Most of us with babies reach for a nappy without thinking. But what did people do before nappies? Find out what your favourite nappy brand isn’t telling you, and what to do about it.
Nobody wants to get pee’d or poo’d on, so thankfully a good nappy takes care of that end of parenting. And they’re cheap and convenient. But did you know that worldwide, over 50% of all babies DON’T use nappies?1. Not just because access to them is unaffordable, but also because these families are applying an age-old art of infant toileting?
Babies can use a potty from birth
Yes! It is perfectly possible, if not completely sensible, to help your baby “eliminate” in something other than a nappy. Helping infants and young toddlers to use a potty is not a new concept; it was the norm in the UK in the 1960s and is still practised routinely in many parts of the world today.2. Do I mean potty training? Absolutely not, but helping your baby use a potty, even from birth, can pave the way for quicker and easier potty training from 18 months 3 – a lot sooner than your nappy company would make you believe.
Holding your little one over a potty or toilet instead of using a nappy means using fewer nappies, and that’s not good for Mr Nappy’s bank balance. UK nappy lead Proctor and Gamble was valued at £324 million in 20164: nappies are big business. Mr Nappy wants your baby to use his brand as long as possible – no way he’s going to tell you to potty train from 18 months and ditch his product completely. Thanks to the promotion of disposable nappies and “pull-ups”, babies are wearing nappies longer than ever before5. The result? Nowadays just 4% of babies are potty trained by age 2, compared to over 90% just 30 years ago 6. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to put your baby in a nappy until they are 4 or 5!.
Why would you want to potty you baby?
Although disposable nappies are cheap, they take hundreds of years to decompose and are made from toxic substances.7. Although cloth nappies can be washed, nobody enjoys washing a pooey one. And what about the baby? Put yourself in their position (literally) and you’ll see it’s not so nice, or easy, to poo lying down in a nappy. For my part, I’d much rather go in a toilet or potty thank you very much. Humans are physiologically designed to void in a squatting position, and it’s cleaner too.
Helping your baby use a potty instead of using a nappy means you save money (potentially around £800 per year 8. Using fewer nappies also reduces the environmental impact of producing disposables or cloth nappies. From birth, babies can show us through their body language what they are doing and we can respond to them just like when hungry or tired9.
Using a potty takes seconds and is quicker than cleaning after a soiled nappy.
But aren’t babies better off learning other things? Shouldn’t we just let them be babies?
Well, the answer is yes, of course! Babies learn all the time, regardless. And they will be babies, no matter what! And that means they will pee and poo, no matter what, too. So the questions is, where do you want them to do it? Of course a very young baby is too small to sit on a potty, but that doesn’t mean their only option is to use a nappy. Remember, humans are not born wearing nappies and have survived millions of years without them!
Are we potty training too late?
Alongside the introduction of disposable nappies, with their “feel-dry” chemical gels, various children’s doctors along the way have suggested parents “wait for readiness”10. But the evidence base for this approach is flawed. A key piece of research used to frighten parents into taking the “wait till ready” approach actually relates to children with constipation – not all kids! 11. Another prominent doctor who advocated for the so-named “child-directed method” was subsequently employed by Pampers 12. Does that sound impartial to you?
Somehow, along the way, the advice became to let the child decide when to potty train. Now, I’ve only got two kids but I already know that their sense of when things should happen is not always rational, or even reasonable. I took matters into my own hands, and guess what? Both used potty from birth with no ill effects, and my eldest was out of nappies for good by 20 months (day and night). You can read the research yourself, and I promise you will not find any scientific literature showing that helping your baby use a potty from birth is harmful.
Won’t potty training “early” cause problems?
Confused and well-meaning parents are now waiting longer than ever to start potty training their babies. However, recent research has demonstrated that a gentle parent-led approach to potty training actually helps avoid problems such as constipation in the long run 13. Perhaps it is time that we re-calculated what we mean by “early” in the context of potty training. We can apply a parent-led method of potty “learning” right from birth, which is naturally followed by formal teaching from around 18 months 14. This is a far cry from teaching babies to firstly ignore their natural instincts, become accustomed to soiling and wetting a nappy, and then have this learning reversed later down the line after years of continuous nappy dependence.
Knowing when to use a potty
One of the most common questions I’m asked is “but how do you know when she needs to go?” Well, the answer is that sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s not. It’s a mixture of paying attention and using timing. Have you noticed that your baby often wees just after you take a nappy off? Sometimes its about taking advantage of these things. In fact, babies often go at predictable times, eg. after waking or after a feed. Often, you can tell a poo is coming before it does. So on these occasions, you can hold your baby over a potty or the toilet, to catch the output (or “elimination”) there instead. It’s that simple, and there’s no “training” about it.
Once you get started
Whilst your baby is eliminating in a potty or toilet, you may also start to tell your baby what their body is doing, using a chosen word or sound to help build an association (NB you can do this if they are using a nappy too, to help maintain awareness). Next time, when they are ready to go, you can help them release it by reminding them with this sound or word.
You don’t need to go nappy free to potty either – you can still use a nappy and potty successfully. But as time goes on, you may become so in tune with your baby that having regular nappy-free time is something you can consider. And in so doing, your baby not only enjoys the unencumbered movement and feeling of being nappy-free, but they may also start to signal more clearly. With regular pottying, we can connect to our babies in a way that works in harmony with their bodies, and the environment.
Of course, there is more to baby potting (otherwise known as “elimination communication”) than can be described in a simple blog piece. But next time, maybe just give it a go? What’s the worst that could happen?
- deVries MW and deVries MR. 1977. Cultural relativity of toilet training readiness: A perspective from East Africa. Pediatrics, 60: 170-177, Sonna L. 2005. Early-start potty training. New York: McGraw-Hill, Bourke, Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primevel Method Adapted to Modern Living, 2003
- Hatch, Amber (2015) Nappy Free Baby, Bauer, Ingrid (2011) Diaper Free! The Gently Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene
- Olson, Andrea (2013) Go Diaper Free! A Simple Handbook for Elimination Communication
- Olson, A (2015) The Tiny Potty Training Book, www.pottytrainingconcepts.com/A-History-of-Potty-Training
- Hatch, Amber (2003) Nappy Free Baby: A Practical Guide to Baby-Led Potty Training from Birth
- Williamson, Melanie (2012) The Complete Guide to Potty Training Children: New Sure-Fire Strategies That Make It Easy for Them (and You), Barone, Joseph (2015) It’s Not Your Fault!: Strategies for Solving Toilet Training and Bedwetting Problems
- Hodges SJ, Richards KA, Gorbachinsky I, Krane LS (2014)The association of age of toilet training and dysfunctional voiding, Colaco M, Johnson K, Schneider D, Barone J. 2013. Toilet training method is not related to dysfunctional voiding. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 52(1):49-53
- http://www.nytimes.com/1999/01/12/us/two-experts-do-battle-over-potty-training.html. A child oriented approach to toilet training. Pediatrics, 29: 121-128
- Joinson C, Heron J, Von Gontard A, Butler U, Emond A, Golding J. 2009. A prospective study of age at initiation of toilet training and subsequent daytime bladder control in school-age children. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 30(5):385-93
- Olson, A. Go Diaper Free.com