It’s a given that most babies wear diapers, in western cultures anyway. But diapers may trap more than waste—they may also confine a baby’s ability to walk.
Scientists compared the walking gaits 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 30 13-month olds walked naked only 10 fell, but while wearing the cloth diaper 21 of them fell, and while wearing the disposable 17 of them fell. Among the 19-month olds only 4 fell while naked or wearing disposables, while 8 fell when wearing cloth diapers. But both age groups took wider and shorter steps while wearing diapers as opposed to walking naked. The research is in the journal Developmental Science. [Whitney G. Cole, Jesse M. Lingeman and Karen E. Adolph, Go naked: diapers affect infant walking]
Because the effects were immediate, this study cannot predict if wearing diapers has a long-term impact. Nonetheless the researchers believe walking naked would speed up walking development. But then we are left with the issue of covering the entire house in plastic and relying heavily on the child’s ability to communicate his or her elimination intentions.