The proliferation of infant toys, now marketed for every stage of development from birth to twelve months, is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until the twentieth century, toys made specifically for the entertainment of infants (mainly in Western societies) consisted almost solely of rattles, often made of expensive materials such as coral or silver. Other artifacts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as walking stools, are more indicative of prevailing philosophies of child rearing than those of play. Other cultures took care of their babies in different ways. Many Native American tribes placed their children in wooden cradleboards, swaddling the baby tight. Cradleboards could then be carried on the back or propped up next to the mother while she worked, presenting the baby with a wide array of visual stimuli. Small toys could also be hung from the hoop of the cradleboard. Patterns of child rearing also shared certain common characteristics across cultures. For example, toys for babies (whether coral rattles or woven ornaments) often served the dual purpose of entertaining the infant while warding against disease or accident.
The renowned folklorist Iona Opie and her son, Robert Opie, in their book The Treasures of Childhood (1995), attribute the elaboration of playthings and games over time to the attainment of culture, which is historically delineated by the invention of rules and structures. In general, toys play a very important role in the socialization of children, promoting the values and expectations of the prevailing culture. The infant, then, engaged in acquiring basic physical and mental skills, is at the very beginning of this process of acquiring culture through play.
People as Playthings
In reality, toys are only a small part of a baby's daily life up to the age of one year. For a newborn, the earliest source of stimulation is the mother or primary caregiver. Since the 1960s many books have been published on infant play, most consisting of suggestions for activities and games for parents and babies such as singing songs, making the baby laugh, offering a variety of objects for the baby to examine, and popular games such as peek-a-boo. While it can be assumed that parents have everywhere entertained and interacted with their babies in these and similar ways, such books reflect how modern theories of child development became mainstream in the course of the twentieth century.
Changing Definitions of Childhood
By the mid-nineteenth century, new definitions of childhood promoted notions of learning through play. Child-rearing manuals from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries may be the best evidence of these more modern theories of child development. It is also possible that advice books served the purpose of suggesting toys for infants as well as aiding parents to make similar playthings with similar goals for stimulating the very young child. Certainly parents have made toys for babies out of a variety of materials since time immemorial. However, few if any examples of this ancient history exist. In particular, handmade toys rarely survive childhood and almost never reach museum collections.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, psychologists and educators had established a set of precepts almost identical to today's notions of child development. In 1934, when the psychologist Ethel Kawin published The Wise Choice of Toys, children's projected abilities according to age were a primary consideration in choosing toys appropriate to their interests and skills.
This new body of research (and conclusions) became increasingly part of the fabric of everyday life as accepted educational institutions such as the kindergarten incorporated it into their teaching activities. The kindergarten, in fact, as conceptualized by the German educator Friedrich Froebel in the 1840s, was instrumental in transforming the field of early childhood education and influenced thinking about infancy as well. Froebel's idea that children learn best through play is still the basis for most scholarship on early childhood.
Stimulating Mental and Physical Development through Toys
Today play is considered to be a key part of the daily care of infants. Current child-rearing literature emphasizes the importance of early childhood development for achievements later in life. As a result, parents in industrialized societies often feel a real sense of urgency in stimulating their children enough, often through toys. The noted pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton observed in 1974 that this sense of urgency has been fueled by both toy manufacturers and child experts. So-called educational toys, in particular, are products of this trend. Lamaze toys (made by Learning Curve) and products made by the Baby Einstein Company are specifically marketed as playthings that contribute to an infant's physical and mental development. Baby Einstein, for example, produces a line of toys designed to stimulate precocious development through exposure to classical music.
Toys for babies are in the main discussed as tools to encourage the physical and mental development of very young children. For example, editions of one popular child care book produced by the American Academy of Pediatrics include lists of recommended toys for each developmental stage as well as possible activities.
In general, most recent child-rearing manuals recommend almost exactly the same types of toys for different stages of development. Mobiles, for example, are considered to be ideal toys for babies from one to three months, giving the baby a stimulating object to look at. Toys for the brand-new baby, then, are designed to gently stimulate developing senses of sight, hearing, and touch. Unbreakable crib mirrors are also very popular playthings for newborns, based on research showing that babies are interested in faces most of all. As the baby's vision develops, experts suggest the introduction of objects with high-contrast colors. Floor gyms are also popular toys, giving babies something to look at and reach for before they learn to sit up (between six and eight months). Throughout the first year, rattles, musical toys, and soft balls and toys are recommended to go along with babies' growing comprehension of the world around them. By the end of the first year, as infants learn to crawl and acquire more small motor skills, toys like stacking cups, plastic telephones, "busy boxes," board books, blocks, and push-pull toys are considered to be more appropriate.
However, babies, just like older children, do not always use toys in the recommended mode (according to adult designers). A young child, for example, may take the pieces of a stacking toy and pack them into a small bag to drag around the house rather than practicing the specific skill that the toy was manufactured for. In the same manner, an infant may find a use for a more advanced toy that has almost nothing to do with the original intent.
Changing Fashions in Toys
Certain traditional playthings have undergone major shifts in popularity due to changes in recommended child-rearing practices. The baby walker, for example, has lost the support of mainstream child care professionals because research has shown that babies prepare themselves for walking in other, more efficient ways. Other factors have also contributed to this trend, including the rise of concern about accidents. Safety is an especially important concern in considering infant toys. Most safety recalls (now widely available through the Internet) concern products for infants and toddlers as the population most at risk from accidents.
Books as Toys
Books for babies are often grouped with toys. Inherent in this classification is the notion that babies spend the majority of their time engaged in play. Many authorities, most notably Brian Sutton-Smith, have contested the latter notion, asserting that very young children primarily explore and master important skills and that those activities are commonly perceived as play.
However, picture books (board books, in particular) do constitute a substantial body of material manufactured specifically for very young children. In the last decade, more and more picture book classics have been transferred to the more durable board book format. Other formats created for very young children are the bath book and the cloth book. The bath book, made of plastic, is intended for use in the tub, either for reading or for playing; the cloth, or stuffed, book, as in examples manufactured by Lamaze, are often written more simply than board books, with more movable features. Many of these books are nearly indistinguishable from other stuffed toys.
Manufacturers of Infant Toys
Today there are a large number of companies that focus on toys for infants, designed for each stage of early development, as previously defined by child psychologists. Most of these businesses maintain websites with large sections devoted to parenting guides, which include information on how to select toys based on the growing skills of the baby and how to further stimulate those skills using their toys.
See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Child-Rearing Advice Manuals.
Brazelton, T. Berry. 1974. "How to Choose Toys." Reproduced in Growing through Play: Readings for Parents and Teachers, ed. Robert D. Strom. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Hewitt, Karen, and Louise Roomet. 1979. Educational Toys in America: 1800 to the Present. Burlington, VT: Robert Hull Fleming Museum.
Opie, Iona, and Robert Opie. 1989. The Treasures of Childhood: Books, Toys, and Games from the Opie Collection. London: Pavilion.
Oppenheim, Joanne, and Stephanie Oppenheim. 2001. Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Baby and Toddler Play Book, 2nd ed. New York: Oppenheim Toy Portfolio.
Segal, Marilyn. 1983. Your Child At Play: Birth to One Year. New York: Newmarket Press.
Shelov, Steven P., ed. 1998. Your Baby's First Year. New York: Bantam.
Singer, Dorothy G., and Jerome L. Singer. 1990. The House of Make-Believe: Children's Play and the Developing Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Strom, Robert D., ed. 1981. Growing through Play: Readings for Parents and Teachers. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Sutton-Smith, Brian. 1986. Toys as Culture. New York: Gardner Press.
White, Burton L. 1985. The First Three Years of Life. New York: Prentice Hall.
Baby wipes are disposable cloths used to cleanse the sensitive skin of infants. These cloths are made from non-woven fabrics similar to those used in dryer sheets and are saturated with a solution of gentle cleansing ingredients. Baby wipes are typically sold in plastic tubs that keep the cloths moist and allow for easy dispensing.
The technology to create disposable non-woven towelettes was developed in the late 1970s, and the first baby wipe products appeared on the market soon after. Originally, due to the expense of the specialized equipment required to produce these products, major brands like Kimberly-Clark's Huggies and Proctor & Gamble's Pampers dominated the market. As the technology matured and became more affordable, smaller brands began to appear. By the 1990s, many large supermarket chains had their own private label brand of wipes made by contract manufacturers. These private label brands entice consumers with their lower prices and increase profits for the supermarkets.
Baby wipes are sold in the diaper section of supermarkets and generally run from three to five dollars for a 64-count tub. They are important to retailers because they help off-set the small profit margins that diaper sales generate. They are merchandised near diapers in the hope that consumers will purchase wipes along with their other infant care products. Wipes are available in different sizes and styles, and a typical store may carry between 10 and 20 different stock keeping units. Total supermarket sales of these pre-moistened towelettes jumped 5% from $251.4 million in 1996 to $263.9 million in 2000.
Baby wipes are designed to be durable enough for heavy duty cleaning tasks, yet still be disposable. The fabric used for the cloths is chosen on the basis of durability, cost, and absorbency. This fabric is then saturated with a cleansing solution designed to be mild yet effective. Packaging is also an important design component and several patents have been granted for containers made specifically for pre-moistened towelettes. These packages are designed to easily dispense single sheets while keeping the towelettes moist until ready for use. Thermo-formed plastic tubs are most commonly used to package wipes in different amounts ranging from a few dozen to several hundred.
Marketers are continually designing new styles, sizes, and fornulations of baby wipes. Large-pack refills and attractive graphic labels are some of the recent innovations in the category. One private-label manufacturer uses Jim Henson's Muppet Babies to differentiate its product from competitors. Some products even have character outlines imprinted on the actual wipe. In Canada, premium quality wipes are marketed as having the advantages of being thicker, more absorbent, greater stretchability, hypo-allergenic, alcohol-free, pH-balanced, and/or unscented. Another factor that has impacted baby wipe design is the trend toward natural products. Marketers routinely add a variety of natural ingredients, such as aloe vera and oatmeal, to increase the consumer appeal of their products.
The material used in baby wipes is a non-woven fabric similar to the type used in diapers and dryer sheets. Traditional fabrics are made by weaving together fibers of silk, cotton, polyester, wool, and similar materials to form an interlocking matrix of loops. Non-woven fabrics, on the other hand, are made by a process that presses a single sheet of material from a mass of separate fibers. Fibers, such as cotton and rayon, are used in this process, as well as plastic resins like polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene.
Water is the main ingredient and serves as a carrier and diluent for the other ingredients. Baby wipes also contain mild detergents mixed with moisturizing agents, fragrance, and preservatives. The detergents most commonly used are known as amphoteric surfactants, similar to those found in baby shampoos. Sodium diamphoacetate and coco phosphatidyl PG-dimonium chloride are primary surfactants used in wipes. These chemicals don't strip the skin of natural oils and also decrease skin irritation potential. Mildness is a prime consideration given that the wipe solution may be in contact with delicate skin around the anus and genitals.
Humectants such as propylene glycol and glycerine are added to prevent premature drying of the solution and contribute to skin moisturization. In addition, some formulas incorporate oils such as mineral oil, lanolin, or silicones that help to soften skin. Thickeners, such as cellulose derivatives like hydroxymethyl cellulose, control the viscosity of the finished product and keep it the right consistency.
Other ingredients include preservatives, such as methyl and propyl paraben, to ensure the solution does not support microbial growth. Fragrance is usually added to increase consumer appeal and to help over-come body odors, but fragrance-free products are also offered. Featured ingredients may also be added to increase consumer appeal. These include natural ingredients that are known to be kind to the skin such as aloe vera or oatmeal extract.
Packaging used in baby wipes must keep the cloths free from contamination, yet allow for easy dispensing. The package must also prevent the towelettes from drying out. Thermo-molded plastic tubs are the packaging choice for most manufacturers. One common design features a hinged lid that allows easy access to the towelettes. These tubs are produced on injection molding equipment by pumping molten polyethylene plastic into a two part mold. Pressure is applied to the mold externally until the plastic cools. When the mold is opened, the plastic tub is ejected and stored until ready for filling.
The Manufacturing Process
There are two primary methods of assembling non-woven fabrics: the wet laid process and the dry laid process.
- 1 One dry laid process is the "meltblown" method, which is used to make non-woven fabrics from plastic resins. In this method, plastic pellets are melted and then extruded, or forced through tiny holes, by air pressure. As the stream of fibers cools, it condenses to form a sheet. Hot metal rollers are used to flatten the fibers and bond them together.
- 2 A wet laid process is typically used for softer cloths, like diaper wipes, that use cotton blends. In this wet process, the fibers are made into liquid slurries with water and other chemicals. The resultant paste is pressed into flat sheets by rollers and then dried to form long rolls of fabric. These rolls are then further processed and slit into narrow widths and then perforated or cut into individual sheets. The finished cloths are classified by their dry weight that is at least 1.4 oz/in2 (40 g/m2). Absorbency of the wipes is also an important requirement (quality wipes can absorb between 200% and 600% of their weight in solution).
- 3 The ingredients used in the wipe solution are prepared in large batch tanks. Depending on the formula requirements, the tank is charged with the first ingredient which is usually water. The tank may be heated during manufacturing to facilitate blending of powders that must be dissolved or other solids that must be melted. The other the ingredients are added sequentially and mixed until homogenous.
- 4 Onced prepared, the non-woven cloth is fed from storage rolls onto coating machinery, where the cleansing solution is applied. Several methods can be employed in this process. The cleansing solution can be added by running the fabric through a trough of the solution, or sheets of fabric may be sprayed with the formula from a series of nozzles.
- 5 Alternatively, individual towelettes may be packaged in sealed foil pouches. In this process, sheets of laminated foil are fed into automated equipment which folds them into a small pouch and heat seals three sides to form an open envelope. Simultaneously, another conveyor line feeds the non-woven cloths into the pouch. A liquid feed mechanism, including conduits extending through the stuffing bars, injects moisturizing liquid into the towelette packet simultaneously with the stuffing of the towelette material.
- 6 Immediately following this operation, another heat sealer closes the pouch tightly.
- 7 The finished cloths are automatically folded, stacked, and transferred to their final package. In one patented method employed by Rockline Inc. of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the towelettes are folded and stacked so that they can easily be removed one at a time and then the stack is placed in an inner plastic pack. This inner pack is subsequently inserted into an outer tub with a hinged cover.
Each component used in baby wipes must pass a series of quality check points during the manufacturing process. The plastic packaging must be free from mold defects that could cause leakage or improper closure. The non-woven fabric must be uniformly formed and must meet specific tear-strength requirements. Furthermore, prior to manufacture, the cleansing solution must be thoroughly tested. Development chemists evaluate the product to ensure that it is shelf stable and will not undergo any undesirable chemical reactions. They must also test the formula to ensure that it satisfies the requirements for mildness. The most reliable method used to test mildness is known as the Human Repeat Insult Patch Test (HRIPT). In this test an ingredient, or series of ingredients, is applied to human volunteers (usually on the inside of the forearm). The area is then occluded with a patch material and the spot is evaluated by dermatologists or clinicians after a specified time. Any redness or irritation is assigned numerical value and the scores of all the panelists are averaged. A low average score, such as 0 or 1, indicates that the product is essentially non-irritating.
Before ingredients are added to the batch tank, they are assayed to ensure they conform to all relevant specifications. During manufacture, each ingredient is check weighed before it is added to the batch. Then final batch is tested again for basic specifications such as pH, viscosity, and microbial content.
From a marketing perspective, baby wipes are continually evolving. Supermarkets are planning to boost their declining margins on baby food and national-brand diapers by efficiently promoting private-label baby wipes sales. The market trend is leaning toward larger, more economical size. For example, Huggies recently introduced a 160-count refill package. Smaller travel size packages are also available from some manufacturers. From a technical perspective, as chemists develop new and improved surfactants, future versions of baby wipes will contain milder and more effective cleansing ingredients. Trends in fragrance and featured ingredients will also impact future formulations.
Where to Learn More
Cramp, Beverly. "Scott Worldwide Personal Care and Cleaning's Packaging of Its Baby Fresh Products." Marketing (January 19, 1995): 21.
Moore, Amity. "Clean and Mean: Super-markets are Using a Dual Strategy of Private Label and Price Sensitivity to Beat Mass Merchants in Baby Wipe Rings." Supermarket News 47, no. 21 (May 26, 1997): 33.