It seems like not a day goes by without some government bureaucrat proposing a new law or new tax to force Americans to live more environmentally friendly lifestyles. If the government wants Americans to live “greener” then they should make government assistance “greener.” What better way to help low-income American’s live greener than to provide more breastfeeding support and cloth diapers.
I recently read an article where a long time lactation consultant mentioned that the low-income welfare moms she saw in the hospital were the least likely to even try breastfeeding. Their reasons: Why bother to breastfeed when the government will give me free formula? Obviously moms that have to work outside the home have a harder time breastfeeding fulltime, but even the cost of a good quality breast pump is cheaper than paying for formula, so maybe if someone is on WIC instead of being provided formula, the government should issue good quality breast pumps. (I emphasize good because I know that in some states women on WIC can get a small manual pump provided for free, but this is not ideal if you are going to be pumping frequently). But it has to be more than just encouraging breastfeeding. There isn’t enough support available to new moms who are breastfeeding. I hear more and more mothers say that they “can’t breastfeed.” There are a small number of women who legitimately can’t breastfeed, but this is not the case for most. Many women encounter problems that can be easily overcome if they were provided the proper support and information. Breastfeeding admittedly takes work, but so does caring for a child and since you’ve already had the baby, the caring portion is implied. You need to stay clean and sober to breastfeed, something that you would hope is recommended anyway when caring for a child. Breastfeeding is preferable to bottle feeding with breast milk, but either is preferable to formula both for health and environmental reasons. Between manufacturing resources and excess packaging plus bottles and other feeding paraphernalia, formula feeding is without a doubt more expensive and less environmentally friendly.
I found out recently that diapers can’t be bought with food stamps. I had no idea. I always assumed that if the government provided low-income mothers with formula then they would also provide them with diapers. Apparently there is a major need for diapers among low-income families, especially in the inner city where diapers are bought at ridiculously high prices in small quantities at local convenience marts. Perhaps government-funded diaper services are the answer. Diaper services often get a bad wrap as being environmentally unfriendly, but the cleaning methods have changed a great deal in the last 15 years. But there aren’t many services left, except in large urban areas. But as the case happens, apparently large urban areas are the places diapers are needed most. People talk about starting diaper banks in the inner city. Why not start non-profit eco-friendly diaper services? Cloth diapers can be just as easy to use as disposable diapers when proper education is given and children generally have fewer diaper rashes and potty train sooner, making it an even bigger savings.
I have heard the argument that many daycare providers won’t accept cloth diapers. At the same time I hear experts complaining that low-income children can’t even begin attending government subsidized daycare without a minimum number of disposable diapers, which is a difficult expense for low-income families. Since cloth is less expensive and better for the environment, why aren’t government subsidized daycare centers required to accept them? (Better yet, government subsidized daycare centers could cloth diaper all the children they care for with the diapers provided by the government subsidized diaper services. Perhaps parents could be permitted to take cloth diapers home and return them the next day to be laundered for a nominal fee). Besides that, more daycare centers are willing to accept cloth diapers if parents are willing to ask nicely and explain properly. I think that washing your own cloth diapers is still cheaper than diaper services, but I understand that many low-income families don’t have easy access to laundry facilities. Otherwise I’d recommend that the government provide prefolds and good quality diaper covers to any family collecting food stamps. (Including a diaper sprayer would be even better).
I’m not saying that breastfeeding or cloth diapering is the “easy” thing to do, though I have always found breastfeeding my daughter to be easier than making a bottle. I never have to worry about running out of formula or making sure I have clean bottles. Using cloth diapers means never having to run to the store to buy disposable diapers in the middle of the night. Both are worthwhile investments that will ultimately produce both financial and ecological benefits.
In general, I am not in favor of expanding government services, but more women breastfeeding would mean fewer government dollars spent on formula and more families using cloth diapers would lower waste disposal costs. Such programs could potentially pay for themselves. I guess the bottom line is do Americans really want to make healthier more environmentally friendly decisions for their children or settle for what appears easy and cheaper but will in reality cost us more than we ever imagined? Do our government officials really want Americans to live “greener” and healthier or are their eco-claims really a ruse to gain more control over our lives? The proof may be in the way we feed and diaper our children and the way the government helps low-income families to do the same.