Diaper Need and its Impact on Families

Megan V. Smith, DrPH, assistant professor of psychiatry, child study and public health at the Yale University School of Medicine, and principal investigator of the New Haven Mental Health Outreach for MotherS (MOMS) Partnership, presented at the Austen Riggs Center about the importance of providing diapers to mothers.

While we all know infants need diapers, the consequences of unmet diaper need are far-reaching. In Dr. Smith’s research, published in Pediatrics in 2013, she conducted a cross-sectional survey of New Haven mothers and discovered that almost 30% reported diaper need. Food stamps don’t pay for diapers, and since daycare centers require mothers to provide diapers, a mother without diapers may find herself without childcare. Cloth diapers aren’t an option for families without washing machines, as laundromats can’t take them. Given the expense and importance of disposable diapers, families with limited resources often stretch their diaper use, and infants stay in dirty diapers. This, then, leads to diaper rashes, crying infants and stressed mothers. Given how much we now know about the importance of the early mother-child relationship to the physical, emotional and psychological development of children, making diapers freely available is one of the most simple and cost-effective interventions available to improve the mental and physical health of children and to support stressed families.

Coinciding with Dr. Smith’s talk was the kick-off of the Berkshire Community Diaper Project, a new collaboration between clinicians and local agencies to collect diapers and distribute them to families in our community.