The Diaper Change

by Anne Chudobiak

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If money is tight and you have a baby in your arms or on the way, you probably know that disposables, no matter how discounted, aren't the way to go. What you may not know is that cloth is not the only, nor the cheapest, alternative to single-use diapers. A growing number of first-world parents are rediscovering a skill that counterparts in Asia, Africa and South America never forgot: infant potty training.

Parents who use this method rely on timing, positioning, cueing and intuition to potty their infant and toddler children, saving money that would otherwise be spent on diapers, diaper accessories, hot water and detergent. In cultures where it is not the norm, infant pottying, like breastfeeding, can have a steep learning curve, but once a rhythm is established, this practice saves time as well as money.

Because, for some, "infant potty training" conjures images of coercive parents and traumatized children, exponents of early learning have suggested other names to better reflect the spirit of the modern practice, including "elimination communication," "natural infant hygiene" and "trickle treat."

Think infant pottying is suited to a distant past or a faraway people? Ask the grandmothers and great-grandmothers in your family and community their opinion. Before the advent of the washing machine and, later, the disposable diaper, Western women were advised to hold babies over a pot at regular intervals throughout the day: upon waking, after eating and before outings. This method, more aptly termed elimination timing had the obvious benefit of fewer diapers to launder.

There is no one way to practice elimination communication. Every mother-and-child pair is unique. Some babies prefer the big toilet to the little potty. Some moms use diaper backup, others don't see the need. Given the wide range of preferences, seasoned parents can only share their experience in the hope that an aspect of their practice will resonate with beginners. Again, infant potty training, like breastfeeding, is best learned by example.

That caveat in place, here are some suggestions for those of you who are tired or leery of the cost and inconvenience of full-time diapering.

When Should You Start?

You should start whenever you are ready. This might be as soon as your baby is born, after breastfeeding has been established, when colic ends, or for late starters like us, when your child is mobile.

Will You Need Diapers?

In the beginning, chances are diapers will be needed. Keep in mind that cloth diapers are cheaper than disposables and have an added advantage: they feel wet. This increases elimination awareness and encourages frequent changing. Both are important at any time, not the least of which when early training.

Consider investing in a dozen gently-used Chinese prefolds, flat cotton squares that can be folded inside waterproof covers or pinned. Prefolds are more versatile than other cloth diapers because they can double as soaker pads, burp cloths and bum wipes, all of which come in handy when pottying an infant. For deals, scan online auctions and ads posted in birthing centers, midwifery practices, doctors' offices and thrift stores.

How Do You Begin?

Wear your naked baby in a sling lined with prefolds. Or, give baby or toddler diaper-free floor time. When you notice a pee or poo in progress, make a cueing sound; we use "sss" for pee and raspberries for poo. As a pattern emerges, try to "catch" some of the more sure-fire movements, such as the first pee of the day. Hold baby over a receptacle and say the chosen cue word (running water also works). There are many positions, but one of the most common, a supported squat, has baby's back against your chest and your arm under baby's knees.

How Will You Know When Your Baby Has To Go?

Elimination communication is a partnership. With time, your baby will signal that his or her bladder or bowel is full. It's your job to read the signs, however subtle. We've discussed the role of timing, cueing and positioning, but another element will come into play: your intuition. Listen to what it has to say. When I feel a warm sensation spread across my belly, I know that my daughter needs to go - pronto!

Intrigued? The best resource for those interested in elimination communication is the Web, where you can find many sites devoted to the topic, including one newsgroup: Ask your library to order one of the two books on the topic, Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid Bauer and Infant Potty Training by Laurie Boucke.

This article might not convince you to give elimination communication a try, but it should remind you that thrifty parents can raise happy children without many, if not most, of the baby products currently on the market. Parenting doesn't have to put you in the poorhouse - or even in the mall.

Anne Chudobiak lives in Montreal with her husband and their nineteen-month-old daughter, whose diaper bag is diaper-free.

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