Diapers at Costco

Many moms can buy their diapers in bulk at big box stores like this Costco in Tucson, Ariz. But many low-income mothers can't afford enough diapers for their children. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images)

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It can be very expensive to keep a child in diapers -- but most of us never realize how devastatingly difficult it can be for low-income families to afford to buy enough diapers to keep their babies clean and dry. Government programs help families pay for food and housing and medical care. Very few programs anywhere, private or public, chip in to help parents buy diapers.

So in preparing a story about a new study in the journal Pediatrics that attempts to quantify how many women have so-called "diaper need" in New Haven, Conn. (nearly 30% of those surveyed, it turned out), we couldn't help but be saddened by some of the situations that study authors Megan Smith, of Yale University, and Joanne Goldblum, of the National Diaper Bank Network, described.

Mothers sometimes forgo food to buy diapers. When circumstances are especially dire, many resort to "stretching" their diaper supply -- keeping their children in dirty diapers, because it's all they have. 

Not having diapers can mean a child can't go to daycare, and a mother can't go to work, "[perpetuating] the cycle of need," said Caroline Kunitz, the founder of the Los Angeles Diaper Drive.

Some are trying to help: Organizations like the National Diaper Bank Network and the Los Angeles Diaper Drive now provide diapers -- millions and millions of them -- to non-profits, which in turn distribute them to needy parents.

Interested in helping out in the Los Angeles area? Visit the websites of the Los Angeles Diaper Drive and Baby2Baby. To find out how to help in other parts of the country, the National Diaper Bank Network is a good resource.

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