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Abstract

In light of cross-cultural and experimental research highlighting effects of childrearing practices on infant motor skill, we asked whether wearing diapers, a seemingly innocuous childrearing practice, affects infant walking. Diapers introduce bulk between the legs, potentially exacerbating infants’ poor balance and wide stance. We show that walking is adversely affected by old-fashioned cloth diapers, and that even modern disposable diapers – habitually worn by most infants in the sample – incur a cost relative to walking naked. Infants displayed less mature gait patterns and more missteps and falls while wearing diapers. Thus, infants’ own diapers constitute an ongoing biomechanical perturbation while learning to walk. Furthermore, shifts in diapering practices may have contributed to historical and cross-cultural differences in infant walking.