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What is diaper need and how can you help?

Last Modified: May 07, 2021

Women & Children

Diaper Need

This post was written by Erin Norton, RN, BSN, MBA, director of Community Outreach, Parkview Women’s & Children’s Hospital.

When I talk to people about the challenges facing women, infants and families in our community, I am often asked, “What can I do to help?” This says a lot about the caring and compassionate nature of our residents, and the simple question often leads to a discussion about social needs.

Simply put, humans are designed to meet basic needs first. In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow wrote about a “Hierarchy of Needs.” He used a pyramid to help people visualize the idea. The base level of the pyramid contained things like food, water and shelter. As these needs are met, people move up the pyramid and focus on things like employment, safety, friends and relationships.

But what happens when one or more of these basic needs aren’t met? It makes it very difficult to focus on other things! Ensuring that our basic needs are met takes up a lot of time and energy, especially for new parents who must meet both their own needs and those of their infant. Maslow didn’t specifically mention it, but infants have a basic need of diapering. Meeting this need can be challenging for new parents, and is somewhat misunderstood.

What is diaper need?

“Diaper need” refers to the struggle to provide enough diapers so that a baby can be changed as often as necessary. Experienced parents know that babies go through a lot of diapers, and also that diapers are expensive. A newborn can require up to 12 diaper changes a day! Let’s do the math … at approximately $0.36 per diaper, a month’s worth of diapers costs about $130. For many families, this cost can feel overwhelming or prohibitive, especially if there are multiple infants and other young children in the family.

What are the effects of diaper need on a family?

It’s important for babies to have their diapers changed as often as needed. Trying to “stretch” diapers by not changing them as often as necessary is unhealthy for babies and can lead to rashes and skin irritation. Because a wet diaper is uncomfortable for the baby, not being changed often means more crying.

Not being able to change a baby’s diaper is also emotionally stressful for the caregiver. Comforting a baby with a fresh diaper is a way parents show their love. Being unable to properly care for their baby can hinder bonding. Sometimes parents resort to using other materials, like rags or scraps of cloth, but these methods generally don’t have good results.

The problem with cost-saving measures

Purchasing diapers on a budget can be a challenge. Diapers cannot be bought with SNAP (food stamps) or WIC. Strategies to save money typically only put a small dent in the overall cost.

Many families use coupons, but these are typically only available for name brand products. Buying in bulk is a good strategy. When you buy a large package of diapers, the cost per diaper is often reduced. This plan requires having enough money on hand to purchase the larger package. For many families, affording even the smaller size package is difficult many weeks.

Cloth diapers are another option. While they have the money-saving potential to be reusable, the initial cost is substantial. Families must also consider how they will launder the diapers, which means increased water and detergent usage, as well as wear and tear on appliances. For families who use laundromats, the cost of machine use and transportation must also be included.

How can I help?

If you know of a family with a new baby, diapers make a great gift. Check with the parents and ask about what size they need or if they have a preference on brand. Some parents receive a lot of smaller size diapers during the pregnancy and when the baby is born, so they need larger sizes. Parents sometimes have a preference on brands, usually due to how the diaper fits or if a certain brand causes skin irritation.

Consider donating to local organizations who serve infants and families. Some agencies sponsor diaper giveaways which are usually well attended events. Agencies often gather the supplies needed for these events with diaper drives.

Check on your friends and family. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many families to experience lay-offs and reduced work hours. Mothers need to take some time off work to recover from the birth fo their child, which results in decreased income for the family. It is easy to run out of money before running out of expenses.

How does reducing diaper need strengthen a community?

Let’s go back to Maslow. When a person or family’s foundational needs are met, they can move up the pyramid. Instead of focusing only on meeting their basic needs, people can concentrate more on their relationships and education, as well as love and belonging. This results in stronger families. Families are the backbone of our community and strengthening families makes our community better.

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