Myths about cloth nappies..

If you have used cloth or thinking about cloth this question is asked a lot. Does cloth diapers delay development of movement and walking? Well the short answer is: No. Cloth diapers do not delay development in mobility.

What does delay development is our culture, our practices and our perception of what is normal versus what should be normal. For example, in some African and Caribbean cultures, caregivers use special handling and exercise routines to facilitate the onset of sitting and walking—propping infants into sitting postures, practicing upright stepping, stretching infants’ limbs, and suspending infants by ankles or wrists (Bril & Sabatier, 1986Hopkins & Westra, 1988Rabain-Jamin & Wornham, 1993). Now the key here is that there is a conscious effort to exercise and "teach" the infants movement, posture and activity.  

Historical changes in handling practices within a culture show similar effects. Within a decade, the “Back to Sleep” campaign instituted by the American Academy of Pediatrics reversed the long-time practice of putting infants to sleep on their bellies to putting infants to sleep on their backs (Willinger, Ko, Hoffman, Kessler, & Corwin, 2000). Although successful in reducing the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the change in handling practices had the unintended effect of delaying prone skills such as crawling and rolling (Davis, Moon, Sachs, & Ottolini, 1998). A follow-up “Tummy Time” campaign urged mothers to compensate for the lost prone experience by giving infants playtime on their stomachs. Subsequent research demonstrated a dose-response relation between awake time in a prone position and the onset age of prone skills (Majnemer & Barr, 2005).

Toileting practices can also have dramatic effects on motor development. In parts of Northern China where water is scarce, caregivers lay infants on their backs inside bags filled with fine sand for most of each day. The sandbags effectively absorb waste and keep infants clean, but severely restrict infants’ movements and lead to substantial delays in sitting and walking compared to children from comparable areas who were not sandbagged (Mei, 1994Xie & Young, 1999). Here we ask whether a less dramatic solution to toileting—wearing diapers—might also affect infant motor development. Specifically, we asked whether diapers affect the proficiency of early walking. Because diapers introduce bulk between the legs and may constrain infants’ leg movements, diapers may exacerbate infants’ already immature gait.

And I'm still not even convinced that walking sooner is necessarily a better thing, and something parents should worry about. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter whether a toddler starts walking at 12 months instead of 14 months? Added to that, if you know a child is toilet trained faster in cloth, think of all the time and practise that child will have compared to their disposable wearing counterpart playing out side, exploring, and not wearing a diaper at all. This is confirmed by every study that the gait and movement is more consistent and  less falling occurs with a NON diaper wearing child compared to a child wearing a diaper being either disposables or cloth.

Final thoughts..

Given what we know about disposable diapers as an educated society that has a choice on what they want to do and the resources to do it, the evidence based choice is clear again. Use cloth diapers for the health and environment concerns. Spend a little more time teaching your child movements, positions like sitting and let them go diaper free everyday. This is the quickest way to help your child learn to sit, crawl and walk in whatever diaper you choose. In the end it will be a choice. A choice of plastic or a choice of cloth. The facts are clear and history has demonstrated that Cloth bulk does not alter mobility development. It is of note though that still today if a child has any form of hip dysplasia that double diapering will be ordered. This is to maintain better alignment of the hip and leg in the early stages of growth. Since there are no date by date guidelines and milestones to say that a baby must be touching their toes or walking at this specific date, the debate about diaper size and development is really a personal one. If weighed in with all the information, benefits and facts about both diaper methods, it is a parental choice of what they want to use that fits their life styles and the health of their new baby.