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We Couldn't Afford Diapers and the President Wants to Change That

Photograph by Twenty20

Last month, President Obama joined the #DiaperGap movement to increase awareness and funding for a series of programs that aim to diminish the gap between low-income families and their ability to purchase clean diapers. He understands what many who haven't struggled to diaper their children don't: The need is real.

I've shared in the past how demoralizing it was to be a teen mom and new wife and to struggle with affording diapers for my infant son. My experiences with diaper need 18 years ago were similar to the issues still plaguing low-income families today. Nationally, one in three parents report struggling with diaper costs. With an estimated 5.3 million children under the age of three living in low-income families across the U.S., access to diapers—which on average cost $70-$80 per month per child—can be difficult.

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There is also a stigma attached to not being able to provide the most basic needs for our children. It's embarrassing to say "I can't afford diapers," and since WIC and SNAP—programs meant to bridge the gap between poverty and access to food—don't cover diapers, families are left to figure out the dilemma on their own.

There were times when I had no other option but to leave my son without a diaper or, to cut the diapers open and remove the centers and then refill them with scratchy paper towels or wads of toilet paper. What did that mean for me? It meant I couldn't leave the safety of my home as often as I needed, for fear that my son's inefficient diaper would leak in public. It meant isolation, embarrassment and planning our day based on how many diapers I could budget.

When I was a young mom, organizations like the National Diaper Bank Network didn't exist, but thankfully today they do. They're at the helm of a movement that seeks to educate the public about diaper need and to provide low-income families across the country with access to clean diapers so they'll never be trapped the way my son and I once were.

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In light of President Obama's recent show of support, the National Diaper Bank Network released the following statement:

"Having the White House recognize that American families are struggling to provide even the most basic needs for their children is a huge step forward for the diaper bank movement," said National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) executive director Joanne Goldblum. "Our solution to addressing diaper need is simple. Help families when and where you can by providing basic needs, like diapers. We believe small things impact big things."

The reality is that diaper need is no small issue. It has been correlated with mental health problems in a study by Yale researchers, and many parents who participated in the study admitted to leaving their child in dirty diapers longer than they should in order to make their diaper supply last. Doctors have warned that this habit can lead to increased diaper rashes, irritation, urinary tract infections and discomfort—which in turn lead to a fussier baby and more stress for the parents.

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As low-income families often aren't able to access cost-saving measures by buying diapers in bulk (the upfront cost is often more than they can afford, even with the overall savings) nor can many afford annual membership dues to warehouse clubs such as Costco or Sam's Club, it leaves them with little recourse to find affordable diapers on a tight budget. It is estimated that poor and low-income families spend approximately 14 percent of their total budget on diapers alone. That number is far too high.

President Obama's support for the issue and promise to work with the private sector to change the statistic means that fewer children and parents will deal with the emotional and physical burden of not having enough diapers. It also means the veil of shame that has surrounded this issue is slowly disappearing. No longer do parents have to hide their need for assistance and thanks to the president's support, the #DiaperGap has become a visible need across the country. I hope that in the near future we will see #DiaperNeedNoMore and know that no child will have to be without a clean diaper again.

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