The word diaper was originally the term for a small pattern of repeating geometric shapes. It later was used to describe white cotton or linen fabric with this pattern. Early cloth diapers consisted of soft tissue cut into geometric shapes and this pattern was called diapering. It eventually gave its name to the cloth used to make diapers and then diapers itself.
The name “diaper” stuck in the US and Canada. In Britain the word “nappy,” short for baby napkin, became more popular and replaced it.
Early records indicate that babies were wrapped in swaddling clothes or cloth bands in many European societies. Each society adopted diapering habits based on local conditions.
- Inuit’s placed moss under sealskin.
- Native American mothers and Inca mothers in South America packed grass under a diaper cover made of rabbit skin.
- In warmer tropical climates, babies were mostly naked and the waste cleaned up when it interfered with eating, sleeping or working.
- In the American west, it is likely that wet diapers were seldom washed. Most likely they were just hung by the fireplace to dry and then were used again.
In Europe, it wasn’t until people acquired sufficient wealth to buy household furniture that they made more of an effort to contain baby’s waste, mostly to protect their home furnishings.