What did people use before diapers?

I can’t imagine anyone no matter their different cultural standards on cleanliness wanting liquid baby poo all over their bedding or dwelling. Which makes me wonder how people dealt with it before the advent of cloth diapers? Not to mention cloth being pretty expensive for most people for most of history.

I can’t recall seeing any mention of this anywhere.

I read eons ago (don’t remember where) that papooses were bottomed with cotton, cattail, and any other absorbent plant matter at hand. The kid was naked.

Dried Sphagnum moss inside a buckskin wrap was one type of aboriginal diaper. The stuff holds an amazing amount of liquid and even has some antibacterial properties. Punk wood was another absorbent diaper material used in premodern societies.

I’d be willing to bet that washable animal skin was wrapped around the little nipper’s leaky parts about the same time man started wearing animal skins.

For rabbits:

Would work. . .

One interesting thing to note is that in China it’s common for little kids to wear split-crotch pants. Then if your kid looks like he’s going to go, you hold him over a toilet or the side of the road or wherever and he just lets 'er rip.

I think they’re moving towards using diapers nowadays.


The Nambian kid in Babies didn’t wear any diaper that I remember. He just went where he was and his mother would clean him with a scooped piece of wood or something similar. I only remember scenes of him being outside though; I don’t recall how it was handled indoors.

Edit: Reading the IMDb page, it says the Nambian child was a girl, not a boy. Not that it matters for the diaper answer but I may have misremembered the kid’s gender or confused him/her with their siblings. It’s been a while since I saw it.

For some cultures that carry/carried their babies closely (not in papooses, but in slings), Mom just learns her baby’s signal of imminent elimination and takes him out of the sling to do his thing over a bush/latrine/toilet. This is how some Attachment Parenting folks do it today. You learn pretty quickly what that little wiggle or grunt means when your baby is in contact with you all the time.

Surprisingly small babies can be classically conditioned with tongue clicks or other stimuli to eliminate on demand, too. Hold 'em out and click and they go, and you’re good for another couple of hours. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elimination_communication

Proof that you can find anything on the internet: The History and Timeline of Diapers.

I heard from both my grandmothers (born around 1900) that for a long time, flour sacks were saved and used for many things, including diapers, menstrual pads, and clothing. Families used a lot of flour then, and the flour companies actually made an effort to make their cloth bags desirable. There’s a photo of my grandmother on her 20th anniversary wearing a dress made from a flower-print flour sack. It’s a pretty dress.

Having been raised in India, we did not have access to any diapers growing up. They are still quite expensive for the vast majority of the population.

Most kids wear some kind of easily removable underwear. At night, you usually put a rubber sheet under the cloth sheet on top of which the baby sleeps. Nothing like wet underwear to hasten the process of potty training.

And as some have mentioned before, the parents get very very well trained to pick up on signals when the baby needs to go.

My dad told me he saw African women spit water up the kids’ asses, then hold the kid up so he empties himself. Sort of like giving the baby an enema so the poops at planned times .

I also heard this from one of my grandmothers, and from a friend of hers who was the same age. It seems that part of the decision as to which flour to buy was based on the print of the bag. It was just marketing.

Grandma’s friend told me about how she was frequently asked to make a shirt from flour sack material, and how she managed to save enough scraps from it to make panties for herself. Store bought clothes were quite expensive back then, and this woman was particularly adept at making clothes without store bought patterns. I learned a lot of things from her.

I was wondering if these were still used in China. They were common in Beijing when I lived there in 1984. We called them squatty pants because the kid could just squat down and let fly wherever he happened to be. Obviously these work only for mobile kids; I’m not sure what they used for little babies.

In northern Cameroon, babies generally wore a waist-string and a set of protective amulets and not much else. Babies spend most of their time in a sling on the mother’s back, so the mother becomes very acquainted with the child’s patterns and signs and would generally hold the baby over a bowl (with the waste disposed of in the latrine). The rest of the time, the baby roams fairly free-range in the living space, but since the living space was usually a shaded yard with a gravel or (for the very poor) dirt floor, it wasn’t too hard to clean up any messes. That said, I’ve been peed upon by more than one baby!

In much of China, the situation is similar. Parents become acquainted with the child’s patterns, and the child learns to respond to a low whistle. As the children get into their toddler years, they wear the characteristic “split pants” that allow them to squat and do their business wherever. It’s not unusual to see a child being encouraged to defecate into a plastic bag in a public spot.

They were certainly common in Sichuan as of a couple years ago.

I lived with a family that had a newborn. IIRC, the baby wore a mix of no diaper and/or reusable diapers around the house. I think split pants were involved, even if he was not ambulatory. When we would go out to dinner or some other special situation, the family would break out the disposables. I have no idea how common that setup is.

Wait, you can get a kid to go on command just like a dog? Any chance you can also train the kid to stay in a cage several hours a day and be happy about it as well?

Probably. The hard part is getting DCFS to be happy about it. :wink: