This is a guest post from Go Diaper Free Certified Coach Emily Pollokoff, who serves families in Central New York. Thanks Emily for the wonderful article! xx Andrea
This post was originally posted on March 2, 2016, and has been fully updated on October 5, 2021 to include an audio (Podcast) version, a video (YouTube) version, and to include some basic updates. Enjoy! xx Andrea
Listen to the Podcast
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If you want to watch me record today’s podcast episode, you can do that on my youtube version:
My family thinks I'm nuts.
This rumor probably started circulating when I was fifteen and went vegetarian overnight. Conscious eating led me to yoga, which led me to meditation, which led me to study far-away lands and languages... plus I've always been kinda into "crunchy" stuff like DIY cleaning products, essential oils, etc. A little off the beaten path. Pretty alternative, really.
So it didn't really surprise my fam when I announced I was teaching my newborn to poop in the potty - I mean, while they raised an eyebrow, and asked a few pointed questions, this "new granola Emily thing" pretty much fit into the regular pattern of "Emily's doing something weird again."
But here's the thing. Putting babies on potties was common practice up until the 1950s. Way back when, parents did anything they could to avoid washing poopy cloth diapers. Although disposable diapers are undoubtedly the norm in the US today, I’d say it’s also still pretty normal - not that “fringe” or “crunchy” - to want to avoid changing them.
So on that basis alone, I contest that we need to bring EC back into the mainstream, where it belongs, and where it has traditionally and historically been.
But what about all the other things we do to care for babies, especially newborns? Isn’t there already just so much to keep track of, that adding a “new” practice or routine will overwhelm a new parent? Honestly...I had the opposite experience.
Learning to Listen
Like many other first-time moms, when my first baby was born, l felt totally confused and stressed because I didn't know which cries meant what. I wasn't even sure it was possible to distinguish between cries! They all sounded the same to me.
But, by and by, within the first couple weeks, I came to understand which whine was a tired sound, which whimper was a hungry sound, and which was a request for a tighter swaddle or more snuggles. There were still a lot of other sad sounds I didn't understand, though.
After three weeks when I finally got up the guts to try pottying (we started our second baby from birth proper), I suddenly became acquainted with a whole new range of cries. A tight, high-pitched whine meant pee. A moaning whine meant gas or poop.
And the more I allowed and helped my baby to eliminate away from her skin, the more she came to understand and expect help, and our overall communication and understanding became so much clearer.
I grew in confidence as a mother because I allowed myself to listen to the full range of her cries, and I was then able to apply the full range of possible responses.
Result? A much, much happier baby.
Let’s Get Awkward (Or Not)
I totally admit that at the very beginning, I felt super silly "sss"ing to my first baby - so awkward and even embarrassed that I would whisper the cue, practically hiding under the bedcovers, while she peed in her diaper, while we were home alone.
But as our snowballing successes boosted and reassured me, I realized that if I wanted to communicate something clearly to my baby—whether it was “time to nurse” or “time to sleep” or “time to potty,” I needed to step up and speak clearly. So I did.
And so did she! Within a few weeks, my little girl was grunting along with me when I cued her to poop, and when I started copying the “tsk tsk” sound she’d make when she was done, she seized on that one, too.
OMG, my two-month-old could practically talk!
It was amazing.
To encourage her understanding, and in tune with my general habit of chatting with my baby, I always talked to her about pee, poop, and her body.
And why not?
Using pottying words and the real anatomical terms for the various body parts involved not only helps your child understand exactly what’s happening with her body, but also shows her that you feel comfortable with these processes and parts, and that she should too.
On a more serious note, down the road, if your child should fall and hit his groin, or get an infection, or have any other unpleasant experience involving his private parts (Heaven forbid!), you will be able to talk about what happened using specific language, with no embarrassment on anyone’s part.
If you have any feelings of discomfort with specific language here, there’s no time like early infancy to get over these feelings. Your baby won’t judge you or get grossed out, or repeat these words at dinner with your in-laws. You are safe!
Tools of the Trade
Talking to your baby is free. But for everything else, babies seem to need lot of material things to help them through the first year of life. For instance, lots of folks own multiple baby-carriers (buckle carrier, stretchy wrap, mei tai), or several pacis, bottle types, or decorative headbands.
And there are so many types of diapers in stores now, it just boggles the mind. In addition to the range of disposables, the cloth market has really taken off, and I know some mamas who can even identify which diaper fiber content is ideal for which diapering scenario (hemp vs. cotton vs. bamboo, for overnight vs. car trip vs. daycare, etc.).
Luckily, adding pottying to your baby's life will not involve a new deluge of pottying accoutrement.
All you really need is a toilet, which you probably already have at your house, and they're readily available everywhere else. Sure, it helps to have a top hat potty for the car, or a tiny potty so you can sit the baby down to do her business, but owning these items is not a requirement for successful toileting.
For the sake of your own sanity, though, let me tell you that the Go Diaper Free handbook remains one of my favorite baby gear purchases I have ever made - and I'm so crunchy that I never buy books if I can help it, as I prefer to patronize my local library--so take it from me that it's a worthy purchase!
This is to say that starting a “new” pottying practice can actually help lessen the overwhelm and stress a new parent is experiencing. If you’re a pottying parent, you can pack a lighter diaper bag, and you don’t have to strategically plan your outings to incorporate restrooms with changing tables.
You can also take satisfaction in knowing that you’re doing something super healthy for your kid’s development without dropping $$ on fancy vitamins, an enrichment class, or any exclusive service.
Oh yes, and you save hundreds of dollars on diapers. Now that’s a good deal!
Learning how to potty my baby was a liberating experience. Once I committed to the practice, I felt free from the the stress of not understanding her needs. I felt free from poopy diapers (most of the time ;) ). I felt free to be comfortable with her body, and my body. And I felt free from total dependency on diapers, and the clutch of commercialism (although, let’s face it, there are some really cute diapers out there!).
The best part:
I felt free to make my own choices as a parent, to follow my instincts as a mother, and to do what I felt was right for my baby without worrying about the judgement or pressure of other parents or other people.
For these and so many other reasons, I am a huge advocate of starting EC early. Considering toileting a regular part of our babycare routines has always felt right to my heart, and made sense to my brain. Holding my daughter out to pee or poop just became part of how we responded to her cries - to her needs - to her calls for help.
Learning to understand her fidgets, squirms, and fussy sounds in this regard was absolutely no different than figuring out what "rooting" was and what to do about it.
Do you know your baby's cries?
Do you know when he's hungry or tired?
Then I assure you, you can learn when he needs to pee.
All it takes is the same attention and observation as you used in the very first few weeks of his life, when you were busy learning all his other signals. You don't need to be crunchy to do this! We are biologically programmed to tune in to our kids.
If you have a baby, and you feed, soothe, entertain, and snuggle said baby, well...then I say bring on the potties, because using them is just one more normal way you can love, nurture, and care for your child.
What’s your “most unusual” parenting choice? How did you get there and what made it feel normal for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!