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Diapers and Development

Diapers & Development

By Amalah

Advice Smackdown ArchivesGood morning Amy! and congratulations on your little bundle of joy! You’re certainly going to get your money’s worth on cloth diapering.

My question isn’t about the cloth diapers themselves (you’ve done a great job in past articles!), but about development.

So, I know, I know, I know… all babies develop at different speeds. But, I was looking through old photos and my little angel used to pull her legs in close and look like a little girl who would start playing with her toes at some point. That was in disposables. Now, we are sporting cloth tushies, and I haven’t seen her bring in her legs like that, and she hates to sit (which is perfectly normal, I know).

I was wondering if the bulkiness of the cloth diapers would delay some of those things just due to being uncomfortable for them when they’re little. The thinness of the disposables seems to give a much larger range of motion for the little ones. She also hasn’t rolled over yet (also normal), but I can’t help but wonder if the bulk of being shaped like a bowling pin has anything to do with it.

Now that you’ve gone through 2 in cloth, have you ever noticed anything like that? Or were your boys able to play with their toes properly and sit in bumbo seats without problems?

I’m not overly worried, but I figure that cloth diapers are a long way from the ‘au naturale’ that would give babies the greatest range of motion. It seems to me that they could hinder some movement. I doubt any actual studies have been done, so I just thought I’d ask about your own experience in watching your boys.


Okay, I’m admittedly using only about half my brain function right now (I’ve been suffering from some kind of godawful flu or cold or flu-followed-by-cold since Thursday), and I don’t mean to offend you, OP, when I say that this is one of the stranger questions I have ever received.

No, cloth diapers should not impede or hinder a baby’s range of movement or motor-skill development. At all. If your baby is wearing diapers that are THAT BULKY AND HEAVY and you really think that’s what’s happening…well, I think you’ve got the wrong size or brand or something. Maybe get something with a lower “rise” in the front, or some more efficient inserts. However, let’s also not forget that old-school cloth diapers — bulky cotton prefolds with pins and covers — were in use for many, MANY more generations than trim little disposables or the modern cloth options of today. Pampers, for example, did not even come on the market until 1961, and yet the milestone charts were not altered in any way around that time to account for babies suddenly being able to grab their toes or roll over sooner.

For the record, I have actually only cloth-diapered one baby so far. My firstborn wore Huggies. And while neither of my children ever hit a single developmental milestone at exactly the same age or stage, no, I certainly never noticed any glaring difference between their physical development and abilities. And definitely nothing that I could ever attribute to the difference in their DIAPERS.

It’s possible, when your daughter was pulling her legs in, that she wasn’t consciously flexing her range of motion — sounds to me like a textbook case of newborn/infant gas or constipation. As her digestive system has matured or she’s gotten more used to breastmilk or formula, that problem perhaps simply went away, so you no longer see her drawing her legs in. You don’t mention her age, but for the record — the toe-grabbing skill usually comes around six months old, and has more to do with maturing hand-eye motor coordination than anything else. And lots of babies despise the Bumbo early on, especially if you’re putting her in it before she technically has the core back/neck strength to sit in it comfortably. (And some babies just hate the thing, period, just like other babies hate swings/bouncers/Bjorns/whatever piece of expensive baby equipment all your friends SWORE you couldn’t live without.)

Set the Bumbo aside for now and try it again after she is rolling over on her own. Instead, focus on more tummy time — 15-30 minutes a day, depending on what she’ll tolerate. And tummy time can be done au naturale, on a blanket and absorbent pad, just to give you peace of mind that her pants aren’t getting in the way.

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]

Published January 10, 2011. Last updated December 31, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • eva

    January 10, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    My cloth diapered babies both rolled early (5 weeks and 6 weeks!).  Although they have more difficulty for sure when diapered, I just try to give lots of naked time.  I have wondered this myself though when I see how much easier movement is without diapers on!  Really though I think that babies are sort of hard wired to hit certain developmental milestones at certain ages, and there is not a lot we can do to change that by more than a few days:)

  • Susan

    January 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    My daughter (now 11 months) has been cloth diapered since birth. I definitely noticed that when in a cloth diaper she has a slightly decreased range of motion than between diaper changes or the rare time that she’s been in a disposable. She can’t get her feet to her mouth with a diaper on, but loves to play with them during changes. Overall is hasn’t affected her development and I just gave her plenty of naked time (with a waterproof pad under her). I hate to disagree with Amy, but if you are using the one size fits all diapers, they are definitely more bulky than a disposable. 

  • Crabby Apple Seed

    January 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    In addition to the points Amalah made- cloth diapers were actually recommended for mild cases of hip dysplasia for some time. It turns out they, ah, don’t really work, but the IDEA was that they hold the hips in a better position.

    (My SIL was also utterly convinced that my daughter didn’t walk until 15 mos because I cloth diapered her, so I don’t think it’s an unheard-of concern, but it’s hard to say, in that case, whether she was truly concerned or just looking to criticize me. probably both….)

  • Erin

    January 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    If anything, my children have been on the early side of physical development and both are cloth diapered. I would highly doubt that the diapers would impede development — afterall, that was the only choice until 30-40 years ago.

    Our pediatrician has actually noted that there are physical benefits to CDing….such as earlier potty training.

    Just my 2 cents!

  • Hillary

    January 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I’ve had similar concerns about whether my daughter’s delayed gross motor skills are due to the CD but also if the cause was so much time in a baby sling. She keeps her feet really wide when she’s sitting and only just rolled over and crawled last week after we started her in PT (she’s just shy of 12 months). According to the PT, she has low muscle tone, she was born with it, and that is why she’s behind in crawling, rolling, etc. Probably the bulky CD helped her sit earlier than she otherwise would have! Even if it were the CD/slings holding her up, I think the benefits outweigh the delays.

  • Jenn

    January 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    This is not a weird question at all, I’ve heard it many times on my baby forums. Personally I do think the diaper slows them down a little, it’s more bulky and doesn’t flex as easily (I use BG OS, which IIRC are whay Amy uses). Perhaps Amy is forgetting how tiny and weak little babies are and is about to be reminded 😉 I know of one CD mom who puts her baby in sposies specifically for tummy time, and she’s a CD evangelist! I think she’s crazy but whatever…

    Yes, it might slow them down a little. They might not be able to grab their toes until either they get stronger/bigger or the diaper wears in a bit. However, my thought on baby milestone discussions is, do you know any normal two-year-olds who can’t roll over? They’ll do it eventually, and if the CD delays them a week or two, so what?

  • Vi

    January 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    I thought you were a little harsh there by saying it was one of the strangest questions you’ve received. Really? I had the same exact question about six months ago, when my baby hadn’t rolled over yet. In the end, I decided not to worry about it and my son rolled over at 4.5 mo, but I don’t think it’s a strange question.

  • Olivia

    January 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    On a comment thread somewhere recently I saw this concern come up. I think it sitting up that was the concern. I have seen some old-fashioned prefold diapers that look really bulky compared to the CDs I use (fuzzi bunz), but I really think babies will aquire their new skills regardless of diaper choice.

    I’ve only CDed on baby, and she was on the late end of normal for most things, but she managed them all in cloth. I learned to walk wearing a cast on my foot. I was ready to walk and I didn’t let that clunky thing on my foot hold me back.

  • K

    January 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    I’m sorry, but this is a really silly question. Developmental delays are a serious problem that have nothing to do with diapers. I know several cloth diapered and non-cloth diapered kids my daughters age and there is no relationship between diaper type and motor skills. I do sense a market that needs a product though: a diaper that promotes motor development in an otherwise healthy baby.

  • professormama

    January 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Cloth diapers won’t effect developmental milestones, each child is different and progresses at their own rate.
    We cloth diapered both our kids from birth, and used g-diapers when traveling, and never noticed a difference.  The cloth diapers helped motivate us to do infant potty training and we had both kids (one boy, one girl) completely potty trained (day and night) for their first birthdays.  Our son crawled at 9 months and walked at 12 months,  our daughter crawled at 6 months and walked at 9 months, mostly to keep up with her big bro.  It’s true that a double cloth diaper (like for bedtime) will make it tough for a baby just learning to sit to keep from toppling over, but we never had a problem in a single cloth diaper. Amy’s right about sizing though, make sure the diapers and covers are the right size!

  • Lumpy badger

    January 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    I have a six-month old who’s in shaped reusable nappies (totsbots and Little Lamb, mainly). They did seem bulky when he was tiny, and I did find myself wondering if they might slow him down compared to a baby wearing disposables, so I don’t think it’s a odd question (after all, there’s very little new mums won’t worry about, and I’m generally paranoid about something or other pretty much all of the time. A lot of this may turn out to be unjustified, but none of it’s ridiculous). He’s sitting up pretty well now, but does keel over every now and then, and I wonder if it might be to do with the extra bulk making him a bit wobbly.

    But as someone else said, any delay is likely to only be a tiny one in the great scheme of things (though a couple of weeks in early baby days can seem like forever). And of course all babies are different, so you’ll never really know. But at least your bins aren’t full of poo-filled disposables – so hurrah for that!

  • ellbee

    January 10, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    I came winging over to my computer after reading this post on my phone just so I could add my two cents–since I had been wondering the same thing–but I see I’ve been beaten to the punch. I don’t think it’s a silly question at all, but it is reassuring to be reminded that babies have been in cloth for years and years and had no problem hitting milestones. As a new mom, I’m always wondering about one thing or another and it’s nice to get some reassurance (without having to go on a mommy board, b/c those things drive me batty!)

  • Dash

    January 10, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    My boyfriend’s niece is cloth-diapered, but her mom (bf’s sister) is also doing elimination communication (i.e. toilet-training an infant–absolutely WILD to see a two-week old poop into a toilet, btw) so she also spends a lot of time diaper-less now that she’s mostly only using the toilet. My bf’s sister has said that the baby is more mobile (rolling over etc.) and plays with her feet way more when she’s diaper-less than when she’s diapered up, and I’ve only seen this baby three times since she was born (6 mos old). I don’t know. I didn’t think it was that weird of a question, considering I’ve heard something about it with my extremely limited experience.

  • Samantha

    January 10, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    I don’t think it’s a weird question. My mom and my mother-in-law both accused me of the same thing for putting my daughter in cloth diapers. She didn’t roll over until 5 months and both of them suggested it was because her diaper was too bulky. They also implied she would be late walking because the diaper would cause her to “waddle”. (She walked at 10 months, by the way.) I actually want so far as to put her in ‘sposies for a couple weeks there around 5 months to see if it would make it easier for her to roll (it didn’t). She learned to roll after I swapped her back to cloth. I have to admit though, it was a fear that I never quite got out of the back of my head.

  • Heather Ben

    January 10, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    DASH – what? they are trying to potty train a two-week old?????

  • Amalah

    January 10, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    So. Noted! Not at all a strange or unusual worry, apparently. I had no idea, so I apologize for my opening paragraph. I had never, ever heard of such a concern, and it never once crossed my mind during Ezra’s early days in cloth. So I guess I’m the strange one!

    In my (flu-ish) defense: I have a child with significant developmental delays. Which we deal with. And which have nothing – NOTHING – do with his diapers or a sling or a swing or a stroller or when he started solids or had breastmilk or formula or CIO or anything like that. Perhaps my battle-worn self is not the best person for fielding these sorts of concerns, which to me…well, they do sound silly, given everything we’ve learned about motor development over the past few years with Noah.

    Though I guess after getting emails from strangers on the Internet suggesting that my child’s issues may actually stem from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome from the wine I may have drank *before I even peed on the stick* (true story!), I shouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that people are guilting mothers over their choice of poop receptacles. But I am! Good lord.

  • Name (required)

    January 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I have been wondering the same thing, but now that my lo is 3 months and has been rolling over both in and out of her diaper, I am not concerned anymore. I give her lots of naked time as that helps prevent diaper rash too. My current concern is the extra bulky night diaper that makes it so she can’t close her legs at all!

  • Dash

    January 10, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Sorry for the tangent, but yes! She’s almost completely toilet trained at six months as far as poops go, and she apparently only has pee accidents (read: not peeing in the toilet or a potty, but rather in her diaper and/or her plain onesie) maybe once or twice a day. She’s half Taiwanese and her parents spent time in Shanghai before she was born, and Chinese babies don’t really wear diapers. My bf’s sister went a googling and learned about the California hippie version. It made sense to her so she just went with it. Her blog post about it is here:
    And the bf and I were privy to Skype video of the baby peeing and pooping in the toilet within the first week of her life. Astounding.

  • Emily

    January 11, 2011 at 11:01 am

    It was my question – thank you for posting it. I know it sounds a little silly, but for a new mom reading about tons of other little babies doing all sorts of things that mine isn’t doing yet.. I wondered. Even knowing that milestones are reached at different ages for different kids.
    I’m glad to know from the comments that I’m not the only one who has wondered this. I had not thought of doing naked tummy time – I think I will try that! As for the elimination communication, I have heard a lot of success stories about that. My husband thinks if we did that, we should use a cue of something that our child will hear later in life and have an accident. He’s kidding, of course, but I can’t help but wonder if that ever happens.

  • mei tai

    January 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Ever thought about the chemicals in the throw away diapers releasing some toxins in your child’s body?
    Like Emily said, why not try elimination communication? I’t a great way to connect with the baby. We use disposable diapers at night because my baby sleeps better because they are more absorbent. But during the day it’s great to change baby more often – or just offer her/ him to go because then baby learns to use the bathroom.

  • Kate

    January 11, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Fwiw my son has been cloth diapered (in the same bumgenius 3.0s that Amy uses) since birth and is the craziest little monkey I’ve ever seen. He rolled over (back to front) at just shy of 2 months, crawled (up on hands and knees) at 6 months 2 days and walked at about 9 and a half months. 

    I know it’s incredibly common for moms (especially first time moms) to be worried about their child’s development but the charts are there for a reason. Unless your kid is outside the range of “normal” it’s nothing to worry about. If they are then I suggest talking to your pediatrician and/or the people at your local Early Intervention office.

  • Katie

    January 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I put my 8 month old son to bed last night in a full on triple stuffed diaper (all my hemp nighttime doublers–love them!–were in the wash). I could barely zip his pajamas over it. On at least three of the occasions I went in to soothe (we’re kinda sorta wimpy sleep training) he was full on standing up clinging to the crib bars. So, no, I don’t think the CDing has much to do with his mobility. He also crawled early, but sat late…again, I think just because that’s how he is.

  • Christine

    January 12, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Every kiddo develops differently so it is difficult to even compare siblings and their developmental rates.  But, the general consensus amongst us pediatricians is that kids will develop despite things like bulky diapers getting in their way.  If they’re ready they are going to do it anyways, giant bulky diaper or not. 

    One great example of this is the (highly successful) Back to Sleep campaign against SIDS.  

    Yes, SIDS rates fell like crazy, but suddenly no one was letting their babies have tummy time.  Kids stopped crawling.  BUT…. did the average age to walk go up?  Nope.  Kids just started cruising sooner and a lot of them completely skip the crawling stage now.  

  • KelleyD

    January 13, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I think it highly amusing that this question comes up now. My second boy has been in CD since he was 2-3 months old or so. He started crawling in December at almost 8 months. My husband is CONVINCED he didn’t roll over/crawl etc at the same-ish age as our first boy {who was crawling shortly after 6 months and walking at 8.5 months} is because of the bulky CD {I use BumGenius 3.0 OS}
    I keep telling him the CD have nothing to do with it. It is more the fact that Boy#1 spent EASILY 2-3 times as much time on the floor as a tiny baby as Boy#2 has.
    Boy#2 is now a low-crawling master {doesn’t want to get the belly off the floor} and is cruising the second he gets vertical. I see walking in the near future. Yikes!

  • Jessica

    January 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Maybe I am a relaxed mom, but I never even thought about this before. People have thought I was crazy for CDing, but I haven’t been asked a question like this. However, my son started rolling over at 5 weeks and was exclusively walking by 10.5 months. I don’t think he did this any earlier from CDing and I don’t think it would have been any different if I used disposables.

  • Molly

    January 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    I used fuzzibuns and gDiapers for my son, who is now 4. My daughter wore 7th Gen. more than cloth & gDiapers due to my laziness and health issues. Sadly, both children walked at 8 months.. I also let both sit in an exersaucer around 3 hours a day (not in one stretch but 20 minutes here, 10 minutes there while I cleaned and did stuff, which physical therapists would flip over this!). It is really genetics. Oh and early walking is TOTALLY overrated. Enjoy your time with your baby because it goes by fast!

  • Whitney

    January 20, 2011 at 2:13 am

    I have a former 27 week preemie (obviously not your usual situation), and his physical therapist did recommend time out of his bumgenius diapers because of restricted range of motion. With his short little legs, it really did make a big difference in his movement, but who knows if it actually helped speed his development.

  • Lucy

    April 14, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I also have a preemie in cloth and his physical therapist has noticed during tummy time, his weight pushes off his pelvis and onto his chest. We use bumgenious pockets. When he’s in a disposable, his weight is shifted back to his pelvis as it should be. He is 7 months, 5.5 adjusted and not rolling. She’s asked us to discontinue cloth for a bit until he can figure it out. I don’t think the question is silly at all and I think that people need to remember that every baby is different. Just as cloth diapers cause some babies to constantly have a rash while it causes other babies to never get rashes, some may thrive and reach milestones more quickly and some may have hindered results. 

  • Sarah

    September 13, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Please don’t tell me diapers don’t affect baby at all. Please also don’t tell me that cloth diapers are no different than disposable. I don’t know that they’re better or worse, but there is definitely a huge difference. My nieces (daughters of sisters) carry themselves totally differently; the one in Pampers is much more likely to move around in diapers, while the one in cloth is much more sedentary while wearing diapers (and loves her diaper-free time).
    I totally agree with the above link–we may not know which scenario is better for baby, but there definitely is an effect and honestly, just because we’ve been doing it for generations, doesn’t mean it’s tried and true and good for us. After all, we’ve always had people with back and hip problems.