Diaper Free Baby?


My concept on an infants’ potential came when I was in college. I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and was accustomed to devouring the local news media. I came across an intriguing article, in the New York Observer, about a man who lived in the United States early in the twentieth century. His name was William Sidis.  Although considered a genius in all accounts, his story is really quite fascinating and tragic. The blog damn interesting has good detail of his entire life story, but I will paraphrase it like this:

His parents were brilliant scholars and determined immigrants who decided to rear their son without “baby” games, toys or childish conduct. Instead they focused on intense developmental sessions that resulted in William talking around 6 months, reading by 12 months and skyrocketing from there. At eighteen months he could type & read the New York Times. By age five he was adept at several languages. At six he entered grammar school and advanced to high school curriculum that same year. He was the youngest person to apply to Harvard at the age of nine, breezing through the entrance exams. Needless to say, the guy was a child prodigy.

Fast forward about twenty years. I’m back in Oregon, researching diapering options for our first baby, when I come across a book called Diaper Free Baby by Christine Gross-Loh. As a person who has deep concern for the environment, I was interested in learning more. Only a few months pregnant at this point, I had plenty of time to decide on which situation would be best for our family and child. So I gave it a read.

Diaper Free Baby teaches parents how to implement the technique used around the world to help your infant communicate their biological needs and for parents to read those cues. The website diaperfreebaby.org has a nice two paragraph introduction to what is called Elimination Communication or E.C. But to say it frankly; it’s learning your child’s pee and poop cues so they can eliminate on the toilet and not in a diaper.

I’ll tell you what. Of all the books I read during my pregnancy, that one got the strongest reaction, both from my husband Caleb and my family, as to unrealistic expectations. My dear Mother-in-law, natural in all her ways, pretty much looked at me sideways.  My sisters response: “Let me know how that goes.”  Caleb was freaking out that we were going to have a baby cruising around our carpeted apartment, diaper free. Interesting that the very same title that drew me to the book, repelled everyone else!

But is it possible and why would you want to do this? How hard is it? How much of a mess is that? Are you crazy?

I’ll tell you what. Of all the books I read during my pregnancy, that one got the strongest reaction, both from my husband Caleb and my family, as to unrealistic expectations.

Are these questions that came to mind just now? Yeah. I get it. It sounds pretty hippy dippy. And maybe it is. But this brings me back to William Sidis. I thought, if William Sidis can learn to type in multiple languages, something that is not natural and internal, is it possible that something as simple as peeing and pooping in a designated place could be learned at an early age? The second line of thought came from the parenting aspect. Which is the biggest contribution factor to effective communication and is also the biggest roadblock to progress. In my life I’ve been around multiple parents with young children and the child will oddly pause and the parent will say something like “oh, he’s pooping” or “she’s going potty”. Fine, they have a diaper on. But, it made me wonder, if the parent can read the cues, why not just take the child to the toilet? Would this make for an easier transition to potty training? Why does potty training have to be an event? Is it possible that the use of the toilet could be presented as another part of life that we ease into during early childhood development? No pressure. Just something we do. On the potty. And we all know that we don’t have to be a genius to use the toilet when nature calls.

So I read the book. And it sounded ideal. Then someone gifts us all their gently used cloth diapers. Which is right in line with my eco-friendly thinking. But a bit daunting in an apartment. I buy a mini-shower to attach to the toilet and a diaper bin, but only a sample pack of newborn disposables. As the big day gets closer, Caleb starts to inquire about more newborn diapers. “We need more diapers” he says, with both feet planted firmly on the ground. I get more newborn diapers. I look up Youtube videos on E.C. for inspiration.

Are real parents actually doing this? Is it rare? I mention it to a friend that tells me that when she was in China the infants all had large slits in their breeches so they could relieve themselves naturally. Diapers were less common. I recall that the book mentioned this method being the norm in India for infant hygiene. I also recall witnessing a mother in Africa using a similar method on a Baby video some years ago. But, what about a modern, American baby? What’s so different? Could it be that simple?

I live in Portland, Oregon. Surely there are folks doing this method here successfully. Is there a Meet Up Group? I do a quick search. Of course there is! This is Portland. The last Thursday each month at an adorable boutique in NE Portland called Milagros. I’m 8 months pregnant and getting anxious to have a direction that feels good in the land of diapering. I go to the group, which is unmoderated and takes place in a all-purpose room attached to the shop. I’m the first one there, so the shop owner sits and chats a bit. Within the next hour three different parent/infant pairs stroll in. A modern, yuppy mother with her 9 month old who heard about E.C. from a friend in Austin who successfully E.C’d her children. She said that she has gotten really good at reading cues and can keep her daughter in a single diaper all day long. Next is a hippy type middle-aged father with his 18 month old daughter. He has a child potty in tow and is chasing after the little girl offering her a chance to use the potty upon arrival. He said his wife started on this path without his knowledge. It started to work so he got on-board. His daughter has been successful with EC, but at that point in her development her attention span was waning. So some “misses”, as they are called when the parent doesn’t accurately read the cues and the child soils the diaper/underwear. The last participant was a mother of a 6 month old, whom she wanted to be gender neutral, but it was hard to keep our conversation in-line with that thinking since it was the only child with a penis and we were curious if this posed any challenges when peeing. But, whatever.  She and her partners had been successfully EC’ing for a few months. We talked about various questions or issues surrounding EC for about an hour. It was nice to hear from real, life parents. I came away feeling that EC could be possible. And that the best case is not to take it too seriously. As all three of these parents shared, they do what they can. And the children respond as they can. Don’t make it a competition, stressful or attach any level of disappointment to it. This seemed balanced.

Then June arrives. Wow! To hear her birth story click here. And she’s peeing and pooping like a normal newborn, which is to say a lot. She’s so tiny, the cloth diapers cover 3/4 of her body. The disposables fit better. We will go with those until she grows a bit. Then all hell breaks loose with our small business and the disposables are much easier to manage. Plus, at this point June needs most of her care from the parent with the breasts. Diapering is the one thing that Caleb feels he can readily contribute to her comfort. He is not interested in rinsing cloth diapers and we are pressed for time with all the business concerns. The cloth diapers stay in the drawer. I’m feeling a bit guilty about using the disposables. So I start to study June for her cues.

When observing her I’m thinking about these questions:

  • How often after feeding or waking up does she pee or poop?
  • Does she make any obvious sounds or body motions before she needs to pee or poop?

Some sources recommend having the baby naked for a time while you observe their natural cues. I purchased a set of waterproof mats that are meant for a crib and let June lay on one of those in the living room. I recognize that she often poops while nursing. Which is fine. I’m not going to feel pressured to catch those, as I feel her peaceful meal is more important. At first there doesn’t seem to be a pattern, but at this point I’m not confident that I know what it is. She will defiantly fuss a bit before she goes. She was fussing right before this was taken:

Elimination communication

Obviously a “miss”.

As she approaches four months, I feel confident that I can read her poop cues. One morning, I just put her on the toilet, with me sitting behind her. I make a grunting noise. We wait a few minutes and she poops. In the potty!

That was cool. But probably just a lucky catch, right? Regardless, I proudly tell my mother-in-law and sister about the event. I wait for another catch to tell Caleb. And, it happens. She poops again on the potty. It takes 5-10 minutes, but it happens. Its so easy to clean up. No blow-out. Just wipe and flush. I’m loving this. June likes it too:

Potty training
June learning the basics

Now we have been practicing the EC method for about 6 weeks. Two weeks into it, I observed that first thing in the morning she will usually wait for me to take her to the toilet before pooping. It seems like she knows what’s going on. When I put her on the potty we usually do some reading of board books. She has a couple choices and likes to have something to look at. So do I really. We also spend time counting her toes, calling the daschund over to us, using the sign for puppy, and playing with the shower curtain.

Potty training 2

Potty training 1

When she goes potty in the toilet, I’m careful not to say “good job”. I recall the book had said that it is better to say something like “that feels good”. I think this sounds about right. I know if I have a good bowel movement I don’t commend myself. I will however notice how great I feel. I have also started to baby sign “done” or “finished” at the end of her bowel movement. Hoping in a few months she will start to use that as one more way of being in touch with her own body’s cues and communicating them to me.

Another bit of research I did was on clothing that can make the transition from diaper to potty easier. There are a number of great ideas out there, but I’ve settled on leg warmers for June to wear around the house. Eliminating one layer really does make it easier. And they are pretty darn Portland cute!

Baby leg warmers 1Baby leg warmers

I’ll continue to update on her progress. Right now I’m not focusing on catching any pee, just poop. On average we catch 2-4 a day. And we are not doing this on the go, just at home. So far I can see the following benefits:

  • Saving a couple of dirty diapers and some wipes each day.
  • June seems to prefer not soiling herself. She doesn’t fuss before she poops on the toilet. She just poops.
  • Strengthening our relationship through communication.
  • Very few poop diapers in our diaper pail.
  • Almost no “blow-outs” on her clothes = fewer outfit changes and less laundry!
  • Hopeful that we can be diaper free sooner vs. later.
  • Impressing our family and friends!

As an end note, I’ve had this children’s book in my library for years and years. When I first came across it I thought is so practical for explaining this important part of life. I’ll add it to June’s toilet side reading list.

Everyone poops 2

Everyone poops

Everyone poops 1