Cloth Diapering on the Rez as a Possibility?

Every month there’s a call from the Rez saying they’re either out of disposable diapers altogether or they’re short on sizes 2-6.  They get size 1 and occasionally 2’s from the NAHA truck deliveries or from the clinic as they use this as an incentive to get women and their babies in for checkups. Babies on the Rez tend to be larger and grow into the bigger sizes more quickly, as Jerome says, “We grow them big out here”.

Babies want to be comfortable and have their needs taken care of and mothers want to provide for their children but it’s not always possible as they just don’t have the resources to buy diapers, they are dependent on organizations or donations from people like you. Babies fuss when wet and may annoy an inexperienced mom to the point that they may harm their child who only wants a dry diaper.  A social worker once told me that one cause of child abuse is lack of diapers.  Some women are so desperate for diapers they’ve even resorted to washing their disposables, not a recommended practice. Sometimes people use their SNAP (food stamps) card to buy food for others in exchange for cash which they use to pay bills, buy diapers, etc., not a legal practice but one to survive on.  WIC provides formula for babies and food for the mother but does not provide diapers.  TANF (temporary assistance to needy families) provides funds to moms going to school or learning a trade for a limited amount of time and does not buy or give away diapers.   Occasionally the food bank has diapers but if people are hungry and there’s only so much money in the pot, diapers are not going to be a high priority.

Theresa and Jerome do use their own money to buy diapers when calls come in, usually at the end of the month.  They buy the largest box they can afford and divide them into bags which are then delivered as most people don’t have a car, increasing the cost even more.  If they’re out of multiple sizes, babies just do without, they don’t have the finances to buy them all nor do our volunteers when they help with so many other needs.  According to this chart a newborn can go through 70 diapers a week each costing 20-30 cents, imagine trying to afford that when you’re on public assistance.  Theresa has had requests for cloth diapers and we think this would be a great project to start for the Rez but it will take time, education and a few other obstacles to overcome.

One of the reasons cloth diapers aren’t used on the Rez  is either because they don’t own a washer and/or no electric service because of unpaid bills.  Diapers could be washed in a pail or the bathtub even reusing water from a previous wash if water supply is an issue, thankfully there are no water bills to pay on the Rez.  For those  homes without running water, the tribe will fill up a large outdoor tank or neighbors who do have it will fill containers for them. Obviously these families would have a much harder time using cloth diapers.  Parents needing daycare for their children may be required to wear disposables and bring with them all they’ll need for the day.  The daycare in Wanblee depends on the NAHA donations but a supply of diapers or other needs isn’t guaranteed to be on the truck.   .

While the washing and drying issue may be more of a problem in the winter months, the hot SD sun and low humidity are ideal conditions to dry diapers in the summer, a great time to start this kind of project.  There’s hope one day there will once again be a laundromat in Wanblee, but like everything else on the Rez it takes time. Laundromats are great but they cost money which folks may not have and many don’t allow cloth diapers to be washed there due to the possibility of spreading infectious diseases to others.  The pail washer would work well for diapers as they could be washed daily or every few days depending on the number of diapers they had. Here’s a “demo” on how to wash in a pail, a wringer washer might be another option for the community.

Before a program could be started they would need to hold some classes on how to use and care for cloth diapers and have a contact person available to answer questions and give assistance to those needing help.  Young moms on the Rez didn’t get the training from their mothers or grandmothers, the latter being taken from their families as young children and put into boarding schools, so they didn’t get the chance to learn the things you and I did from our parents.  Jerome and another 501c3 group are working on acquiring funds to build a center where various life skills can be taught, we’ll have more on this as details become available. The Kennedy Hall is a community center so not always available as funerals, family celebrations, etc. are held there, local political issues are another problem.

As with most new ideas, it would take time before cloth diapers were fully accepted but hopefully in the beginning women would use them toward the end of the month when money is tight and they’re out of diapers. The hope is they will begin to see all the advantages of using cloth such as extra money available to pay the electric bill or buy food and never worrying about running out of diapers again.  Lots of remote areas on the Rez come to a standstill during harsh winter weather and those cloth diapers would really be a godsend when roads are impassable and there’s no chance of getting a delivery as happened a couple of weeks ago when the Woodchucks couldn’t deliver wood to those who needed it. We don’t want babies sitting around in wet diapers any longer than they have to, it’s uncomfortable (remember sitting in a wet bathing suit?) and predisposes them to illnesses or diaper rash which can be very painful if the skin gets raw.

Disposable diapers are easier, if you have them, and more convenient as they’re just tossed in the garbage when dirty, the downside is they end up in the landfill where they remain for the next 400 years or so while they decompose.  Landfills on the Rez are full of used diapers and many an elder on the Rez has told me young women need to go back to cloth diapering.  I used cloth diapers for both of my children and did have a washer and dryer but preferred hanging them outside whenever possible to use the UV light to sterilize and brighten them and to save money on energy. My daughter who was on a tight budget and lived in an apartment, used a drying rack (could be purchased for the Rez for winter months) which extends the life of diapers considerably.  The “ick ” factor is an issue for some but whether you use cloth or disposables there’s the soiled bottom to deal with, most people use store bought wipes which further add to the cost of using disposables and if they’re the cheap ones will require quite a few to get the job done. Others may use toilet paper (or “Treaty Paper” as Native Americans call it) which isn’t very soft on a baby’s skin and another need the High Horse’s are constantly being asked for. Cloth wipes can be made in any size and one or maybe 2 should do the job and can be tossed in with the diapers for laundering.

Because of the education and other issues that need addressing we’ve decided not to make cloth diapers en masse, but encourage you to make these items that can be used with both cloth and disposable diapers – diaper wipes which were highlighted in this blog, a changing pad, a diaper bag, and  a wet bag to hold dirty diapers, wipes or washcloths . Here is a site with more ideas for baby needs. Diaper covers for the disposables can also be made.  Once we feel people are showing interest , we will post free patterns, making cloth prefolds in various sizes or flat diapers held together with the good old fashioned diaper pins we all used, diaper inserts for more absorbency, soaker pants knitted/crocheted from wool and/or plastic/PUL pants.  There’s also a diaper style with “wings” that can be used with one diaper pin.

We know that all of you won’t agree with making cloth diapers but the only way disposables can be available all the time is by donating funds to purchase diapers every month or by sending packages of diapers on a continuing basis with Amazon or other diaper company.  The National Diaper Association is one possibility for us to look into but will require people on the ground in SD helping us with this program as well as fundraising for the diapers. It’s not an easy solution because of all the other issues, but our main goal is to keep the babies we help clean and dry, at least until the next supply of disposable diapers comes in. We’ll be letting you know when this project is a go, in the meantime if you want to practice your diaper making skills there are many homeless shelters and other organizations in your own communities that need diapers, both cloth and disposabe.

Well this is the final post for baby month, keep those machines humming and next month we’ll start working on the upcoming Easter party.  Thanks for all your hard work and continuing support!


2 thoughts on “Cloth Diapering on the Rez as a Possibility?

  1. I know that if a baby is enrolled in Early Head Start they are required by HS regulations to provide diapers for the babies for the hours they are in daycare. Not sure if the Tribal Head Start programs have the same regs but I assume they would.

  2. Probably do have that rule. In Wanblee they do not have a formal Early Head Start program like I have seen off the Rez. – The Baby face program people instead gointo homes and visit moms with young babies every so often to look for developmental delays but not sure how often they do it or if it is a very good program. It depends on who is in charge of the program. They get diapers from NAHA to take to moms, not sure if they get them from anywhere else .Theresa told me at times they grab a lot of them and that means the rest of the people do not get them. I know that the regular Head Start needs underwear or training pants for those who have accidents etc. but not working with them at the present due to some local issues.

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