“Would you potty train your newborn baby?” This was the question posed two years ago by BBC Radio 5 as they introduced a piece showing how we helped my littlest one use a potty. Here’s the video on baby pottying that they made:
How did people react?
The response was overwhelming. By nightfall, over a million people had watched our baby use a potty, and the comments were pouring in. Nearly all the comments were positive, but of course, there were also many others, ranging from ignorant to downright rude.
It never fails to surprise me what people will say on social media, or how easy it is to be misunderstood. The negative comments chiefly surrounded three things:
- The idea that when practising baby pottying, there is “no bottom to clean”
My comment on having “no bottom to clean” having been edited the way it was quite understandably resulted in some scepticism and some comments concerned about hygiene. What you don’t see in this video, is what I actually said which was about the difference between the clean-up after a soiled nappy compared to the quick wipe needed after using a potty. How ironic that Elimination Communication is also referred to as Natural Infant Hygiene! As anyone who practises EC will tell you, the best way to avoid nappy rash or UTIs in infants is to use a potty instead of a nappy.
2. The idea that to succeed in pottying your baby, you would need to “watch them all day”
As a parent of two who works a full-time job as a Children’s research nurse plus runs my own company Little Bunny Bear, I can tell you I don’t have time to do that, and I’d go so far to say that no parent does!
The concern that you would need to watch your baby constantly is completely unfounded.
In the same way that a new parent learns the signals for when a baby is hungry, sleepy or wants comfort, learning the signals for when they need to go potty is just an extension of what parents are already doing to meet their babies needs. Beginning to practise EC requires a couple of days of learning those signals through observation time, but as this can be done from birth, even parents who take minimal maternity leave can do this and share the knowledge with a caregiver, use the timing method or just practise EC part-time. Remember, using a potty as little as once per week is enough to make a massive difference to the environment.
3. The view that health visitors (apparently) have that “newborns shouldn’t use a potty because they have better things to learn”
Well, I can say my own health visitor observed me help my baby use a potty on many occasions and was entirely supportive of the practice. That’s probably because she saw it in action first hand and was able to see how gentle and child-led a practice it is. It’s often referred to as early potty training but if you think of it this way it’s going to seem unreasonable to expect from a baby. What it involves is a parent holding their baby safely over a potty or toilet, not the baby being expected to do anything they are not developmentally ready for.
The easiest way to understand the concept I find is this; parents who choose nappies are teaching their baby to eliminate in a nappy, and then when they potty train they expect their child to unlearn the habit of a lifetime (often at an age where they are resistant to change) and use a potty instead. The learning curve of going from nappies to potty training looks like this:
Quite a steep learning curve! We expect a lot of children by taking this route.
Using the potty from birth simply means the child understands that the potty/toilet is the place where they should eliminate and means that the learning curve to achieve toilet independence is much gentler. It looks like this:
It’s so much gentler. There are over 40 skills to master before a child can reach toilet independence and knowing what is expected of them from birth offers a strong constant in what is an otherwise ever-changing world.
This is why it’s easier to potty train an EC baby and why they reach toilet independence often years earlier than babies who use nappies do. Here is how it fits in with their developmental capabilities:
– Between 0-6 months, parents respond to babies signals and help them to use the potty
– From 6-9 months babies can signal through baby signing or sounds
– From 9-12 months babies can use words to communicate their needs
– From 18-24 months they are capable of mastering toilet independence.
So what can we do about the way elimination communication is misrepresented in the media?
Well, my answer is that we as parents who do potty their baby, need to get the right message out there. We need to do as much as we can to educate people about what baby pottying really is and dispel the myths surrounding it. There is a wealth of research out there demonstrating the benefits of pottying from birth, including my research study (Mottram 2019), as well as dispelling the fears that often surround non-mainstream parenting approaches.
We can tell people that it was not so long ago that pottying from birth was entirely mainstream. It was only when disposable nappies were introduced in the 1950s that we shifted to unlearn centuries of parenting knowledge. But despite this, over 50% of the world’s babies today do not use a nappy as standard.
And if you didn’t potty your own baby and are just learning about this, you can suggest it to the pregnant people and new parents that you know. Not in a “hey have you heard about this CRAZY fad that’s all over Instagram?” way, but in a “hey the planet is being destroyed and parents are struggling financially and this is something that could really help both of these things” way.
So get talking, get sharing, tag parents in my posts and help make baby pottying something that every parent considers doing!
My eGuide on baby pottying is available to buy on Amazon.