Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is about the garment. Diapering is also a term in Heraldry and in decorative art generally for an all-over repeating pattern. For the geological term, see diapir.
A diaper (US) or nappy or napkin (UK) is an absorbent garment worn by individuals who are incontinent, i.e. lack control over bladder or bowel movements, or who are unable to reach the toilet when needed. This group includes primarily infants and young children, as well as the elderly and the physically challenged. There are also people who wear diapers for pleasure and they are called diaper lovers.
Diapers are occasionally worn by adults who are unable or not allowed to reach a toilet for longer than their bladders can hold out. Examples are:
- Guards who must remain on duty; this is sometimes called the "watchman's urinal".
- A person diving in a diving suit (in former times often a standard diving dress) continuously for several hours.
- Astronauts during liftoff and landing who must remain at a post for hours for safety, and also during an extra-vehicular activity.
- A woman who is pregnant and must urinate very frequently, and urgently.
- Legislators in the midst of a filibuster (an activity often referred to as "taking to the diaper")
The word diaper originally referred to the type of cloth rather than its use. Diaper cloth was originally linen. The first known reference is in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew: "Another bear the ewer, the third a diaper". This usage stuck in the United States and Canada, but in Britain the word nappy (short for baby napkin) took its place.
While awake, most children no longer need diapers when past one-and-a-half to four years of age, depending on culture, diaper type, parental habits, and the child's personality. However, some children have problems with daytime or more commonly nocturnal bladder control until eight years or older. This may occur for a variety of reasons, the most common being the as yet insufficient production of ADH in the young child's body. Other reasons include the difficulty managing a small bladder and emotional issues. Some older children also need diapers while travelling. These children may use standard but larger size diapers (youth diapers) or special diapers which mimic underwear and do not require pinning or adult assistance.
A cloth diaper's ability to absorb liquid can be increased by using extra pads. This is useful for children who wet their diapers heavily or when frequent changes are not possible, for instance, while away from home. A very thick diaper between the legs may decrease the child's mobility, but this must be weighed against the need to avoid leakage.
When to change a diaper is the decision of the caregiver. Some people believe that diapers should be changed at fixed times of the day for a routine, such as after naps and after meals. Other people believe that diapers should be changed when they feel a change is needed regardless of timing, and even other people believe a diaper should be changed immediately upon wetting or soiling.
To avoid skin irritation commonly referred to as diaper rash, the diaper should be changed as soon as possible after it is soiled (especially by fecal matter). During the change, after the buttocks are cleaned and dried, some people use baby oil, barrier creme or baby powder to reduce the possibility of irritation. The most effective means to prevent and treat diaper rash is to expose the buttocks to air and sunshine as often as possible. There are also drying cremes based on such ingredients as zinc oxide which can be used to treat diaper rash. Before disposing of a diaper, either in a diaper pail for washing or the garbage, fecal matter should be removed as much as possible and placed in a toilet to avoid landfill and ground water contamination.
There are several cultures that forego the use of diapers entirely, because of choice or necessity. Parents or other caregivers can adapt themselves to be sensitive to an infant's elimination schedules and signals. When it becomes evident that the infant needs to eliminate, he or she is taken to an appropriate area. In the West, this practice is often called infant potty training (though it is the parents which are being trained to detect the signals) or elimination communication.
Cloth vs disposable diapers
Diapers may be made of absorbent layers of cloth or terry towelling fabric, or of disposable absorbent materials. The choice to use either cloth or disposable diapers is controversial. While cloth diapers are certainly cheaper than disposables over time, environmental impact, health and convenience also play a role in the decision. However, all of the studies which started the controversy in the early 1990s were funded by Procter & Gamble, which manufactures the vast majority of disposable diapers, and was facing growing criticism at that time.
Cloth diapers are washable and reusable and place less stress on landfills. To clean them, people use laundry detergent and water. Users of top-loading washers may use 20,000 gallons of water in a 2.5 year period, whereas users of front-loading machines may use 10,000 gallons. Cloth diaper-wearing children tend to toilet train earlier, because the cloth retains moisture, which may annoy the child or at least provide a reminder of bodily functions. Cloth diaper-wearing children go through about 6,000 diaper changes. If thrown into a landfill, cotton diapers decompose within six months.
Cloth diapers have become more user friendly in recent years. Pre-formed cloth diapers with snaps or Velcro and all-in-one diapers with wet-proofing exteriors are now available in addition to the older pre-fold and pin variety. Some cities offer a cloth diapering service which delivers clean diapers and picks up soiled ones for a fee. Cloth diapers may be used in conjunction with elimination communication as a back-up in case of an accident, or doo doo.
Modern disposable diapers are generally made of a cloth-like waterproof exterior, a moisture-wicking inside layer, and an absorbent inner core. The first mention of the disposable diaper was made by PauliStrǒm in Sweden, in 1942. The early disposable diapers had an inner of many layers of tissue paper, and were able to hold 100cc of urine, which is approximately one wetting. In the 1960's, a pulp mill was used for the absorbent core, and the disposable diaper became much more popular for the families who could afford them.
Disposable diapers have overtaken the cloth diaper market and put many diaper services out of business due to their convenience and relatively small bulk on the baby. Approximately 18 billion units of disposable diapers were sold in the USA in 2004.
Disposable diapers take a great deal of processing and their materials remain intact in landfills for many years -- some reports estimate 500 years. Because disposable diapers wick moisture away from the child's body, children tend not to realize they are wet, which may be the reason that disposable diaper-wearing children toilet train after the age of three. As a result, these children may require 8,000 disposable diapers before they are toilet trained.
Disposable diapers are laced with chemicals obtained unintentionally in production, as well as intentionally in order to improve absorbancy and pull wetness away from the skin. While this system works well in keeping skin dry, it also provides a potential skin irritant. Cloth diapers are most commonly made of industrial cotton, which is grown in conjunction with the heavy use of pesticides. The fabric is also usually bleached white. Alternative materials which are grown without pesticides, such as unbleached hemp and organic cotton exist.
A recent development is a hybrid reusable / disposable system, with an outer plastic part which is re-used, and an interior absorbent part which is disposed and is fully biodegradable.
In former times in some areas, a wad of sphagnum moss was often used as a disposable diaper.
Traditional baby care practices similar to elimination communication are used instead of diapering in most third world countries. In industrialized countries, elimination communication is sometimes used to reduce dependence on diapers for infant care.
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