Berkshire Community Diaper Project creates 'diaper bank' for low- and middle-income mothers

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STOCKBRIDGE -- Paying for diapers wouldn't seem to be a major issue. It is not a subject that appears in a lot of pediatric journals.

But a new study by the Yale Department of Psychiatry, Child Study and Public Health has spurred a consortium of local mental health professionals to create a "diaper bank" for low- and middle-income mothers struggling with the issue.

"Diaper availability is a big community issue," said Alicia Zaludova, education coordinator at the Erikson Institute at Austen Riggs

"It's really a huge problem," said Dr. Marie Rudden, a member of the Affiliated Faculty of the Erikson Institute at Riggs, and the chairman of the Berkshire Community Diaper Project, along with Erikson Institute Director Dr. Jane Tillman. "As I heard about this, I thought to myself, ‘We aren't even talking about this.' "

Rudden and Megan V. Smith, assistant professor of Psychiatry at Yale, explained in separate interviews that low-income families in particular are constantly struggling with the cost of cloth diapers.

"One of the things I didn't realize was that diapers can't be purchased with food stamps or under the WIC program," said Smith. "They're not covered."

"People can often cover the basics of food and shelter," said Rudden. "There are other ways to obtain those two elements. But a young mother has to come up with cash to buy diapers."

Smith said a study she coordinated revealed that 30 percent of all mothers in low-income families report having difficulty obtaining diapers. Of that number, a total of 40 percent of parents report succumbing to stress and mental health issues.

Smith added that a study funded by the makers of Huggies, a brand of diaper, discovered that the financial crunch also affects middle-income families.

The other branch of the problem is that many parents devise strategies for "stretching" diaper use for their children, said Rudden. For example, a parent might allow her child to sit in a wet diaper for an extended period of time. That, she said, leads to urinary tract infections and rashes, which in turn lead to medical treatment.

A more dire aspect of the issue is that many day care centers for babies in the Berkshires and elsewhere require parents to provide a certain number of diapers for children in case they need to be changed.

"If a mother can't provide that number [of diapers], they have to stay home," Smith said. "They can't work. That contributes to the stress aspect."

To that end, said Rudden, she, along with Tillman and Dr. Elizabeth Weinberg, has spearheaded the creation of a local "diaper bank." The diaper bank will be able to provide low-income families with free diapers. She and other volunteers have been collecting donations (and diapers) for the diaper bank.

In about two weeks, she said, people will be able to contact the Christian Center on Robbins Avenue in Pittsfield, (413) 443-2828, the Community Health Program at 780 Main St. in Great Barrington, (413) 528-1470, and the Lee Food Pantry at 25 Park Place, (413) 243-1033, for diapers.

The dirt on diapers

According to www.whatitcosts.com, moms can expect to change about 2,500 diapers in the babies' first year.

Diaper costs vary somewhat from area to area, but to give the uninitiated an idea of the expense, here are a few stats.

Newborns to babies about four months old use about 8-10 diapers a day, according to www.thebump.com.

Four to 12 months, about 5-6 daily.

Twelve months and up, about 3-4 per day.

Depending on where diapers are purchased, as well as what type of store (department store, grocery, convenience store), cost vary widely. In addition, there are a dozen or more companies manufacturing diapers, and all have different price scales.

According to www.babycenter.com, cloth diapers, which are the most cost-effective, will run a family about $19 per month; disposable diapers are much more expensive, say, $72 monthly.

"The best way to save [on either type] is to buy in bulk at warehouse stores or online," said the website.

To reach Derek Gentile: dgentile@berkshireeagle.comor (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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