Pampers Swaddlers that we received were nice diapers, soft and tiny, with a little cutout for the umbilical cord. And they smelled wonderful, like baby.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why we can identify a certain scent as a baby scent? Personally, I can identify two baby scents: 1) the smell of warm breastmilk and soft human skin, which I had never smelled before having Tye and my milk coming in, and 2) the smell of the baby isle at the grocery or big box store- what I thought babies smelled like before Tye. Most baby products, including diapers, come heavily fragranced with that "baby" scent. Fragrances are listed on ingredient lists as just "fragrance" to protect secret formulas, but that also keeps consumers in the dark as to what is included in the fragrance. Along with other toxic ingredients, almost all fragrances in products include pthalates, which are believed to be carcinogenic hormone disrupters. If you walk into a baby isle, almost every product, from baby lotion to diapers to wipes to diaper cream, all contain "fragrance," and it's that fragrance that we all are led to believe babies smell like. Suddenly, that smell in the baby isle is slightly less appealing, isn't it?
I also recently read an article on WebMD that linked disposable diapers to asthma, which has increased threefold in the past several decades. Childhood asthma has reached an all-time high, affecting of 9.4% of children, or 7 million children, in the US, according to the CDC. When I read the article, I immediately thought of our bedroom mirror. Tye's changing station has been set up on a low dresser in our bedroom, right under a large mirror. When Tye was still itty-bitty tiny, none of the cloth diapers I bought for her fit tightly enough around her skinny little legs to keep anything in the diaper. During that newborn phase that included peeing every 15 minutes and pooping 8-10 times a day, the leaky cloth just wasn't working, so we decided to use disposables short-term and we switched to cloth when Tye reached about 9-10 pounds.
When we were using disposables, we discovered a thick, white film developing on the lower mirror above the changing table. When we switched to cloth diapers, the white film stopped collecting on the mirror. I couldn't believe that the disposable diapers were creating so much dust! Just what was in that dust? And how much of that were we inhaling? Now I wonder how much of that contributes to the development of asthma, and how much of it is that "baby" fragrance. Either way, I'm very happy to be using almost exclusively cloth diapers now. Now that we're ECing and using cloth diapers, Tye is very uncomfortable when she's wet, so we still use disposables when we're on the road so Tye can be a little more comfortable until we have the opportunity to change her. But now, the disposables are Whole Foods 365 brand, which are unfragranced and unbleached, which makes me feel better.
In case you're wondering, we also use baby wash, lotion, and diaper cream free of "fragrance." California Baby makes a line of baby products scented with only essential oils that is available at Target, and Whole Foods has other options for naturally-scented, organic baby products. While they don't capture that "baby" smell like other brands in the baby isle, they also don't overpower the true baby scent of warm milk and skin. I'll take Tye's true scent over a mass-produced fragrance any day. She smells delicious, and she smells like only my baby smells. Mmmmm.... Tye. Yum.


  1. I love all of this info you are providing about cloth diapers and good baby products! When do you have time to do all of this research?!

  2. Let's not forget that sweet smell of newborn baby head, which, I'm guessing, is actually the smell of amniotic fluid. :0 Either way, good stuff.

  3. You're so right, Jen. I forgot about that uber-new baby smell that Tye had for the couple of days before my milk came in. Probably is the smell of the mom as much as the baby :) I read once that if the baby is placed directly on the mother's chest immediately after birth, the smell of amniotic fluid transfers to the mother's breast and leads the baby there again even more strongly than the scent of her breast alone. Interesting. And as you said, good stuff :)

  4. Wow, I had heard about disposables being linked to asthma, but never really understood the connection until I read this. That's horrible! I'm so glad we've only used natural products on our son, and even those we have used sparingly. Thanks for sharing this.


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