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The purpose of a diaper: My thoughts on why diapers are misunderstood.

The purpose of a diaper

Today we're going to talk about diapers, or more specifically: the purpose of a diaper.

"Well, isn't the purpose of a diaper quite obvious, Andrea?"

Well, I actually have a really strong opinion about this opinion that I'm going to share with you here today.

Let’s do this!

You will learn:

  • The very brief history of diapers
  • The diaper’s originally intended use
  • How to challenge your own belief system around diapers
  • The impact of the diaper industry on the environment
  • How a diaper should be used
  • Tips from two of our readers

Links and other resources mentioned today:

Download the Transcript

If you can't listen to this episode right now (um, sleeping baby!?) and read the transcript here:

Transcript download: The purpose of a diaper

Watch the Video Version

If you want to watch me record today’s podcast episode, you can do that on my youtube version right here:

Thanks for Listening!

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  • Share your thoughts by leaving a note in the comments section below!

What do you think about the diaper being a backup versus a toilet? Do you have anything to add to that, or any questions about this concept? Or...did this concept blow your mind? Please leave a comment below with your experience!

I look forward to chatting with you in the comments.

xx Andrea

Andrea Olson

About Andrea Olson

I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 6 children (all under 12 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.)


  1. Avatar Amy on June 25, 2019 at 6:47 am

    I love this SO much! Thank you for all your information on this – I’ve always wondered what generations before us did, but never was sure. I hate nappies (that’s what we call them here in Australia) but never known why.. this was a great episode! Can’t wait to try EC with our third due in Dec.. feeling nervous but determined and loved those tips from Kaia… I honestly believe the culture of not being ‘stuck’ at home for women has changed so much that many are happy to use nappies for years so they can get out and about – I’d love to know what ‘home’ life looked like for women decades ago (ie: routines, playing with kids, cleaning etc) and doing toileting at the same time?? Thank you anyway!

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on June 26, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      Hi Amy! I’m so happy you enjoyed the information. It is wonderful that you are planning on practicing EC with your next little one, congratulations on your pregnancy! I understand EC can seem daunting, but once you start you’ll find it very easy to work into your daily routine. Older siblings are a great help with EC as well. xx Andrea

  2. Avatar Brooke on June 25, 2019 at 10:50 am

    I stumbled upon Andrea and Go Diaper Free on YouTube before I delivered my baby girl in January. It instantly made sense to me. My baby cues when she’s tired and hungry, why wouldn’t she when she has to go potty? And the environmental impacts are huge. I believe it to be the single most impactful thing I can do for our planet. I started EC with her at 3 months. We do pretty well when we’re at home, but I REALLY struggle when were around family. My husband is somewhat supportive, but doesn’t participate. I really don’t know how to go about it when his family is around. I don’t want to cause offense to those around us that are doing it the conventional way. I don’t want to have to explain myself or justify my decisions that are “outside the normal” way of doing things. Any suggestions?

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on June 26, 2019 at 2:07 pm

      Hi Brooke! I wouldn’t stress, just do your thing. You’ll find people are usually just curious. The key is to answer questions without sounding judgmental. I have a podcast that should help you with those conversations. If you want to avoid explaining it, just take baby into the bathroom to potty. xx Andrea

    • Avatar Cathleen Kroeger on June 27, 2019 at 12:24 pm

      Hi Brooke! Yes, it can be a struggle when surrounded by friends & family that don’t EC (even if they are supportive or indifferent)! I have been and am currently in your shoes, baby #3.
      For me, taking baby into the bathroom for potty and diapering works best. And I use a diaper backup. If they don’t see baby being pottied, it helps to keep it from being a topic of discussion. I have a sibling and friends that have worked really hard to train their older kids & I want to be sensitive to their feelings. Admittedly I do have more misses when in these settings, whether from not paying enough attention or the potty not being as readily available.
      If you need more support, you can find me on the coach search.

  3. Avatar Julie Shane on June 25, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    I think this should be the first thing people read about EC and diapers. It’s seems like common sense. You wouldn’t wrap a toilet around your baby if you could, right? Dignity, yes! And they’re expected to turn on a dime, years of sitting in it. Readiness is when they’ve had enough.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on June 26, 2019 at 2:08 pm

      Hi Julie! Yes, I think it really helps when people can change their mindset on what a diaper is for. It’s not something people really think about, once they do it puts everything into perspective. xx Andrea

  4. Avatar Beth F on June 25, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    I love all these episodes about changing the entire pottying mindset. I was all set to start EC with my first baby from birth, but had an injury when he was just a week old and had to get surgery on one of my shoulders. Disposable diapers have made it so I can take care of him but it’s been frustrating to have to wait! My son is going to really love EC because he cries so hard whenever his diaper is wet. He definitely shows that babies want to be hygienic!

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on June 26, 2019 at 2:10 pm

      Hi Beth! I am so sorry to hear you had to have surgery. Don’t worry, when you are able to start EC it will go great! Just focus on your recovery for now. xx Andrea

  5. Avatar Beth on June 25, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    This is funny because this is how I have felt about diapers before I had even heard of EC. Diapers have always disgusted me, especially disposable diapers. I have 3 kids. We used cloth for all three. The oldest is 7 now. I didn’t EC my first kid, but I didn’t let him sit in a dirty diaper either. I guess I kinda did instinctually EC my son because I always knew when he went and immediately changed his diaper. To me sitting in a piece of cloth (diaper) was the same as wearing underwear. But once it was soiled, it was gross. I mean if I soiled my pants I wouldn’t just sit in it, I would clean it up. When he started to walk around 1 I thought instead of waiting for him to go in his diaper, I can just take him to the toilet. After a while he just started going to the bathroom on his own.
    I thought this was how everyone else did it. I didn’t understand why disposable diapers needed to be so absorbent or why people thought cloth diapers were gross or uncomfortable. When I told other moms that I used cloth, the most frequent question was, “how do you know when to change you babies diaper?” This question confused me. It really wasn’t until my third kid that I realized that people don’t just change their kids diaper. They let them sit in it until the diaper fills up. Even if its poop. To me this idea is the strange one.
    I think it is because of how expensive disposable diapers are. I never really used disposables until my third kid. Only in certain situations for convenience, like on a family trip or something. After using them I started to understand a little more. If there is just a little pee it kinda seems like a waste to throw it away, both on the environment and my wallet. With cloth, the less it is soiled, the easier it is to clean. I’m doing laundry anyways, a few more diapers will not make a difference. I can now see how over a few generations of disposable diaper use diapers could transform from a back-up to a toilet.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on June 26, 2019 at 2:18 pm

      Hi Beth! You have great instincts! You definitely did EC with your oldest. I think you’re right, the expense of disposable diapers leads to people leaving them on longer than they should. Cloth is definitely the way to go if you can. xx Andrea

    • Avatar Cathleen Kroeger on June 27, 2019 at 12:35 pm

      Yeah, it amazes me how few diapers some people use! Dyper provides average of 6 per day and I got thru more like 10 + my catches. And moms talk about how many hours a diaper lasts., whereas I think about the # of pees it holds.

  6. Avatar Mary on June 25, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks for the very helpful history lesson. Now that I’m totally on-board with EC, I get a little queezy to the stomach when I see some baby with a hugely full diaper and the parents completely oblivious. But speaking of that, I have to admit that even before having children (and none of this stuff anywhere on my radar) I always thought it kind of strange to photograph babies in just their diapers. Yuck. A kid sitting in his waste. Doesn’t seem humane at all. I especially appreciate that you said that our children want to have good hygiene. And, thanks too for the plug for dyper. I am definitely going to check that out.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on June 26, 2019 at 2:20 pm

      Hi Mary You are welcome! I agree, it is difficult to see a baby in a full diaper after learning about/practicing EC. Definitely check out Dyper, I love them! xx Andrea

  7. Avatar Melissa on June 28, 2019 at 3:33 pm

    Great episode! If you don’t have facebook – is this the best way to connect with other EC parents? Thanks for all you do.

  8. Avatar Harvindar on July 11, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Hi Andrea, great article about diapers ….I must say its quite a bit information you provided us ….thank you for sharing your knowledge about diapers with us.

  9. Avatar Ettina on July 5, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    “My second tip [from Kaia] is that you should make a firm decision to follow EC, if you want to do this. When you know what you want, then the baby will definitely follow you. When you’re uncertain, then the baby will receive mixed messages and will not know what is actually expected. She senses your hesitation.”

    I really don’t like this tip. If I’d heard this before I started EC, it might have turned me off of doing it, because I’ve always known that I can’t count on being 100% committed to most things, especially if it’s something I’ve never tried before. This tip makes it sound like EC is all-or-nothing, and if you’re not going diaper-free and aiming to catch every elimination, you shouldn’t even bother. Meanwhile, I’m catching 25-50% of my baby’s eliminations in the potty, and she’s diapered full-time (in cloth diapers) and I’m happy with that. I’m introducing her to the concept of a potty, giving her an alternative to the diaper, and she’s almost entirely stopped peeing/pooping mid-change and making a mess. It makes changes less stressful for me, it reduces the laundry somewhat, and pottying her is a fun snuggly bonding time where she looks up at me loving and tries to pull my hair. That’s good enough for me. She doesn’t really signal, and I’m fine with that. She often pees and poops in her diaper, and I’m fine with that. I still see benefits from EC, without treating it as an all-or-nothing commitment.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on July 6, 2022 at 8:03 pm

      EC can most definitely be taken on super part time and every little bit of practice is worth it. I’d never want anyone to feel like it is an all or nothing endeavor. It’s a super non-linear journey with sometimes full of pauses and resistance. But by committing to practicing EC whether it be focusing on trying to get those easy catches, or more involved part-time EC where you also offer pottytunities or tackling it full-time and never using a single diaper of any kind, being firm in your decision will help provide consistency for your baby, and avoid mixed messages or any feelings of uncertainty in your baby. In the end, EC is flexible and can fit into every lifestyle.

  10. Avatar Mandelandile on July 7, 2023 at 11:10 am

    First and foremost I am pleased by your acknowledgement. My reason for asking this question is due to the fact that now day’s it’s not only meant for baby’s anymore but even adult’s who can’t control mechanisms anymore!!!

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