Imagine being able to afford so few diapers for your child, you’re forced to keep the infant in wet, dirty diapers for extended periods, or even to try and dry them out before putting them on a second time.
This is what some women are doing, according to a newly released national study of mothers struggling with diaper need.
Commissioned by Kimberly-Clark, makers of products like Huggies diapers and Kleenex tissues, the Every Little Bottom study was conducted in February by surveying 1,008 mothers in Canada with children between newborn and four years. The study included moms living in financial hardship, as well as those who were financially stable.
The results of the study are startling — nearly one in five Canadian mothers report struggling to provide clean diapers for their babies, and have had to cut back on basics like food, electricity and child care in order to afford them.
Twenty-four per cent of mothers surveyed reported having to cut back on buying clothing in order to afford diapers, while 16 per cent said they cut back on food. One per cent said they didn’t fill prescriptions or buy medication in order to save money and another one per cent said they cut back on child care.
When it comes to actions taken as a result of a need for diapers, just under half of the moms in need said they borrowed diapers from another mother, and 34 per cent reported putting their baby in a diaper that didn’t fit. Some said they tried to get their child to use the toilet, used more diaper cream or left the baby without a diaper and prepared for accidents.
Twenty-nine per cent of mothers in diaper need said they let their baby stay in the soiled diaper for a longer period of time, and four per cent reported cleaning out the diaper and reusing it.
As a result of the need, moms said their babies were pulling off their own diapers, suffering from diaper rash, crying and showing other signs of irritation and discomfort.
“This study helps us understand a serious issue that has been largely unrecognized until now,” said Dr. Nicole Letourneau, a lead researcher on the study and professor at the University of New Brunswick, in a news release.
“We are now able to understand the implications not having enough diapers has on both mothers and babies.
“Without enough diapers for the necessary routine changes, mothers and babies are feeling distressed, which often makes the bonding process as well as the job of parenting more difficult.
Cloth diapers are often not a realistic option for mothers in need who don’t have in-home laundry access, since many laundromats don’t allow them to be washed there for sanitary reasons. Most licensed daycare centres don’t accept cloth diapers and require a days worth of disposables.
The diaper need experienced by mothers in financial hardship in this province is similar to what the Every Little Bottom study found nationally, said Eg Walters, executive director of the St. John’s-based Community Food Sharing Network.
In the metro area alone, there are about two dozen food banks, which serve more than 16,000 people per month. The typical food bank client could be anyone, Walters said, but about 40 per cent are children under the age of 18, Walters said. Many more are single parents, both male and female.
“There’s certainly a big need for diapers,” Walters told The Telegram. “Not only diapers, but other products as well. Just think — you get up in the morning, you use a toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper. If you’re a single mom with two or three teenage girls, the amount of feminine products you’d run through in the run of a month is significant. What happens is food banks can supply that type of product to the families, and then they can use that saved money to purchase milk and eggs and bread.”
When the network does food drives, it concentrates on actual food, so items like diapers and wipes are in short supply. What they do get goes quickly, Walters said, and there are always people looking for them.
“They’re always asking for all kinds of household detergents, toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags — all the things that you and I, when we go to the grocery store, pick up and just don’t think about,” he explained.
“We do need these things.”
As a result of the Every Little Bottom study, Kimberly-Clark created the Huggies Every Little Bottom program, and will donate up to 2.5 million diapers in Canada over the next eight months, including half a million to Food Banks Canada to share among their network of about 450 food banks, including those operated by the Community Food Sharing Network in St. John’s.
Food Banks Canada is also working with Huggies to build awareness of diaper need and make additional diaper donations as part of the program. Huggies has also partnered with Girl Guides of Canada, organizing diaper drives for local food banks and promoting diaper collections.
“I think this is a great program, and it extends all across Canada,” Walters said.
“It certainly helps food banks and food bank users across Canada.”
Anyone wishing to donate to the Community Food Sharing Network can do so by visiting them at 21 Mews Pl. in St. John’s, or by calling 722-0130. More information on the Every Little Bottom campaign is available online at www.everylittlebottom.com.