Today I'm going to talk about boys and EC - if you call your child by another pronoun, I invite you to replace ‘boy’ with their ‘pronoun.’
(If you don’t believe in gender differences at all, I hear ya! And this episode will probably be a waste of your time, but it’s been requested by those mamas and daddies in our community who see these differences as a way to better understand and care for their babies. Feel free to skip this one and I’ll see ya next time, loves.)
This episode is all about how to EC boys. What is different, what is the same, and what tips I have having ECd 3 boys and 2 girls, myself, from birth. Hopefully I can share some perspective and make things a little easier for all.
In today’s show I’m also going to share some super-thoughtful tips from readers and followers in our Go Diaper Free community who have boys.
So to start with, the question i’ve gotten a lot is:
“How is EC different with boys versus girls?”
We’ll go through this category by category, starting with.
Outcomes - Potty Independence Age
I want to share my outcomes with you to first say: we’ve experienced a slight difference in EC outcomes, from what I’ve experienced, between our boys and girls - our girls were reliably dry by about 15 months and our boys by 17 months. But we are a very small sample size! This is merely for some personal perspective.
With the greater group of potty training mamas and daddies in our community, I’ve learned that independence does not vary by age - that boys are not, in fact, more difficult to potty train than girls, and do not necessarily take longer! They are simply DIFFERENT. And, having had your specific child since birth, you will probably know the differences between your children more than me. :)
As for other parents’ EC experiences with boys and girls, things just vary! I’ve heard boys complete earlier than girls, and vice versa. I’ve seen twin boys complete with no issue at 15 months, triplet girls at 21 months...so many variations.
I believe that the potty independence age has more to do with the child’s temperament and what the parent does, when they are taken out of diapers, etc, than gender. A whole mix of variables come into play.
But, here’s a peek into my own family’s EC outcomes for some context. Again, my experience doesn’t mean yours will be the same, but I think it’s helpful to look at us as an example, especially where temperament comes into play...and then we’ll get into the details of how-to’s, penis aiming, and such.
My first son was out of diapers at 9 months day, telling us every time by 17 months, 26 months dry and night. He was a high-needs baby who crawled early at 5 months, walked and talked at 9 months, and wasn’t happy until he was fully mobile.
My first daughter was out of diapers at 13 months, telling us every time by 15 months, 26 months night dry. She was high-needs in the beginning with major colic, but otherwise developmentally “normal.” At 15 months she could only say “pee” for her signal and said very few other words.
My second son was out of diapers at 17 months, 26 months dry at night. He was a super-chill baby and kind of lazy about...everything! I could have taken him out of diapers at 12 months but I was being...lazy! He never pooped in them and hardly peed in them. Fairly independent by 18 months.
My third son was out of diapers at 12 months, 26 months dry at night. Chill baby until he was 16 months when the major tantrums began, but he rarely resisted the potty. It was the one thing he felt he could control. Fairly independent by 17 months.
My second daughter was out of diapers at 12 months, 17 months dry at night. Very high-needs baby because of lip- and tongue-ties, that once resolved left us with a very chill baby. She’s been the easiest of all. At 18 months, she is still fairly non-verbal. Fairly independent at 15 months when we switched from Trainers to Undies.
So, you can see that each of them became fairly independent - which means reliably dry and could do most things other than manipulate clothing or wipe - by about 15-17 months. My girls were slightly earlier than my boys, but I wouldn’t say it was significant enough to change your own expectations with your son or daughter.
Like our friend Gina, mom of 3 babies (1 boy and 2 girls), says:
“Establish a routine of putting your baby on the potty. It’s no different than eating and sleeping routines. Incorporating potty time into your daily routine will guarantee more catches, and less misses.”
We do the same exact thing whether we have a boy or a girl. We have the same exact expectations whether we have a boy or a girl. We do the same exact troubleshooting whether we have a boy or a girl!
Since there aren’t huge differences in outcome from what I’ve seen across the 100,000s of parents I’ve helped to do EC, I’d have to say that conclusively it really just depends - I know, very scientific!
Since potty independence and outcomes are roughly the same between genders, let’s next talk about the logistics of working with the penis instead of the vagina. Our children have adopted their own names for these parts: peenie and yoni.
A quick note on what to call the private parts: I would definitely teach the proper name for these parts so if there is ever a situation where the child is trying to tell a teacher or another adult that someone has tried to touch them there (and yes this does happen), that the adult will understand exactly what the child is speaking about. Interchangeably, feel free to use whatever nickname you’d like at home - because it’s YOUR home!
In this show I’ll refer to the boy’s parts as peenie or penis. Please don’t send me a nastygram...as much as I love them! LOL.
Peeing Straight Out
Both of my girls peed straight out from newborn to 4 months old, then began to pee down more and more.
My first boy peed straight down, second straight out, and third straight down. All three of them are intact (have not been circumcised) but my friend with a circumcised baby reported that her boy also peed straight down.
In our community there are mixed reports. What I’ve deduced is that it doesn’t matter whether your boy is intact or not: the pee will go a certain direction as a default, whatever that happens to be, and there are some ways to mitigate damages. ;)
Peeing during diaper changes
Amanda L shares: “I started with the easy catches, more specifically pottying at diaper changes since my son was peeing all over the place then anyway.”
Offering the potty at diaper changes is a great way to avoid being peed on right when you remove the diaper. They make something called a “peepee tipi” for non-ECers, but for us, we will remove the diaper, while standing if possible, and offer the potty before there’s a chance for this to happen. The diaper change is a great “easy catch,” especially early on.
You can aim either by pressing down on the penis gently, by choosing a better potty, or by tilting your potty.
With a boy, use one of your free fingers to point the penis down into the toilet, sink, or potty. Press down gently on the penis instead of trying to hold it and aim it.
Here’s a photo of what that looks like:
If you’re over a toilet or sink, press down on the penis to aim. With a girl the only way to aim is to cup your own hand over the stream and aim it down. I would also put a towel behind the sink or toilet rim to catch any mis-aimed pee, girl or boy. (Btw, our girls stopped peeing straight out after a few months, but meanwhile we protected our counters!)
When using a top hat potty, if your boy or girl pees straight out all you have to do is tilt the top hat potty toward you a little bit and aim the stream into the potty. Use your finger to press the penis down if you have a boy. This can also give you a good hint about whether your boy or girl has gone at all - you’ll feel it! I always did this - at least had a finger in the stream - so I didn’t have to keep checking if they’d peed. But, alas, you do get wet with this method.
Here’s a photo of tilting the top hat potty toward you:
If they’re on a mini potty, scoot their bottom back away from the front of the potty and lean them slightly forward. Or get a mini potty with a high splash guard, like ours at Tiny Undies.
Here’s a photo of that:
If you’re using a toilet reducer when your baby is older, get one with a high splash guard like the one made by Ginsey.
If you have zero success with any of these aiming techniques, and spray is going everywhere (girl or boy), you can temporarily potty your baby by laying a towel over the edge of the bathtub and setting your baby facing away from you on the towel, so that it sprays into the tub and any dribbles are caught by the towel.
Here’s a photo of that - just insert a towel with your imagination:
Touching the penis before or during going
Touching the penis while peeing can either influence them to stop peeing or start peeing, depending entirely on the baby! I’ve seen a nature video on baby pandas where if the mommy panda didn’t lick the baby’s genitals within a certain time period after birth to physically cue them to defecate, the baby would die from constipation...for real.
Experiment with this - does your aiming him stop him from going, mid-stream? This is a thing for some babies. If that’s you, aim the penis down before he starts to go so your touch doesn’t interrupt his concentration.
Signaling (or not) + Signs that a baby boy needs to pee
It doesn’t matter if your baby is a boy or girl - signals come and go based on what they’re working on developmentally.
Let’s hear a tip from one of our GDF community baby boy mamas, Sara M from Switzerland:
“My son is 10 months and since it’s winter here in Switzerland, I cannot really have him without clothes, so observation is kind of difficult.
But I have noticed that my son “shivers” when he does a pee! (And it’s very easy to know when he is doing a poo 😅).
He is not signaling or letting me know he wants to pee, but more or less I have started to notice his patterns, and I’m using that to my advantage and putting him on the potty! So far, so good! Almost every time I sit him, he does a pee!! 👏🏻 I hope he will start telling me beforehand, but nobody knows her baby like a mother, so I’d say trust the voice that tells you it’s time to go potty 😊”
Whether you have a boy or girl, if your baby doesn't signal, go with the other “3 roads to potty time” - natural timing, transition times, and intuition - learn their natural timing with some observation, and stop focusing on the fact that there are no signals - you don’t need them to be successful at EC, and we’re living proof in our home!
As for “signs” that a baby boy needs to pee - the “peenie-weenie” is something ECers affectionately call when a baby boy gets an erection right before peeing. I think this is Mother Nature’s way of helping to aim the stream! I’ve noticed when my boys got older that this happens to give them something more substantial to hold onto when they go. Baby boys get them too. The erection can give you confirmation that pee is about to happen, so if you see one during diaper-free observation time, feel free to potty him or cue along “pssss” and hopefully don’t get peed on, yourself!
A good signal that a toddler boy needs to pee is grabbing his penis - a pee-pee dance. Of course, girls grab their genitals too, and both sexes pull at their pants or point at their bottoms if they need to go.
Here’s a video of this toddler pee signal:
Circumcision recovery and EC
If you’ve circumcised your baby boy, there is a healing stage of approximately 8 days where he may feel pain and be fussy. I’ve known a mama who persisted with EC anyway and told me that it helped him feel relief, having his diaper off and being free from the bandage, during potty time. She didn’t notice that peeing freely caused him pain - which makes sense, why would it?
Clothing, Undies, and Backups
Clothing, undies, and back-ups are interchangeable between boys and girls. Some mamas (including myself) put their boys in baby chaps when outdoors because it’s easier for them to stand and pee without having to take off clothing when hanging out outside all day. With a girl in baby chaps, they have to know to squat or the pee will dribble all over into the pant legs. With a boy who pees straight out, chaps are great. With a boy who pees straight down, the pee will also dribble all over into the pant legs and chaps would be ineffective.
Other than that, see my Ultimate Guide to EC Back-ups here for more ideas of back-ups, and no, they don’t differ per gender. Always use whatever back-up works to keep baby driest, keep you sane, and keep baby aware of what’s going on down there.
I will speak from experience here: my girls showed an earlier interest in wiping their own bottoms than my boys. Maybe this is because girls’ yonis require wiping from the beginning, and penises do not require wiping - and a bit more of a habit has been modeled and built over time for the girls. I can’t be certain.
But what I do know is that it is helpful to teach and model wiping early-on with both sexes, and we’ve also found that children are typically fully capable of effectively wiping their own bottoms by about 3 years old - boy or girl. My girls have been more willing to learn to wipe a bit earlier, in the 2-3 year range. But maybe that’s just mine!
Either way, if you’re sitting at 3 and they still want you to wipe their bums, time to teach!
Here’s a video about how to teach your child to wipe their own bottom:
Physical vs verbal tendencies
Physicality and verbosity are not indicators of potty success. Boys and girls tend to have different ways of understanding and executing potty tasks. Different, not better or worse, than one another. I’ve found that my boys are more physical in the way they respond to my teaching than my girls, who are more cerebral about it. Yours may or may not be the same.
What to Expect says:
“After reviewing 46 previous studies, Canadian researchers concluded that baby boys are bigger wiggle worms than baby girls — they squirm more on the changing table, get restless in the stroller and crawl over longer distances, for example.” https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/photo-gallery/differences-between-boys-and-girls.aspx
They also say:
“One milestone that girls and boys do consistently hit at different times is talking — girls start about a month earlier than boys on average, sometime in the first half of the second year. British researchers found that girl babies had significantly larger vocabularies than boys as early as 18 and 24 months.”
Ok this sounds like science you can depend on, but it doesn’t necessarily 100% indicate potty success!
My 5th baby, Twyla, hardly says a word and she has been the most straight-forward, easiest EC baby, by far. Even without words, she aims to stay dry and has that area of her life all buttoned up. She is satisfied...and non-verbal.
Even though many boys are rough and tumble and many girls are a bit more careful, there are so many situations where these characteristics are flipped! It’s so inconclusive.
What advice I’d give to you, then, is what Jen from Frankfurt Germany has to say:
“My advice: Accept your situation and your baby’s way of EC, don’t compare. Insist in a gentle and non-frustrated way. Don’t give up, but don’t stress about it. In German we say: “Everything CAN, nothing HAS TO, happen.”
If your baby, boy or girl, is fairly verbose, great - you will see that manifest in EC and you will use more words to guide them verbally.
If your baby, boy or girl, is mostly physical, great - use that in your EC practice by saying less and doing, demonstrating, and physically teaching more.
In conclusion, there are a few general motifs and differences between girls and boys depending on how you look at things or which studies you read or children you observe.
However, with EC, these differences are much more subtle than the differences in potty training toddler boys and girls.
I believe that starting potty learning at 0-15 months makes gender differences much less important. The personality has already begun to develop, but it isn’t quite so rigid as it is with a 2 or 3 year old. Earlier almost always gives you a leg up!
Consider your baby’s temperament more than his or her gender and try to remember that every single EC path is different. Yes, there are trends we’ve noticed, but ultimately, your path is your path!
I hope this episode has been useful to those of you with boys who may have found some helpful tips inside it! Now I’d like to hear from you:
Which of these tips are you going to try with your boy baby? What other tips do you have that I may have missed?
I can’t wait to speak with you in the comments!
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)