History Of The Diaper

Published: 15th May 2009
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What goes around comes around and what goes in must come out. Ask any parent of an infant or diaper wearing toddler as they go through 5,000 to 6,000 diapers before potty training. They'll probably all agree that the going in part isn't nearly as unpleasant as the coming out. And it's been that way since time began. Diaper changing hasn't changed that much since the first cave tot soiled his fur or fleece britches. But diapers have certainly come a long way from leaves and furs and other natural stuff. Or have they?

The Inuit of the Arctic regions of Canada use seal skins to cover the bums of their darling little ones. These fur-side-outside diapers may be the closest things to the furs and skins the earliest mothers no doubt used to swaddle their infants. Some ancient Europeans may have used bits of fleece to cushion baby's heiny.

Ancient Egyptians and others in the ancient world learned how to make cloth. The soft linen cloth used by mothers along the Nile apparently didn't do much to relieve the sting of diaper rash, as infants in diapers and how to deal with nasty diaper rash are mentioned in several ancient Egyptian medical texts.

Babies around the globe from ancient times to the Middle Ages were often swaddled. They had cloth strips tightly wound around their arms, legs and bodies. These could be changed in sections as the baby soiled them. Elizabethan mothers were advised to change their infants' swaddling clothes weekly, or at the earliest every four days. Royal babies were treated a little better and had their swaddlings changed on a daily basis. These swaddling clothes were generally made of wool, cotton or linsey, depending on the baby's local cloth-making specialty.

African, Native American and other First Nations peoples' infants were often treated to diapers made of leaves, skins, furs or other natural materials, when diapers were used at all. Milkweed fluff was stuffed into a skin to wrap little Iroquois babies in. Moss was used, too, by many native mothers, placed under skins or furs. Inca mothers packed grass under a rabbit fur cover to protect their little one's behinds. Tribes in tropical climates often didn't bother with diapers at all, letting the babes go "au naturale" in the warmer weather.

Diapers really came into their own during the Industrial Revolution. The first all-cotton diapers were manufactured in the US, consisting of a 21 by 40 inch square of soft cotton cloth, held to the baby with a string tied around the belly. Pioneer women pushing westward across the continent made their children's diapers, carefully folding and hand stitching the hems. (One curious note about those covered wagon moms - they seldom washed wet nappies. They simply hung them up to dry and then reused them.)

The cleanliness-conscious Victorians began to standardize diapers, creating squares or rectangles of cloth that were folded over the baby's body and held in place with safety pins. Entire families would hold nappy making and folding parties. A new mother in the 1880's might be expected to have six to seven dozen of these diapers on hand to handle her baby's soils. Awareness of germs meant that dirty diapers began to be boiled after washing, to remove bacteria.

Things in Diaper Land stayed pretty much the same until World War II came along. The demand for women to take over for the men in the workplace meant that working mums couldn't always keep up with all the nappy washing and folding. Diaper services came into being. Now, fresh diapers could be delivered right to your door, and the dirty ones were whisked away to be cleaned and sanitized. Diaper services were all the rage in the 1940's and 50's.

When cotton became essential for the war effort, mothers and inventors began experimenting with other materials for diapers. In 1942, in Stockholm, an unbleached creped cellulose tissue was placed inside rubber pants and voila'! the disposable diaper was born. A few years later, in 1946, in the US, a mom named Marion Donovan invented the "Boater" - A waterproof covering for conventional cotton diapers. Her first model of a disposable nappy was a good ol' cloth diaper inside a plastic shower curtain covering. In 1950, a pre-folded, sewn diaper was created, negating the need for all that folding. Later that year, the world's first snap-on diaper was created. Called the Safe-T Di-Dee, it eliminated the need for pins that could poke the wee one's sides or belly.

In the 1960's, the disposable diaper again came to the fore. Working off the Stockholm idea, it was discovered that using cellulose fiber fillings greatly improved the performance of the product. The plastic covered paper diapers were a big hit with the use-it-and-toss-it generation.

During the 70's and 80's a diaper war was waged between two didee giants, Huggies and Pampers. This war brought about many improvements in the product, including tabs that could be reclosed for "checking," folds that allowed for more comfortable wearing, and seals that didn't allow leaks.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, environmentally conscious parents began to once again extol the benefits of cloth diapers. When scientists determined that disposable diapers can take as much as 500 years to degrade once they hit the landfill, everybody started rethinking just how Junior's bum was going to be taken care of. Parents and hospitals started to see a resurgence of the old fashioned diaper service, especially since services could provide cleaner, better sanitized nappies.

Since the turn of the millennium, the latest in diapers has been the environmentally friendly or "green" diaper and the "designer" diaper. Green nappies are disposables made of more environmentally friendly products, such as wood pulp fluff instead of absorbent gels. They are also made using processes with less environmental impact, like manufacturing processes that don't include chlorine and other harmful toxins. Designer diapers are those created by work-at-home-moms. There's a whole mini-industry of cloth diapers and diaper covers out there. Some of these WAHMs can get as much as $500 for a set of hand made diapers or covers. These cottage industries are being threatened by big business, but some still seem to manage to stay alive and well. One of the most successful companies uses wool and hand knits their products.

From fleece diapers to hand knit wool nappies, diapers have proven that what goes around really DOES come around!About The Author
Kelly's Closet is committed to providing high quality products and superior customer service that is unmatched in the cloth diaper industry. Trusted brands such as Fuzzi Bunz, Bumgenius and Happy Heinys are available along with a wide range of associated baby gear. Visit online at http://www.kellyscloset.com/ today.

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