diaper free baby

Using Nappies When Your Baby Goes Potty

If you’re reading this blog and you are someone who helps their baby use a potty, you probably also use nappies. But did you know that the way you use a a nappy, and even the way you think about nappies can affect your chances of successful pottying? Read on to find out what you can do about it.

There are many good reasons to help your baby use a potty. Whilst you’ve been swotting up on “elimination communication”, you’ve probably learnt that there are countries where parents routinely carry their baby nappy-free,  such as India, Africa and parts of China.  However, its hard to imagine doing this outside of the mainstream, without the practical and cultural support.  As such, you are likely to use a nappy, some or even all of the time. But you want to get it right. So, how do you successfully potty your baby and use nappies, and what do you need to consider?

How does nappy use impact on pottying?

In her book Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene (2001), Ingrid Bauer observes that babies cared for in countries where nappies are not routinely used have fewer “accidents” than babies in their industrialised counterparts. Why might this be? Perhaps its not so much about being nappy free per se, but more about thinking of a nappy as a tool rather than a necessity.  In a previous blog post about part-time pottying, I described the effects of nappy use, versus no nappy, like this:


In the top line of this infographic, we can see how using a nappy blocks the signals, leading to fewer catches and increased nappy dependence. By contrast, if we approach the situation as nappy-off being the norm, we learn the signals or timing, and strengthen our learning.

 Nappy-free cultures

baby diaper freeIn cultures where nappies are not routinely used, children and parents are given multiple opportunities to understand their baby’s signals and timing. For example, in China, mothers traditionally spend the first 3 months postpartum at home with their infants. Alongside postpartum recovery, this time is also used to learn their baby’s elimination cues. Once they are regularly leaving the house or busy with other tasks, the mother has established a good understanding of when their baby is likely to eliminate and how to go nappy-free (or use a very minimal nappy) without accidents. This learning is reinforced and supported by a culture where early potty use is normalised throughout infancy.

Applying nappy free principles

The secret to succeeding is not so much to do with whether or not your baby wears a nappy, but more how we think about nappies, and how we use them. Here’s the 5 key ways you can  use nappies on your pottying journey, without them negatively affecting your chances of success:

1. Choose your nappy wisely

baby diaper freeThe problem: Nearly all mainstream nappies are badly designed for pottying. Firstly, they are waterproof and designed to catch and contain several eliminations – for hours. In so doing, they are a barrier between you and the potential to learn your baby’s patterns. Secondly, they build and maintain a sensory experience of eliminating in clothing rather than a potty. These two factors mean that over time, both the parent and the baby’s senses are dulled. Disposable nappies also feel dry when wet, which compounds the problem from a sensory perspective. If you haver to use disposables, consider these tips.

The answer: Find a nappy system that suits your purpose.

There are many different systems available to you, from disposable to cloth to training pants and underwear. Each have pros and cons but its worth considering:

  1. How quickly and easily can you remove the nappy when you want to offer the potty?
  2. Will the nappy chosen help your baby to feel what their body is doing?
  3. Is it good value for money in terms of how long you can use it for?
  4. How much work will it create for you as a parent?
  5. How environmentally friendly is it?

Answering these questions should help you identify your needs, as well as what to look for when you are considering the nappy you choose. You may find that combining a few different systems works well for you as your needs may alter depending on whether you’re at home, out and about or on holiday, as well as the needs of your baby at their developmental stage.

Read more on choosing a nappy system for elimination communication.

Nappies for pottying

A simple and cheap option is a nappy belt and cloth, adding a drop flap cover if you’re crafty. There are also Born Ready’s Flaparaps, which catch one output whilst being waterproof and ergonomically fitted.  Other options include Petit Lulu’s  “minimal nappy” or this drop flap cover from Mokoshop.

2. Understand the impact of constant nappy use:

The problem: If we use nappies on a constant basis without offering the potty or doing nappy free time, we are effectively putting on a portable toilet. Logically, this is likely to go against many of the reasons why you have chosen to potty.  It also does nothing to teach your baby a different way of voiding. But most of all, when we use nappies in this way, we should expect that our baby will eventually stop signalling because they quickly learn that the signal goes unnoticed.  As signals dull, you miss more eliminations.  In response the fear of accidents, and the feeling that we have lost touch with what our babies are telling us, we use more nappies. However, increasing nappy use actually makes it harder than ever to keep up with our ever-changing babies’ rhythms. This negative cycle easily leads both parent and baby to depend on nappies.

The answer: Embrace nappy-free time and do it regularly

nappy free timeRemember the saying ‘you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette’? So, instead of using nappies to ward-off a potential mess, try to embrace nappy-free time as a way of learning (without mess). And not just at the beginning. Nappy free time needs to be built into your pottying as a regular activity. In so doing, you can keep up with your baby’s developmental milestones and associated elimination cues and patterns. Like any skill we want to learn, practice makes perfect. So, if you want to be able to respond to your baby’s patterns, you’ve got to put the time in to learn them.

Putting in a little nappy free time each day, or at least once a week, will do wonders for your sense of connection to your babies elimination patterns. The vigilance required to do this can be intense if you are totally nappy-free, so using a simple cloth and belt can make things a little easier. But you do need to focus, so it’s best to do your nappy free time when you can give it your full attention.

3. Remember the communication in ‘elimination communication’:

Although there is a general dislike of the phrase “elimination communication”, it is useful to remember the emphasis that EC puts on parent-baby communication. This involves learning when your baby is likely to eliminate (n.b. this isn’t guesswork!). Take time to observe your baby, without distraction. Try and slow down, experience the world at the pace of your child, and you might notice a few things you didn’t see before.

4. Start to think of nappies as “back-up”:

elimination communication nappy

Born Ready’s Flaparaps

By maintaining confidence in knowing your baby’s signals and timing, you will gain confidence in using a nappy as a back-up. When you think of your chosen nappy in this way, you shift your focus from missing and containing to responding and catching. You respond by changing your baby as soon as they are wet (thereby helping to normalise the feeling of clean and dry). You also respond by using the “misses” to inform the next catch. This creates additional opportunities to offer a potty when you expect your baby to eliminate, and move from missing to catching.

5. Make offering the potty as quick and easy as possible:

split crotch trousers EC pants elimination communication clothing

Split Crotch Trousers/pants

Speed is central to successful pottying, whatever age your baby is. Consider how quickly you can respond to your baby when they do signal, or when it is time to go. Can you respond in seconds, under half a minute? Most pre-toilet trained babies will not wait for long! If you can’t respond in time, it might be to do with how your baby is dressed, and/or the nappy you are using.  A drop-flap nappy system teamed up with a pair of split crotch trousers can make pottying quick and easy. This is especially important during your “nappy free” time.

if you feel you don’t have time to offer a potty quickly, but only at set times (e.g. after a meal, on waking, at nappy changes/checks if nappy is dry) then just make sure you have everything ready when you DO want to potty. Have your potty nearby, make sure you know how to hold a young baby, and help other people who look after your child know what you expect.

In short

Choosing a nappy system/s  that helps you achieve your goals will make success more likely. Understand and practice nappy free time when you can, so that you can keep up with your babies changing signals. As your confidence develops, start to think about your nappy as “back-up” rather than necessity. Make sure you have what you need close to hand when you want to potty, and dress your baby in a way that makes pottying quick and easy. Finally, don’t beat yourself up if it’s not perfect: life rarely is.

Little Bunny Bear



Rebecca Mottram is owner of Little Bunny Bear. She has two children, both of whom have used a potty from birth.

5 thoughts on “Using Nappies When Your Baby Goes Potty

  1. Heidi says:

    I agree that it is important how we view diapers (nappies) while practicing EC. With my first baby I viewed diapers as the default and catching pees in the potty as an extra bonus. If I have another baby, I would view pottying as our primary way to deal with elimination, and diapers as a secondary backup.

    • littlebunnybear says:

      Absolutely agree. With baby no. 2 I was so much more ready to see nappy free as the norm. This led me to really think carefully about the system of nappy we were using, and led to some useful ideas and innovations which I continue to work on. Thanks for commenting ! x

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