Many low-income moms struggle to afford diapers

Babies who live in lower income families may have an increased risk of getting a skin or urinary tract infection, according to a new study. That's because many families find it challenging to afford enough diapers to regularly change their babies.

The study, which is published online July 29 and in the August print issue of the journal Pediatrics, found that one in 12 low-income moms stretches diaper supplies by leaving little ones in them after they've been soiled, a practice that can lead to skin and urinary tract infections.

Beyond the immediate impacts on health and well-being, doctors say diaper need appears to have other important ripple effects, too.

"Mothers are required to bring a supply of diapers to a daycare center," says Megan Smith, a Yale psychiatrist who directs the New Haven Mental Health Outreach for Mother's Partnership. "If you can't bring a supply of diapers to your child care center your child is missing out on care, but also you're unable to attend school or work." she said.

For a woman who's working full-time at a minimum wage job, the cost of an adequate supply of diapers, which researchers estimate to be around $18 a week, or $936 per year per child, may eat up as much as 6 percent of her gross pay.

Smith says when many people hear about this problem, they wonder why low-income moms don't just switch to washable cloth diapers. For many, cloth diapers simply aren't a feasible solution.

"The problem is that most of the families we're talking about don't have washing machines in their homes. And when they do go to Laundromats, most facilities won't let you use their facilities for cloth diapers because their temperatures don't get high enough or they just don't want them," she explained.

Because diaper need appears to contribute to significant stress, Smith urged doctors to step up.

"Pediatricians should start asking families about this," she said, adding that there's a little-known network of nonprofit diaper banks around the country that may be able to help.