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Costs of Diapers Take a Mental Toll on Poor Mothers

Update Date: Jul 29, 2013 10:51 AM EDT

For parents, the need and desire to provide everything for an infant is strong. Despite wanting to give a newborn everything possible, the costs of necessities such as food and diapers can put a huge whole in parents' bank accounts. According to a new report, researchers discovered that for poor single mothers specifically, the inability to purchase diapers is a serious problem that has yet to be addressed properly.

"There's no way around buying them [diapers]," a 41-year-old single mother commented according to the LA Times.

In this new report, Megan Smith, a psychiatrist from Yale and director of the New Haven Mental Health Outreach for Mothers Partnerships, and her team interviewed around 900 pregnant women and mothers living in the New Haven area. All of the participants were over 18-years-old and spoke either English or Spanish. The survey focused on how these mothers provided necessities, particularly diapers, for their children. The researchers found that one in every 12 low-income women is forced to leave diapers on their babies a little longer than desired in order to use less of this expensive item.

"There are cases sometimes where moms are taking off a diaper, scooping out what's in it and putting it back on a child, we've hear about that," Smith said according to HealthDay. "Obviously, then, children are going to show more signs of irritation, discomfort, crying and then this in turn would make the mother feel less adequate about their parenting abilities, [and] impact her depressive symptoms and her stress levels."

Based from the survey, the researchers found that around 30 percent of mothers stated that they did not have enough money for diapers. Of this percentage, 10 percent of them reported that they relied heavily on donations of diapers or money from relatives and friends. Another 10 percent of them stated that they acquired diapers from an agency or a diaper bank. Three percent of mothers said that they went to other sources, such as a church, to look for help. According to the researchers, the weekly cost of diapers is around $18 and the yearly cost is around $936. For a single mother who has a minimum wage, full-time job, that cost alone cuts into her paycheck by six percent. Despite these struggles mothers face in purchasing diapers, government assistance programs still do not cover them.

The researchers found that age and race were key factors in determining whether or not mothers could afford diapers. Based from the self-reports, Hispanic mothers were twice as likely to admit to having issues with purchasing diapers when compared to black and white mothers. The researchers also found that women over 45-years-old reported a greater need for diapers. The team believed that this age group was composed of grandparents who were helping their adult children.

"The inability to provide a diaper increases the stress levels of mothers incredibly," said co-author, Joanne Goldblum. "An irritable baby is hard to soothe and this can affect bonding."

The researchers believe that their findings should press doctors to be more aware of this issue. Doctors should help struggling mothers find ways of acquiring diapers by providing information about places where these mothers could go for help. Furthermore, government assistance programs might have to reconsider what they cover for struggling mothers. If these programs offered to help with diaper costs, even if it is just a small portion, mothers and children could greatly benefit.

The report was published in Pediatrics.

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