Eliminating the need for diapers

When moms first tell friends and family they plan to start potty training before their babies have outgrown their first onesie, people usually say the scheme is crazy.

Not so with Winnie Cheung, an instructor at the Music Institute of Chicago, who lives in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. She is among a growing community of Chicago moms who are dissing diapers in favor of “pssss”ing infants, cuing them to go in the sink or potty at just a few weeks old.

It’s called elimination communication-the natural practice of tuning in to baby’s elimination needs and holding them over a receptacle-and it’s still protocol in Asia, Africa and parts of South America. A covey of about 80 Illinois EC believers congregate at an online group dedicated to elimination communication.

To get started

  • Offer a “pottytunity” right after baby wakes up and at every diaper change.
  • Talk to your baby. Ask questions like “Do you have to go potty?” or “Did you just go pee pee?” so that he hears the words associated with going to the bathroom.
  • Hold your baby over a toilet, potty or other receptacle and make a cue sound such as “psss psss.” For pictures of various potty positions, visit www.diaperfreebaby.org
  • Make note of any signs that your baby is eliminating. After a while, you may be able to catch your baby as she first starts to make these signs and offer the potty then.
  • Stay relaxed. This is a process. You are simply laying the foundation for future toilet independence. Babies won’t be able to relax if you’re not relaxed.

EC on the rise

The group reflects the resurgence of diaper-free parenting among North American and European families. It appeals to parents not only because they can bank the ,000 they’d otherwise spend on disposable didies. There’s also an environmental component. Earth lovers feel good about not piling on to the 3.4 million tons of used diapers and raw feces dumped in U.S. landfills every year.

Going diaper free is better for baby because it bypasses diaper rash and relieves digestive problems, believers say. It’s more comfortable to go in an upright position than prone. Diaperless parenting fosters the baby’s body awareness, developing bladder and bowel control. At the same time, it spurs early independence and eliminates later toilet training battles, say local parents who practice EC.

Elimination experimentation has yielded outcomes that astound parents and nay-sayers.

Arielle and Rob Bywater’s daughter Willa, now 4, first used the potty at 4 weeks old and never messed her pants past 18 months, says this Evanston couple. They’ve already started EC with 5-week-old Jem.

Many families begin at birth or shortly after, and many more between 1 and 6 months. EC is not coercive or punitive like potty training, advocates at Diaper Free Baby say. The focus is more on communicating with babies than getting them to go in a specific spot.

It doesn’t take long to learn to read baby’s body language to know when it’s time to go. They have a certain facial expression. They wiggle and grow agitated. Maybe they pass gas.

Mixed mess of messages

The traditional cycle of diapering followed by toilet training is a bag of mixed messages, says Bywater, 36, a poetry professor at Columbia College. Parents spend the first two years conditioning their kids to go in their pants with diapers that keep them in the dark about being dirty. Then, suddenly, the memo comes down that going in your pants is a big deal and it’s bad news.

“Diapers train babies just to sit around in it a long time and not to notice,” she says. “Then, at 2 or 3, you reverse yourself and want them to control something you’ve taught them for years to ignore.”

Elimination communication does take a lot of extra effort at the outset but becomes easier than diapering over the long run, say those who use it.

Robyn Monaghan is a mom and long-time freelance writer.

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