Diapers play a key role not only in a baby’s health and well-being, but also in ensuring hygiene for the whole family. They are a basic necessity for a child, ranking with parental love and food. But diapers are expensive. Families unable to afford sufficient diapers run the risk of not using adequate diapers or overusing them, leaving their children in soiled diapers for long periods of time. This can cause serious health issues and pain, affecting a child’s well-being. Unhappy babies can lead to unhappy parents and may cause excessive material and paternal stress. In some extreme cases this stress can lead to child abuse.
A lack of diapers can also limit a family’s childcare options. Many childcare facilities will not allow children to be dropped off without an adequate amount of diapers for the day. A mother or father may have to miss days of work to watch their child, cutting their already low income.
Unfortunately, although they play such a key role in a child’s life, diapers are not listed as essentials that can be funded with federal assistance programs, and many low-income families are affected by a shortage of diapers.
Check the Facts
A typical baby needs 10-12 diapers a day and a toddler needs approximately 8 diapers. At a cost of between $100 and $120 a month, diapers are an expense that many families struggle to meet.
1 in 20 mothers who has had to cut back on other purchases to pay for diapers has reused a disposable diaper. 36% of mothers living in poverty regularly run out of clean diapers for their infants.[fn1]
Diapers are not covered by social welfare systems like WIC or food stamps because they are considered “hygiene items”.
Families are sometimes forced to use one diaper a day for their babies. These babies can experience diaper rash, infections, and other health problems.
Babies with severe diaper rashes often cry more – more crying coupled with the stress of living in need can lead to child abuse.[fn2] Babies who cry excessively are the most likely to be victims of shaken baby syndrome.[fn3]
Mothers who are not able to provide an adequate or consistent supply of diapers for their babies feel guilt, anxiety, and an increased level of stress.[fn4]
Distribution partner organizations have found that diapers are an effective incentive for new parents to participate in parenting classes, GED courses, and other programs that stabilize families.
Why not focus on cloth diapers?
While cloth diapers may save money in the long term, they require an initial investment of money and time that many low-income families can’t afford. To use cloth diapers a family must either hire a diaper service at a monthly charge or have reliable access to laundry facilities. Most Laundromats prohibit the washing of cloth diapers in their machines for sanitary reasons. The majority of daycare centers only accepts disposable diapers and do not accept cloth diapers. A child being turned away from a daycare center can mean a day of missed work for a parent and a cut to their already low income.
[FN1] Huggies Every Little Bottom Study. Raver, Letourneau, Scott, D’Agostino. June 2010. http://www.huggies.com/en-US/promotions/everylittlebottom/the-diaper-need
[FN2] A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice