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Diapers May Slow Toddlers' Walking Development

Update Date: Jan 24, 2013 01:27 PM EST

Diapers are seen as a fact of life for parents of infants and toddlers in western cultures. After all, before children are potty-trained, there is virtually no other way for parents to simultaneously collect bodily waste and to make sure that their homes are in relative order. However, new research indicates that diapers may have a dark side - and not simply because of diaper rashes. A study conducted by psychologists at New York University in the United States has found that diapers may make it more difficult for babies to learn how to walk.

The scientists studied the gaits of 60 babies. Half of the babies were 13-month-olds who had only recently learned to walk, while the other half were 19-month-olds who were comparatively seasoned walkers. The researchers tested the babies three times: once, the babies were naked, then they walked wearing the old-fashioned cloth diapers; and finally, they had disposable diapers which were the ones habitually worn by most of the babies.

The researchers found that the diapers significantly impacted the babies' walking ability. According to the magazine Scientific American, among the 13-month-olds, 10 of the 30 babies fell. Comparatively, when the babies wore disposable diapers, that number jumped to 17; when the babies wore the more bulky cloth diapers, 21 of them fell. Among the older 19-month-olds, the diaper effect was still there, only less pronounced. When wearing disposable diapers or when walking naked, only four of the babies fell. That number jumped to eight while wearing cloth diapers. Researchers also noted that the babies took wider and shorter steps while wearing diapers.

"Diapers introduce bulk between the legs, potentially exacerbating infants' poor balance and wide stance...Thus, infants' own diapers constitute an ongoing biomechanical perturbation while learning to walk," study authors Whitney Cole, Jesse Lingeman and Karen Adolph write.

The researchers would need to conduct further studies in order to find out whether diapers hold any long-term impact in terms of gait. Nevertheless, they believe that removing diapers would fast-track walking development.

The study was published in the journal Developmental Science. 

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