By Nadia Kounang
(CNN) — For many new moms, the first few years of childhood are a sea of stress. “Is my child eating enough?” “When will my child sleep through the night?” “Should I be doing this differently?”
Low-income moms face additional stress when it comes to providing diapers for their babies, new research shows.
A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics shows nearly 30% of women have some sort of diaper need for their children. Eight percent of the women surveyed reported needing to stretch their diapers to make them last, meaning they’re not changing diapers as often as they should.
Re-using diapers and leaving them on too long can lead to more urinary tract infections and diaper rash. That’s not only bad for the baby, it’s also bad for mom, the study authors say. The researchers found 30% of the mothers surveyed reported experiencing some sort of emotional stress or depression over diapers. That stress can, in turn, impact their children.
“We know that maternal stress and depression contributes to child development,” said Joanne Goldblum, who works for the National Diaper Bank Network, and is an author of the study. “Parents can’t spend the time, for example, talking to their child, reading to their child, playing with their child, when they are focused on providing just their needs met. And they’re stressed. So we know there is an immediate connection between stress and child outcomes.”
In addition to Goldblum, two of the study authors are also affiliated with the National Diaper Bank Network, which is partially sponsored by the diaper company Huggies.
Goldblum wasn’t at all surprised by the findings.
“When I started the diaper bank, I started as a social worker. I saw families re-using diapers,” said Goldblum. “I saw them take the diaper off, dab the solid and put the diaper back on. Or hang the diaper up to air it out and re-use it.”
Does that seem extreme? Consider that an average supply of diapers costs $18 a week, which comes to $936 each year; yet a single mother working full-time at a minimum wage job may only make about $15,000 annually. That means the cost of diapers represents more than 6% of her annual pay.
This isn’t just an issue for the very poor, Goldblum added, since people frequently have more than one young child in diapers. “When you get to the 70 to 80 dollars a month, times two or three, that can be stressful until you get to a certain income bracket.”
Low income mothers do have access to food stamps and the federal Women, Infants, and Children program; however, neither program pays for diapers.
And without adequate supplies, many working mothers are placed further in a bind since day care centers often require parents to provide diapers. While cloth diapers are an alternative for some families, Goldblum explained that for some families they aren’t feasible because “many child care centers don’t accept them,” and many laundromats won’t allow cloth diapers to be cleaned in their machines.
The study found that Hispanic women were almost twice as likely to report having diaper need, versus African-American women. While the study didn’t look at why, Goldblum said that anecdotally, “It’s a population that’s undocumented, and there’s a group less comfortable to look for services because they’re undocumented.”
In addition, women over 45 who were likely grandparents raising their children’s kids, were found to have the highest diaper need.
“I think it’s harder for grandparents – they may not be working as much,” explained Goldblum. “They didn’t expect to have children, so weren’t ready for children. They may have less savings.”
Parents can reach out to the National Diaper Bank Network, to find a diaper bank near them.
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