All you ever wanted to know about diapers and what's in 'em.

Babies are precious, gurgling, adorable little munchkins whose smiles can light up a room. From food to toys and especially diapers — it's no wonder we want what's best for them all the time.

Who could resist this face? Honestly. Image by iStock.


Up until the middle of the last century, parents exclusively used cotton diapers to help keep their babies dry and clean. But one mother, Marion Donovan, wasn't happy with the mountains of dirty laundry her babies created — not to mention the mess leaky diapers made on her bedsheets.

Her solution — a plastic shower curtain cut to size and filled with a cotton insert — is widely considered the world's first waterproof diaper cover and the inspiration for fully disposable diapers.

Nearly 70 years later, disposable diapers make up about 66% of diaper sales worldwide, with an estimated 18 billion disposable diapers bought and used in the United States every year.

Diapers have come a long way from plastic shower curtains. The companies who make them have a vested interest in ensuring the babies wearing their products are safe, healthy, and leak-free.

That said, if you've listened to the news in the last few years, you've probably heard some scary things about disposable diapers and how toxic or terrible they are — that they cause horrible skin rashes or might contain chemicals that cause cancer. They're the kind of stories that stick in our heads — especially for concerned caregivers. Which is totally fair since babies wear diapers almost all the time during their first few years of life.

Who wouldn't want to know whether that's safe?

Keeping this sleepy bun safe should be a national priority. Image by iStock.

The fear and distrust of the diaper industry might stem from the fact that it's considered "self-regulating." Companies that make and sell diapers aren't required by law to share their full ingredient lists. Consumers have to trust that they're telling them everything they need to know. For some caregivers, simply knowing there's a chance they're not getting the full story is frustrating — especially if they're looking after a baby with very sensitive skin and want to keep track of what's in everything that touches them.

So what's in a disposable diaper anyway?

Image by iStock.

There are three main parts to a disposable diaper: the top sheet, the absorbent layer, and the backing sheet.

The top sheet is the part of the diaper with direct contact to a baby's body. It's most often made from polypropylene, a common ingredient in thermal underwear that's considered safe for young skin. The backing sheet has a similar story: It is most likely made from polyethylene, a breathable but leakproof barrier that's proven to be safe for human use.

This little dude has more important things to think about than a leaky diaper — like working on his sweet kickflip.

The absorbent layer gets its power from a mixture of fluffy cellulose pulp and sodium polyacrylate granules. These granules can hold 800 times their dry weight in moisture, helping keep baby's skin dry even when a diaper is very full.

The good thing is that most disposable diapers are perfectly safe.

Sodium polyacrylate made headlines in the 1980s when hundreds of women using super-absorbent tampons infused with sodium polyacrylate contracted toxic shock syndrome, a rare bacterial infection.

Fortunately, the FDA says there's no risk in using the chemical in diapers, as sodium polyacrylate is harmless outside the body. Similarly, researchers have found that fears about exposure to dioxin in chlorine-bleached products like diapers and tampons are equally unfounded.

There have been tests upon tests upon tests of ingredients in disposable diapers and they've all, consistently, said the same thing.

As of May 2016, the Food and Drug Administration has never needed to issue a recall for any diaper. This little tush is safe and sound. Image by iStock.

Let's be real, though. There are other, extremely important factors influencing what kind of diapers caregivers use.

For people concerned with their environmental footprint, disposable diapers might not be the best choice. Some disposable diapers will take hundreds of years to break down in landfills — and two to three years of changing diapers six or more times a day can really add up. There are compostable or biodegradable diapers available, but those are often more expensive, and for caregivers on a tight budget, they may be out of reach.

President Barack Obama talked about the high cost of diapers for low-income families on Mother's Day 2016. It's such a common phenomenon, there's even a name for it: "the diaper gap." As the president said in his post on Medium:

"I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a parent that has to choose between diapers and other basic expenses. Access to clean diapers isn’t just important for a child’s health and safety. Research has shown that mothers who are unable to afford diapers for their babies are more likely to suffer from maternal depression and mental health issues. No mother or father should have to worry about keeping their baby clean and healthy because they can’t afford diapers. America’s parents — and children — deserve better."

There are environmental, financial, and practical issues to consider when choosing disposable or reusable diapers.

They're all important, and it's not always an easy decision. But the more you know, the easier it is to understand the trade-offs.

Now isn't that a breath of fresh air?

Family

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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