What were diapers like in medieval times?

Okay, I have a story set in a quasi-medieval period (sort of that “fantasy” sort of setting, with magic, but no electricity, etc.), and one of the main characters is a baby. So, I was wondering, what did they do for diapers back then? How did you wash them out well enough, when there weren’t washing machines or running water? Do I want to know or will I be scarred for life? :slight_smile:

Thanks for any help. :slight_smile:

Not sure about diapers, but there was no such thing as a disposable sanitary napkin when my grandmother was young. You used cloth, folded up to the desired thickness, and you washed them out in a tub of boiling water and hung them in the basement to dry.:eek:

I imagine a lot of the time they just did without- It’s really not as bad as it seems. Babies can be semi potty trained very young, and chances are that people back in the day spent a lot of time outdoors and the babies could just go wherever without causing any problems.

Incidently, you can still buy re-usable menstral clothes, such as Lunapads. Now and then when it’s not a DivaCup day I’ll use one, and I don’t really find it any grosser than disposable pads.

Purely anecdotal, but like sven said, when it matters babies can be taught to relieve themselves sort of on command. I know a fellow whose wife is from China. She tells tales of children in the poor rural areas being trained to relieve themselves on command from their mothers, so they don’t soil themselves and her. How this is accomplished, I dunno. But she commented that it is possible as earliy as like a year old. You might google something and find this method codified so you could pull something away on the basics.


Short answer: no one batted an eye at skid marks on used diapers. Tolerance for general “dirtiness” of all types was trememdously higher back then than it is today.

What do you mean, “no running water”? Diapers were washed in the same running water as everything else… down at the river! “No water faucets” is a different problem :slight_smile:

In Spain the most common cloth during the Middle Ages was flax (normally old rags). My middle brother stilll wore cotton diapers (washed by hand), the youngest one already got disposables. We got potty trained before age two. Giovanni Guareschi mentions toddlers in rural settings (1940s-1960s) wearing dresses with the back pinned up so they could go whenever they needed to; before that, cloth diapers.

Women used the same for menstruation.

I’ve heard that such items as shredded bark, dried moss or peat, or other such absorbent stuff was used by various people without the benefit of Pampers disposables. I’d think wool or cotton, but I’d think those would be too valuable used in cloth to be treated as disposable diaper material. Wonder if Medieval peasants would use such things?

The History of Diapers - Disposable & Cloth (Brief)

It’s called “elimination communication” (at least in the U.S., anyway). Advocates say you can start using it basically immediately after the child is born. (I chose to stick with diapers, thanks.)

Toddler clothes used to have a slit on the baby’s bottom. Whenever the baby squatted down, the slit would open and poop (hopefully) fall through.

Also practiced in Africa are baby enema’s. Mom squirts a jet of water in baby’s bum, waits a bit, and baby empties himself. Most moms get quite practices at this, and can squirt a jet of water very precise and powerful through their teeth.

Wait… she has to use her mouth to squirt the water in?

I’d assume, unless she’s got cheeks that can provide Super Soaker strength blasts of water, she’d have to be pretty much touching the baby’s anus, right?

Yeah, it’s more training the parents–whoops, I mean mother–to notice when the kid has to eliminate rather than training the kid. When the baby is about to eliminate you pull them out and hold them over an appropriate recepticle. This only really works when you’ve got the baby attached to you constantly.

Having been to a few third world countries young children usually just walk around without any bottoms on. When they have to go they just squat where they are. I would assume things were the same in medieval times.

Babies were going without diapers in the early 1900s in the US. My husband’s aunt was born around the turn of the century (she’s now deceased) and she told stories of walking up to someone’s porch and seeing little baby turds lying there. When babies were young and it was warm, you put them in dresses and let them roam around outside. And didn’t worry too much about when they pooped.

Yeah, it squicks us out, but we’re kind of wimpy these days. :slight_smile:

Yea, I and my friends describe it as yet another attempt to force women to be completely and solely focused on their babies to the exclusion of absolutely everything else in their lives. And to create more work for modern women.

Medieval Diapering :slight_smile:

Gah! Seems like I’ll have to use some artistic liberty…most of the story consists of the main girl and the little baby having a long adventure together, where she’s not sitting around the house staring at him, waiting for him to poop, so he needs some sort of diaper.

Also…skid marks, ewww :stuck_out_tongue:

Are you sure you’ve got the stomach for writing a quasi-historical novel in a medieval setting? :dubious: :slight_smile: There were a LOT grosser aspects of medieval domestic life than poop stains on washed and reused diapers. (Frinstance, fleas, lice, re-used bathwater and open sewers, just to name a few off the top of my head.)

If the baby is a toddler, then the dress mentioned above is the best solution. No diaper needed, the baby just poops and pees whenever the mood strikes. Occasionally the baby butt gets cleaned.

Well, it’s not really quasi-historical…I’m working out how much has to be chalked up to magic to make it not too gross to appeal to kids. I hate to avoid the toileting issue entirely, because that makes it look like I didn’t think about it, like he just doesn’t poop or something, heh.

I hate having to do lots of magical handwaving. I like history but, sorry, poop stains are disgusting. :stuck_out_tongue: