In Defense of Going Diaper-Free
A study on baby motor skills—namely, walking—suggests that diapers might be getting in the way
Do diapers get in the way of learning to walk?
The study compared the walking gaits—meaning foot placement and leg and hip movement—of 60 babies who were either naked, wore a thin disposable diaper, or a thick cloth diaper. Half the babies (30) examined in the study were 13-month-old beginner walkers. The other half were 19-month-old tots with a little more walking experience under their belts.
The results? When the 13-month olds walked naked on an approximately six-meter track, only 10 fell. When these same babies were put in disposable diapers, 17 fell. And in cloth diapers? All but nine fell when they tried to walk. Among the 19-month-olds, the results were a bit better: only four fell while naked or wearing disposables, but double that number fell when wearing cloth diapers.
To explain why diapers seem to be a detriment to walking, scientists point out that diapers tend to push babies’ legs apart, forcing them to take wider and shorter steps—both signs of immature walking skills. “Simply put… infants walked as poorly while wearing a diaper as they would have done several weeks earlier had they been walking naked,” the NYU team, led by psychology doctoral student Whitney G. Cole, wrote in their findings.
And here’s where it gets interesting. Scientists now think, based on this experiment, that walking naked could speed up how quickly a baby reaches this milestone.
How much time does your baby spend walking naked? Among the babies in the study, most infants averaged only 41 minutes per week of naked walking and nearly one third had never walked au naturel. Ideally, babies would spend most of walking practice time naked, say scientists.
As for whether or not diaper-free time will catch on, Christina Maston, a Georgia mom of a one-year old just gearing up to take his first steps, says, “It makes sense that a big, bulky diaper would make it difficult for a baby to walk, and I actually will double-check to make sure our diapers are the thinnest possible.”
But as for more naked time? As Maston adds, “I know that some moms practice elimination communication and go diaper-free… I just can’t get beyond the question of, ‘Who’s going to clean up the mess?’”
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