A diaper-free baby? Does that sound crazy? Does it conjures up visions of baby pee and poop all over your apartment, your clothes, and your baby’s clothes? If you are like most North Americans, it probably does. When I first heard of people not using diapers, my reaction was also to think that they must be nuts. After all, don’t babies need diapers?
The deep ingraining of the baby=diapers equation in the North American mind just goes to show how we take for granted that our cultural norms are the standard by which we measure the value of every concept we encounter.
For a moment, step outside the bubble of what you associate with normal baby-care practices. Have you ever wondered what people did before disposable diapers were available? One would assume they used cloth, right? That would imply they must have had an awful lot of washing to do! What did people do when they were in situations where water was scarce, or the climate was very cold? Were they just burdened by these circumstances? What did Native American and Inuit peoples do?
Ask yourself, what do people do all over the world where neither disposable nor cloth diapers present viable alternatives to dealing with their infants’ elimination needs?
The answer is simple: they don’t use diapers!
Amazingly and contrary to what we take as a given, babies are born with the instinct not to soil themselves! If you have ever had a newborn, you have likely had the experience of watching pee and poop shoot out all over the place as soon as you remove the diaper. This is because your baby has been waiting for you to take it off! Conventional advice on how to deal with this usually involves the suggestion of placing a washcloth over your baby’s privates while you change the diaper and make the change quick before they have the chance to relieve themselves while uncovered. A much better strategy would be to simply hold your baby over a sink, toilet, or bowl and let them do their business outside their diaper. With practice, the parents or other caregiver will learn to read their baby’s signals, and will know exactly when he or she needs to eliminate. This is called Elimination Communication or EC for short
Although babies naturally do not want to eliminate in their clothes, they are trained, over time, to get used to going in their diapers. Then, when they reach the age of 2 or 3, we re-train them not to go in the diaper. How much sense does this make?
Infant Potty Training
EC really isn’t potty training, it’s about communication. The parents learn to interpret their babies’ signals and the babies learn to respond to the parents’ cues. EC is a gentle, natural, non-coercive alternative to conventional potty training. Early ‘graduation’ from diapers to the toilet is not the goal, but is a side benefit that often does come with EC. Many children who are EC’d are completely out of diapers and free of ‘misses’ by the time they are a year old.
Isn’t a Newborn Too Young for This?
No, a newborn is the perfect age to start EC! All you have to do is unwrap them when they need to eliminate, hold them over a receptacle, and make a cue sound like ‘pssss’. Very soon, your baby will learn to associate that sound with it being in an appropriate place to eliminate and before you know it, he or she will wait for your cue.
What if Your Baby is Not a Newborn?
That’s ok, too. You may notice that in the first weeks, your baby appears ‘constipated’, cries, grunts, and passes a lot of gas. Common advice is to switch formulas, give the baby some water or make them do the ‘bicycle’ to help them to poop, but better advice would be to take that diaper off! The first few weeks and months are a great time to start EC because your baby still retains awareness of its bodily functions and often displays obvious outward signs when it needs to go. Since your baby is not yet mobile, you can easily lay him or her on a cloth diaper or towel to help you observe what signals he or she gives before eliminating. Soon, you will know when to quickly scoop up your baby and offer a ‘pottytunity’.
What if Your Baby is Mobile?
No need to worry, you haven’t missed your chance. Although in general the rule is ‘the earlier, the better’ and there are definite advantages to starting EC with a very young infant, you can still help and old an older baby to retain or regain awareness of its elimination functions and respond to a cue, although you may find yourself following him or her around with a cup and wiping up messes from the floor from time to time during the initial learning period. Even a one-year-old or a toddler can be EC’d, but it’s a different experience from ECing an infant and requires different strategies in addition to the ones you use with a young baby.
You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too
EC doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation. You can do EC full time, part time, or occasionally. Even the latter will have advantages, such as helping your child retain bodily awareness, familiarizing him or her with the use of receptacles for elimination, and making the eventual transition to the potty or toilet a lot smoother, without the usual confusion, struggles and bribes.
You can go completely diaper-free or use a diaper back-up even if you are doing full-time EC. Cloth diapers retain some advantages, since they don’t make pee magically disappear, which helps your baby not get trained to go in the diaper.
Why Would You Want to Try EC?
- Decreased costs by eliminating or decreasing the use of diapers
- Complete elimination of the problem of diaper rash
- Increased bonding and closeness with your child
- Avoidance of conventional toilet-training methods that are coercive and unpleasant and may result parent-child power struggles and bladder or bowel issues in childhood
- A natural, eco-friendly alternative to diapers
- A happier baby!
- Start as soon as possible. Newborns come naturally potty-trained!
- While breastfeeding, keep your baby’s lower half unwrapped and held over a potty bowl or other container. This will help you tune in to his or her elimination signals.
- Popping off the breast is often interpreted as a nursing problem, but it’s actually an EC signal.
- Offer pottytunities after nap time and first thing in the morning. Babies don’t pee in their sleep, but they do pee when they wake up.
- Carry your baby in a sling or other carrier. Babies won’t eliminate while they are being held, unless you really don’t give them the opportunity not to.
- Watch for squirminess when your baby is in the carrier; this is a signal that they have to go.
- While carrying your baby, you may experience a ‘phantom pee’ where you feel like you just got peed on, even though you didn’t. This is an amazing signal that baby has to go!
- Keep tabs on how long after nursing or finishing a bottle your baby pees. This way you can estimate when to offer the potty.
- Watch for straining, grunting, passing gas, or a certain ‘look’ that tells you your baby needs to poop.
- Remember to make the cue sounds like ‘psss’ and ‘mmmh’ while your baby eliminates; soon he or she will go on your cue.
- Have an ‘open door’ policy when it comes to the bathroom. Seeing you use the toilet demystifies it and helps your child associate it with elimination.
- If you EC part-time or have a miss, seeing you dump the contents of his or her diapers into the toilet will reinforce your baby’s associate of the toilet with being an appropriate place to eliminate.
- If your child seems resistant to eliminating in the designated place, try somewhere else: the bathtub, the sink, a toilet insert, a potty bowl, or a Tupperware container.
- Some babies tend to want to eliminate when they are in a stationary exersaucer, so be on the lookout for cues.
- Make sure pottytunities are fun for baby! Look at books together, sing to baby, play games, etc.
- One of the best potties is the Baby Bjorn potty bowl. It’s small and is made out of one piece, so your kid won’t be tempted to play with a lid or pull out a removable bowl. It’s sturdy, doesn’t tip over, and offers some support.
- EC clothing makes things a lot easier and can be bought online.
- Diaper-Free baby by Christine Gross-Loh