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How have people in places like the desert or the arctic done EC for thousands of years?

Potty FAQ

Q: I would LOVE to know more about how people in places like the desert or the arctic have done EC for thousands of years? I don't think they would have nicely contoured potties for little babes to sit on. ~Niladri H., Brighton, UK

A: Hey Niladri...although potties are pretty recent inventions, apparently the Ancient Greeks created a chamber pot/baby seat combo as early as the 6th century BC.

Here's a photo of it:

6th century BC chamber pot and baby seat

Pretty awesome!

But, in the more remote desert and arctic lands, I agree that there probably weren't potties for little ones...just pits or outdoor areas for the deed.

So, how did/do folks potty their babies in arctic regions?

Of the arctic peoples, Laurie Boucke writes in Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living (2000):

In arctic climates, caregivers catch elimination in a can or other container, then toss it outside the igloo. Accidents are of little concern since excreta can be buried in the snow.

For thousands of years? Probably the same.

As per diaper back-ups, Laurie continues:

Sometimes diaper substitutes are used - perhaps in an arctic climate or among families who swaddle their babies. Substitute diapers are made from natural and readily accessible materials such as moss, lichen, rabbit skin, leather strips or camel dung.

So, sounds like those in very cold climates do use a diaper back-up of natural materials until the baby is old enough to go in the designated container and/or outdoors.

Yet another example from her book:

 [With the Inuit of Canada] Toilet training is patiently but persistently pursued. The child is removed several times during the day and stimulated to urinate. The child is never reprimanded for defecating or urinating inside the mother's coat when he is carried.

It's also safe to say that the arctic inhabitants on our Earth have also always used the "point and shoot" method of pottying babies while walking outdoors:

Among the Inuit, a deep and warm hood is used as a baby bag. When the mother feels her baby has to urinate, she takes the child out of the hood, often with the help of another woman....When the mother goes on a long trip, she slips lichen or rabbit skin into her anorak to serve as a diaper....Each woman is inventive enough to improvise solutions, which are then repeated if they work well.

To summarize, the arctic inhabitants of our world generally teach their babies a cue sound that they encourage them to urinate or poop with while holding them over a can or outdoors. They also respond to the baby's need to potty when wearing them in their warm clothing and hoods. And, they use a diaper back-up when they're traveling and it's not so easy to potty their baby with the "point and shoot" method.

And how do those in the desert potty their babies?

Well, to be honest, Laurie's book doesn't really go into detail about any desert tribes. I'll try to do some research elsewhere and talk to some women who've traveled extensively with nomadic and/or desert-dwelling people.

I can, however, assume that on long journeys the more nomadic tribes probably swaddled and/or wore their babies in carriers, and thus held them away from their bodies when they felt their babies needed to pee...or stuffed the carrier or swaddle with absorbent materials for the long haul.

I'll definitely report back when/if I find any more information about this! But know that the techniques used in most ancient and indigenous societies have a large number of similarities, mostly based on cleanliness and intuition.

Thanks for your wonderful question, Niladri!

If you or someone you know has a story about how those living in the desert or the arctic have/do potty their babies, please leave the stories in the comments below!

Thanks so much! xx Andrea

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Andrea Olson

About Andrea Olson

I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 6 children (all under 12 yo) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)


  1. Avatar Daron Bougie on November 7, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Hello. I found this article before I read this page. It seems like there would have definitely been a mix of diapering and EC.
    I think you have to make due with whatever environment you have to deal with. For instance my son is a little over 2 and he goes on the potty at home. He wears diapers for long trips outside right now because it’s really cold and if we can’t make it to a toilet he knows he can go in his diaper. I cloth diapered because in live in a cold climate and I don’t have a car to speed us to every bathroom around the area. We walk a lot and for long periods of time. We live in Canada, not the arctic! But, you still can’t just let your kids bum hang out at -10 to -35 temps or colder in the middle of winter.
    I’ll also add, that my son has had constipation issues from time to time. However, he had the issue in diapers the first time! It was just from having a large bowel movement that hurt. Not because of anything else. He did have to learn to poop sitting rather than standing but he got it really quickly by not forcing him to give up his diaper before he was ready, and telling him if He’s having trouble he can have his diaper on.
    He’s now pooped on the potty I don’t know how many times perfectly fine but has recently decided he needs to take a warm bath before he goes! It’s because he doesn’t like sitting in the cold air with his pants down. Hopefully he stops having to take a bath to poop once the heat is on for the winter. Too early still!
    So, even though I feel EC would work at home, while out of the house it would have to be diapers in the arctic.
    The page I posted shows a little suit made for babies that has an spot at the bottom that can be opened to change the diaper material. I think constipation issues, (which I’m mentioning because it seems to be one of the big concerns people have with EC from what i have seen), have way more to do with diet and unavailable places for babies and toddlers to relieve themselves out in public in North America. I say do your best! I’m going to cloth diaper with my next baby soon, but I’m definitely going to practice the sound associations this time and hope for even earlier potty training with that technique added to seeing his big brother using the potty.

  2. Avatar Tina on September 14, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    Desert method: If you watch the documentary movie Babies (2010), it shows a mother in an arid climate in Namibia holding out her unclothed daughter to defecate, then wiping with something that looks like a corn cob. No diapers.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on September 19, 2020 at 7:59 pm

      How interesting Tina, thank you for sharing! xx Andrea

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