We started potty training our son at three weeks. Scratch that. We started potty training ourselves at three weeks.
I first heard about elimination communication – a pottying system that uses a combination of baby signals, timing and parent’s intuition to help babies stay clean and dry from an early age – from a cousin of mine more than a decade ago. Though I was a dog’s age away from having children, my immediate reaction was, “When the time comes, I definitely doing that.”
In my last few weeks of pregnancy, I read Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid Bauer, a book that told countless stories of diaper-free cultures around the world. Like India, for example, where mothers carry their diaperless babies around all day without ever soiling their elegant and colourful saris.
This is for me, I thought. I’m definitely doing that.
Amazingly, we caught a pee and a poop on our first attempt at pottying the babe. Even more amazingly, we caught it on film.
Babies are amazing. I mean, they are AMAZING. As the time of writing, Gaïan is five weeks young. For the first time last night, we made it through a whole night without changing a single diaper. I hardly even got out of bed.
We keep something I call a top hat potty beside the bed. Basically, it’s the guts of a regular potty. It looks like this:
Our baby does his business in the potty several times during the night, meaning I don’t even need to get out of bed. (The potty is bound to get accidentally kicked over at some point, so I usually get up to empty it several times during the night, do my own business and grab a snack to keep the milk factory going.)
Most of the people we’ve talked to (okay, bragged to) about this method are either incredulous or unbelieving. (*Pediatricians are taught that babies don’t have sphincter control until 18 months. This is utter bupkis.) But the most common refrain is, “Who’s got time for that?” Understandably, since anyone who has children knows that babies, particularly newborns, eliminate constantly. All day long.
And at first we were all, “It’s such a time saver!” and “We don’t change nearly as many diapers!” and “It saves so big on laundry!”
But the truth is we are pulling diapers on and off all day long, over and over. Newborn babies have a seemingly endless need to eliminate. If I had to guess, I’d say that we potty the baby about 20 times a day, not counting another 10 or so false alarms.
A questions that keeps cropping up is: How do we know when the babe needs a potty?
It’s a combination of our baby’s signals and generic timing. At this stage, his most obvious signals are fussing and crying. If he needs to pee, he gets restless. He’ll be playing/nursing/cooing happily, and then suddenly his demeanor will change. He’ll wave his arms around and maybe even cry a little. To the potty we go.
This elegant system has us making many unnecessary trips to the loo, but they’re fewer and fewer as we learn to communicate better with our baby. We’re learning to tune into his rhythms as well, catching most of the upon-waking poops, the five-minutes-after-nursing pees, the fresh-from-the-car-seat pees, etc.
A conversation we’ve had a lot is whether or not this is more or less work that diapering for a few years and potty training when Gaïan is “ready.” Having done neither of those things, I can’t offer any real argument, except to say that caring for a baby seems like a fair bit of work no matter what way you do it.
What I would offer is that this is a very different kind of work, and it’s work I very much enjoy doing. No one’s claiming that this method is better than the next, or that there’s something shameful about diapering a baby. This is the method that feels good for our family.
I was one of those kids who wet the bed until she was years and years past the traditional age for nighttime dryness. It got in the way of sleepovers at friend’s houses and, in general, was just plain embarrassing. At two months old (Yes, I've been working on this post for whole month.) Gaïan is dry most nights, and can hold his business in for as long as eight hours. As a mother and former bedwetter, this gives me enormous pleasure.
Every trip to the toilet is a chance to bond with our son, to learn his cues and align ourselves with his internal rhythms. It’s not yet three weeks since we starting “training” our son, but I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I’m betting as he grows there’ll be fewer trips to the potty as his elimination systems evolve and our communication system improves.
In the meantime, we’ve resolved to stop waxing poetic about it to our friends, since it puts too much pressure on the three of us to perform and seems to impede results when we’re out and about. Most of the time though, we just can’t help ourselves.
Babies are amazing. Did I mention that already? Holy crap. Literally.