When families can’t afford diapers, children sleep less well

Kids whose parents can’t afford diapers don’t get quality sleep, according to a new study.

The study in the Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics is the first to examine the relationship between the need for diapers and sleep.

“Sleep promotes brain development and solidifies learning and memory,” says co-author Sallie Porter, associate professor at Rutgers University School of Nursing. “Children with compromised sleep are at higher risk for childhood obesity and emotional and behavioral problems.”

Researchers surveyed 129 parents of children 3 and under who participated in early development, home visiting and disability support programs about the severity of their need for diapers and their child’s sleep patterns. Habits include how long it takes them to fall asleep, how often they wake up at night, longest sleep time, and total minutes slept.

The researchers asked parents to report difficulties with bedtime routines, sleep problems and sleeping locations, as well as their perceptions of their child’s sleep quality. The researchers also asked the parents if their child had been diagnosed with an intellectual disability.

They found that 88% of participating families suffered from food insecurity and 76% did not have diapers at least once a year, with more than a third reporting having no diapers monthly. A third of children had a diagnosed intellectual disability and 47% of parents were concerned about their child’s development.

Researchers found that children from families that struggled to provide diapers were more likely to have interrupted and shorter sleep periods and lower total sleep scores.

Parents who worried about not having enough diapers at least once a month were more likely to report their baby’s sleep as a problem or difficulty.

“About a third of American mothers report having difficulty getting diapers, and the prevalence during the COVID-19 pandemic is likely much higher,” Porter says.

“The need for diapers is associated with an increased incidence of skin infections and irritated urinary tract. It is also linked to an increase in maternal mental health symptoms.

Porter says the findings suggest clinicians should ask about diaper needs during healthy child visits, and then connect families to resources that provide diaper supplies. They should also provide guidance on appropriate sleep practices, including calming and consistent bedtime routines.

Source: Rutgers University

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