Diapers and Everyone
Friday, August 28, 2009

Nobody is born toilet-trained. That means that just about every single one of us has worn diapers. They are a hugely common product that we routinely ignore until the immanent arrival of an infant forces us to consider the options: cloth or disposable, small conveniently stored packages, or huge boxes of wholesale discount diapers sold as bulk discount deals. They are one of the oldest products known to mankind and remain a huge business, but they tend to be as semi-invisible to non-parents as they are an item of near obsession to parents. Intriguingly, they are a subject ignored by the Encyclopedia Britannica (which does, nevertheless, include an article on diaper rash) but covered quite well by Wikipedia and members of the diapering community. (Yes, there is such a thing.)

Not too surprisingly, the use of diapers goes back to well before the start of human history, though early diapers were mostly improvised affairs made from whatever materials happened to be around. Also, it's safe to say that their use in early history would never pass muster with contemporary ideas of sanitation and cleanliness. It was only towards the end of the nineteenth century that they began to be mass produced in the United States. The first disposable diaper was developed in Sweden in 1942, while innovations like "boater" plastic pants, invented by housewife and inventor Marion Donovan, arrived just in time for the post World War II industrial boom. Designed to go over traditional cloth diapers, they also included the important innovation of using snaps instead of the traditional safety pin.

With the postwar era's avid consumerism and increasingly mobile lifestyles, the initially luxury-item only disposable diapers gradually grew as the technology behind them improved over time. Industrial giant Johnson & Johnson entered the fray early, but it was a series of innovations and marketing successes from Procter & Gamble, and later Kimberly Clark, that made them an increasingly unavoidable fact of commercial life, as industrial giants began competing in earnest against diaper services and cloth diaper manufacturers. Convenience being one of the most powerful lures known to modern man, it's no surprise whatsoever that products such as Huggies were able to lower prices enough to storm the marketplace. As the number of two-income households increased over the ensuing decades, the demand for time-saving products only increased. Moreover, with babies typically requiring ten or more diaper changes a day, the products were as big a business as you probably imagine.

Of course, like just about every aspect of contemporary life, there are no shortage of diapering debates. While the industry has been working on biodegradable diapers, environmentally-based critics of disposables have to meet the objection that washing cloth diapers requires the greatly increased use of electricity, fossil fuels, and water ? an increasingly serious issue in today's world. It's not a simple matter. Another controversy ? and one that were even more loathe to take sides on ? is the issue of how late in life children should be allowed to wear diapers. The fact of the matter is that children are waiting until later in life to become fully potty trained, sometimes taking the matter right up until it's time for school. Certainly, the diapering industry is not being hurt by that trend, but we'll leave it to individual parents to decide when it's time to crack the whip on toilet training.

There's simply no avoiding the fact that life can be a dirty business. As one of the world's most popular books famously has it, "Everybody Poops." For children, how that reality is handled is perhaps the earliest and most basic rite of passage on the path to adulthood, and such matters never come easy. As long as parents need to wait out the days before children are self-sufficient enough to handle their own hygiene, deals on wholesale cheap bulk discount diapers are going to be a matter of great interest to parents of young children, even as the rest of us go through life almost never thinking about them.