Advice & Support
Understanding Incontinence

About Adult Diapers Or Nappies

Adult Nappies is a term used by some people to describe adult incontinence products. Read more about these products, how they work, and why the term ‘nappy’ might not be the most thoughtful description.
Published by Sagar Luthra
About Adult Diapers Or Nappies

What are Adult Diapers or Nappies?

As it’s not an official term, it’s hard to know exactly what people mean when referring to ‘adult nappies or diapers’. Products designed to manage bladder and bowel leaks in adults are, in fact, called incontinence products.

According to Oxford Languages, ‘continence’ is defined as the ability to control movements of the bowel and bladder. So it makes sense that if that control is incomplete or lost, that is incontinence.


The range of incontinence products available is enormous. From small, thin liners and shields designed to sit inside your regular underwear and manage just a few drips of urine to products that absorb a full bladder and contain bowel movements – and everything in between.


The concept of nappies is generally well understood. Worn by babies and toddlers who are yet to be toilet trained, nappies also absorb urine and contain bowel movements. Based on this, we assume that ‘adult nappies’ refers to incontinence products designed to manage complete incontinence.

How do Adult Diapers or Nappies work?

Incontinent products are actually pretty sophisticated. Like nappies, they contain pulp, which is soft and fibrous, allowing liquid to be quickly drawn into the product. They also contain Super Absorbent Polymers, or SAP for short. These white, sand-like particles can absorb many times their own weight in liquid, swelling and transforming the tiny hard grains into a gel.

There are several advantages to this.

  • Urine is locked away, keeping the skin dry. Even when sitting on a product after voiding (weeing), liquid can’t be pressed out
  • Dry skin means painful rashes or other conditions caused by prolonged contact with urine are avoided
  • Because the urine isn’t exposed to the air, bacteria are unable to multiply, so odours are prevented from developing
  • SAP is so effective that products are comfortably thin, yet still highly absorbent. So much so that products aren’t bulky or noticeable under everyday clothing


Products designed to manage complete incontinence also have soft, breathable material for comfort, close, body-fit shape and leg cuffs to contain faeces.


Why do some people need adult nappies?

As mentioned, incontinence is everything from losing a few drops to a full bladder or bowel movement. Incontinence isn’t a condition as such, but a symptom of an underlying issue. For that reason, if you’re experiencing any leakage, it’s always worth discussing it with your doctor.


That said, there are many reasons why incontinence can occur. Some examples are:

  • Weakened pelvic floor muscles. This group of muscles sits in the base of the pelvis like a hammock, running from the pubic bone in the front to the tail bone at the back. They play a critical role in bladder and bowel control as they’re the muscles you squeeze when you want to ‘hang on’ or stop wind from passing. Weakening occurs with age and is also impacted by pregnancy and childbirth. This is one of the most common causes of bladder leakage, especially among women.
  • An enlarged prostate. As men age, their prostate gets larger. This gland sits just below the bladder, and the urethra (the tube urine is expelled through) passes through it. As the prostate gets bigger, it squeezes the urethra, making urinating difficult and can result in small amounts of urine being left in the bladder. This remaining urine irritates the bladder causing it to contract unexpectedly, resulting in involuntarily voiding. This is the most common cause of incontinence among men.
  • An infection in the urinary tract, also known as UTI, can cause the bladder to contract and expel urine unexpectedly and involuntarily.
  • People who are overweight, have a smoker’s cough or suffer from persistent constipation can put excessive stress on their pelvic floor and bladder.
  • Diseases or injuries that affect messages being generated or the relaying of those messages between the bladder and brain can cause incontinence. Examples are dementia, spinal cord injury, diabetes, and Multiple Sclerosis
  • Physical ability. Having a disability or arthritis, or being age frail or extremely unwell, can make getting to the toilet and adjusting clothing in time impossible.


Adult Nappies for Men

What’s wrong with the term  ‘adult diaper or nappy’?

While the term ‘adult diaper or nappy’ is descriptive and well understood, to someone who uses products to manage partial or complete incontinence, it can be offensive.


There is already plenty of unnecessary stigma surrounding incontinence. Some of that stems from the notion that as functioning adults, we should all have complete control of our bowel and bladder all the time. And that’s just not true. While the stigma contributes to under-reporting, it’s thought that one in three women and one in four men will have continence issues at some point in their life.


Nappies are associated with infants so using the term to describe adult products can be upsetting for the user. It potentially implies that the person is no longer a valid adult, that their agency is diminished, or that they have regressed to a child-like state.


Incontinence is a symptom of an underlying condition, in some cases a serious one. That means the person using incontinence products may be coming to terms with other health issues. ‘Adult nappies’ might be taken as a demeaning term and add to the person’s distress, so it’s best to avoid it and use the correct term -incontinence products.


Essity Australasia makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional, medical or other health professional advice.