Sarah's article - published in: Kensington and Chelsea NCT Branch Newsletter - Winter 2010/2011
Reading the article on potty training in the last newsletter, I wanted to share a different approach. Rather than something that is largely ignored in the first couple of years and left until the last minute, I see potty training as a gradual process, just like anything else our babies learn. Babies are even ready from birth (or one month, two months, six months...). It just takes initiative and a bit of commitment from the parent to recognise this and help them go somewhere other than in a nappy. In fact, this isn't really potty training, but a two- way learning process between parent and baby. You learn to recognise when your baby is hungry or tired, so why not when they need to wee or poo?
Late potty training is a relatively new idea. Before the widespread use of disposable nappies, babies were potty trained much earlier. The idea that children are 'not ready' until they are 18 months old, or even two or three years old according to some, is disproved by the millions of families around the world who respond to their babies' elimination needs from infancy. The use of nappies is so ingrained in our culture that it can be difficult to imagine any other way of doing things, but in most parts of the world parents notice signs that their babies need to go and hold them in an appropriate place, whether outside or over a potty. In the West this approach is often referred to as 'elimination communication' (or 'EC').
Babies are born with a natural instinct not to soil themselves, which is why newborns often wee or poo when their nappy is removed. Apparently (and how I wish I knew this at the time! ) a lot of unexplained crying can be due to an uncomfortably full bladder. This natural instinct can be encouraged by holding the baby in a comfortable position over a potty or lavatory. The baby learns the association, often with the help of a cue sound such as 'pssss', so that he expects to go when held in that position. Babies will often give clues, such as kicking legs or squirming while feeding, or you can offer a potty when you expect them to need it, for example after a nap or feed. It is unrealistic to expect to catch every wee, but many people find poos easy to catch as they often come at regular times. Most parents use nappies or training pants as a back-up and it is perfectly possible to potty part time, if only to try and avoid dirty nappies and smeared bottoms!
Aside from fewer nappies and the obvious environmental benefits, advantages of this approach include keeping your baby clean and dry, avoiding nappy rash, reduced risk of UTIs, enhanced bonding and communication, and keeping babies in touch with their bodies. Leaving them in nappies all the time teaches them that this is the right place to wee and poo and they can lose their natural awareness of their bodily functions. By potty training conventionally, we then expect them to unlearn this, as a strong-willed, mobile toddler...
I first read about EC when I was pregnant, but it wasn't until my baby, Thomas, was four months old that I decided to give it a go. I started holding him over the lavatory or supported on a potty until he could sit there himself. I only did it part time, relying on nappies the rest of the time, but we had quite a bit of success. It is common for babies to go through a 'potty pause' - just like any other development process there can be setbacks - and when Thomas started crawling he would crawl off as soon as I sat him on the potty. I knew he understood what it was and what it was for - he just wasn't interested in sitting on it (or sitting still anywhere for that matter).
Then one day when he was 13 months old, soon after he started walking, he walked over to the potty and tried to sit on it. I put him on it, he got up, sat him down again, he got up... but eventually he sat down and did a big wee. It was then that I understood the 'communication' in EC. We might not have been catching anything in the potty, but I had kept talking to him about it and he remembered. At 14 months he started signing 'potty' when he weed. We haven't reached the point where he regularly signs before the event, but that will come (if I've learnt nothing else from being a parent, it's patience). For now, at least I can change him straight away, acknowledging the fact that he's done it and keeping him dry.
People talk about potty training when your child is 'ready', but they are ready at birth if you are. Everyone has a different experience with EC - some are reliably dry by a year old or earlier, some may not end up fully potty trained (depending on your definition) any earlier than someone who starts at 18 months or 2 years old - and I concede it isn't the easy, hassle-free option, but it is a fascinating journey and insight into your baby. Thomas is now 17 months old and a long way from being fully 'potty trained', but he knows what the potty and lavatory are for and can tell me when he needs to use them (usually too late!). It's a normal part of everyday life for him and one more way we can communicate with and learn from each other.
For more information see: www.bornready.co.uk and www.nappyfreebaby.co.uk