Studies show diapers impact a baby's balance and mobility.
In one of the studies looking at the effects of diapers, scientists compared the walking gait patterns of 60 babies who were either naked, wore a thin disposable diaper or a thick cloth diaper. Half the babies were 13-month old novice walkers and the other half 19-month old experienced walkers.
When the 13-month olds walked naked, only 10 fell. When they wore disposable diapers, 17 of them fell. When they wore cloth diapers, 21 of them fell.
When the 19-month olds walked naked or wore disposable diapers, only 4 fell. When they wore cloth diapers, 8 fell.
Diapers resulted in both age groups taking wider and shorter steps, as opposed to walking naked.
When in diapers, the babies were far more likely to stumble or fall. Their gait was far clumsier. But once freed from being super fluffy-bottomed, the infants’ walking was immediately more skillful. Without a diaper, their stride was, almost instantly, much more mature. Sometimes years more mature, and they walked less like babies.
These findings are interesting on a few levels...
A baby’s brain learns with astonishing speed given the right conditions: Without a diaper, they immediately recognized that they could walk more efficiently, even though many of them had never done it like that before.
What we think is cute about babies walking, and babies walking is the pinnacle of cuteness, may not have that much to do with the baby after all: It has a lot to do with the diaper.
Does wearing diapers have any long term impact?
Given these findings, we cannot conclude whether wearing diapers and learning to walk in diapers has any long-term impact. But, research shows that diapers may trap more than your baby’s waste—they may also confine a baby’s ability to walk and alter the organization and efficiency of their movement patterns. And when babies walk naked, they achieve more mature, organized, and balanced mobility.
What should we do with this information?
Whether you use disposable or cloth diapers, I recommend that you provide some diaper free "nakie time!" That's what my parents called it, at least.
Playing in the nude allows for full range of motion and total freedom of movement. It also has other benefits like being a great remedy to diaper rash and yeast infections, encouraging sensory integration, and promoting skin to skin contact. Plus, babies LOVE to be naked!
Let's make it stress and mess free, though. Amiright?
Because we know about the constant worry of when - and where - the mess will occur.
If the weather is nice, let your baby play in the buff outside, where it doesn’t matter if there is an
accident. This would work well right before bath time if your baby gets dirty.
If you are inside, play on a waterproof mat, mattress protector, or lay down some plastic.
Use baby gates to keep your naked kiddo in a contained area with the mat, or in an area that you are willing to clean.
Provide naked time in areas that are easy to clean. Definitely avoid your bed and carpeted areas.
Do diaper free time right after your baby has eliminated.
Tune into your baby’s pee and poop patterns and schedules, and you may be able to increase your chances of avoiding a mess. It’s not foolproof, but it's a chance. If you look close enough, you may even see some subtle cues that your baby is about to go, maybe a sudden movement, a facial expression, or a specific body position. This will also lay a foundation for later potty training.
I would also consider having a diaper right next to you during naked time just in case.
Make naked time a routine. When you work it into a ritual of the day, like right before bath time for example, then it becomes built in to every day without having to think about it too much, and your baby reaps the many benefits!
Happy nakie play time!
Hi! Austen here. Pediatric OT obsessed with leggings and all things child development. Welcome to my journal! I hope to educate and empower parents and caregivers with science inspired insights, effective strategies, and confidence.