Thursday, March 29, 2012

Icky: a women's health Public Service Announcement (pt. I)

The last time I blogged about reusable menstrual products, I only briefly broached the subjects of health and hygiene, preferring to focus on the cost savings involved in using cloth pads during the 3-6 weeks of bleeding that women experience postpartum. I think that somewhere in my mind, I was hesitant to vilify the manufacturers of disposable products, charitably doubting that they could really be careless or deceitful about what they were telling women was safe to insert into their own bodies. Tampons today are just wads of cotton of the throwaway variety, right? I thought they got rid of the TSS-causing chemicals and gels in the '80s?

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. After looking into this further, I was dead wrong! And I think it's high time, with "women's health" being a hot media buzzword right now, that we at eLeMeNO-Pee tackle this as a company that stands for the health of mothers and babies.

So what prompted this burst of research inspiration? One of my former clients (congratulations to her on the early potty-training!) is the Saginaw, Texas blogger who found the famed moldy fresh-out-of-the-package tampon on Tuesday, March 27. She is a long-time personal friend. While there are rumors to the contrary, this is undoubtedtly real! And it's undoubtedly hit your Facebook or Twitter feeds by now.

In Kotex's parent company Kimberly-Clark's e-mail response to Parr's product support inquiry about her discovery (a discovery that "shouldn't" have even been made, because the mold was beneath the applicator that she accidentally broke when pushing it through the plastic wrapper), a customer service representative who identified herself as Betty wrote:
"We understand how distressing it can be to find mold on a product that is used for personal hygiene and apologize for your concern.  In instances where it has been found, we conducted tests on the product involved and have found the mold to be a common environmental species that carries no health risk.  The vegetative mold is similar in nature to mold on vegetables or in baked goods."
Accidentally breaking the applicator revealed green and black mold growing on the cotton tampon.

(The customer service representative continued the e-mail for another couple of paragraphs, offering Parr coupons for discounted Kotex tampons before signing off.)

Let's ignore the e-mail's implication that this is not a rare occurrence (yikes!!). Let's focus on the "facts" that Betty from Kotex used to try to reassure the consumer. She compared the mold to the type of vegetative mold that grows on bread or produce. As long as you don't eat it, that stuff carries no health risk, right?

Not if you're allergic to mold. According to the Mayo Clinic Web site, respiratory exposure to mold in persons who are allergic can lead to serious complications such as asthma, lung and sinus infections, pneumonitis, even anaphylactic shock. In infants who are allergic, respiratory exposure can cause pulmonary hemorrhage. While cases of anaphylactic shock and other fatal or near-fatal reactions to breathing in mold are rare, they are worth mentioning.

But Danielle Parr wasn't supposed to have breathed this mold. She was supposed to have inserted it into her body to absorb menstrual blood, having never seen the tampon because it was inside an applicator. I don't recommend that you google "mold in vagina" unless you have excellent search engine filters in place, but your average woman is aware of what it means for her when the pH of the vagina is disturbed or a foreign substance like mold or bacteria is introduced. She's on her way to a prescription for Diflucan and some of the most uncomfortable days of her life.

What of non-applicator tampons, you ask? You can see the entire surface there. What about disposable pads? Why vilify all conventional disposable menstrual products?

For some of the same reasons we warn against the more-than-occasional use of disposable diapers: The materials that make them up are just plain sketchy, treated with a side dose of dangerous:
  • GMO cotton or cotton/rayon blend (tampons), cotton/plastic weave (pads).
  • Chlorine bleach, which means they are exposed to and will absorb dioxin, a byproduct of the chlorine bleaching process.
  • Glue.
  • Sodium polyacrylate super-absorbent gels derived from petroleum (in pads), the same product found in disposable diapers to make them super-absorbent.
  • Polypropylene.
  • Polyethelene film.
  • Pthalates, which are linked to hormone disruption.
These materials themselves are risky (see The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for more info), but beyond that, their super-absorbent properties are also known to cause extreme dryness, disrupted pH, agitation, and inflammation of vaginal wall tissue, which leads to heavier flow and more painful periods. Any gynecologist, gyn nurse practitioner, or midwife will confirm this; ask yours!

In addition to the potential toxicity of these materials, the fact remains that Danielle Parr's brand new, unopened tampon was probably just functioning optimally. This mold issue may have been completely unrelated to the factory process. It's just that tampons are SO super-absorbent that it absorbed some tiny bead of moisture in her dry North Texas home, and some tiny mold spore was absorbed and given an optimum place to grow -- in cotton, beneath an opaque piece of plastic, the applicator.

This could, theoretically, happen to any super-absorbent disposable product, diapers included. Kotex's applicator design probably contributed, but Kotex isn't the problem; the problem is inherent to disposable products intended to absorb liquids.

The bigger problem is that not only are disposable menstrual products dishonestly marketed as completely safe for all women, but a high-profile company like Kimberly-Clark (makers of Huggies, Cottonelle, Kotex, and Kleenex, among other common brandname household products) thinks that tossing some coupons to a dissatisfied consumer, especially a consumer who expresses concern about the health and safety of a product after making shocking discovery such as this one, is an acceptable response to the consumer's deservedly alarmed correspondence.


I know I normally hop from happy topic to happy topic, doing product spotlights one week, fun features or industry news the next. But I'm going to break this up over the course of two weeks, because I think it's important to follow up on this.

So next week, I'll cover your women's hygiene alternatives, both reusable and disposable, including these strange-sounding menstrual cups and cloth pads you've probably read about in comment threads if you've followed this news story at all. Some of these alternatives are products that your local rep carries, and some of them aren't. All are made of safe or safer materials than conventional disposable menstrual products, and they're made by small manufacturers whose business ethics stand in stark contrast to what has been displayed by Kimberly-Clark this week. This isn't about sales. It's about letting women know that, no matter their lifestyle or situation, they have options, and they deserve better.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What will Tots Bots' changes bring? Better, brighter, beautiful things!

Once upon a time, I discovered a diaper.

I was intrigued by its design, attracted by its ease. When we finally met in person, this cloth diaper and I, I swooned at its silky softness and its trim fit. There was no other diaper like it, and there was no disputing that. This one had become the love of my cloth diapering life. If my cloth diaper romances were a TLC reality show, this one would have been the one with the cool British accent that all the other sister-wife diapers were jealous of. This one, this UK-made Tots Bots Easy Fit, was, for sure, my happily ever after. (I know I've said that before, but this one really was the one.)

Alas, the seasons changed, and the manufacturer sent its herald out into the woods (populated by the Facebook-using fan base, of course) to deliver a proclamation.

They were changing the design.

My little heart broke in two; what Big, Bad Wolf was this, blowing down my dreams of building an all-Tots Bots stash for my next baby? I had just started using them around Christmas (that Rudolph print got me!). eLeMeNO-Pee had just brought them on. Our reps had just received training on them. And now the manufacturer was redesigning? Boo-hoo-hoo, y'all. Boo-hoo-hoo!

After grieving for a few minutes, I began reading about these changes, my skeptical spectacles (this is a British company, right?) on tight. Then I looked at the photos. My skeptical specs fell to the floor, shattering. I'm sold. My love is not leaving me. And we'll leave the metaphor there to get down to the real business: the changes.

So the biggest change that my fellow diaper aficionados seem to fear is the move away from a rayon of bamboo interior.

I think bamboo has gotten a reputation for being a natural fiber. That's not necessarily true. While there are organic bamboos in the textile marketplace, the Easy Fit's insert (and many other bamboo cloth diaper inserts) is made from rayon of bamboo. Rayon of bamboo is a high-quality, absorbent fiber derived from a natural substance (the bamboo plant), but that bamboo is blended with synthetics and treated with chemicals to become the thin, tight-loop, soft terry-like stretch of fabric that you see topping the tongue-style insert of the current Easy Fit. That insert is backed by a layer of microfiber.

The testers recruited by Tots Bots to try out the new design reported a 20% increase in absorbency, making the new Easy Fit a perfect candidate for an out-and-about diaper because of its ease of use as an AIO and its holding power for situations where diaper changes are inconvenient. The old Easy Fit was never considered a great diaper for heavy-wetters. The new one promises much-improved performance!

So what's behind that amazing new absorbency? Minky!

I've blogged about the wonders of absorbent minky before. I should also mention that minky is super quick-drying, making it a superb choice for an AIO, since drying time is every cloth diapering mom's biggest gripe about AIOs. Minky is also more durable than rayon--it will stand up to more wear and tear in a high-agitation washing machine. It can't pill! It's also luxuriously soft on the hands, making it less of a chore to stuff the tongue-style insert into the pocket of your clean, dry Easy Fits.

Don't get me wrong. I like bamboo, and I know it's been all the rage for a while. But as easy-to-deep-down-clean and as quick-drying as my FuzziBunz minky inserts have been, I'm calling it now: minky is the new, softer bamboo.

Luxurious minky, dyed to match the diaper's exterior. Check out the matching Aplix, too!

What else is new, and what's the same?

Well, the new design boasts:

1) A choice between snap or Aplix closures!
2) Gorgeous new unisex, fairytale-themed prints.
3) Color-coordinated snaps and Aplix, meaning these couldn't be any cuter or easier to show off!

The new design will retain the ultra-silky outer layer, the super-strong Aplix, the vibrant solid color palette, the trim cut that provides great coverage across the bum, and the always-fantastic customer support from Bummis!

Still disappointed by the loss of that rayon of bamboo? The Stretch Bamboozle fitted will never lose it, and the Bamboozle is cut just like the Easy Fit. Paired with a wrap-style cover, you've got a great two-step option, and you don't have to miss that bamboo!

I gotta tell you, our innovative cloth diaper (or "nappy!") friends over in the UK have really nailed it this time. If you're thinking of selling your cow for the beans to invest in some of the New Easy Fits, you won't be left disappointed. There's something, well, magical about finding such a great fit, such a soft feel, such a convenient design, and such a gorgeous array of prints and colors in one affordable diaper.

This is the tale of a special cloth diaper from across the sea and how it woo'ed my friends and me!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What to do when your friends say, "Eww."

Picture it:

You’ve taken the leap. You’ve looked at and touched all your options, weighed them, chosen what you wanted—and now you’ve placed your very first “fluff mail” order online, in your local cloth diaper store, or with your local rep. You may have even gotten to bring an item home to show off the cuteness and ease of modern cloth diapers to your husband or partner, your parents and in-laws, and the daycare. You anticipate their "oohs" and "ahhs" with great relish.

"Hey, Grandma! Check out these cloth diapers!"
You post this Facebook status update: “Just ordered our stash of cloth diapers!!! I’m excited and nervous, but I can’t wait to see my little munchkin with a cute, fluffy booty!”

Then the barrage of comments hits:

“Why would you want to do that?”

“You’re a better mommy than I am!”

“I tried that, but it was stinky, and I hated pinning!”

“What do you do about the poop?”

“How do they not leak?”


How encouraging, right?

Here's my take: your friends don’t mean to be ugly! (Ok, maybe that last one did.) Their incredulity is the product of a skeptical mixture of curiosity and misinformation, and it’s totally understandable. Think back a few weeks—you may have felt the same way!

So what do you say when you’re put on the spot for all your skeptical friends and family to see? You haven’t actually begun cloth diapering yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show off the knowledge and confidence you’ve gained from doing research or consulting with your eLeMeNO-Pee representative!


Let’s tackle these one at a time. Here’s what you can say when someone asks you:

“Why would you want to?”

"Because I’ll be saving around $2,000 - $3,000, avoiding contact between my baby and chemicals that are linked to serious health conditions, and not contributing to the 27.4 billion disposable diapers that will be tossed into a landfill this year—to remain for the next 250-500 years, not decomposing until after our great, great, great-grandchildren have passed away. Plus they're way cuter, and I can match them to the baby's outfits! You should see some of the cute colors and prints they come in!"

“Supermom! You’re a better mommy than I am! I could never do that!”

"This isn’t a choice I’m making to be better than anybody else; rather, it’s the option that we have decided is best for our family. I promise it sounds like a much bigger deal than it actually is! I was scared, too, but after doing research and talking to other cloth diapering moms, I feel this is something we can definitely handle. Besides, ALL moms are super!"

“I tried, but I had so many problems.”

"I have read about people having problems with leaking or with getting diapers to fit correctly, or even with getting them clean once the baby gets older. I can’t blame you for giving up when you ran into problems and didn’t have anybody to help you troubleshoot! Fortunately, now there is a plethora of knowledgeable support within the cloth diapering community, including online forums and local cloth diaper companies that I trust to help me if I have any problems!"

“Be careful. I used to always poke my babies with the pins until they came out with the paper ones.”

No pins... and no leaks!
"No pins! Today’s cloth diapers go on and off just like a disposable and secure using either easy snaps or Velcro."

“What do you do about the poop?”

"Poop goes in the potty! If the baby is exclusively breastfed, then you don’t have to do anything to the diaper before it goes in the diaper pail and then into the washing machine. Breastmilk poop has very little bacteria in it, and it is 100% water-soluble.

"After that stage is over, I’m going to buy a diaper sprayer and attach it to the water line on my toilet. I can quickly spray the diaper off into the toilet and then put it in the diaper pail until it’s time to wash. I don’t have to touch any poop, and I can limit how much of it ever touches my washing machine."

“How do they not leak?”

"You may be picturing a burp rag, which is a prefold--a type of cloth diaper that requires a waterproof cover. Modern cloth diapers have elastic around the legs and around the waist at the back. Not only does a properly fitting cloth diaper not leak, but it also prevents “poo-splosions” because of that elastic at the back! As long as you’re changing the diaper every 2-3 hours, per the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for ANY kind of diaper, you should never 'max out' the absorbency of a cloth diaper. No leaks!"


"If you’re already a parent, you’ve probably had to touch poop. And vomit. And snot. If you haven't yet, you will.

"Bodily functions are gross. Modern cloth diapers are a way healthier, greener, more affordable, cuter way to deal with the gross!"


So there you have it! Easy answers to the FAQs that all new cloth diapering moms will hear when they introduce the modern cloth concept to their families and friends.

And there’s one more thing you should say to them once you help them understand the benefits of modern cloth diapers. Turn their questioning on them, and ask: 

“Why wouldn’t I use cloth diapers? And what’s stopping you from exploring the idea? Come on, I'll help!”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Product Spotlight: Limited edition SoftBums colors? We are so there.

As I sit (well, stand--what mom of toddlers has a desk?) here in my kitchen with my sixteen-month old, who dons her typical uniform of t-shirt and brightly colored cloth diaper, I watch her shove a square of her own snack-time cheese into a helpless, supine, half-dressed baby doll's mouth. Next she attempts to comb Baby's hair, change her (cloth!) diaper, swaddle her, and tuck her into bed with the force of hurricane winds behind those tiny, dimpled, innocent-looking toddler hands. Her enthusiasm sure is funny. I can only think of one thing.

Is it that I really should enlist my children in helping me to carry all the scattered dolls, books, cars, and temporary tattoos back to the playroom, that nascent Land O' Toys from which the favored playthings emigrate to the dining room, only to return for brief, courteous visits to the homeland once a week?

Nerrrrrp. It's not.

Is it that I really wish I hadn't run out of sugar this morning, or that I'd at least planned my sugar-to-coffee ratio a little more wisely, because this third cup of coffee is not only room temperature (again, mother of toddlers) but also beginning to taste a little like crude oil?


Is it that I really should take care of that rotten banana smell that's coming from under the microwave (how did she get that there??) while the kids are finally playing happily?

Well, the thought crossed my mind, but it was immediately overshadowed by this other thought. I wish I were kidding.


The March 2012 color: Blueberry!

Two in cloth? A patriotic pair!
In case you've missed it, SoftBums is releasing very limited quantities of limited edition shell colors each month--Calendar Bums! This month, retailers were allowed to pre-order up to seven shells in the March color: Blueberry. So Allison, CEO and the mom behind your local rep, snatched them up! Just a few days later, she's already down to four.

Four. That's it. Once they're gone, they're gone.

Now, I'm not going to try to convince you that you need this diaper. Just a few weeks ago, I even suggested that you might give up collecting new cloth diapers for Lent.

But if you're still building your stash, or if you're a major SoftBums fan, or if you've been dying to try the SoftBums Echo, now's your chance. If you decide it's not your favorite, you can re-sell it: rare, out-of-production colors and prints, especially in popular diapers like SoftBums, retain their value remarkably.

(Embarrassing Confession Time: when the Rocky Mountain Diapers cow print had been out of production for about a year and I was an eLeMeNO-Pee representative, I paid more for one of those suckers used than I paid for new inventory straight from the Home Office. I won't even tell you how embarrassingly close to retail I came to paying for a two-year old diaper--hey, it was in great shape!)

SoftBums Echos are high-quality, made-in-the-USA, microfleece-lined, stay-dry All-in-Twos that are 100% adjustable. Your local rep can show you the patented Slide-2-Size adjustment feature that guarantees you can always achieve a perfect fit on your baby, from birth to potty-training. The whole concept is actually really amazing, and this is a one-size option that doesn't require much guesswork about fitting.

No, you probably don't need this cloth diaper if you've already got a full stash. But it will, like all your cloth diapers, last, oh, ten thousand times longer than a disposable diaper, and it will make you smile every time you look at it, because you'll know. You'll know that there's no such thing as wasting money when it comes to cloth, because you didn't pay money for trash.

If you want one of these limited edition Blueberry Echos (or one of the two remaining February Firecracker Reds!), hurry up and head to our Rep Finder, click your rep's name, and place your order. Remember, there are only four available. Well, three.

My daughter looks really cute in blue.

Do you have more than one diapered child? Watch how easy it is to adjust SoftBums diapers so that they can be shared by your two in cloth!