A philosophy that is creeping across America - and already is in place in many other countries - suggests babies can be toilet-trained before they reach their first birthdays.
Elimination communication, or EC, is the hallmark of the diaper-free movement.
“It's basically similar to the way you respond to any other need your child has,” said Elizabeth Parise, a spokeswoman for Diaper Free Baby, an organization that promotes infant potty training and offers online support and training of mentors in the philosophy. “If your baby is rooting around or mouthing their fists, you would think to offer food. If the baby is rubbing her eyes, maybe a little fussy, you know she might need sleep.”
At present, organized groups and Diaper Free mentors are in 37 states and 16 countries, said Parise, who is a Massachusetts mother of five children. The younger two were potty-trained through the EC method - a daughter who was diaper-free by age 1, and a son who was diaper-free and in underwear at 4 months.
“Come on,” you skeptics say. “A 4-month-old can't even sit up by himself. How can he be potty-trained? Isn't this more about training the parent rather than the infant?”
Those are frequent comments - and Parise says misconceptions - about EC. Some of the signals infants give include:
♦Squirming or fussing
♦Popping on and off at the breast or bottle
♦Change in facial expressions
“Just sucking triggers the reflex” to “let go” of urine, Parise said. Some parents using EC become so in tune with the subtle signs that they can almost 100 percent of the time predict when the baby will urinate or defecate.
When the baby sends a signal, the parent holds the child over the toilet, a potty chair or a small container. Diaper Free does not condone parents holding a baby over a public sink. Once the parent recognizes the baby's signals, certain sounds can be repeated by the parent to cue the child to eliminate.
“The goal is not to get your child potty-trained faster,” Parise said. “It's an alternative to full-time diaper use, to maintain those natural inclinations and awareness. All mammals are born with the instinct that they are not to soil the nest,” she said.
Reducing the use of disposable diapers is better for the environment and encourages bonding through close communication of parent and infant, proponents say. It's better for a baby's skin, and starting early on lessens the potty wars in 2- and 3-year-olds.
“We know that in other countries, babies are toilet-trained much earlier than here,” she said, noting that in Asia, Africa and India it is more the norm than the exception for a child to be toilet-trained by age 1 or 1 1/2 .
In a report published in the journal Pediatrics, toilet-training in various cultures was examined. In East Africa, for example, researchers found 30 of 34 mothers surveyed said they started bowel and bladder training during the first few weeks after the baby's birth, and they had accomplished or were close to accomplishing reasonable night and day dryness by age 4 to 6 months.
Some say today's stay-dry disposable diapers, as well as the hectic lifestyles of families, has led to potty training completion at a later age than a century ago.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a consensus statement that babies are not physiologically or psychologically ready for potty training before age 18 months. Yet the April 2004 edition of the journal Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics reported on a baby boy in a Western home who had fewer than 10 accidents or “misses” in defecation during his first 19 months. His mother used EC beginning when he was 1 month old.
Is this really such a big deal, an important milestone, for a baby to be potty trained by age 1?
Nicole Fikes of Fort Wayne says potty training was not at the top of her list of priorities as a new mother. “I was overwhelmed with emotion, sleep deprivation, anxiety and love when I had my first child,” Fikes said.
“Reading bathroom cues was the least of my worries with an infant. More power to anybody (who) has the time and desire to put themselves and baby through this. This method is not for us,” she said, adding, “I like what little sanity I have - and this would put me right over the edge. Can we not let our babies be babies? They have their whole lives to ‘eliminate' on the potty.”
Parise concurs EC is not for everyone. It does take commitment, but she claims using the method is not as time-consuming as naysayers suggest. Parents can do it for a portion of the day. She said the part-time approach does not confuse babies.
“I don't think it's the be-all and end-all,” Parise said, noting too often coercion and bribery end up being the name of the game when potty training is delayed.
Learn moreTo learn more about elimination communication and infant potty training, go to www.diaperfreebaby.org.
Moms share their thoughts
The News-Sentinel sought feedback on infant potty training on the message board of Fort Wayne Moms Meetup, a group of mothers who share advice and friendship on-line, during play groups and in social outings. Using first names only on the Web site http://moms.meetup.com/995, these are some of their comments:
♦“We did start introducing our son to the vocabulary of potty at about 14 months. We began sitting him on the potty before diaper changes and bath. We weren't having a lot of success for a long time, and we weren't expecting it. We were just familiarizing him with the concept of potty … (It) was a lot of work for not a lot of gain at first, but by the time he was 25 months, he was pretty well potty-trained during the day, and we never had a major struggle with potty-training.” — Kristin of Fort Wayne, mother of two
♦“I think that it's a bit extreme, but I guess if you have the patience to do it, more power to you. I think that this is really more about conditioning the parents than the children.” — Melissa of Fort Wayne, mother of one
♦“One of the children in our playgroup when we lived in Florida did the whole EC thing. Indigo wore (cloth) diapers full time, but her mom regularly had her on the potty. Her mom changed about one to two wet diapers a week and very rarely had a poopy (diaper) to change … funny thing - even though most pee and poo was in the potty, she wasn't completely potty trained any earlier than any of the other kids in our playgroup.” — Gretchen of Fort Wayne, mother of two
♦“I think to choose this method, you would have to dedicate your life to it. I personally would rather change diapers and get them to the age where they are ready to potty train and have it over in a day or two - but that's just me.” Holli of Fort Wayne, mother of six