Eliminate Diapers with Infant Potty Training!

diaperfree, diaperfree baby, diaperless baby, diaperless potty training, early potty training, elimination communication, going diaperless, infant potty training, momversation

Back in 2008 we published an article that provoked a lot of interest with our readers, and opened up a whole new world for me as the mother of a new baby. The article (written by Neelam Misra) was entitled ‘Elimination Communication: Skip Diapers Alltogether’ — and it chronicled the growing movement of moms in the U.S. who are starting to potty train their babies from birth and forgoing diapers entirely. Inspired by this article, I started putting my first son on the toilet around age 6 months, and I’m about to start infant potty training with my second son as well. After all, the greenest approach to the whole diaper-debate is to do without (or do with less in my case). According to a recent story in The New York Times, Elimination Communication is also “finding an audience in the hipper precincts of New York City.” Read on to learn more about the logic behind putting your infant on the potty.

Baby Potty Training: When Is the Right Time?

Happily, my son took to the potty like a fish to water (loves playing with toilet paper and flushing the toilet), and I’d like to believe that we are well on our way to potty training. However, most of my parenting books and even the American Academy of Pediatrics website caution against early potty training – insisting in some weird Freudian way that this move to get feces away from my child’s skin will cause some sort of psychological damage. I personally believe that this is an ignorant, ill-considered, and just-plain-wrong view to take. Besides, how can millions of moms, and millions of children around the world who are practicing elimination communication be wrong? The majority of the world’s children are raised this way and don’t turn out to be bed-wetting psychopaths. Yet, I find it very weird that almost no pediatrician seems to have even heard of infant potty training/ elimination communication — let alone endorses it. So I started a ‘Momversation‘ with some other moms about potty training, and recorded the video above. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The logic of the Elimination Communication (or EC) movement goes something like this: babies become aware of their bodily function a lot earlier than most of us think, and by going diaperless and starting with the potty early, you train your kid to listen to his bodily urges and communicate them to you — instead of learning to ignore them (an unfortunate side effect of super-absorbent disposable diapers). Parents in the U.S. potty train their kids very late in terms of world standards. The majority of children around the world (we’re talking rural village kids in developing countries) make do without diapers — and because of this, the majority are potty trained by the age of one.

Elimination Communication, diaper-free, diaper free baby, skipping diapers, diaperfreeYoung mom going diaperless with her daughter in Nepal (copyright Jill Fehrenbacher)

This was actually even common practice in the U.S. as well, until the 1950s. Then a pediatrician who was on the Pampers payroll named Dr. Brazelton showed up (I’m not kidding) and scared moms into waiting a lot longer to start the potty training process.

Brazelton’s recommendations were incorporated into the American Academy of Pediatrics Toilet Training Guidelines in the 1960s. They state, “Children younger than 12 months have no control over bladder or bowel movements and little control for 6 months or so after that.” Yet toilet training research indicates that children meet the physical criteria for readiness during the first year of life.

Because of Dr. Brazelton and his Pampers-paid proselytizing, in just two generations, knowledge about teaching babies how to control their bowels has been pretty much lost in the U.S. The current popular wisdom seems to think that early training is impossible or cruel, but in Early-Start Potty Training, author Dr. Linda Sonna, a professor of multicultural psychology at Yorkville University, states that babies are much easier to work with than older children. Toddlers have a hard time sitting still long enough to learn, are attached to their diapers, and many resist putting aside their toys for potty trips.

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16 Responses to “Eliminate Diapers with Infant Potty Training!”

  1. Beth Shea says:

    You make some really fascinating, eye-opening points here, Jill. It makes me wish I could turn back time and start potty training my toddler when she was an infant, because I think it’s a valid point you quoted above: “Toddlers have a hard time sitting still long enough to learn, are attached to their diapers, and many resist putting aside their toys for potty trips.”

    I am also glad to learn about the whole Pampers/Brazelton conspiracy… makes total sense. Thanks for sharing all of this insight and background into one of the biggest stages parents must usher their tots through!

  2. Lifeincolor says:

    I’ll have to check out all those links. Personally we started doing early potty on the toliet kind of on accident. At seven months I could pretty easily tell when my daughter was going to have a bowel movement so it became more a feeling of why just sit there and watch her poop her pants? She’s eleven months now and whenever I change her diaper I offer her the potty. It’s cut down on our diaper wash (we’re cloth only) and I think is going to make actual traing a breeze. I hear kids can be scared offbeat toliet, at least I know that won’t be a problem with my girl!

  3. outsidemore says:

    If you just take a few min to think logically about the concept and then think about what you have been told by the “professionals” Babies learn to sit up, crawl, walk, feed themselves, communicate (talk to you in their special baby way) all before they are a year old. So it makes total sense that they can also learn bathroom behavior with a little extra guidance from loved ones. I have 7 children and they were all diaper-less by year one… there were a few accidents now and then but rare and they are all normal well adjusted lovely people now age 10-30.

  4. Jennifer Chait says:

    When Cedar was little we lived in student family housing for college – UNM in New Mexico, and there were a lot of families from other countries living there while they went to school. All the mamas from other countries I became friends with, especially mamas from Japan used this method. None of their babes even wore diapers. This was the first I’d seen of early training, and it seemed to work well, but they’d been doing it since very early on and it also seemed time consuming.

    I’m not sure I would have had the time when Cedar was little. I started college in Humboldt when Cedar was 4 mos old and was taking 20 credits or something a semester. While I did carry him with me to classes so we could breastfeed, practicing this potty method would have been hard. Especially when I started clinicals because then I couldn’t take him to classes anymore.

    So for me time was a major issue. Even though we’re an unschooling family – i.e. allow kids to learn on their own time table, I don’t think this is something that’ll scar kids. But I do think having enough time to follow through might be a major issue for many mamas and dads. For me it was easier to potty train when Cedar seemed ready.

  5. Jasmin Malik Chua says:

    I didn’t know about the Pampers/Brazelton arrangement…it’s alarming how corporations can steer public behavior so easily. With all these so-called experts on the loose, it’s not a bad idea to listen to your own parental instincts—you are the one, after all, who knows your child best.

  6. emo says:

    Hey Jill – We’ve been ec-ing since 5 weeks (my son is now 4.5 months) and we are really happy that we learned about it. He absolutely has some control over his bladder functions – I’ve seen it in action. The really important thing to keep in mind is that it really is just another way to communicate with your child, I don’t as much like the term infant potty training since that implies something that it is not. I am learning his cues and he is learning mine, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I also think it brings us closer together since I am really aware of his potty habits, so I know how what I eat (and he gets through breastmilk) affects him.
    I also think that the fewer cloth diapers I use the less of an environmental impact we will have so that is a HUGE bonus.

  7. heathashli says:

    Both of my boys were potty-trained by 18 months. Potty-training was very easy! When they were old enough to walk, I let them run pantless all summer long. I kept one potty chair in the yard & one in the house. They had lots of accidents in the yard, but by the end of the summer they got the connection. They still wet the bed on occasion, but no more diapers. The key is not to freak out or pressure them. Just state the facts: potty is icky & we put potty in the toilet, not our pants. My husband & I both let the boys come in w/ us when we had to use the bathroom; we lend by example 🙂

  8. laura says:

    Have any full time workers tried this?

    We both work similar schedules, so our 10 month old is in daycare 45 hours a week. I’m not sure there’s any daycare that would be willing to try this. I’m wondering if we could try it at home. Would her hours at daycare confuse her with what we were trying to do at home?

    Any suggestions/advice anyone?

  9. Sheau says:

    We are using EC too. Our baby is 6 months old. We started association of sounds when she is first month. After first month, we started EC for #2. My family is from Malaysia. My mom raised my brothers and I this way. We came across diaper free baby before our baby was born and got a book about EC. Then, I realized that is what my mom has been using for many years, but we just don’t have a name for it. All my nieces in Malaysia are potty train as infants too by my mom. My baby usually goes after feeding. I tried to make it fun when she goes. Give her a toy or play little piggies with her toes. Praised her after she goes. We started using sign language now with her and are still fine tuning her sleep schedule. I feel that sleep schedule affects her EC a bit. We are still fine tuning it, but I catch 85% of her #2 or more usually. : ) We have days that are not consistent too. It is worth trying.

  10. Hi Laura-

    I work fulltime – but I should also disclose that I work from home AND have childcare help – so that obviously helps things. Not sure this would go over so well in daycare but you could try! Are your son’s poops on a regular schedule? My son’s are – basically 7am when he wakes up and around 6-7pm after dinner. That definitely helps things. It helps to start just getting in tune with his elimination schedule. You could also try just starting with poop (as i did) and see how that goes! Pretty much whenever I change my son’s diaper, i put him on the potty first. If your daycare providers are going to be changing diapers already, it isn’t too much extra work to put a baby on the potty for a minute.

    Good luck… Let us know how it goes!


  11. tribalbaby.org says:

    Hi Jill,
    this is a lovely article on EC.

    @Laura, yes, definitely, you can practice EC part time, and use diapers the rest of the time. Of course, progress may be slower, but who cares? That’s not the point – the point is helping your baby to stay aware of their needs, and sharing that to-and-fro communication about it (and giving them ways to communicate, such as sign language as mentioned, cue sounds or words and place and position associations.

    What if you treat it as another ‘activity’ to play with your baby? A diaper saved here or there is great, and there are many ‘poo catchers’ out there – like Jill, it is the easiest (and may I suggest one of the coolest!) ways to begin – flushing a poo is far easier than wiping one off baby’s bottom!

    – Charndra


  12. wow that’s really enlightening! I hate how many diapers we throw away each day. And I never even thought about starting early. Our strategy had always been to wait for our son to communicate in some way that he was ready to graduate from diapers. He’s almost fully trained now but I’m going to try and be a bit more aggresive with his 8-month old sister. Thanks!

  13. NotOkay says:

    I have a 3 week old newborn and I’ve been offering him the toilet (or sink or tub) since the day we got home from the hospital. I read about infant potty training and thought I would offer it to him just to see what would happen. To my amazement he pooped the FIRST time I held him over. At week 3 I’m getting about 90% of the poops in the toilet. I’m starting to notice certain cries when he has to go. When he’s nursing, he will sometimes start kicking and turning red. At this point I’ll offer him the toilet and he’ll go within a couple minutes. It takes the same amount of time it would take to change a dirty diaper.

    I am very lucky to be able to stay home with him (but we’re also very poor on one income – so maybe not that lucky), and I can’t imagine trying to get a caretaker on board with this method. However, I don’t think babies want to sit in their mess and it seems easier for a baby to go while squatting rather than lying down. I still keep diapers on him as I would be living in the bathroom to catch all of his pees.

    Overall, if you have the time, by all means – give it a try!

  14. hcm says:

    I am a doctor and they never trained physicians in the fine art of potty training in my medical school. I agee with you that this whole thing about regression and other supposed dangers of early potty training is just a marketing ploy by diaper companies aimed at striking fear into the public… very much the same kind of thing of scaring the public away from clean tap water and into drinking unregulated and sometimes dangerous bottled water.

    My sister is of the old school thought and waited until her son was 3 before trying to potty train him. He is a willful little boy and just trying to get him to do anything new is daunting. Needless to say, he is almost 4 and STILL pooping in his diaper!!!! I did the early potty training with my daughter at 8 months old and she took to it right away. My sister scoffed at me saying my daughter would regress, but she’s the one who is still cleaning up poopy diapers!

    My daughter has not regressed at all. She has always pooped in the toilet. As for the pee part, well, I think I’m at fault for her not peeing in the toilet all the time. Because I couldn’t read her facial cues for urination and was complacent about the urine part, plus the fact that diapers wick away the wet feeling of urine… she still pees in her diapers half the time. She’s not completely potty trained but I sure heck use a lot less diapers now than before and she has had ZERO diaper rashes since starting. I have not had to change a poopy diaper for a little over 2 years now which is a blessing for me. She is going to be 3 yrs old in a few months and is already excited about wearing panties.

  15. lizaf says:

    @Laura – I have worked in early childhood education for nearly a decade now and every once in a while we have children around the age of 1 whose parents have worked with their tiny ones. It is such a pleasure to work with these parents! Often it does not require additional time or energy on our part. From the educator’s perspective, we use exactly the same process we use with 2, 3, and 4 year olds. We regularly use the cue words that the parents have already begun using with their children and we ask the parents to keep us informed about the child’s schedule and signals. We regularly the child if she needs the potty. If she wants to, she tells us. If she doesn’t, she tells us. And often, because they have been learning to recognize their body so early in life, these little ones are able to take the initiative and alert us when they need the potty. During diaper change times, we always check every child and we do request that parents put their children in diapers at that young age, so that we can appropriately deal with accidents. You might be surprised how independent these tiny ones will be in the educational setting when they know that they don’t have mommy looking after them. Of course it does require that the parents have started the process at home – you can’t expect the daycare to do all of the work. But if your daycare is unwilling to work with the process you have started – to take the step of checking in with your baby at regular intervals – then I would suggest you need a more purposeful and committed daycare.

  16. HelloMomma says:

    I started potty training my son at 8 months because I noticed he’d poop the same time after he ate – 15 mins. later. If he poop’d I’d say, “Good job! Poo-poo!” and when he’d pee, I say “Good job! “Pee-Pee”. My son was really small so me and my husband would have to hold him up on the potty or toilet seat – a minor inconvenience compared to changing poopy diapers and managing awful diaper rashes. I was able to do this because I fortunate to be able to stay at home. Our son was diaper free during the day at 8 months and totally diaper free at 14 months – before he could even walk! He’d yell poop or pee if he had to go. Our pediatrician said that we were stressing our kid and that he’d regress. He’s 8 y.o. now and no issues. BTW, me, my brothers, all of my cousins, my husband and in-laws were all potty trained before 1 y.o. and are African American. I say this because when I was interviewed over the phone by a daycare we wanted to put our son in when he was 2, the director of the school couldn’t believe our son was potty trained and said it must be because we were Asian and that we were strict! When I told her I was black-American she was dumbfounded (we didn’t put him in that school). Anyway…

    We now have a 2nd son and unfortunately potty training hasn’t been as successful. I’m working full-time and I’m much older (42) and my husband and I aren’t as patient. He just turned 3 and is fully potty trained during the day – much later than his big brother and pees in the bed at bedtime. But we’re working on it. It’s just much harder because he’s older.

    Start training your kid early!!! As Lizaf said above find a daycare that is willing to help with potty train. It’s a must. I know of families that still have kids how have pooing problems in the Kindergarten!

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