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Disturbing Trend: Parents Reusing Dirty Diapers to Save Money

Trend: Low-income families reuse baby diapers
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you had to do a double-take at that headline, you're not alone. We were pretty shocked, too.

According to an NPR report last weekend, an alarming number of low-income families have been forced to choose between diapers and food while on food stamps—and diapers are losing out. Arun Rath discussed the issue with Joanne Goldblum, who said she was working at the Yale Child Study Center recently in an effort to start a New Haven, Conn., diaper bank when she discovered the trend.

"I was working with families who had a variety of different things going on in their lives," Goldblum told Rath. "But what they all had in common was a level of really abject poverty. And I would visit and see firsthand them taking a diaper off their child, emptying out the solids and putting it back on. Food stamps and similar programs don't cover diapers, but even if they did, it would not help this situation."

The reality of this is shocking and sad all at once. Many of the families Goldblum spoke with told her they simply didn't have enough money to make it to the end of the month, and that the cost of an $18 pack of diapers each week was something they just couldn't keep up with.

But that doesn't mean the moms of these kids aren't tortured by it.

Goldblum even published a study on the subject earlier this year, revealing that the inability to get their children fresh diapers each week left some mothers with so much stress and anguish that it overshadowed their feelings about not being able to provide enough food.

Why not switch to cloth for the reusability factor? Unfortunately, that's simply not an option for lower-income families. Aside from being more expensive initially, most laundromats don't actually let people wash formerly poopy diapers in their machines (easy to see why) and some day cares don't even accept kids without disposable ones.

But sadly, the situation is about to get more dire: The government plans to cut back on the federal budget for food stamps just this week; meaning the average family will see their food stamp dollars decrease by $36 a month. In the meantime, parents who are pressed to make ends meet will have to rely on diaper banks for assistance. And even that's not a total solution, since reports show such banks are so inundated with demands for more diapers that they're unable to keep up.

Wondering what you can do to help? Look up a donation center in your area on the National Diaper Bank Network.

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