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Depression and Diapers: Something We Can Change

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I can quickly list off over 10 mothers in my own life who have dealt with some form of postpartum disorder—including myself. Depression is a dark but very common part of postpartum life. With approximately 600,000 women affected by postpartum depression each year, it is now the most commonly experienced complication of childbirth. Women can experience postpartum depression for a variety of reasons. In my case, it was a combination of things. Exhaustion, hormones and circumstances all played a part in making that time in my life a little darker than others.

As it turns out, there is one easily preventable circumstance that may be causing mothers to experience postpartum depression: Being unable to change their child's dirty diaper.

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Being unable to afford diapers is positively correlated with mental health issues during postpartum months. When researchers at Yale surveyed 877 new mothers, 30 percent of these moms reported they were not able to change their baby as frequently as they should because of the cost of diapers. These moms were also twice as likely to experience postpartum mental health issues.

While low-income families can obtain formula and food for their young children through WIC or SNAP, diapers are not a part of these programs. This means low-income mothers bear the entire cost of diapering their children. The cost of diapers can vary greatly between brands. With a little bit of math, I discovered 10 diaper changes a day, 365 days a year, would cost a minimum of $615 a year. I calculated this number using the cost of store brand diapers when bought in bulk, which is not often an option for low-income families. In my city, for instance, many low-income families live in the urban core where they do not have access to big stores carrying store brand diapers. Instead, they purchase diapers at convenience stores or specialty grocery stores where diapers cost significantly more and aren't available in bulk packages.

With 1 in 3 American families reporting their diapering needs are remaining unmet, this is not a need we can ignore.

"An adequate supply of diapers may prove to be a tangible way of reducing parenting stress and increasing parenting sense of competency, enabling parents to be more sensitive with their children, and thereby improving parenting quality and overall child outcomes," wrote Smith, author of the Yale study.

And here's the thing, postpartum depression is not the only negative consequence of being unable to afford diapers. Babies who are not changed often enough are more susceptible to UTIs or other infections. Babies who are not changed often enough experience discomfort, which causes them to cry more frequently, which in turn makes them more likely to suffer abuse at the hands of their caregivers. Additionally, most state-funded daycare centers require a week's worth of disposables, which means mothers who cannot afford diapers cannot put their child in daycare in order to work so they can afford to buy diapers—it is a heartbreaking cycle.

With 1 in 3 American families reporting their diapering needs are remaining unmet, this is not a need we can ignore. Coming face-to-face with these statistics motivated me to research practical ways ordinary people with ordinary budgets can help meet this need in their area. Here is what I discovered:

Give diapers: Even those of us on a tight budget could easily find a little extra money each month to donate a $7 package of diapers. Using the National Diaper Bank Network, you can find a local diaper bank where you can drop regular donations.

Give money: On their website, the National Diaper Bank Network lists several different ways you can give money, from setting up a monthly auto-debit to making a one-time donation in someone's honor for their birthday.

Host a diaper drive: If you want to make a bigger impact on eliminating diapering needs in your community, organizing a diaper drive is a great way to gather a lot of diapers in a short amount of time. Take advantage of social media, your kids' teams or organizations or your church as a way to solicit donations.

Call local businesses: Did you know most businesses have a section in their budget for donations? If you are feeling brave, call businesses in your area and ask to speak with their person in charge of charitable giving.

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Are you struggling to purchase diapers for your child? If you are stretching the time between diaper changes because you cannot afford diapers, there are many ways you can quickly get assistance. A quick Google search of "I can't afford diapers in Missouri" led me to a long list of local and national organizations which help supply low-income families with diapers. One of the very best resources I found, the National Diaper Bank Network, has a searchable database of diaper banks for the entire country.

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