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Baby cloth diaper filled with extra cloth.

A diaper (in North America) or nappy (in Britain, many Commonwealth countries and Ireland) is an absorbent garment worn by individuals who are unable to control their bladder or bowel movements, or who are unable to reach the toilet when needed. The purpose of a diaper is to contain mess and keep the wearer dry and comfortable for several hours at a time. When diapers become full and can no longer hold any more waste, they require changing; this process is generally performed by a secondary person such as a parent or caregiver. Failure to change a diaper regularly can result in diaper rash.

Diapers can be made out of either cloth or disposable materials. Cloth diapers contain several layers of fabric such as terry towelling and can be washed and reused. Disposable diapers contain chemicals which increase absorbency and pull wetness away from skin. The decision to use cloth or disposable diapers is a controversial one, due to issues such as convenience, health, price, and their effect on the environment. Currently, disposable diapers are the most commonly used, with Pampers and Huggies the most well-known and popular brands.

Diapers are primarily worn by infants and children who are not yet potty trained or suffer from bedwetting. However, they can also be worn by adults who suffer from incontinence or in certain circumstances where access to a toilet is not available. These include some elderly people, those with a physical or mental disability, and people working in extreme conditions such as astronauts. Diapers are usually worn out of necessity rather than choice, although there are exceptions. Infantilists and diaper fetishists wear diapers willingly for comfort or sexual gratification.


The problem of clothing infants not yet potty trained is as old as human history. In ancient times, babies would be dressed in natural resources such as leaf wraps and animals skins, with the Inuit making diapers out of moss and sealskin and Native Americans packing grass under a cover made of rabbit skin. European societies would wrap their children in strips of linen or wool known as swaddling bands, and in Elizabethan times, children would only have their diapers changed every few days.[1] In countries with warmer climates, babies were kept naked and mothers tried to anticipate their bowel movements so as to avoid mess near their living areas. This method is known as elimination communication and is still used today in some cultures.[2]

In the pioneering days, soiled diapers were rarely washed but simply dried and reused. This resulted in serious skin rashes, and it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution, when people had acquired enough money to buy household furniture, that parents began to make an effort to contain and dispose of their children's waste more carefully. In the nineteenth century, the modern diaper began to take shape and children in Europe and North America were being diapered using cotton material, held in place with a safety pin. Cloth diapers were first mass produced in 1887 by Maria Allen in the United States.[3] When society gained a better understanding of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, mothers began washing their babies' diapers in boiling water in order to reduce the problem of diaper rash.[1]

In the 20th century, the disposable diaper gradually evolved through the inventions of several different people. In 1942, a Swedish paper company known as PauliStróm created the first disposable diaper using sheets of tissue placed inside rubber pants. Four years later, a Westport housewife called Marion Donovan developed a waterproof diaper cover known as the "Boater" using a sheet of plastic from a shower curtain; she was granted four patents for her invention, including the use of plastic snaps as opposed to safety pins. In 1947, a man named George M. Schroder invented the first ever diaper with disposable nonwoven fabric. Disposable diapers were introduced to the US in 1949 by a project called J&J, and were considered one of the great inventions.[1][3][4][5]

During the 1950s, companies such as Kendall, Parke-Davis, Playtex, and Molnlycke entered the disposable diaper market. In 1956, Procter and Gamble began researching disposable diapers. Vic Mills, a man who worked for the company, invented "Pampers" while searching for a better product to use on his grandson. Although Pampers were conceptualized in 1959, the diapers themselves were not launched into the market until 1961. Over the next few decades, the disposable diaper industry boomed and the competition between Procter and Gamble's Pampers and Kimberly Clark's Huggies resulted in lower prices and drastic changes to diaper design. Several improvements were made, such as the introduction of refastenable tapes, the "hourglass shape" so as to reduce bulk at the crotch area, and the invention of "super-absorbent" material.[1][3][4][5]

Word origin

The word diaper originally referred to the type of cloth rather than its use; "diaper" was the term for a pattern of small repeated geometric shapes, and later came to describe a white cotton or linen fabric with this pattern. The first known reference is in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew: "Another bear the ewer, the third a diaper". The first cloth nappies consisted of a special type of soft tissue sheet, cut into geometric shapes. This is how the term "diaper" acquired a new meaning and it is still used today for modern disposable diapers. This usage stuck in the United States and Canada, but in Britain the word "nappy" took it's place. "Nap" is short fibers which create a hair-like surface on cloth and is sometimes used to make diapers with.[6]



Since their introduction several decades ago, product innovations include the use of super-absorbent polymers, resealable tapes and elasticised waist bands. They are now much thinner and much more absorbent. The product range has more recently been extended into children’s toilet-training phase with the introduction of training pants and pant diapers.

Modern baby diapers and incontinence products have a layered construction, which allows the transfer and distribution of urine to an absorbent core structure where it is locked in.

  • The topsheet closest to the skin is made of soft nonwoven fabric and transfers urine quickly to the layers underneath;
  • The distribution layer receives the urine flow and transfers it on to the absorbent core;
  • The absorbent core structure is the key component and is made out of a mixture of cellulose pulp and superabsorbent polymers;
  • The backsheet is typically made of ‘breathable’ polyethylene film or a nonwoven and film composite which prevents wetness transfer to the bed or clothes.

Disposable diapers have overtaken the cloth diaper market many times over. Approximately 18 billion units of disposable diapers were sold in the USA in 2004.


Cloth diapers are reusable and can be made from natural fibers, man made materials, or a combination of both. Industrial cotton which may be bleached white or left a natural color. Other natural materials (often grown without pesticides), such as bamboo, unbleached hemp, are also used. Wool may also used. Man made materials such as microfiber toweling (for absorbencey), or PUL aka polyurethane laminate (for a waterproof layer) may be used. Another popular non-natural fiber is polyester fleece and faux suedecloth, used inside cloth diapers as a "stay-dry" wicking liner, because of the non-absorbent properties of synthetic fibers. Elastic is also commonly used. Pre-formed cloth diapers with snaps or hook and loop fasteners (similar to Velcro) and all-in-one diapers with waterproof exteriors are now available, in addition to the older pre-fold and pin variety. Increasingly popular are "pocket" or "stuffable" diapers, which consist of a water-resistant outer shell sewn with an opening in the back for insertion of absorbent material. These place much less stress on landfills; however, they also require washing in water with a small amount of detergent to be properly cleaned. Contrary to popular belief, high temperatures are not required, nor is soaking. Nowadays most people "dry-pail" after removal of solid waste and wash on a cold or warm wash. Most bacteria are removed by this treatment, any that aren't can be dealt with simply by line-drying outdoors. The UV exposure will kill the rest. Cloth diaper-wearing children go through about 6,000 diaper changes. If thrown into a landfill, cotton diapers decompose within six months.[7] Some cities have a cloth diapering service that delivers clean diapers and picks up soiled ones for a fee.


A life cycle analysis is one way to choose between disposable diapers and reusable cloth diapers. This analysis attempts to take into account all the environmental factors, including raw material and energy usage, air and water pollution emissions, and waste management issues. Several such analyses have concluded that when all factors are taken into account, both types of diapers have roughly the same environmental effect. However this research has subsequently been proven to be flawed as the numbers of cloth nappy users researched was much smaller than the numbers of disposable users, and the people interviewed were not very representative of cloth nappy users. Cloth nappy groups including the Women's Environmental Network, are campaigning for some more balanced research into the subject.


The replacing of a soiled diaper is commonly referred to as "diapering" or "diaper changing." Diaper changing is essential to the prevention of contracting skin irritation of the buttocks, genitalia, and/or the waist. When to change a diaper is the decision of the caregiver. Some people believe that diapers should be changed at fixed times of the day for a routine, such as after naps and after meals. Other people believe that diapers should be changed when they feel a change is needed regardless of timing. Still others people believe a diaper should be changed immediately upon wetting or soiling. And, some believe that a diaper should be changed only when the wearer is uncomfortable, the diaper is full, the diaper is leaking, or the wearer has a bowel movement.

To avoid skin irritation, commonly referred to as diaper rash, the diaper of those prone to it should be changed as soon as possible after it is soiled (especially by fecal matter). The combination of urine and feces creates ammonia. Ammonia irritates skin and can cause painful redness. During the change, after the buttocks are cleaned and dried, some people use baby oil, barrier creme or baby powder to reduce the possibility of irritation. The most effective means to prevent and treat diaper rash is to expose the buttocks to air and sunshine as often as possible. There are also drying creams based on such ingredients as zinc oxide which can be used to treat diaper rash. Before disposing of a diaper, either in a diaper pail for washing or the garbage, fecal matter should be removed as much as possible and placed in a toilet to avoid landfill and ground water contamination.

Viewed by some as unpleasant, diaper changing is often a source of humour. It can provide an excellent opportunity for bonding between parent and child. Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg can be seen comically changing a baby's diaper in the 1987 movie Three Men and a Baby.

Length of use

While awake, most children no longer need diapers when past two to four years of age, depending on culture, diaper type, parental habits, and the child's personality. However, some children have problems with daytime or more often nocturnal bladder control until eight years or older.[8] Known as enuresis, or more commonly bedwetting, this may occur for a wide variety of reasons and can be both a short-term or long-standing issue. With this as well as the increasing number of obese infants in developed countries, disposables manufacturers are increasing the sizes of their products so that children can remain in diapers for longer.[9] This has caused some controversy, with family psychologist John Rosemond claiming it is a "slap to the intelligence of a human being that one would allow baby to continue soiling and wetting himself past age two."[10] Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, however, believes that toilet training is the child's choice and has encouraged this view in various commercials for Pampers Size 6, a diaper for older children.[10]

Because of children wearing diapers longer, companies have designed special "training pants" which bridge the gap between baby diapers and normal underwear during the toilet training process. These training pants are distinct from diapers in that they mimic underwear and do not require complex fastening, so children can be changed standing up or even independently without adult assistance. Studies have shown that the use of training pants instead of diapers can be effective in speeding up toilet training.[11] Larger versions, such as GoodNites, are available for older children and teenagers who have already been toilet trained but continue to suffer from bedwetting. They are intended to be discrete and similar to underwear, so as to avoid alienating those who find wearing diapers at a late age to be embarrassing.[12] Available in both cloth and disposable versions, they are constructed like a diaper with an absorbent core and a waterproof shell and can be worn at any age until the child stops wetting the bed. Because they can be pulled on and off like underpants, children are able to use the toilet if they feel the need, rather than being forced to wet or soil themselves unnecessarily. Whereas most diapers are unisex, training pants often come in gender-specific versions because children become more aware of gender-differences as they grow older.[11]

With the development of training pants making it possible for children to change their own diapers, and pediatricions such as Brazelton claiming that forced toilet training can cause lasting psychological and health problems, children are wearing diapers at a much older age than they did historically.[10] Recent studies show that an increasing number of Japanese children are wetting their beds and even wearing diapers full time, well into elementary school.[13][14] Because of this trend, progressively larger diapers are appearing on the Japanese market. One example includes the "Goo.N Refreshing Bigger than Big Size Diapers," intended for seven-year-old boys[15] and girls[16]. On the Children's Health and Wellness website, Dr Paul believes that diapering a child can prolong bedwetting, as it sends a "message of permisson" to urinate in their sleep.[17] Dr Anthony Page of the Creative Child Online Magazine claims that children can get used to their diapers and begin to view them as a comfort, and that of the children surveyed, most would rather wear diapers than worry about getting up at night to go to the toilet.[18]

Adult usage

Although generally associated only with infants, diapers are sometimes also worn by older children, youth or adults for a variety of reasons. There may be a medical reason why a person is unable to reach to a toilet for longer than their bladders can hold out, such as incontinence or bedwetting. For example, pregnant women must urinate very frequently, and urgently, and therefore may decide to wear adult diapers. People who are bedridden, recovering from surgery, or in a wheelchair may also wear diapers because they are unable to access the toilet independently. Because the usage of diapers and incontinence problems in general are often the cause of significant embarrassment for the sufferer, youth and adult diapers are often instead referred to as incontinence pads.

Many fetishists wear diapers for sexual gratification. People with diaper fetishism have a desire to wear diapers even though it is not a physiological necessity, and may enjoy using their diaper to various degrees, depending on the person. Infantilists wear and use diapers in ageplay, although they are considered distinct from fetishists, as "diaper lovers" are sometimes sexually motivated to wear diapers, whereas "adult babies" wish to regress to the helpless state of a baby. Other sexual uses of diapers include omorashi, rubber or plastic fetishism[19], and Total Power Exchange in BDSM.

Astronauts wear trunk-like diapers called "Maximum Absorbency Garments", or MAGs, during liftoff and landing.[20] On space shuttle missions, each crew member receives three diapers — for launch, reentry and a spare in case reentry has to be waved off and tried later.[21] The super-absorbent fabric used in disposable diapers, which can hold up to 400 times its weight, was developed so Apollo astronauts could stay on spacewalks and extra-vehicular activity for at least six hours.[22] Originally, only female astronauts would wear diapers, as the collection devices used by men were unsuitable for women; however, reports of the diapers' comfort and effectiveness eventually convinced men to start wearing them as well.[23]

Public awareness of astronaut diapers rose significantly following the arrest of Lisa Nowak, a NASA astronaut charged with attempted murder who gained notoriety in the media for driving 900 miles in an adult diaper so she would not have to stop to urinate.[24] The diapers became fodder for many television comedians, as well as being included in an adaptation of the story in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, despite Nowak's denial that she wore them.[25]

Others situations in which diapers are worn because access to a toilet is unavailable or not allowed include guards who must stay on duty and are not permitted to leave their post; this is sometimes called the "watchman's urinal".[22] It has long been suggested that legislators don a diaper before an extended filibuster, so often that it has been jokingly called "taking to the diaper." There has certainly been at least one such instance, in which Strom Thurmond gave a record holding 24 hours and 18 minute speech.[26][22] Some Death Row inmates who are about to be executed wear "execution diapers" to collect body fluids expelled during and after their death.[22][27] Characters in films such as Monster's Ball, Ted Bundy, and Sin City mention or can be seen being diapered before their execution. People diving in diving suits (in former times often standard diving dresses) may wear diapers because they are underwater continuously for several hours.[22] Similarly, pilots may also wear them on long flights.[22] Some competitive weightlifters choose to wear diapers when they first start out because the pressure makes them urinate involuntarily.[22] It has even been claimed by the The Epoch Times that adult diapers are a popular way to avoid long bathroom lines during China's traveling season.[28]

Seann Odoms of Men's Health magazine is well known for his belief that wearing diapers can help people of all ages to maintain healthy bowel function. He himself claims to wear diapers full-time for this purported health benefit. "Diapers," he states, "are nothing other than a more practical and healthy form of underwear. They are the safe and healthy way of living." [2]

Animal usage

Diapers and diaper-like products are sometimes used on animals (mostly pets, but also sometimes laboratory and working animals). This is often due to the animal not being housebroken. Though, it may also be for older, sick, or injured pets who have become incontinent. In some cases, these are simply baby diapers with holes cut for the tails to fit through. In other cases, they are diaper-like waste collection devices.

Animals that are sometimes diapered include :

  • Horses (often so their manure can be used for fertilizer or so the horses can be used in public settings without leaving droppings on the ground). If the horse is hauling, sometimes the diaper is a piece of strong cloth or plastic slung between the horse's hauling harness and the front of the cart or carriage. Some mares are kept specifically for the production of urine, collected for premarin, a hormonal drug.
  • Dogs (often when a female is ovulating and thus bleeding).
  • Monkeys and apes (most monkeys are physically unable to learn control of excretions, which is not a useful ability for tree-dwelling animals. Diapers are most often seen on trained animals who appear on TV shows, in movies, or for live entertainment or educational appearances).

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Diaper History
  2. What is Elimination Communication?
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Diaper Evolution Timeline
  4. 4.0 4.1 History of Diapers
  5. 5.0 5.1 Milestones in Disposable Diaper History
  6. Origin of the words "diaper" and "nappy"
  7. http://www.punkinbutt.com/diaper_dilemma_the_environment.asp
  8. The Bed Wetting Diaper
  9. P&G announces Pampers now a bigger disposable
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Delayed Toilet Training Issues
  11. 11.0 11.1 Pull-Ups Training Pants FAQs
  12. GoodNites - Getting Started
  13. Japan messes up when it comes to toilet training
  14. Big bedwetters left high and dry in diaper
  15. Goo.N Refreshing Bigger than Big Size Diapers (boys)
  16. Goo.N Refreshing Bigger than Big Size Diapers (girls)
  17. Bedwetting and diapers
  18. The Bed-Wetting Report - Do diapers prolong bedwetting?
  19. http://understanding.infantilism.org/what.php
  20. http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/support/training/ascan/2004/journal12.html
  21. Rivenburg, Roy. (2007). "NASA diapers become topic No. 1". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 15, 2007.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 22.6 Davis, Merlene (February 11, 2007). "I Did My Research on Adult Diapers". Lexington Herald-Leader. p. C1. Although donning a diaper to decrease the number of bathroom stops is not something you or I would think to do, otherwise healthy adults do wear diapers more often than we realize for good reasons. Check date values in: |date= (help) Archived from [1]
  23. Information on astronaut diapers
  24. Lisa Nowak charged with attempted muder
  25. Lisa Nowak denies wearing diapers
  26. "Wayne Morse Sets Filibuster Record".
  27. Information on execution diapers
  28. The Epoch Times. (2006). "Adult Diapers are Top Seller During Spring Festival Travel Season". The Epoch Times. Retrieved June 15, 2007.

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