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Not having diapers may negatively affect infants' sleep, study finds

When parents struggle to afford and provide diapers, their babies’ sleep and development may suffer

Parents changing baby diaper at night
Photo (c) Artfoliophoto - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University explored how parents’ financial concerns may impact their infants’ sleep. According to their findings, babies may be more likely to have poor sleep when their parents struggle to afford diapers. 

“Sleep promotes brain development and solidifies learning and memory,” said researcher Sallie Porter. “Children with compromised sleep are more at risk for childhood obesity and emotional and behavioral problems.” 

Poor sleep can yield long-term effects

For the study, the researchers surveyed nearly 130 parents of children under the age of three. They answered questions about their financial hardship, diaper needs, and their infants’ sleeping habits. This included information on their perception of their children’s sleeping habits, general sleeping problems, how long it typically takes their babies to fall asleep, how often their babies wake up in the middle of the night, and any struggles they experience with sleep and their bedtime routine. 

Ultimately, one-third of the participants were short on diapers each month, while more than 75% said they were short on diapers at least once per year. Nearly 90% of the parents also said they were food insecure. 

This lack of diapers was found to be linked with poorer overall sleep outcomes. When parents struggled to provide diapers, they reported that their infants slept less, woke up more throughout the night, and had generally poorer sleep on a regular basis. 

This financial burden also affected how parents viewed their infants’ sleep. The more that parents struggled to provide diapers, the poorer their perception was of their kids’ sleeping habits. 

The researchers explained that a lack of sleep affects infants’ health and development long-term, and struggling to afford diapers can negatively affect parents’ mental health. The team hopes pediatricians work with families in need of diapers and help direct them toward resources that can help them. 

“Approximately one-third of U.S. mothers report difficulty affording diapers, and prevalence during the COVID-19 pandemic is likely much higher,” said Porter. “Diaper need is associated with an increased incidence of irritated skin and urinary tract infections. It is also related to increased maternal mental health symptoms.” 

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