What Did People Do Before Diapers: A Look at the History of Baby Care




What Parents Did Before Diapers

Affiliate Disclaimer

As an affiliate, we may earn a commission from qualifying purchases. We get commissions for purchases made through links on this website from Amazon and other third parties.

What did people do before diapers? This is a question that many parents may find themselves asking at one point or another. The answer, it turns out, is quite interesting! In this blog post, we will take a look at the history of baby care.

We will explore some of the methods that were used before disposable diapers became commonplace. Keep reading to learn more!

Ancient Times

Did people use diapers before? Many mothers used natural resources and animal skins as a diaper because they were absorbent. This happened when they started migrating into colder climates. They were also a good source of insulation, which helped keep the baby warm.

However, using them as diapers was not without its drawbacks. They could be heavy and uncomfortable for infants to wear, and they could also cause skin irritation.

In addition, using animal skins as diapers was not always effective in preventing leaks. Ultimately, though, this was a better option than using nothing at all.

Rabbit Skin

Early humans particularly Native Americans use rabbit skin and natural fibers and packed grass, the same materials used in hamster cages.

One way that they used rabbit skins as diapers were by cutting the skin into a large square and then folding it in half. They would then tie the two corners together to create a makeshift diaper.

Another way they used rabbit skins as diapers were by cutting the skin into a long, thin rectangle. They would then tie the two corners together to create a makeshift diaper.

Either way, rabbit skins diapers are absorbent and effective at catching urine and feces. Plus, they are breathable, which is important for keeping babies’ bottoms clean.

Peat Moss

They also used peat moss as diapers were by mixing it with water to create a slushy consistency. This would then be molded to fit the baby’s bottom and would absorb wetness.

Another method was to place a layer of the moss between two pieces of cloth, which would also absorb moisture.


Some people in the Navajo culture would strap their little ones to a cradleboard. Most babies would be wrapped tightly with soft, absorbent bark. This was done to keep the babies safe and also to help keep them clean.

In some parts of Central Asia, some parents did something similar. They added a tube to the cradleboard so that the babies could pee and poop without making a mess.

Elimination Communication

Interestingly, some ancient cultures went bare and did not wear diapers. Others practice elimination communication (EC) which means understanding when babies need to eliminate their own waste by using timing, signals, cues, and intuition.

Parents and caregivers hold babies over the potty instead of using diapers. Studies have shown that this practice can help babies practice potty training early.

EC can be started as soon as the baby is born, and can be used to help the baby eliminate in a number of different ways, with or without a diaper.

This practice has gained popularity in recent years and is being used by parents to potty train their babies early.

Benefits of Elimination Communication

There are a number of different perceived benefits to practicing EC with a baby. Some of the benefits include:

  • Helps develop a healthy elimination routine
  • Teaches the baby how to control their elimination
  • Reduces the number of diapers needed, which can save money
  • Early toilet training readiness
  • Helps the environment by reducing the number of disposable diapers that are thrown away

There are a few drawbacks to keep in mind. One is that it can be difficult to learn how to do it properly. It also takes a lot of time and effort, both on the part of the parent and the child. Additionally, it can be challenging to get enough fluids into a child who is eliminating communication, which can lead to dehydration.

Before you start practising EP with your baby, do enough research on the subject first. It would also help if you talk to a professional to get as much information as you can.

What Did They Do for Diapers in the Middle Ages?

In Europe during the Middle Ages, babies were wrapped in long narrow pieces of linen, hemp, or wool by their mothers. Sometimes the groin area was left unwrapped so that absorbent clothes could be put underneath to catch any pee or poop until they were potty trained.

When Did People Start Using Cloth Diapers?

Some people believe that the first cloth diapers for infants were first used in China over 2000 years ago. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this claim. The use of a cloth diaper likely originated in Europe, where it was reportedly used in the 1500s.

Regardless of when they first appeared, cloth diapers have been around for a long time and continue to be popular today.

Cloth diapers were first used in the early Elizabethan Era. However, they were not the same as the cloth diapers we use today. The cloth diapers back then were made out of wool and had to be washed and dried very carefully in order to avoid shrinking or felting them.

They also tended to be very heavy and absorbent, which made them perfect for soaking up urine and feces.

Washing Diapers

Washing diapers during this era was extremely rare. For one, they were often quite expensive, so people only used them for their more important garments. Additionally, it was believed that changing a baby’s cloth diaper too often would cause them to develop rashes.

Finally, most mothers simply didn’t know how to properly change a cloth diaper. All of these factors combined lead to many babies going without a clean diaper for long periods of time and resulting in diaper rash.

At first, people did not wash dirty and soiled cloth diapers. They just shook the waste out of the soiled diaper and hung it up to dry. But as science advanced and people became more aware of how diseases spread, they began to wash their diapers.

And then came the Industrial Revolution which brought prosperity and wealth to many people. During this time, even the common people could afford to buy soft cloth that they could use as a cloth diapers.

The word diaper is derived from the French word “diapre” which referred to the geometric patterns on the cloth that was used to make cloth diapers. The term was first used in English in the 14th century.

What Did They Use for Diapers in the 1800s?

Cloth nappies and safety pins were not invented until the late 1800s. The early safety pins were considered unsafe because they usually punctured a baby’s skin and were often left untreated which led to infections.

Cloth diapers were first mass-produced in 1887 by Maria Allen. She used white linen or cotton fabric with small, repeated geometric shapes and patterns to make her cloth diapers. At this time, her product was being referred to as a diaper.

It wasn’t until the 1900s that people began to understand the associated risks and health concerns of dirty diapers. So they started changing and washing their cloth diapers properly and regularly to avoid the spread of illnesses and diseases. They even soak soiled diapers in a pot of boiling water.

When World War II broke out, many men were drafted to fight the war which left the women to tend to their babies.

To meet the increasing demand for clean cloth diapers at the time, diaper services started delivering fresh diaper to homes regularly.

In the early 1900s, rubber pants were designed to be worn over a cloth diaper to prevent leaks. And in the 1930s, most parents used wool pants or doubled up on diapering besides using rubber pants to avoid leaks.

These techniques, however, frequently caused irritation on the baby’s skin and dampness buildup, resulting in diaper rashes. These were replaced later on with plastic pants.

First Disposable Diapers

There’s no one person that can be credited for inventing the modern disposable diaper. Many inventions and improvements to diapers were used as inspiration to make the disposable diaper as we know it today.

Towelling Diapers

In 1947, Valerie Hunter Gordon began working on a diaper after having her third child that would allow parents to skip the time and resources spent on washing, drying, and ironing ordinary toweling nappies.

Valerie initially produced a two-part diaper system that comprised of a biodegradable disposable pad made of cellulose wadding covered with cotton wool and worn inside an adjustable waterproof garment with press studs that were not thrown away. The diaper was made from old military parachutes.

Bloater Diaper

Marion Donovan was a young mother in the late 1940s who had trouble with cloth baby diapers leaking. She came up with the idea of using a shower curtain to use as a diaper cover and keeping them dry.

She called her invention ‘Boater’. Boater diaper cover utilized snaps instead of pins, which resulted in a better fit and, as a result, better retention of baby waste. Marion later replaced shower curtains with a nylon parachute material for her diaper covers. Her invention is often considered the first disposable diaper.

At the same time, in a different part of the world, a Swedish paper company created the first disposable absorbent pad used as a diaper. The diaper was made from unbleached creped cellulose tissue. Paper diapers were not uncommon but they were not popular either.

The Modern Disposable Diaper

In 1948, Johnson & Johnson was the first company to produce disposable diapers on a large scale. They had a monopoly on the disposable diaper market until 1961 when Procter & Gamble (P&G) introduced Pampers to the market.

Pampers became an instant hit among parents because their disposable nappies used cellulose fibers instead of paper fibers, making them the best disposable diapers on the market at the time in terms of absorbency.

Pampers diaper brand has remained popular over the next few decades. Their Pampers Swaddlers brand is the best-selling diaper on Amazon.

The Modern Cloth Diaper

Since the 2000’s and the awareness of the environmental impact of disposable diapers, cloth diapers have made a comeback. Modern designs no longer use diaper pins, instead looking very similar to a disposable diapers.

Modern diaper types include all in ones, pocket diapers, and even hybrid type systems. Brands include BumGenius, Fuzzi Bunz, Bambino Mio and Kissaluvs.

Conclusion on Diapering History

We have come a long way since the early disposable diapers for infants were first invented. They are now more absorbent, leak-proof, and comfortable than ever before. And with the help of companies like Pampers, they are becoming more and more affordable for families all over the world.

So as you can see, there is no one person or company that can be credited for the invention of disposable diapers.

They are the result of many different inventions and improvements over the years. And as long as they continue to make life easier for parents, disposable ones will remain a popular choice among parents everywhere.

Cloth diapers have evolved as well. They are more environmentally friendly now. One main complaint about using a reusable diaper is that it needs to be washed which can be difficult for busy parents.

Thankfully, new products such as all-in-one diapers have been introduced to make cloth diapering more viable for most parents. For instance, the Diaper Diamond company created the Diaper Sprayer, which makes cleaning cloth diapers easier than ever.

We should be grateful that diaper changes continue to happen for the better.

About the author

Latest posts