The impact of diaper need on babies and families

Without an adequate supply of clean diapers, babies can face challenges from skin irritations and pain, to behavioral problems.
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 5:15 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:04 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Parents know just how crucial it is so have an adequate supply of clean diapers for their baby. Unfortunately, not all families can afford enough diapers. Now, NBC15 is partnering with The Village Diaper Bank to start a diaper drive in order to collect diapers, as well as raise money, to help families facing diaper need in the community.

“Diaper need essentially just means that a family struggles to afford an adequate supply of diapers for their children, whatever that looks like,” said Megan Sollenberger, founder and CEO of The Village Diaper Bank. “Newborns obviously can go through 200 diapers in a month, while older kids maybe go through a little less, more like seven to eight diapers a day, something like that. It’s just the inability to afford enough for your child.”

The Village Diaper Bank partners with social service organizations to provide a free stipend of diapers to families who need them, according to Sollenberger. Sollenberger said diaper need is a topic that hasn’t received enough attention.

“With diaper need, there aren’t a lot of resources, and there aren’t conversations being started,” she said.

Now, she’s working to start those conversations, and become a source of support for families in need of diapers.

“The impact of a clean diaper is really giving hope to parents,” she said. “Helping remove a burden from them so that they can focus on other areas like working, like improving their financial situation, like bonding with their children and really making those long lasting connections. In addition, the clean diaper for a kid means maybe they won’t have a painful infection that causes even more discomfort.”

Having a clean diaper means more than just avoiding a mess. Dr. Alicia Plummer, a pediatrician with SSM Health, said dirty diapers, and a lack of clean diapers to change the baby into, can lead to pain.

“If the infant or child or toddler doesn’t have a clean diaper, that means they’ve got urine and feces up against their skin, so we’re going lead to skin irritation and rashes and potentially urinary tract infections,” she said. “If you think about it, if your skin’s chronically irritated and then somebody’s coming at you to try to clean it off, we just know those children begin to learn that’s just going to make it worse, it’s going to hurt when somebody’s rubbing against my skin. So then we can start to run into behavior issues from not wanting it done.”

Plummer said those rashes and skin irritation can ultimately end up costing a family more money, because they would then need to treat the irritation or infection with diaper ointments. Those costs can be particularly challenging for families who are already faced with difficult decisions.

“A lot of times people will be experiencing diaper need and decide to forgo other basic necessities like food, not pay their utility, their cell phone bill, maybe even their car bill just because they’re trying to afford the diapers themselves,” said Sollenberger.

Plummer said on average, babies can go through eight to twelve diapers a day. Multiplied by approximately 30 days, and that can add up to hundreds of diapers each month for parents. Plummer also added that if diapers typically range from around $4.50 to upwards of $10.00 for specialized or sensitive skin diapers, costs can add up quickly.

When faced with these hard decisions, Sollenberger said some families look to find alternatives to buying costly diapers.

“Unfortunately a lot of families that don’t have diapers cut back in other areas or they resort to using things like plastic bags in place of diapers, some sort of paper towel situation, we’ve even seen people try to re-use disposable diapers by trying to wash them out, clean them out, which obviously is not good for the health of the baby,” said Sollenberger.

While cloth diapers are a reusable alternative, Sollenberger said not all families have the time to constantly wash them, or easy access to a laundry machine.

The discomfort of a dirty diaper, or a makeshift diaper, can also affect the way children interact with others.

“If you’re just uncomfortable running and moving around because that skin’s now raw and irritated and rubbing against each other, they just might not be as playful, they might be kind of angry and upset because I’m in pain and I’m a child and I don’t really know how to express it well,” said Plummer.

Babies are not the only ones impacted by diaper need. Sollenberger said diaper need can also have a negative impact on parents. “Imagine being a parent, you know what’s wrong, you know why they’re crying, and you can’t fix it,” Sollenberger said. “Those lead to feelings of helplessness, increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and obviously a parent’s mental health is really key to being able to be a successful parent and as successful person.”

Especially during the pandemic, these needs have been amplified. Sollenberger said in the last year, The Village Diaper Bank has gone from about 12,000 diapers a month to 50,000 diapers a month, in addition to more requests for partnership opportunities from community organizations.

“We’ve seen needs increase significantly, and I think just the general knowledge that there are people suffering, there are people in need, has increased significantly since the pandemic started,” Sollenberger said. “I think the sad part is a lot of these families were struggling before too, it just went more unnoticed.”

In bringing awareness to diaper need, and supplying diapers to organizations to distribute to families, Sollenberger hopes to make a positive impact in the lives of families and babies.

“I’m a parent, and I have a deep empathy and understanding for what that phase of life is like with infants and newborns and even just going through the toddler years,” Sollenberger said. “Knowing that there are babies out there that we can help and we can reach, that really motivates me to keep reaching farther, expanding and continuing to just make sure people know that this is a problem.”

For more information on the drive and how you can donate, click here.

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