Where have we been over the centuries regarding diapers? When did they hit the scene? And how have they affected potty training, our environment, our children, and us as parents?
EC educator Andrea Olson answers these questions and more in this brief, 12 minute history of diapers.
This is the Go Diaper Free podcast with Andrea Olson, session 24, A Brief History of Diapers.
Welcome to the Go Diaper Free podcast, where we're all about teaching you how to stop changing diapers starting at birth. And now your host, Andrea Olson.
Hello everybody and welcome to today's show. I am going to riff on a brief history of diapers, completely off script today, for those of you who want to know where we've come from, and hopefully we can deduce from that where we should go next.
So, long, long, long time ago in our current human form 200,000 years ago, what did people do? Well, most people lived without reliance upon even clothing. If we lived in a colder part of the world, there would be some clothing and probably some swaddling of babies, and generally, furs or some kind of other absorbent material like moss would be stuffed into that swaddle near the baby's genitals to absorb any kind of, well to serve as a backup, like how we use diapers and EC.
That's way, way back. But babies would communicate when they needed to go and people would generally do the point and shoot method with their children. They signal they need to go and the baby would be held under the thighs and pointed away from the people and the bed and whatnot and would pee or poop away from the body. And then be wrapped back up and maybe the backup of some kind of material would be put back in.
That's in the colder regions. In the warmer regions, babies were obviously kept naked. And then we come to just about 150 years ago, commercial cloth diapers were invented, so that definitely made things much more convenient for people and babies. And then let's jump to about, well the early 1900s, the average age for doing potty training and potty learning was between six and 12 months generally wrapping it up soon thereafter. And then we get to 1957. In 1957, they did a study on the average age and 92% of children in the United States were finished with potty training by 18 months.
This was not by following the coercive methods that reared their ugly little heads back in the 1920s and 30s where people were putting suppositories in babies bottoms and things like that to make them poop on schedule. None of that was actually advised. This was the period of Dr. Spock and things were actually quite baby friendly, and babies were just done by 18 months. They wore only cloth diapers and moms didn't want to wash them. Babies, actually if you've noticed, when they start walking, they really have an interest in going to the bathroom on the potty where grownups go. So, it kind of all makes sense.
1957, that's where we were. Let's skip to 1959, disposable diapers were invented. Now people really hated them when they came out. Parents were like, "I am not putting my baby in paper," because they were made out of paper. They didn't want paper to touch their baby's skin and they were very, very, very against them.
The diaper companies, as smart as they are, decided to do some things and without too much speculation, I'll just give you the facts instead. A couple of years later, I believe it was 1962, the pediatrician, Mr. Braise Elton put out a report in pediatrics magazine stating that parents should wait until their children show signs of readiness to potty train.
Now this was a brand new concept, and if you read the report in detail you will find that it is not scientific at all. This was kind of a bunch of bullshit, pardon my expression and hopefully your kids aren't listening. But, it makes a lot of sense because then, diaper sales started to really pick up because parents needed to have their kids in diapers longer and what was more convenient? Well, disposables were.
Braise Elton began to do commercials in the 80s, it’s the one that I found at least where he's saying wait until they're ready, and he's actually speaking on behalf of Pampers. So I don't know the exact facts of when he started working for the Pampers Institute but I know that he did and there is some correlation there. So you do the math. 1957 we were all done by 18 months. In 1959, disposable diapers were invented. In 1962, this very unscientific study came out in pediatrics magazine advising parents to wait until their children showed signs of readiness.
Jumped in 2009 and Webb MD reported that boys were potty trained by 38 months and girls by 36 months as an average in the United States. That would be about doubling in just a mere couple of generations the potty training age and that is completely correlated to the introduction of disposable diapers and the acceptance of them from parents.
Now, we can get disposable diapers upwards of size five and six, which can fit a five or six year old at night or even during the day in some cases.
Along with all of this, the diapers have gotten a lot more sophisticated and a lot less biodegradable. A disposable diaper has never biodegraded since their invention. All of the disposable diapers that have ever been buried and landfilled, full of human pee and poop have never biodegraded since they started to be buried in 1959. The average a couple years ago of how many diapers were landfilled in the United States alone was 27.4 billion diapers, full of human waste.
Now on the packages as you're supposed to dump poop out before you throw them away, because you're really not supposed to put human feces in the landfills. However, do you know anybody who's done that? No, probably not. And then there's also cloth diapering, which has continued and gained a lot of followers, fluffy bottoms everywhere.
People get really attached to their cloth diapers and don't really want to potty train. And then some of them fall off the boat and start using disposables later on because cloth diapering can look really nice and shiny at first, and then the baby becomes a toddler and you've got giant poops and pees in those cloth diapers and they're no longer fuzzy and cute.
They also take a lot of resources to wash them, launder them, and make them. A lot of bleach and other chemicals go into a lot of the cloth diapers that are created. And there's the PUL lining which is not natural, so you do the math there too as well. And the environmental impact of cloth diapering is definitely not as bad as disposable diapers, but definitely a contender for ruining our earth.
The future of diapers, where we are today: we got lots of chemicals, lots of gels, nothing is biodegraded yet. We're using them into three... Three's the average, so we're using them up to five years old. Diapers are entering the Chinese market, which is going to be disastrous, because I don't think that the waste management there is really up to par with, well, even here in the United States.
In Charlotte, which is a neighboring city where my mother lives (I live in Asheville, North Carolina). In 15 years, their landfills are going to be full and they are going to have to ship their trash somewhere else to throw it away.
They're doing all of these initiatives to get people to compost and recycle and all of that, but it's kind of a little bit too little, too late, sort of a thing. With the diapers themselves, they're the third largest piece of the waste stream in the United States, so where are we heading? Well we're heading to full landfills, we're heading toward the pendulum swinging back from late potty training and Oh, Dr. Hodges and his terrible advice to wait til they're three or four.
Parents, I just want you to know, Dr. Hodges is actually somebody who is wonderful to treat children with pottying, constipation problems, and major medical constipation at three or four or five years old, but it's not true that late potty training is the answer. He actually has his clients because they're late potty trained.
I fully recommend elimination communication. You can check out how to do that at godiaperfree.com. I have a book on that for less than 18 months. I have a potty training book if you're here at over 18 months. You can get both of them there and also lots of free information on how to do everything.
I believe that the direction that we're going now is the pendulum is swinging from late training to and wait ‘til they're ready and natural - parents are absolutely the worst about this. I don't want to pressure them. Maybe that's you. Maybe you said that as well. I don't want to pressure them. I don't want to make them have an issue, a psychological issue, because I potty trained them too early.
Honestly, parents, we put them into diapers, we get to choose when they come out of diapers. The gentlest, most natural parents should be the ones who are training the earliest. A baby is totally capable of finishing potty independence between 12 and 18 months.
Wherever you're at right now, potty train today, do elimination communication today, give your babies the benefits of that hygiene that they are born instinctively asking for upon birth, which is what we did before diapers.
This is a brief history of diapers, not potty training. However, it does go hand in hand and I am a potty training and EC advocate. Go figure. I have my rants.
In conclusion, the diapering has absolutely affected our planet and our children, and we are having children who aren't allowed to go into kindergarten or even preschool because they're still in diapers. We are also having this sort of mommy war battle about who's a better parent? “Well, my child self trained and I didn't pressure them, but they self trained at about four years old...and I'm better than you because I didn't pressure them.”
Then there's the ECing mom who says, "I'm better than you because my baby never pooped herself her whole life." We can get into these Wars and whatnot or we can move forward.
The next steps in the future of diapers: I would love to see parents using whatever kind of diaper backup they choose for 12 to 14 months of their baby's age. It can be disposable, it can be cloth. If you're doing EC with your baby or early potty training, you can use a backup to keep your... You have a modern world lifestyle, you have carpets, you have other things of importance. You also don't want to be dealing with poop and pee everywhere. Also, if you're doing EC with a naked baby peeing everywhere, wherever, whenever, that is just the same as diapering.
The future of diapering the way I see it is to only use them between 12 and 14 months of life, 18 months at the most. Then the parent stops using them completely, has given them the tools over time starting at walking. You can start at six or nine months old, when they're sitting or walking. Then at 12 months old, getting them on that potty.
Use my book, Go Diaper Free. If you have any questions at all, it will help you so much. And really, just go for it. Children do not need to be in diapers that long. If we are all using diapers only for the first 12 to 18 months, we will cut our waste so gigantically. We'll make such an impact on the environment. We will give our children's self-esteem back, control over their bodily functions like they want and they're born wanting, hygiene. We are teaching them the right thing to do with their waste instead of the convenience and we'll just deal with our poo and pee and our crap later.
It's a very psychological thing. We can do our children a great amount of good. I have my master's in psychology, I have read all the reports, and I understand them all. I understand statistics and reliability and validity and all of that stuff. And I will tell you, there is no way to psychologically damage your child by potty training early. It can only help. Of course it has to do with your demeanor and how well equipped you are to do that.
So go to my website and use all of those resources there. That's why I created them. But regarding this brief history of diapers, I hope that I've been able to demonstrate to you where we've been, where we are today and where we are hopefully going in the future.
Thank you so much for listening. I'm Andrea with Go Diaper Free, and my new company, Tiny Undies. Take care.
Thanks for listening to the Go Diaper Free podcast, at godiaperfree.com.
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About Andrea Olson
I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 5 children (all under 10 yo) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)