6th May 2013
Bribes, trickery and stress go hand-in-hand with the arduous process of toilet training for many parents. But for a growing group of mothers, starting the process before their babies are six months old is transforming the experience into something positive. Their method, referred to as elimination communication, involves watching babies for cues about when they need to go – and the results are often babies who are diaper-free before they are one.
Wellington mum Hana Miller, 30, started putting daughter Willa on a potty when she was three months old, but she’d been laying the foundations from birth. From the day she was born, Hana would give Willa diaper-free time and acknowledge pees by making a “psss” sound.
“We started to notice that just before she did go she would fuss a little for no other apparent reason. So one day we put her on the potty, made the “psss” sound and sure enough heard a little trickle go in!”
Willa is now six months old and only wears a diaper when out.
Hana had been inspired by a good friend whose two children were out of diapers at 10 months. She says the process is about training parents to familiarise themselves with their baby’s signals, body language and habits.
“It made so much sense. A baby doesn’t want to go in her pants any more than the rest of us. It just takes a bit more communication and cooperation to make it possible, but it’s so great to foster that connection between parents and babies.”
She was worried about the potential for mess, but getting started was easy once she did things like put towels in place. She encourages parents to give the method a go, but warns it will keep them on their toes – accidents most often happen when she has guests over and misses signals.
“It’s a process like anything, and before you know it you’ll just be doing it and figuring out how to make it work as you go.”
A lot of people are surprised and amazed when they hear about Hana’s methods, but she says others probably think she lives in a “wee-ridden house”.
“But I’m happy to say that I have met quite a few other parents who are doing the same.”
Northland mum Mayana Sipes, 30, started training her daughters Billie at five months and Danu at birth – like Hana, she had been encouraged by a friend.
“Her baby was younger than mine and they were so onto it. She would, in mid sentence, casually take her baby for a pee. She just knew when he needed to go, she could pick up his cues.”
While it wasn’t as easy as her friend had made it look, Mayana persisted with her daughter.
“She obliged time and time again. I came to realise this is not “infant” potty training, but rather training the parent. The babies are connected to their eliminations, it is us who are not onto it and encourage them to disconnect from their functions by ignoring what is natural.”
By 15 months, Billie was fully potty trained. Danu was diaper-free at 10 months – she would pat at her crotch to let Mayana know she needed to go and they developed their own kind of sign language. However there was no doubt that once Danu was talking it also became easier for her to let others know when she needed the toilet.
Mayana says the first step is taking the diaper off and observing baby – the cues then become easy to spot. Besides watching, there are other methods of prediction – or developing a “pee-dar” as she calls it. The first is timing – pay attention to how long baby goes between wees. Mayana also suggests having a potty handy, changing baby after every missed pee, taking them to the toilet with you, getting the family involved, and talking about toileting.
The process was satisfying and deepened her relationship with her children, she says.
“I felt like a layer of the mystery was lifted. I had more tools to meet the needs of my baby and I wasn’t left wondering what my baby needed.”
Mayana says our ancestors managed without diapers and washing machines by tuning into the needs of their young, and we can do the same.
Another Wellington mum, who did not want to be named, says the best time to first try elimination communication is when babies first wake, before they start crying. Other cues to watch for are fussiness, and detaching from the breast during a feed. Her first baby was a real “timer”, going every 20 minutes when awake, while her second was great at giving signals. As for the benefits, she found that her children didn’t get diaper rash, and not having to deal with dirty diapers was another advantage.
Elimination communication is already practised widely throughout the developing world, often out of necessity. But around the western world, groups are also being established by experienced parents willing to share tips and advice. In Wellington, New Zealand, a group associated with the global Diaper Free Baby group meets regularly as well as offering new parents support.
Between them, they are keeping more diapers out of landfills, saving money and resources, and gaining the satisfaction of close bonds with their babies. Their perseverance is paying off.
– © Fairfax NZ News