Every once in a while a great idea just presents itself to you. I had this moment not too long ago after reading a highly disturbing article about low income families who, when faced with the decision of choosing between buying food or buying diapers they bought food (obviously!) and then cleaned up or dried out the used disposable diaper and reused it. I was horrified. Having a 7 month old baby myself it broke my heart to think of what a fellow mom must feel when making this choice…watch your children go hungry or put a diaper full of dried piss (or worse) back onto your baby’s bottom. Being a cloth diapering mama myself I thought, “Well, how simple is this problem to solve?! They need cloth diapers!”
A few days later I read another article, this one about how Finland gives a box to every expecting mama that has a lot of things they will need for their baby those first few months, including…cloth diapers! I thought, gee, wouldn’t it be great if the US did that…of course they wouldn’t, but wouldn’t it be nice. And so the light bulb appeared: a non-profit that gives out a box of baby supplies to low-income families that includes a cloth diapering set to last the child through all their diapering needs.
And, oh, how little I know.
So I had this idea bouncing around in my head. I start planning about how I could perhaps use something like indiegogo to get this idea off the ground. And then I start researching. Of course, others have already had this idea.
I found a local non-profit that gives out disposables to needy families. Encouraged by a co-worker who I had talked with about the idea, I went to reach out to them. My thought was perhaps we could introduce cloth diapers as an off-shoot of their existing program. Do some cloth education so that the parents aren’t intimidated about using cloth. But here is where my bubble burst, right on their FAQ page. They do accept cloth diaper donations. But they can’t always find a family who is able to use them.
Here is the reality, as presented in a letter on Help a Mother Out’s website about the cloth vs. disposable debate. Families in poverty often can’t afford to wash the diapers at the laundry mat, if they can even find a laundry mat that allows cloth diapers. And I know what you (might) think, as I did…“Why don’t they hand wash and line dry?” When using prefolds especially this is really very doable, a bucket, a clean plunger, and a clothesline…voila! But then I don’t live in a place where the landlord forbids the use of clotheslines, or has no place to have a clothesline, or perhaps they do but hanging something up unattended means it will probably be taken while you’re inside taking care of the baby. Then you have the issue of daycare. You need to go to work; you need to be able to have a place for your little one to go. And if they won’t accept your cloth diapers, what then?
So now that I’ve done my research, I see the many barriers preventing low-income families from using cloth diapers, even though cloth would be cheaper and healthier for the baby (and better for the environment).
Does that make it right? No! Every mama should be able to put their child in a clean diaper. Period.
So here is where I shake my fist in anger.
Because clotheslines should ALWAYS be allowed.
Because childcare centers should NEVER be allowed to turn a child away because the family uses cloth diapers.
Not allowing a family to hang a clothesline and take advantage of the free sun and wind contributes to a cycle of poverty. It’s not just cloth diapers we are talking about anymore. Not allowing a clothesline forces an already impoverished family to either spend what little they have to go to a laundry mat or go about in unwashed clothing.
If a parent takes their child to daycare supplied with clean cloth diapers, and a receptacle to keep the dirty ones in and they take the dirties home each day to launder, then there should be no reason to say no to cloth. Living in Northern California, I’ve been fortunate I guess. Finding a daycare that takes cloth just hasn’t been a big issue (now finding one that has space for an additional child…well, that’s much more difficult!) But looking around on the web, it appears this is not always the case. Some daycares, apparently, make the case that cloth diapers aren’t sanitary. However, studies have been done proving that there is no more fecal matter found in facilities that allow cloth and ones that don’t (American Journal of Public Health Vol. 85 Issue 1 30-33). Some will say it is against state regulations and unfortunately this is sometimes the case, but it is rare. Some will say they will lose their National Association for the Education of Young Children certification if they accept cloth diapers, but yet that same certification will allow cloth is the child has a doctor’s note. So, it seems like, in many cases, a child care center’s decision to forbid cloth diapers might really come down to a matter of convenience. But there are cloth diapers available that, for a caregiver, is no different than putting on a disposable. If the diaper already comes stuffed and ready to go a pocket diaper with a hook and loop closure is as easy as any disposable. However, when your options are already limited based on what you can afford to spend on day care, or because it is who accepts your government assistance, then you likely aren’t going to walk away because they don’t take cloth. Again, it creates a cycle. You can’t afford not to go to work, but you can barely afford to buy the diapers required by daycare.
Things need to change. Cloth diapering needs to become accepted as a norm.
But how can we bring about this change? Isn’t that always the question? And truthfully, I don’t know the answer. But I will proceed with the only way that I can see for now: through education.
So stay tuned!
But, until change happens, I encourage you to donate to a local diaper bank or non-profit, like Help a Mother Out. The need is real and it is now. There is no reason a child should sit longer in his diaper than necessary or be put back into a used disposable because his parent can’t afford the next box of diapers. I myself will choose a brand to donate like 7th generation, so that at least they won’t be exposed to the toxic chemicals (like sodium polyacrylate and dioxins) found in so many major brands.