Two weeks ago, when Soëlie was only 5.5 months old, she verbally signaled me that she needed to pee. We systematically do two things when we think she needs to go: first, ask her, "do you have to potty?" while making a hand sign (thumb between index and middle finger, hand twisting side to side), second, make a psssss sound while holding her in the potty position (this changes to a grunt if it turns out she needs to pass stool.)
So, there we were, lying in bed, and she looks at me and goes, "Ptthhhhh."
Not quite believing it, i asked her if she needed to go and held her over her little red bowl. And lo and behold, she voided!
Of course, just once could be a coincidence, but over the next two days, she did it five times, and the fifth, I didn't take her. She peed on herself.
Since then, she has been making the pthhhh sounds AND/OR moving her hand. I must say, I'm the mommy of one awesome baby!
So, for the lowdown on our version of raising our daughter diaper-free, which, btw, is not completely accurate. Soëlie sometimes wears diapers, which I'll detail below.
What you'll need if you want your baby to participate in the diaper-free fun:
A sense of humor
A desire to communicate
Lots of towels or puddle pads
A good washing machine
You can start/try the diaper-free method at any time, from newborn up until you are ready to potty-train. Naturally, it will be easier if the baby never learned she was expected to soil herself, only to have to unlearn it.
We stopped using diapers with Soëlie when she was 8 days old. We didn't do it from birth for two reasons. First of all, I heard meconium stains are hard to get out, and I didn't want to end up with any on our furniture/clothes in case we had an accident. Second, we had Julien's family here, and I didn't feel like starting something "weird" and different while enduring the critical eye of company.
When the last of our visitors left, off came the diapers and out came a small piece of upcycled raincoat and a towel to catch any misses. We made a chart to record her pees and poos to get an idea of her rhythms. With that, we saw that babies pee a lot. :P Soëlie's rhythm underwent changes several times, but one thing we remarked was that she would often pee 4-5 times in a row, the intervals between those pees being anywhere from 5-20 minutes, and then, after the last pee of that set, she wouldn't go again for another hour. Also, she almost always needed to go upon waking. (An aside: She doesn't go in her sleep, so at night, it is very easy to catch her pees--she always stirs--and keep her dry until morning.)
We also learned her "signals" and "modes." She has several: pulling off the breast and crying (fair-warning mode); staying on the breast but going realllllly still WHILE she pees (silent mode); pulling off the breast and giving me a beatific smile WHILE peeing on me (don't-you-love-me? mode); carrying on as if nothing is happening WHILE peeing on me (stealth mode).
From the above, you can probably guess that we have a lot of misses to our count. However, in terms of stools, after coming home from the hospital, Soëlie stopped having regular bowel movements. She also gained weight too slowly to suit health professionals. Looking back on it, I wonder if the weight gain wasn't partially my fault because I was being a little too enthusiastic, trying to avoid potty accidents. Instead of assuring that she was latched on well, I was trying to make sure she wasn't going to void on me while eating. If ever someone wanted my advice on what to do and not do while practicing elimination communication, I would say, Just relax and let your baby go if she needs to go while eating. Taking nourishment is more important for your baby than making sure your "puddle pad" doesn't get wet. Urine is sterile and doesn't even smell when your baby is a newborn (this might only be true for breastfed babies). It also washes out really easily. A baby who has been labeled "failure to thrive" is a much bigger, heartbreaking deal.
When Soëlie started having regular bowel movements, the herald of that being this incident, we had to be more careful, but yes, we've had poo accidents. It just doesn't gross me out, though; might get gross when she starts eating solids. Thankfully, she signals more clearly (little grunts) when she has to have a bowel movement.
I was going to take photos to illustrate our technique, but a red bowl, towels, and pieces of raincoat aren't really photogenic. If you google "elimination communication," "natural infant hygiene," or "diaper-free baby," you are bound to find lots of articles and videos that show how one holds a baby over a bowl, sink, toilet, etc. I will show you one pic, though, of something I don't think you will see elsewhere...
One of my absolute favorite things about having a diaperless baby that falls firmly in the Awesome category:
Those, my friends, are the butt cheeks of a baby who has just had a bowel movement. I kid you not. She has not been cleaned. I put her down after the poo, took the photo, and only then took her back to the sink to rinse her. That is NOT what a baby's bum looks like after she poos in her diaper as anyone who has ever had to change a poopy diaper knows.
You can also see our typical diaper-free outfit: Top, leggings, socks. Can't have anything in the way when baby needs to go. Time is of the essence.
So I've shared the awesome; what about the good and bad of this method? It's really late so here are just a few:
- No diaper rash, ever.
- Don't have to worry about running out of diapers.
- Soëlie never has to sit in her waste or a soup of waste and chemicals.
- No need for creams, chemical-filled wipes, etc. A simple splash of water or dabbing with a cotton cloth works just fine.
- The two big Es: Ecological and Economical
- Julien wants me to add another E: Exercise! Lots of picking up baby and working those biceps as we hold her, waiting for her to go...
- Communication. It is so cool to be able to *understand* that your baby wants to go and to know that she is capable of telling you so.
- You can't catch all the wees (or poos), all the time. You will have misses...
- Laundry; you do a lot of laundry. Don't know how this evens out with saving the environment and big bucks, actually. Guess it depends on how much your electricity and water cost you... (we don't wash the towels after every single pee. See above what I said about urine being sterile and baby urine not smelling. It is possible to dry a pee-spotted towel and reuse it. However, as S is getting older, I have noticed that the smell of her urine is getting a bit stronger, so may have to stop this soon.)
- Thinking, "Oh, she just peed; she can't possibly want to go again so soon," and getting peed on.
- Getting looked at like a crazy person by everyone but your loving spouse when you explain what you are doing.
- See above about verbal cue at 5.5 months of age!!!!
- See photo above of "clean" bum!
- No, conventional "potty training" for us, thanks.
Oh, just in case you are thinking, Wow, now the baby knows how to verbally cue AND give a hand signal! No more misses!, let me just direct your attention back to the bit about Soëlie's modes. She hasn't forsaken the others. Just added to her repertoire two new things to look/listen for. :P
One last thing. When does our diaper-free baby wear diapers?
- At night. For a while, I did have her sleeping on her puddle pad, but she gets too hot. The plastic doesn't breathe and it makes her overheat. So, she wears a cloth diaper instead.
- When we go for a walk, run errands, or go to friends' houses.
- Sometimes in the car (sometimes we just put a puddle pad under her)
- She hasn't been sick yet, but if ever she has diarrhea, I'm sure we will put a diaper on her.
The beauty of this is that each person makes the method work for him or her. Some people only take their baby "to potty" at set times (after feeds, naps, or upon waking or before going to sleep) and that works, too. Every caught pee or poo feels like a terrific success. The misses make for funny anecdotes.
In any case, I'm so glad I stumbled across this method many years ago and am now able to put it into practice with my daughter.