"Diapers are so expensive!!" Most new parents hear this soooo many times when they're preparing for their first baby. If there's one thing every baby needs - it's diapers: this is one baby expense you can't really skip.
But how much do they really cost? Here's what the Internet has to say about disposable1 diaper costs in a baby's first year:
|My Mom's A Nerd||$264-858|
|Mixed Up Money||$505|
|What to Expect||$510-930|
|Mom Like You Mean It||$588|
|Pop Sugar, New York Life and Money Under 30||$900|
Some of these numbers are quite large! We (two adults) spent $75/month on restaurants (mostly takeout) in 2020 - did our diaper spending really equal that of our eating out splurges? What did we really spend on diapering in our first year?
Grand total for diapers and wipes in the first year: ~$196 = $16/month = $4/week
This is way lower than most estimates... But why?
I tracked2 that we used ~1,620 diapers in the first year, or ~4.45/day. This includes diapers purchased or given to us. More on this later, but this number passes a basic sanity check for our little guy - we probably go through about 4-5 diapers a day now, at 18 months (and have for quite some time), but newborns need diapers almost every time they feed (~6-8 times/day).
Total: $195.94 = $16.33/month = $3.77/week
Year 2 costs for diapers/wipes should remain close to this - although bigger sizes are more expensive, baby also needs fewer diapers per day.
We have generous friends and family. Diapers are popular gifts (after all, every baby needs them), and we're grateful for the gifts we received. We also ended up with a few diapers that other babies had grown out of before they finished a box. For any diapers we didn't pay for ourselves, I did include these in my calculations - assuming they had the same cost per diaper as other diapers of the same size. We received ~$38.74 of free diapers, so we only actually spent $157.20 on diapers/wipes for baby's first year, and honestly, much of this was covered by gift cards from our baby shower.
Apparently 1,620 diapers in the first year is fewer than most places on the Internet suggest: we used 55-80% of the estimated necessary diapers.
- Am I bad at counting?
- Is our baby just a wonder-child? Or are we mistreating our son by letting him sit in his diapers too long?
- Is the Internet overestimating?
Maybe a little bit of all of those.
I didn't keep incredibly detailed track of all of the free diapers we received, but I don't think I missed over 400 free diapers. Maybe with baby #2 I'll keep better track :)
Every baby is different. Our little guy:
- Doesn't complain about his diaper being wet/dirty and only occasionally gets diaper rash (usually while sleeping).
- Started sleeping long stretches fairly early (3-4 months), and babies soil fewer diapers when they're sleeping. Note that this site suggests changing diapers every 3 hours (or on-demand, which we definitely do for stinky or noticeably wet diapers). He's slept 10+ hours/night since he was 4 months old, so that's only 4-5 3 hour periods per day. So it's not crazy.
- Is ~20th percentile for weight, so even at 18 months he was 23 lbs - solidly in the size 3 diapers.
- Has a regular amount of bowel movements: at least daily (more when he was younger).
While we may have lower diaper usage than many families, 3,000 diapers is 8.2 diapers per day and while that may have been realistic for the first few months, I can't imagine using that many per day after he started solid foods. I never saw any direct source data for these recommended ranges, so it's hard to know where they come from. My best guess is from diaper manufacturers, like this Pampers Chart, which suggests between 1,900-2,900 diapers in the first year. Diaper manufacturers do have incentive to encourage more diaper changes per day, so I don't consider it particularly reliable.
Some daycares have hard-and-fast rules, e.g., diaper gets changed every 2 hours, no matter what. If the baby is at daycare for 8 hours a day, that's at least 4 diaper changes (plus on-demand), plus a few at home, so I can see how it adds up quickly.
So what do other sources say?
- Mixed Up Money kept more detailed notes than me, and changed 2,057 diapers in the first year.
- Based on reasonable calculations from My Mom's a Nerd, she would expect 2,490 diapers in the first year.
An informal poll of my mom friends3:
- 4 said ~5/day (1,825 in 365 days)
- 1 said 6-7/day (2,190-2,555 in 365 days)
- 1 said 7-8/day (2,555-2,920 in 365 days)
- 1 said 5-8/day (newborn 10+)
- "We do a diaper change with each feeding (she has never cared if she's wet or not). So as a newborn 8 diapers a day, now 5 a day."
1 kept a spreadsheet:
- 324 Newborn (31.5 days)
- 1,789 Size 1 (243 days)
- 834 Size 2 (90.5 days)
- Total for year 1: 2,947 diapers
Every baby is different - some babies seem perfectly happy with a full diaper, and others scream when even a dot of blue can be seen on the wetness indicator. Stretching diapers to the point where it causes rashes, UTIs, or discomfort is an obvious threshold.
I found this medical journal, which tests urine samples of 2 month-2.5 yr olds who had fevers of above 100.4°F for UTIs. The group without UTIs had 7.5 ± 1.4 diaper changes/day, and the group with UTIs had 4.7 ± 1.4 diaper changes/day. So there is some evidence that changing a diaper more often can decrease UTIs (among infants with a fever who were tested). We don't think our little man has ever gotten a UTI (he is basically never sick - thanks to COVID for keeping us home all the time).
Our general diaper changing philosophy days (with our almost 2 yr old) is this: little man always gets a new diaper:
- When he wakes up in the morning.
- Before or after afternoon nap (unless we just changed it).
- Before he goes to bed.
He also gets a new diaper whenever it's dirty, or when we notice his diaper is full. Or if he's particularly cranky and we think it might help. We also change it more frequently if it looks like diaper rash is coming on. Half the days, only the waking up diaper is dirty, but usually there is a mid-morning or early evening dirty diaper. We end up using 4-5 diapers most days. We even have success using the potty 1-2 times/month.
We also have a baby boy - I'm not sure if baby girls have different diaper soiling patterns, or if you need to change them more often because of anatomical differences.
So how much would we have spent if we used more diapers?
Assuming a base cost of $196 for the first 1,620 diapers (as we used), plus 11 cents/diaper + 1.5 cents/wipe/diaper for additional diapers:
|Source||Number of Diapers||Cost/Year||Cost/Month||Cost/Week|
|Mixed Up Money Mom||2,057||$251||$21||$4.82|
|High End of Recommended Diaper Range||3,000||$369||$31||$7.09|
So... our low usage helps, but even if we used 3,000 diapers in the first year, it doesn't explain the roughly 2x gap between $31/month and the typically estimated $75/month.
As we (apparently) are a bit stingy with our diapers, we are also stingy with our wipes: most wet diapers don't get a wipe if things aren't pink; most dirty diapers get 1-24. There are obvious blowout "3 wiper" exceptions (or emergency baths), and I imagine that with a baby girl instead of a boy, we'd wipe for every wet diaper, not just the dirty ones.
I remember seeing a mom at mom's group use 5 wipes for what I would have deemed a "1 wiper", but to each his own - maybe her baby gets diaper rash really easily so it's worth the tradeoff. This mom assumes 10(!!) wipes per dirty typical diaper, which seems crazy to me - I've never used more than 5 wipes for the worst of blowouts (protip: wipe with the diaper to the large bits off, then fold wipes on themselves to get several wipes from each wipe). If it's that messy, we just do an emergency bath :)
Quotes from some mom friends:
- "On average the dirty ones get 3 wipes. Wet ones usually only get one."
- "We use 2 wipes for a wet (one for baby and one for the diaper cream paddle). Probably 5 for a dirty diaper but it was more when she was younger and they were more runny. We are not efficient wipe users. We do use cream every time. She got a tiny little rash once and now we figure better safe than sorry."
But wipes aren't that expensive (~1.5 cents/wipe) so we're not really saving that much here. The biggest benefits to using fewer wipes is not needing to change the wipes container as often, and therefore avoiding the "no more wipes in the container mid-diaper change" problem.
Every diaper purchase came down to calculating the per diaper cost. I typically aim for ~10-11 cents/diaper.
To repeat advice you read everywhere on the internet - buy in bulk! In many, but not all cases, buying the biggest box you can is the cheapest. However, occasionally a smaller box is cheaper per diaper, or roughly equivalent, so it's worth doing the math.
But of course, make sure you're going to be able to use all the diapers in the box before sizing up. In a few cases, the slight difference in cost per diaper of a small pack vs. a huge box is worth the flexibility. Our Size 2 diapers ended up being the most expensive per diaper because we bought a couple smaller packs to get us to the next size, but probably saved us $$ in the long run.
We did try to plan ahead - if we were nearing the end of a size, we'd try the next size up a couple of times to see if it would work or be leak-city so we could decide if we would be able use an entire unopened box, a small pack, or just move up a bit early. The weight ranges on the diaper sizes are just guidelines - reasonably good ones, but you know your baby best.
Target has some unique discounts that we were able to take advantage of with a little, but not a lot of, work - no coupon clipping or online shopping extensions necessary.
- Target's REDcard gives you 5% off every purchase. Target also runs 5-10% off gift card sales (1-2x/year in 2020 and 2021, at least).
- Target often (every couple of months) runs deals for "spend $100 on diapers/baby essentials, get a $20 gift card". This makes any diaper purchased at Target much cheaper: without REDCard ~20% off, depending on how close you can get to $100; with REDCard, the calculation is more complicated, but it's more than 20% off. Occasionally (2x/year or so), they do a $30 gift card for $100.
Most mainstream diaper brands are sold at Target. You can also easily return them if you don't open a box.
This requires your financial/storage space situation to allow for buying diapers several weeks (months?) before you might need them. The upside: we've never been close to running out of diapers - we're always buying a few weeks/months ahead of time, so there's no fighting about who was supposed to remember to buy them. I get a notification from the Target app about the $20 off $100 deal, then check our stash and replenish as necessary.
There are quite a few (disposable) diaper choices. Wirecutter has an excellent analysis of many diaper brands, and concluded that Up&Up, Parent's Choice, and Pampers were worth their value, with Pampers earning the "Upgrade pick" for better-performing but also more expensive. They also concluded that eco-friendly diapers perform as well as Up&Up/Parent's Choice, but are 2-3x more expensive. My Mom's a Nerd also has a fairly comprehensive disposable diaper brand comparison.
Our philosophy, as it is with many regular purchases, is to try a cheaper brand, and if it works, great, but if it doesn't, consider spending a little bit more for a higher quality product (store brand Oreos = bad; store brand oatmeal = fine). We started with Up&Up diapers, and while there were some blowouts, we also had a few Pampers samples/gifts and they didn't seem to reduce the frequency of blowouts. In fact, we used a gifted box of Mickey Mouse themed Huggies, and anecdotally noticed more blowouts (granted, we were in Disney World, so lots of things were different). And our baby boy didn't have diaper rash with Up&Up - so they worked for us.
- All diapers should be safe - eco-friendly isn't appreciably more safe.
- Eco-friendly diapers will probably have fewer chemicals, but they typically still have some chemicals (like the one that soaks up liquid so well). The marketing terms used are very non-scientific - labels like "organic" and "chemical-free" are not telling of the differences in brands without thorough research as to why a particular brand is considered "eco-friendly".
- Most eco-friendly diapers aren't fully biodegradable anyway, so the "landfill" argument isn't particularly convincing.
- To us, it seems the most compelling reason to try a "more natural" brand is if your baby has a sensitive bottom that doesn't tolerate other diapers.
I thought this Seventh Generation engineer summed up the argument well: "All of the diaper suppliers do a great job of making sure that their diaper designs are safe for babies. That’s not really where they differ. They differ in how responsible their ingredients are."
We decided the price difference wasn't worth the difficult-to-quantify difference in sustainability - we can be more sustainable in other areas of our lifestyle.
For the sake of comparison, if we had used a different brand, how much would we have paid for diapers? I checked prices from Target, Walmart, and Costco in March 2021, including any click-to-clip manufacturer's coupons and discounting all diapers/wipes you can buy at Target at 20%. Details in this spreadsheet. Efficiency is Everything also has a cost/diaper analysis, although he doesn't discount Target diapers, so I found it less useful.
Costs for diapers and wipes, using actual amounts of sizes we used in the first year:
|Size||Cost||Cost Difference||% Difference From Actual Cost||Notes|
|Luvs||$189.15||-$6.79||-3.47%||Averaged ~10.6 cents/diaper|
|Up&Up (Our Cost)||$195.94||-||-||Averaged ~11 cents/diaper|
|Parent's Choice||$220.87||$24.93||12.72%||Averaged 12.6 cents/diaper|
|Kirkland||$299.11||$103.17||52.65%||Averaged 16.96 cents/diaper|
|Huggies||$346.56||$150.62||76.87%||Averaged 20.2 cents/diaper|
|Pampers||$352.80||$156.86||80.05%||Averaged 20.3 cents/diaper|
|Hello Bello||$422.90||$226.96||115.83%||Averaged 24.4 cents/diaper|
|Honest||$502.99||$307.05||156.7%||Averaged 27.8 cents/diaper|
Obviously, if you use more diapers, the cost/diaper ends up affecting your total cost more than it would have for us.
- We saved $150 by using Up&Up diapers in 1 year, with no extra effort over buying Pampers from Target.
- If you want to use eco-friendly diapers, you should decide if it's worth $200-300/year to do so.
Note that some diaper brands (including Hello Bello and Honest) offer subscription services where diapers/wipes "magically" appear at your house on a regular schedule. This convenience may be worth it to your family. Suprisingly, if you prefer Hello Bello or Honest diapers, it's cheaper to get a subscription than it is to buy directly at Walmart/Target. Details in this spreadsheet.
|Hello Bello (Walmart)||$422.90|
|Hello Bello (Subscription)||$390.26|
Caveat: You do need to better predict how many diapers of each size you'll need, as these diapers come in packs of ~200 every N weeks and you can't return them if you don't use them.
To properly handle diaper changes, there are a few things that make life easier. These don't seem be be included in other sites' estimates, so they're in a section by themselves here. We equipped a secondary changing station that we used for baby's first ~4 months, so not all of these were necessary for a minimalist diaper changing operation.
|1 diaper pail & liners||$5||$60||Dekor Plus - garage sale, included enough liners for 1st year. Diaper pails are easy to find used/free - it's an item that most people use for 3 years and then want out of the house. When we ran out, we tried using generic trash bags instead of liners but found the price difference wasn't worth the extra hassle.|
|2 extra trash cans with lids for 2nd diaper stations||$34.56||$34.56||Ikea $15 lidded x2. Used these at secondary changing station and for wet-only diapers to reduce frequency of changing the diaper pail with more expensive liners. They contain the smell enough for wet, but not solid-food dirty diapers, and will be used in bathrooms, etc., after we're done with diapers.|
|2 changing pads (for home)||$22.69||$38||Summer Infant - new in box at used baby sale, and one from Ikea.|
|2 changing pad covers||$0||$20||Free hand-me-downs, like this. I see these fairly frequently on "free baby item" Facebook groups.|
|1 portable changing pad (for diaper bag)||$11.80||$20||JL Childress (really big), plus Munchkin Waterpoof Liners from used baby sale.|
|1 diaper bag||$0||$30-100||We had an extra backpack with lots of pockets that works well. We didn't find a dedicated diaper bag necessary, and there is room for lots of our things, toys, snacks, etc. as baby grows.|
A notable exclusion is diaper cream. We got a couple of free sample tubes for creating registries at places like Target and Walmart, and we're still (2 years in) using those samples. Your pediatrician may also have free samples laying around. But diaper rash cream isn't really that expensive either - the brand our pediatrician recommends, Balmex, is $4 for 2 oz (cheaper per ounce if your baby needs a giant tub of it). We also used (cheaper, less gross) petroleum jelly when our baby's bottom was tinged a bit pink and we were worried about it turning into something worse.
These could have cost us much more (see the "new cost" column), likely $200-$275 (instead of ~$75 we actually spent) but buying used and getting some hand-me-downs saved us $$ (60+%).
Including the costs of "not diapers", we would have spent $270 for baby's first year of disposable diapering. We received ~$38.74 of free diapers, so actual out of pocket cost was $231.
Year 2 (or baby 2) shouldn't have these start-up costs, although we will also need more diaper pail liners: this generic brand is working for us at $22 for ~1-2 years of liners.
We spent a lot less on diapers in the first year than most estimates suggest ($60-700 less). Our little guy apparently went through way fewer diapers than most infants (but was still very happy). But there was also a big difference in cost per diaper than most estimates (~11 cents/diaper vs. ~20 cents/diaper), mostly due to using the generic brand and shopping in bulk at 20% off sales.
Overall, diapering is an area where if your baby tolerates generic diapers well (and they don't lead to excessive blowouts), you can probably budget $30/month for diapers.
We only really considered disposable diapers, not cloth diapers. This Wirecutter article provides an overview of some tradeoffs between the two. They estimate that over 3 years, cloth diapers may save you $120-$270 total (if you buy new). I frequently see cloth diapers given away in a local mom's group, so cloth diapering is possible for just the cost of doing extra laundry, likely ~$60/year (plus your time, which is hard to value).↩
Did I count every diaper and wipe? Of course not - I just kept track of how many boxes we went through (purchased or given to us). This number isn't perfect, but I think it's reasonably close. I didn't keep track of when we changed sizes, so I'm not sure how many XX size diapers per day we used - just an aggregate over the first year.↩
Most participants of this poll have mostly 1.5-2 yr olds, so memory may be a little fuzzy for year 1, or answers based on current toddler diaper usage.↩
Sometimes I tear wipes in half to get the last little bits off, and leave half a wipe. Pulling out a half wipe drives my husband crazy. So sometimes we use 1.5 wipes per diaper, much to my husband's chagrin. Bigger kid diapers usually use 2 wipes.↩