About a year ago, I was watching a news segment about a diaper drive that was being held in my town and I was surprised to learn that diapers aren’t covered by government safety-net programs like Food Stamps or WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children).   I mean, it’s not as if you can forego diapers – they’re a necessity, not a luxury.  Still, because they’re considered a “consumable” product, they can’t be purchased under government programs.

Anyone that’s held a baby for longer than 15 minutes knows how fast babies go through diapers. A newborn uses 10-12 per day on average and a three year old soils (or removes) 6-8 on a  no-blow-out kinda day.  At an average cost of $100 per month,  diapering costs can really add up quickly for families in need.  Add to this the fact that poor and low-income families don’t have access to Costco, BJ’s and other discounters that offer significant savings on bulk purchases of diapers,  and  must purchase them at inner city convenience stores where prices are significantly higher than grocery stores and “big box” stores like Walmart or Target.

Which leads to the obvious question…If disposables are so expensive, why not use cloth?  Great idea, but most people living in poverty do not have their own washing machines or affordable access to washing facilities.  Furthermore, coin-operated laundromats do not allow customers to wash cloth diapers in their machines for health and sanitary reasons.  Clearly, disposables are the only option for most poor and working-class families.

Having an adequite supply of diapers also comes into play when bringing your baby to day care so you can go to work. Parents are required to bring their own supply of diapers and minimum amounts are most often required.  If you can’t provide a steady stream (no pun intended) of nappies for your tot, the day care center will charge you an additional fee, or you won’t be able to drop off your tike – no daycare…no work.  If parents cannot access daycare, then they are less able to attend work or school on a consistent basis. This in turn leads to increased economic instability and a continuation of the cycle of poverty. A double whammy for low-income wage earners.

Finally, consider this; in poor and low-income families, a baby can spend a day or longer in one diaper, leading to potential health and abuse risks. When their diaper supplies get low,  many families use strategies to make diapers last longer. One way of doing this is to leave the child in a wet diaper until they’d had a bowel movement or to change the baby by removing solid waste from the diaper and reusing it if it is dry.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if a child wears a wet or dirty diaper for too long, he or she is more likely to develop rashes or urinary tract infections which can result in kidney damage and scarring, poor growth, and high blood pressure.

The good news is there are ways to help.  Diaper Drives held through churches, schools, and non-profit groups are popping up to help address this issue. NationalDiaperNetwork.org has a networked listing according to state and on the local level, groups are hosting them in Fairfield County and New Haven County.

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