Diaper companies don’t want you to know it, but there’s a greener option than the typical contenders in the cloth versus disposable diaper debate. Early potty training. That said, cloth can facilitate early potty training, so combining the two can be significantly better for the environment than either cloth or disposables alone; you just use fewer diapers.
Elimination Communication (“EC”), Infant Potty Training, Natural Infant Hygiene, Potty Whispering… all sorts of names cover what used to be, and still in some cultures, are common social practices that help babies eliminate in the right places. Contrary to beliefs in the U.S., babies can understand when they need to eliminate, and can learn to go on cue–a practice allowing parents worldwide to carry babies diaperless because they know how to time and watch for elimination cues. And it’s not nearly as weird or hard as it sounds.
I stumbled upon “EC” in a mother-baby support group. The mother’s baby had been having reflux problems and had heard that EC could help. It did, but I was interested because it seemed wonderful to use less diapers.
I never read a book on EC or infant potty-training, but just learning the general philosophy and guidelines allowed me to get my kids out of diapers by 18 and 19 months. And, my second daughter used about 1/3 less diapers than my first because we started at birth; she used the potty rather than diapers whenever I could get her to it.
But my favorite part of potty communication was not the environmental benefit. It was that my children LOVED it. They were pleased and excited because they were able to communicate with me about something so fundamental to their very physical existence…before they could to do so verbally.
Because we started potty communication before my girls were a year old, the “I want to do it my way” 2-year-old independence had not yet budded. We therefore skipped what for most families becomes one of the hallmark power struggles of parenting. My eager-to-please baby girls were not just “ready” for potty training, but thrilled to do it because it made me happy.
So here are the guidelines I followed to potty train early. (I’d be described as a “partial EC’er” because I practiced EC most but not all of the time. The girls wore cloth and even disposables part-time because my goal was to create communication around elimination, providing easy freedom to take the children out and about, or to focus on a given task without interruption when I needed to.)
1. Give my signals: I started giving Chloe a word for “pee pee” and “poo” as soon as she was born. Whenever she peed or pooped, I’d tell her.
2. Watch the timing: I used a cloth diaper without a cover on Chloe to notice the frequency of her peeing. (Pooping is very obvious!) Usually about 5 minutes after nursing, she peed, and I’d just say the word. I would immediately change her diaper so she was not accustomed to feeling wetness on her skin.
3. For several months, that’s all I did.
4. Place baby on the potty: As Chloe developed the ability to sit up on her own, I began placing her on the potty when she indicated she needed poop. And, about 5 minutes after nursing, I’d sit her on the potty and entertain her for a few minutes. Usually, she would pee and I’d tell her what a good job she was doing. She loved it. I’d also place her on the potty when I used it and found it often helped her do the job.
5. As Chloe began to walk around 11 months, I kept her diaperless in the house. As soon as there was a sign she needed to use the potty, I’d take her. There were, however, many accidents on the floors (thankfully hardwood) during this time. I used the accidents to reinforce my potty words and then put her on the potty. This was the time when parents told me they “couldn’t do it” because of the messes. For me however, a few months of easily-cleaned-up wood floor instead of messy diapers, was well worth no poopy diapers in the following months and years
6. As Chloe hit 14-15 months, I noticed that she preferred to have her own small potty next to my big potty, and that if she could get to it herself, she was happier. We relaxed into a new phase of training in which she initiated more of the potty sessions, but I reminded her regularly and gently rebuked her if she went on the floor after I’d reminded her to try on her potty. Before an outing, we’d try to use the potty in advance. If she succeeded, I’d dress her in panties and pack an extra pair of pants for any accidents. On days when I was rushed, she’d just wear diapers.
7. Diaper-Free at 19 months! It wasn’t long before Chloe was gleefully shouting out “PEE PEE!” on her own, and urging me to rush to the potty with her. At 21 months, she’s traveling on planes, in cars, in her jogger, and even sleeping through most nights dry.
As I mentioned, I’m no expert on Elimination Communication. I just do a lot of research and follow my instincts and in this fantastic, but sometimes messy, parenting adventure. Feel free to share your own tips or thoughts on early potty training below!
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