Early potty training gains converts
By Brooke Donald
ALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) — Cen Campbell travels unusually light for a mom with a young child. No wet wipes. No changing pad. No disposable diapers.
The extra baggage isn’t necessary because when Campbell’s toddler Jude needs to go to the bathroom, she brings him to the toilet. They’ve been doing this — with mixed success — since he was just 12 days old.
“I wouldn’t want to sit in a wet diaper, so why would I make my child do it?” said Campbell.
In the U.S., most new parents would count diapers among the “can’t live without” items for bringing up baby. But some are rejecting that conventional wisdom and helping their children use the toilet from the first few weeks and months of life.
Fans of infant potty training, also called elimination communication or natural infant hygiene, say it’s better for the environment, more economical and a unique way to bond with their child.
Most babies brought up this way, including Jude, wear diapers — usually cloth — as back up, but get away with using many fewer than babies who are not accustomed to using a potty or toilet from a very young age.
“It seemed to make more sense, especially when I started to notice there were patterns,” said Campbell, a volunteer librarian at Blossom Birth, a parent resource center in Palo Alto. “If you know when they’re going to go, why not hold them over the potty?”
While the idea sounds novel, it goes back centuries and spans cultures, said Laurie Boucke, author of “Infant Potty Training,” which explains the concept and how to do it.
“It’s been used since the beginning of time very successfully in many cultures including in India, Africa, China and even here,” Boucke said.
The theory is that babies have a desire to be clean, are aware of their bodily functions and can learn to communicate their needs, just as they communicate when they’re hungry and tired. Relying on diapers, proponents say, trains babies to ignore their natural instinct.
“We bathe the baby, we feed the baby, we do all these other things and you wonder, why not do this?” Boucke said. “If you start really little, they learn from association really quickly.”
The practice, ideally started before a baby is 6 months old, involves observing an infant’s cues that he’s ready to go to the bathroom, such as grunts, teary eyes or flushed cheeks, then bringing him to a toilet.
Caregivers sometimes make a hissing sound while holding the child over the bowl, or time visits to the toilet when the baby is likely to need to eliminate, such as before and after nursing and before and after naps.
The purpose of all this “is to help babies maintain natural awareness of their bodies, and to communicate with them,” said Lisa Baker, a spokeswoman for DiaperFreeBaby.org, a website that connects similarly-minded parents around the world.
Baker, of Atlanta, became interested in elimination communication for ecological reasons, figuring she could save water by not washing as many cloth diapers and landfill space by avoiding disposables.
She was surprised to find that she also saved money, and ended up feeling uniquely bonded to her daughter Anastasia, who was taken to the toilet beginning at two weeks old and was in underwear by 12 months old.
“It connects you on a whole other level. It’s like you’re reading your baby’s mind. It’s just a thrill to feel that connection,” she said.
There is no age when toilet training is supposed to start. The American Academy of Pediatrics says many children show “signs of readiness” around their second birthday. On its website, the organization says most children don’t have complete daytime control over their elimination until 3 or 4 years old.
Child expert Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, who promotes a child-oriented approach to potty training starting it when the child is motivated, said he doesn’t see a problem with elimination communication but believes it is unrealistic for most families in the U.S., where jobs, childcare or family situations could make it hard for parents to do.
“It’s nothing new, but something people have gone back to because they think it seems like a wonderful way to be close,” said Brazelton, who co-authored “Toilet Training: The Brazelton Way” with Dr. Josh Sparrow.
“The reality is, as we’ve moved work out of the home, we’ve needed to come up with a new way,” Sparrow added.
Parents who do it say the key is to not get stressed out about it.
Serena and Isaac Weingrod, who live in Mountain View, said they decided to try elimination communication when their daughter Adah was 2 months old because it seemed easier and cleaner than the cloth diapers they had been using. But they weren’t overly ambitious.
“Our goal wasn’t to potty train early,” Serena Weingrod said. “We just kind of looked at it like every time we got her to the toilet, it was one less diaper to change.”
Now 2 years old, Adah is fully potty trained.
“Her pants are falling off now without any diaper to hold them up,” her mother says. “Everyone says you need to make her some suspenders.”