Change Those Diaper Rules; Once a Day Not Enough

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Baby in diaper

Credit: Lance McCord on Flickr, under Creative Commons

(WOMENSENEWS)–Babies need diapers — and so do their parents.

Even in developed countries such as the United States, though, this basic need goes unmet. When this happens, babies become unhealthy and their parents also find it harder to break loose from the chains of poverty. Does that link shock you?

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez does not think so.

In May, she sponsored the state bill AB 1516, or the Healthy Baby Bottom Act of 2014. The first of its kind in the United States, it affords families on public assistance $80 a month for diapers until the child reaches the age of 2.

If it ever passes, it is bound to serve over 1.2 million impoverished babies and toddlers for $120 million every year, according to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. It also mandates the creation of a public-private fund that will receive public funding and private donations, which will in turn give financial assistance to organizations with the same objective.

But this issue needs to go further than one state. It must join the push for paid sick leave, paid family leave and other family-friendly policies nationwide. If ever there were a women’s issue, this is it.

Gonzalez argues that unmet diaper needs lead to poverty by raising a "barrier to work." For parents, especially moms, to be able to go to work, they have to leave their babies in child care centers. Free and subsidized child care facilities often have one requirement: parents have to leave disposable diapers. Without diapers, there would be no free child care and without child care, mothers will not be able to report to work regularly. Without steady jobs, the poverty cycle continues.

In early August the bill snagged in the state’s Senate Appropriations Committee. While state lawmakers agreed it was practical and necessary, they also said it was too expensive.

Wrong Classification

Under federal law, diapers are classified among alcohol, cigarettes and pet food as disallowed purchases under government aide. A recent article in the Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics shows how wrong that is.

Authors of the report find that 21 percent of all American children live in poverty and 30 percent of mothers, especially the younger ones, are in need of diapers.

In California, the maximum CalWorks benefits–popularly termed welfare or governmental assistance to families who need it — is around $670 a month for a family of three. The biggest chunk will obviously go to food and rent, forcing parents to purchase diapers less.

Many poor families report keeping their infants in the same diaper for an entire day, finds the report. This puts the baby or toddler at risk of diseases, and the parents at risk of losing more money for medicines and hospital visits.

Researchers found a direct link between diaper need and the need for a more child-sensitive health care system. Babies in dirty diapers can wind up suffering painful rashes, infections and fever. Authors found that 8 percent of families are forced to stretch the use of diapers when they run short of supplies, a common practice associated with diaper dermatitis and urinary tract infection that may even lead to serious renal failures.

Parents Suffer Too

When parents can’t afford to change their babies’ diapers they suffer too. Not knowing where to get money to buy diapers while seeing your child suffer causes maternal stress and even depression, studies have found. Low-income parents, especially single moms, are also at risk of social isolation because they are forced to stay home rather than work, continue schooling and being more active in the community.

Poor maternal health may likely result in a diminished maternal sense of competence. This will ultimately put a dent on child development because the mother is unable to focus and be more sensitive.

Lisa Truong, founder and executive director of the Help a Mother Out foundation, supports the Healthy Bottom bill. "Families often find themselves home-bound when they run out of diapers," she said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

After the bill generated media attention, some opponents argued it would only increase dependency on the government. That argument is firmly trounced by the financial and real-world hurdles detailed by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ report.

Children everywhere face the harsh realities of social injustice. But we as a wealthy society can certainly help them get all the care they need before they are even able to walk.

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