Diaper Need is the inability to afford enough diapers to keep your child clean, dry and healthy with sufficient changes. This might be a new phrase for some, but it is the ongoing lived experience of 1-in-2  American families with young children.

Diapers are essential to health and hygiene and matter to families for many reasons. Before the pandemic and rising cost of goods, they were estimated to cost $70 to $80 a month for the years children use diapers. Diapers are not covered by any government assistance programs. Neither Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women and Children, or WIC, nor the food assistance program known as SNAP can be used to purchase diapers. For families identified as being financially vulnerable and eligible for support with basic needs, diapers are still a luxury many cannot afford, but need, every single day. 

When families cannot afford diapers, they delay changes or attempt to reuse disposable diapers, which can irritate sensitive skin and exacerbate diaper rash. Babies whose parents report diaper need experience more sleep disruption and fussiness. In our community, families receiving our diapers report it helps them feel less stress and as if  they are better parents.

Mothers who experience diaper need are more likely to report depression and anxiety. Parents who are supported by diaper banks report being able to stretch their families’ budgets and being better able to afford other essentials like food, gas and medicine. Diapers are necessary for parents to access child care, where you often must provide a day’s worth of diapers in advance — so diapers are critical infrastructure for parents of young children to work or attend school. 

Diaper need is a public health crisis affecting us at home in Western North Carolina. As co-executive directors of WNC’s nonprofit diaper bank, Babies Need Bottoms, we see this need acutely. Since our founding in late 2017, we have distributed more than 1.2 million diapers to more than 65 community partners. We started distributing about 30,000 diapers annually and now distribute more than 40,000 diapers a month.

Using an evidence-based model of distributing diapers to partner organizations, we support their existing resources by stretching their budgets and helping meet families’ basic needs in one place. These collaborative partnerships mean families have access to diapers, wipes and rash cream to meet their children’s basic health and hygiene needs, along with other physical, emotional and practical resources and skills.

We don’t think any parent or caregiver should have to choose  between buying food or buying diapers. Diapers are part of the basic care of infants and young children, and they are necessary for years while families are young. As a community, ensuring basic hygiene needs are met for infants and young children is one simple but powerful way we can care for our neighbors.

There are policy solutions we would like to see in our state, including eliminating the sales tax on diapers and increased funding for diaper assistance programs. In the meantime, we will keep fighting diaper need in our WNC community so that children can be clean, dry and healthy and their parents can be relieved of one of their worries.

Meagan Lyon Leimena and Alicia Heacock are co-executive directors of Babies Need Bottoms diaper bank and mothers of young children living in  Western North Carolina. 


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