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Can diapers cause infertility in boys?

Baby Care

Dear Dr Ombeva,

I was recently advised by a fellow mom to do away with diapers as they have long term effects on my baby’s reproductive system...this scared me so much so that I’m now using napkins. Is this true or it’s just a myth?


Dear Martha,

The question of whether diapers can harm boys or make them or infertile has puzzled many a mom over the years. Your concern is understandable. Some even falsely say it may lead to low sperm count. This concern is unfounded at best. In the first place, your baby’s testicles will not be producing sperms just yet, until puberty when special cells in the testicles become active. The testicles are safe in the pouch of skin called the scrotum.

The testicles should not to be over heated and diapers do not get heated up to such levels that they can be harmful to the testicles. This applies to disposable and washable nappies used with an outer wrap. Just ensure that they are not tied too tightly around the baby. While there have been worries that if a boy’s scrotum stays too warm, his fertility maybe affected, there has been no proof. No research has been conducted to verify these worries or validate them.

There is a study which found that the scrotums were cooler than the body temperature even when they were covered with nappies. They remained cool whether the nappies were disposable or reusable. The effect on sperm quality cannot be determined, because at that age sperms are not being produced yet. We do know, however, that cooling the scrotum can improve sperm quality. But the effects are thought to be temporary. Some experts advise parents to use cotton nappies without an outer waterproof wrap instead.

I advise that you don’t do away with nappies/diapers all together, but instead keep your baby nappy-free for some time everyday, especially when you are at home and you can attend to him when he soils himself.

Most babies in any case enjoy kicking for a while everyday without a nappy of any sort on. This even reduces the risk of a nappy rash.

Petroleum jelly keeps the groin and nappy areas moist and protected from dryness and rash.

— Dr Ombeva Malande is a paediatrics and child health expert 

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