Friday, July 24, 2009

Infant pottying: the what, the why, and the how

One of the many benefits of cloth diapers is the likelihood of earlier potty training. Since most cloth diapers (with the exception of diapers lined with wicking fabric) keep wetness against your baby’s skin, your baby will be more aware of what’s happening when she eliminates. Of course, this doesn’t mean your baby will self potty train, however, you can take advantage of her likelihood to potty train faster by pottying her at a younger age.

In many cultures, parents don’t rely on diapers – in fact, if you ask your own parents or grandparents about potty training, you’ll find that they likely started potty training you at a younger age than most parents today. When you potty an infant, you are not training her to hold her pee and poo, you are simply responding to your baby’s elimination needs; you are effectively teaching her how to eliminate. Infant pottying is not an ‘all or nothing’ deal, you can adapt it to your own situation; part-time pottying is completely OK! Even if you only potty your baby once/day, you’re getting him/her used to the idea that they can void outside of a diaper, so when you do potty train, it’s not a new concept. If you leave a child in diapers all the time, and change the diaper when it’s soiled, you are training them to void in the diaper.

The easiest way to start pottying your baby is at diaper changes, when you already have your baby’s diaper off. You tend to change a diaper after a nap/nurse, which is when babies usually need to pee (what’s the first thing you do in the morning? Have you ever noticed your baby’s tendency to pee at a diaper change?). Pottying your baby at a diaper change creates no more work for you.

You may find it easiest to potty your baby over a sink, it’s easier on your back, and you can cradle your baby against your chest; holding her under the thighs will bring her knees above her hips, which will help move things along. Another benefit of pottying your baby over the sink is the visual cue she will receive from watching herself in the mirror – she’ll see what’s happening.

When you are pottying your baby, you can cue her with a sound (‘sssss’) or a word (‘pee pee’). You can also teach them the hand sign for peeing (make a fist, with your thumb between the second and third fingers). Eventually, your baby will associate the cue with eliminating. Around seven months of age, we noticed our baby’s seemed to be holding their bladders and voiding on command.

Once you are comfortable pottying your baby, you can observing her habits -- your baby has a pattern, you can figure it out simply by leaving her diaperless on a waterproof mat and making note of when she pees (a newborn might pee every 20 minutes, for example; an older baby will go longer between pees). Of course, I’m not suggesting you potty your baby every 20 minutes throughout the day, but it helps to have a sense of her needs.

Aside from timing, if you pay attention to your baby, you will notice when things are happening. For example, when a young baby is peeing, she may hold her breath and stop moving. Now that Grace is on solids (solid poop!), I can tell when she needs to poop – grunting, farting, etc. If she starts, I take her diaper off and finish over the toilet.

- consistency helps (same person)
- eliminate distractions (ie, a sibling who is drawing baby’s attention from the task at hand).
- give baby something to distract him/her (ie, a special toy on the potty)
- it’s not unusual for a baby to give up pottying when working on another milestone (ie, walking); continue to offer the potty, but don’t push it.

If you’re having an ‘off’ day, just use diapers. Same for if you’re sleep-deprived, or if you’re dealing with a sick/cranky baby… don’t make it a chore, it’s OK to take a break.

When you’re ready to actually toilet train (ie, encourage child to potty self, move entirely out of diapers), the onus is on you. Don’t ask, just take baby to the potty. Straight to underwear is more motivating for you to stay on top of it (training pants for out and about). Lot’s of praise and reward for self-pottying, then gradually cut it out (Smarties did it for our kids -- if they knew we had Smarties in the house, they'd be on the toilet every 20 minutes, squeeing out a drip!).

If you consistently provide your baby with an opportunity to potty at an early age, you will get her out of diapers sooner. Yes, you will hit roadblocks, but the earlier you start, the easier it will be. I honestly started pottying our second child at birth on a lark -- I read about infant pottying, and I thought it was crazy. It worked so well, we've done it with all of our children since, and I encourage all new parents to try it. Good luck!

- “Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene” (Ingrid Bauer)


  1. Any advice about differences between boys and girls on this matter? Our daughter started being quite good with pottying as of about 15 months and was night-dry at around 2 years, so I'm pretty confident about this working, but now that I have a boy, I don't know how to go about it...

  2. Honestly, our son was probably the easiest to potty (I pottied him at night, but the others weren't agreeable to that). The only thing that's trickier is the fact that he's built differently. When he was an infant and I pottied him in the sink (the bathroom sink, I should add), I positioned him so that his penis was under the faucet, so pee went up there, then down into the sink (as opposed to all over the mirror!). When I left him diaperless, I put a facecloth over his bits, to avoid the arch of urine, lol. We used little potties, and never had an issue with him peeing out of the potty (b/c his knees were up, and his bum as down). The only tricky part is that he's almost 4 now, but not big enough to pee standing up into a toilet, so we have to make sure he's pointing down over a toilet. It's mostly an issue in public places, at home he strips down and straddles the toilet, facing the tank. I assume he'll outgrow that when he's big enough to pee standing up, lol. I think the notion that boys are 'harder' to potty train is a myth, I wouldn't put much stock into it, you just need to give him the opportunity.

  3. Hi Susie! We ECd with our Grace too, starting at around 4 months. By the time she was one, she rarely had a wet diaper, but seemed to resist going poo on the potty (but she was one of those kids that only went once/week). She also curiously, never peed at night after 10 months, so we just started not diapering her at night at all from that time on. Once she started walking, she took a break from the potty and refused to go on it (too busy learning an new skill!). A couple months later, I tried M&Ms, and it worked like a charm! She's been totally diaper free since before she was two, including at night! Love it! The only "problem" is that there are so many cute cloth dipes out there to try, and so little time to try them if your child PLs early!!! Have a great day! Arwen