1) Dr D.K. Sharma Specialist Paediatrician Aster Medical Centre JLT Courtesy: ASTER Image Credit:

It’s hard enough learning how to walk when you are a baby and then you also have to carry an added burden of a soiled nappy between your legs.

Because of the nappies the steps taken are shorter and the gait becomes like an elderly person, according to an experiment done on the motor development of babies.

The study by Karen Adolph,a psychologist at a New York University tracked how babies walked when wearing disposable plastic nappies, or cloth nappies and when naked.

Babies learn to take their first steps when about a year old and it’s a major development event for the parents and the baby. Some babies learn to walk earlier but for most of the toddlers it takes hours of hours of practice to finally get to move around freely without falling.

A child doctor in Dubai says the problem with the nappies and their effect on the baby’s walk needs to be studied further. “We can’t predict how it affects the long-term development (of the toddler),” says Dr Devendra Kumar Sharma, specialist paediatrician at Aster Medical Centre, Jumeirah Lakes Towers. He said more studies need to be done.

The American study had shown that babies were three times more prone to stumble and fall when wearing disposable nappies and cloth nappies. “The reason why babies were clumsy even with cloth nappies could be because the cotton ones are heavy and are not as absorbent (as the disposable nappies) ,” said the paediatrician.

Nappies are something parents cannot do without as the child grows, but the paediatrician notes that it not only make the babies take ‘wider steps’ but are harmful to the environment.

He notes that if a smaller child is given a nappy meant for a larger child the gait would again suffer. “The nappies are meant for various weights of babies, so make sure your child is wearing the correct one,” says the paediatrician.

According to the study, when 13-month old babies walked naked, only 10 fell down. But when they were wearing the cloth nappy, 21 fell, and 17 of them fell while walking with the disposable plastic nappies.

In the second group of 19-month-olds, only four fell while naked or wearing disposables, while eight fell when wearing cloth nappies. But both age groups took wider and shorter steps while wearing nappies as compared to walking naked.

“But once they took off their nappies, their walking was immediately more skilful. Without a nappy their stride was almost instantly much more mature—sometimes years more mature,” according to the study.

“In other words, once freed from the weight of the urine or fecal matter, babies walk less like babies. This is interesting on a couple of levels: First, babies learn with astonishing speed -- without a nappy, they immediately recognised that they could walk more efficiently, even though many of them had never done it before. Second, what we think is cute about babies walking - and babies walking is pretty much the pinnacle of cuteness - may not have that much to do with the baby. You’d walk funny in nappies too.”

“Today you get super-absorbent (plastic) nappies which are lighter, but cloth nappies are better,” advices Dr Sharma.

The child doctor said the problem arises when parents try to change the nappy only four times a day, when a baby would require changes at least seven to eight times during the day.

The other reason why the paediatrician would prefer cloth nappies for the baby is because of nappy dermatitis or baby rash, which is very common among babies here. The skin under the nappy becomes inflamed. At the first sign of nappy rash you have make sure the skin is kept dry and is not in contact with urine or fecal matter.

“The rash is due to a fungal infection and it’s important to use the nappies much less and keep the baby open. Or change the nappy frequently and check it before and after a feed,” advises the paediatrician.

A baby will easily go through 12 cloth nappies while an older baby will not need as many, but you should plan for eight nappy changes during the day.

Dr Sharma says that a child can be toilet trained by about two years. “Most of the babies have the tendency to pass motion immediately after given food. It’s known as gastro-colic reflux,” he says.

After 2 ½ years the baby can be taken off nappies and taught to wear underwear, according to the doctor.