See my previous posts for my trip to Pampers and my take on the rash evidence, including the sensitive skin issue.
The Pamper's pardon should come as a relief for parents worrying whether their diapering decisions set their children up for severe harm. Is there something about the Dry Max that promotes intense reactions? Is it dangerous? Are toxic gels somehow leaking into contact with my newborn's skin? Is it too absorbent? Too drying? How could I have done this to my baby? You can stop the second-guessing. As can the peeps over at Pampers and their parent conglomerate, Proctor and Gamble.
But for the rest of us, it's not welcome news, far from it. After investigating the Pampers evidence and Facebook events early this summer, I'd been worried it would come to this.
It means we need to consider how a small number of parents, not a health or medical professional in the lot, ignited a not insignificant health scare via the internet that generated over 11,000 Facebook fans, federal investigations in both the US and Canada, several lawsuits, and I'd argue, the further erosion of the relationship between parents and the parenting industry. We need to take a good hard look at how the social-media driven brouhaha happened and how it came to be that a few moms ignited a Facebook fury.
It pains me to declare this Dry Max to-do a social media mess. I don't like to have to challenge women acting in the supposed interest of their young children, moms who shared awful stories about babies and toddlers in pain. After my trip to Pampers, I exchanged several emails with Lisa Stone, one of the founders and 3 officers of the Pampers Bring Back the Old Cruisers Facebook page. She was nothing but friendly and eager to answer my repeated and pointed questions. Her genuine conviction and outrage came across in the exchanges. So it feels aggressive to question her actions and motives and those of the other moms. Moms who believed a company had harmed their children. Who can blame them? If I thought my baby had been injured as a result of corporate negligence, I'd be furious too.
But there were clues early on that the Facebook fuss wasn't just about diaper rashes, or for that matter, the new diaper as much as the old, beloved one. The women didn't name the group "Dry Max Causes Diaper Rash" or "Recall Dry Max". When I asked Lisa Stone about this, she confirmed that initially they were upset with a number of issues, including how Pampers had treated their complaints about the new diaper, both via telephone and online. Complaints ranging from leaks and fit to rashes (and that Pampers reported were significantly below what they'd expected). Rashes certainly were not the group's tantamount complaint, not in the first months. In fact, the women were particularly displeased by how Pampers sent out the new diapers in the old Cruisers boxes without alerting consumers of the change.
Check out the welcome on the group's home page:
Parents! Are you confused with the switch in cruisers? Are you having problems with the new Cruisers/Swaddlers? I have just created a fan page on facebook called "Pampers bring back the OLD CRUISERS". I got kind of fed up of seeing my posts lost amidst the "fun stuff on the Pampers fan page so it got me thinking...why not start our own fan page to bring back the old cruisers. Let's try and get as much support as we can. So Tell all your friends. It could serve to unite us in getting P & G to start taking us seriously. Please leave messages daily so that we can make a difference.No mention of rashes let alone burns or toxic diapers.
I wanted to publish some of Ms. Stone's comments back in early summer, but didn't feel quite right when I didn't have any data to discuss, except for the 11,000 plus fans and voluminous posts detailing red blisters, open wounds, screaming babies, etc . But I couldn't go through the thousands of pages and posts to track the debate back to the first days of the group's existence. So I relied on Ms. Stone for information about the history of the posts and to provide some text from targeted discussions (e.g., the first use of the term "chemical burn"). When I inquired about professional documentation of burns or parents with medical training whose children developed the severe rashes or burns, she emailed portions of the online discussions. I tried following up with some of these contacts, none of them doctors, one a nurse, another appeared to have some paramedic experience.
By the end of May, the red flags flying amidst a surging social media storm, certainly we could expect parenting professionals, especially the health experts, to weigh in on the possibility of a diaper creating severe diaper rashes, chemical burns even?
Ah, no. Not at all.
Not much from The Parenting Industry, those folks who toil to inform parents, educate parents, advise parents. Where were they?
They were virtually silent on the mounting Facebook-facilitated virtual fisticuffs. Of course the controversy reached parenting websites and message boards, but the coverage was brief, limited to the basic story, especially upon news of the lawsuits. Sure a couple other industries were interested, mildly. Business outlets discussed the financial aspects and the lawsuits, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg to name a few. Several PR sites weighed in, mainly to critique Pamper's response, especially the use of mommy bloggers. Friends and readers saw the story on the televised nightly news and morning shows, but again, only perfunctory reporting.
The American Academy of Pediatrics? Nothing. Silence. A spokesperson informed me they don't make statements about particular products unless a recall is issued.
WebMD? Ari Brown, a pediatrician posted a brief piece on the Dry Max on his blog at the site. He personally saw only one case of "contact dermatitis", that is diaper rash, on a Dry Max-wearing baby. He cautioned that bad rashes happen, especially to babies with sensitive skin. His tone suggested he dismissed the Dry Max claims. But he didn't really question the possibility of a diaper causing extreme rashes let alone chemical burns. Didn't really dispell the claim altogether. If only more doctors would have spoken up.
What about other pediatricians? Most of my pediatrician contacts hadn't really heard or known much about it. As my one pediatrician friends remarked, she wouldn't know about it until the journal article came across her desk. But an academic study on the Dry Max would not appear this time - though I suspect some researchers are now writing up grant proposals to study the Dry Max as a social media phenomenon and/or marketing/PR dilemna. So I guess I can't entirely blame these individual physicians for not speaking out, that is, if they hadn't even known about the claims. But if they'd heard more about it early on they certainly would have been better informed and better prepared to answer questions from parents.
Maybe most of the parenting industry believed it was a big to-do about nothing. Maybe pediatricians agreed with the moms who reminded us on message boards and on playgrounds that some diapers give some kids rashes. One kid can't wear Pampers. The other one can't wear Huggies. Rashes happen and they can look real bad real fast.
True, the story lost traction. Media attention spiked in May and the early part of June then died until last week's verdict from the CPSC. I suppose someone could argue the experts did the right thing by ignoring claims. It's just exaggerated reports of regular diaper rash, why give it credence? If they thought the claims ridiculous than they should have said so. They should have stood up. It's not like they had to bash the Facebook moms. Someone could have written about the different types of rashes, their severity, the unlikehood of a link between diapers and chemical burns. Questioned the Facebook history/timeline. Told us just how dang bad a rash can look, hurt, etc.
This time parenting experts did not help parents decide whether they should throw out all the Dry Max they'd just purchased. Or whether they should be worried about their newborn who'd been wearing them. Or call the pediatrician first thing in the morning. When even unlikely claims or threats gain traction, the experts need to respond. Misinformation has the half-life of permanent marker on your white silk draperies.
From the beginning no one from the media (and please correct me if I missed an article somewhere), except Trevor Butterworth at Forbes.com, hardly the arena for child health discussions, dared challenge the veracity of the claims about the diaper (Social Nutworking).
No one, save Butterworth, dared suggest the possibility of it as an example of social media gone amok. And that's too bad because there were red flags early on.
And so that's why it's up to us to be more skeptical. We gotta be our own detectives now. For every health claim we have to consider the sources, the circumstances involved. It wasn't so difficult this time. Could the Dry Max have been causing an inordinate amount or inordinately severe rashes? Of course, but diaper rash is extremely common. Could people without health backgrounds notice severe diaper rashes? Maybe. Could they distinguish an unusually severe diaper rash from a severe one? Doubtful. How about a severe one from a chemical burn. Doubtful. Did we hear from any medical professionals confirming the chemical burns. No reports. Did we hear any alerts from any health agencies? No. But then again, we learned like nada from the professionals here.
This time it was just diaper rash. Thank goodness for that. A common event. Something we know about. Most of us parents have seen diaper rash. Diapers and diaper rashes are hardly abstract, complicated phenomenon.
Next time the threat might be more serious. Something with an unpronounceable name, something most of us know nothing about. Maybe it'll be a threat less easily and readily falsified. Say a food additive, a drug, a new vaccine, a medical procedure - suspected of causing birth defects, leukemia, attention deficit disorder, childhood depression, infertility. Something that takes years, decades, millions of dollars to investigate with more severe consequences.
Unfortunately we parents are not as patient as we used to be having suffered through the vaccine-autism scare and its gradual, costly debunking. Living with the still-present anxieties over bisphenol-a and phthalates - the final verdict years if not decades away. These exaggerated threats, false alarms of varying degree, they take their psychological toll. Doesn't take a Ph.D. in psychology to know it. Hopefully we'll still be able to recognize the true threat when it comes our way, that is, if we aren't busy worrying about whether we should buy Dry Max diapers, infant formula, organic produce, or the BPA-free lunch bag.