(WOMENSENEWS)–Efforts to subsidize diapers are not exactly a hot topic of conversation among mommy bloggers, social service providers or health professionals.
But there is an emerging "diaper rights" movement that is mobilizing to get more diapers into the hands of more parents–and on the behinds of more babies and toddlers. And I’m all for it.
An adequate supply of disposable diapers costs hundreds–even thousands–of dollars a year, a cost that is simply too high for millions of low-income parents across the country. This is especially true for single mothers, who are most likely to be in extreme poverty. To afford diapers, 1-in-3 mothers–a disproportionate number of whom are African American and Latino–have had to cut back on basic necessities like food, heat, electricity and even child care, according to study commissioned this year by Huggies diapers.
While I’m a huge supporter of diaper-changing dads (turns out I married one!), the study focuses only on moms because, let’s face it, they’ve done the lion’s–or lioness’s– share of diaper-changing over the last few millennia.
Obviously Huggies has a commercial interest in hyping the inadequate supply of diapers, but the study does make a valid point: All children deserve fresh clean diapers. A lack of diapers can lead to problems ranging from diaper rash to infection. These health ailments can cause more crying, which some say puts babies at greater risk of physical abuse.
Moms Suffer Too
It’s also a detriment to moms; the study found that some mothers who cannot afford an adequate supply of diapers say they’ve had to miss work because most child care centers require a day’s worth of diapers. They lose out on income, putting diapers even further out of reach.
Mothers in need of diapers also feel guilty, stressed and frustrated. One-third of U.S. mothers feel like "bad mothers" when they are not able to change their children out of a dirty diaper, according to the study.
Cloth diapers, unfortunately, aren’t a realistic option for many low-income moms. Personal washers and dryers are bulky and expensive, and coin-operated machines eat quarters like so much popcorn. And with a bag of soiled linens in one hand and a child (or two or four) in the other, Laundromats can be pretty tough to get to for new–and older–moms.
Unfortunately it wouldn’t make a dime of difference if Laundromats were less expensive and more accessible. Most licensed day care centers refuse to change cloth diapers, so most working parents are essentially required to go the disposable route if they have any hope of holding down a job.
Government Help Unavailable
Despite all this, low-income parents cannot count on any kind of help from the government to ensure their kids are clean and healthy.
The federal government actually bars food-stamp beneficiaries from using subsidies to purchase diapers and other hygienic products.
Both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (informally known as the food-stamp program) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (often called WIC) are run by the Department of Agriculture and only allow beneficiaries to use subsidies to purchase formula, food and drink. (Where exactly do they think all that stuff ends up?)
Diapers and other hygienic products–toilet paper, household cleaning products and personal cleaning supplies like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and shampoo–are also off limits.
So how do you stay clean? How do you put out the trash? And just how do you manage menstruation, since feminine hygiene products, like diapers, are also expensive and off limits under food-stamp programs?
Local and regional diaper donation groups are sprouting up all across the country and are advocating for policy change, including government subsidies for hygiene products.
Meanwhile, Huggies is donating up to 20 million diapers to diaper banks throughout the United States, and 2.5 million diapers to facilities in Canada, in the coming months.
The bottom line? Every infant and toddler deserves to be clean and healthy. Let’s hope this diaper-for-all movement manages to kick some butt!
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Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C.
For more information:
The Diaper Bank: