February 24, 2010
Natural Infant Hygiene

In which we talk about POOP.  You have been warned!


So, the rumours are true. We are indeed trying out the "diaper free", "natural infant hygiene", "elimination communication", "early toilet training" technique or whatever trendy label you want to stick on it. 


It's been a remarkably successful experiment, although I hasten to add that this doesn't mean that we've actually ditched the diapers.  We're definitely not the kind of parents who are capable of shrugging off accidental puddles on the floor as part of the "process".  You could probably say that Elizabeth is 75% toilet trained on average.  Many days we only use one or two diapers, and it's pretty rare to use one at night.


When we were first researching cloth diapers, our thought process was focussed mainly on convenience and cost, although we were conscious of the massive environmental footprint posed by diapers through the life of the baby and I wondered if there wasn't a better way.  This led me to articles about early toilet training and we were so intrigued we purchased Ingrid Bauer's "Diaper Free" book before Elizabeth was even born.


The book itself was a bit of a disappointment.  Extremely repetitive, it turned out to be 90% explanation of why natural infant hygiene is "normal" and you should try it, 9% fluff and 1% useful content. It didn't give much practical advice.  EC'ing is pretty easy, it claimed.  Wait until your child has to pee or poo (which you'll figure out soon enough on your own), take them to the toilet place, make cuing noise and tada! 


Although current North American conventional wisdom is all about waiting for your child to be developmentally ready to use the toilet, we decided trying natural infant hygiene would not cause lasting damage to Elizabeth's psyche.  In fact, a systematic review of "parent-oriented" and "child-oriented" toilet training techniques revealed that both approaches were effective. We were also impressed by some of the numbers.  92% of American children were toilet-trained by 18 months in 1957.  In 1999, this had dropped to 4%.  This is believed to be caused by the improved disposable diaper technology as well as changing toilet training techniques.  Incidentally, I highly recommend this last linked article if you are at all interested in toilet training history.  Did you know that urine and filth was originally considered to be protective for babies?  It does seem to me that our use of disposables does have some commonalities with the 18th and 19th century approach to diapers. Although the idea of strapping babies to a chair with a hole in the bottom until they went to the washroom seems rather outrageous.


The trouble was that although Brendan and I watched Elizabeth closely for cues, we couldn't tell whether she had to or not until it was too late.  Maybe we were not cut out for this stuff, we thought.


Having a small child was slightly overwhelming at first too, especially with problems getting breastfeeding established followed almost immediately by a massive oversupply issue.  It turned out that her cute cloth diapers didn't even fit as she was so small.  So we put all thoughts of early toilet training aside and focussed on learning basic parenting skills. 


By the time Elizabeth was five months old, she was able to sit up more or less by herself.  We were starting to worry about the increased unpleasantness that is changing diapers once a baby starts solids.  We started thinking about early toilet training again.


We started noticing that she was having a little poo fairly predictably first thing in the morning and I tripped over a comment online about EC'ing based on schedule rather than cues. One morning I held her over the toilet and off we went. 


Thinking you might like to try this?


Talk to someone with experience.  We have a friend who successfully toilet trained their baby.  Without their "real life" example we would probably not have had the courage to try.


Set low expectations.  A goal to reduce the number of diapers you use is easily achievable even if you are not that motivated.  Not using diapers at all is a lot more work. 


Remember that as your baby passes into new developmental stages, they will temporarily regress and pee without letting you know they have to go to the toilet.  This is normal.  In our experience, Elizabeth is not interested in going to the toilet when she is feeling unwell (including teething).  She'll also refuse to use the toilet if going isn't her idea.  For instance, we gave up on the idea that one should use the toilet BEFORE a bath instead of afterwards; Elizabeth has decided that there is a definite order to bathtime and using the toilet is not part of acceptable pre-bath activities.


If you are not going completely diaper free, my advice is to use cloth diapers rather than disposable.  Disposable diapers don't hold up well when taken on and off and on and off.  Probably because they are designed to be disposable...  Knowing when an "accident" has occurred is also much easier with cloth and this is important so that you can change the diaper consistently and avoid teaching the baby to go in the diaper instead of the toilet. Many babies in diapers actually wet themselves multiple times before they get changed; just as many moms are dismayed to find they have to increase the number of times they change their baby when switching from disposables to cloth, many parents end up taking the baby to the toilet more often than they would have changed the diaper.  This isn't because the baby is peeing more often...


Keep baby interested.  Sometimes it takes a few minutes for things to happen.  Especially when she was younger Elizabeth would have marathon pooping sessions.  She would get bored of sitting on the toilet though.  Having something to play with helps.  We use empty toilet paper rolls pretty often, don't ask me why!


Many babies pee while eating.  If you are still breastfeeding, many EC websites recommend that you start trying to catch pees by putting something under baby's bum during breastfeeding sessions.  I could never figure out how that was supposed to work, but I will admit that I have breastfed Elizabeth while she sat on the toilet.  More than once (especially at night since it's a good way to keep her quiet and we don't want her to wake the household).  Now that you are all grossed out, let me point out that I do keep our bathroom pretty clean and anyway kitchens are usually "dirtier" than bathrooms ;)


Most people use a bowl, a potty or the sink for some reason.  Brendan thought that was gross so we've always used the toilet.  It means we can just flush without worrying about rinsing things out.  On the other hand, Elizabeth will need assistance for quite some time.


The clothes you use when EC'ing are important.  Two main principals: as few fasteners as possible, no footy pjs or other clothing that dangles.  If you ignore this advice, you'll remember it the first time you accidentally dip the clothing in the toilet.


EC'ing at night is easier if you co-sleep.  EC'ing at night means your baby probably won't sleep through the night.  They will wake up once or twice in order to go to the washroom.  This is the biggest drawback to EC'ing in my opinion.


The jury is still out on whether or not Elizabeth ends up truly diaper free earlier than most of her peers, but we certainly enjoy a lot less mess as a result which makes it worth it for us.

On March 1, 2010 at 09:46 pm
Rachel@GraspingforObjectivity said:
Seriously fascinating read. I experienced this as a teen when I was living with a family on a missions trip that did this. They explained to me the basics of how it worked and I remembered it all these years, but I didn't really try it with Ali. Sounds like you're doing a great job of it!
On March 3, 2010 at 00:47 am
Marie said:
We did a sort of pseudo-EC with Jack. Sometime before he was a year old we noticed that he was always dry at wake up and then when I took him and sat him outside our tiny bathroom while I left the door open and used the potty he would overflow his disposable. We started sitting him on the potty every morning and he went. No more cleaning the floor!!! We did continue to use disposables mostly but every now and then I convinced my hubby to go with cloth. We changed his diaper with every single pee cloth or disposable. It did not take long for us to catch most pees but the poops were always hard to sort out. Anyway we were doing great with the pees and I even bought underwear but then he started preschool at our local school board elementary school. They would not use the potty at all for them for awhile and we began a back hill slide. Now we are making progress again but Jack has never been one to tell us when he needs to go. It's all been about timing and him knowing when to expect to be taken to the potty. He'll hold if he knows when he will be taken or at least as long as he can. With poops, he is so private and waits until you are not paying attention so he can go off and squat alone. We tried making the potty accessible for this private pooping but no good. I wished we had started earlier like you. It sounds like you are being easy going about it and making progress. I think the easy going part is the key!!! Good luck and if you come across any tips for me, shoot them my way!

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