“Oh my… he’s so little- is he potty trained already?” People are fascinated that my son has never worn diapers. It’s a great conversation starter. Elimination communication, also known as Diaper Free, is a recent trend in America- especially in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. It is even possible to attend meetings with a group of other like minded mothers or those eager to learn carrying babies without extra padded bottoms. This very gentle, environmentally-friendly and natural way of dealing with your baby’s waste is based on the theory that babies are indeed aware of their elimination processes -yes, even from birth- and are able to communicate this to you.
The day my son was born I was caught his pee in a little bowl next to my night stand. I immediately said to him “pee-pees”. That was to be the key word. Then he started to go again and I placed him over the bowl and said my association word “pee-pees” again. I had just given birth and was tired, and thought to myself that I would just give myself a nice three month break before trying this whole “diaper-free thing”. I thought I’d be so exhausted that I wouldn’t feel like putting in the extra time and effort observing and noting the kinds of grimaces or grunts my son made before he son eliminated. This was supposed to be my cherished time to bond and really connect with my baby. Just too much work in the way beginning. Well, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it took virtually no effort. Because instead with this new association word, I didn’t have to catch him midstream and frantically reach for the bowl, I held him over the bowl every once and a while in the same position (your baby may also make an association with the position that you hold him in) and simply asked him to go “pee-pees”. Kind of like a Pavlov’s Bell association. If he didn’t have to go he’d turn or squirm within a matter of seconds. If he did, he would try. Bless his little face as he concentrated and relaxed his little sphincter muscles. The first day after my son was born I asked him to go to the bathroom and he went in the bowl four times! No word of a lie. He was born with the awareness of where the muscles were, what they were for, and how to control them. Pretty incredible.
Talk about a boost in confidence for mom. We were already communicating with each other! I knew that we could try to be diaper-free and use elimination communication. It was so close to my heart because it seemed so intuitive. It reaffirmed to me that we are complete in possessing all that we actually need in order to nurture our children. When you practice elimination communication, the process is natural and responsive rather than reactive. It requires cooperation. What’s nice about it is that there is no abrupt transition to “potty training” when everything that your child knows about going to the bathroom is turned on its head when he turns-say three- and he needs to be “trained” or coerced (or manipulated with m&m’s) to start pooping on the potty like a big boy. His comfort of running off to a corner and squatting and pooping in his diaper as he has done everyday for three years is taken away from him. With elimination communication a child never learns that his diaper is his toilet. And he doesn’t ever need to completely unlearn what he already knows. If he pees in his pants there is no yelling “stop!!! wait!” from across the room. It’s not reactive. It’s a gentle process.
You don’t have to be a barefoot hippie into “peace and love” or be enthusiastic about showing skin to have a diaper-free child. I don’t suggest that babies need run around bare bottomed around the town . You don’t have to rip out your carpet or sell all of your nice furniture either. People from all walks of life are doing it. I always put little cotton or fleece pants on my son with soft elastic around the ankles to prevent big puddles. Also, if I miss a pee, I can see when he is wet right away.
Some days we would stay dry the whole day. Other days, when I was in the heat of conversation I would think to myself- hmm, he hasn’t gone in a while, let me just finish what I was saying and then I’ll take him to the bathroom. And then I would see the look, and know that it was too late. Should have acted on intuition. Time to “tune back in”. No big problem though, I’d grab a pair of clean pants out of my bag and change him right away. He never had bulk that impeded his walking or my ability to actually feel his cute dimpled bottom while I was carrying him. He never sat in a wet diaper or a poopy diaper. He didn’t “wear his toilet”.
Yet, practicing elimination communication doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Some close friends of mine in Slovenia always had their son diaper-free at home but when they went out they put a diaper on him. Another friend here in town first tried elimination communication by taking her daughter’s diapers off only during the night because she found it easier to figure out her elimination cues while they slept together.
When you become aware of the patterns emerging around your baby’s elimination needs and communications you can begin to hold them out over a bucket, potty, toilet or even a bush when you suspect they need to go. My friend who was curious to see if it would work with her older infant so we tried when most babies seem to pee-after waking up from a nap. Asking your baby to eliminate upon waking is really a great time to get that association word in there. And before you know it, you may end up getting all the reassurance that you need to see that it really can work. Your baby does have an awareness of his elimination process.
Elimination Communication is not only more comfortable for your baby, but it also helps you a more mindful and conscious mother. Just like nursing and babywearing, practicing elimination communication keeps you uniquely close to your baby and aware of his needs. In nurturing your child, trust and love bloom- and the joy of mothering is multiplied tenfold. Take it from a mom who has never changed her son’s poopy diapers!