‘Why would I want my babies to use the diaper as a toilet?’ Did I mention I hate cleaning up poopy diapers?’: The method we used to ditch diapers (and avoid potty training) with all 5 of our babies

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“When I tell other mamas that I have 5 kids who were all out of diapers by walking, and that I haven’t had to potty train any of them, one of two things happen: 1) they suddenly announce the need to go home to bathe their llama or 2) they want to know how I managed to do it.

All you mamas and daddies who want to know how I avoided potty training and most poopy diapers, listen up! It was easier than you might surmise, and there are variations on what I did that YOU, yes you, could do, too. We will get to that.

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

Let me start by saying it wasn’t exactly completely easy. Along the way I’ve faced cold shoulders and criticisms, and most painfully have been shunned by many a mom or dad who misinterprets what I’ve done as an implied personal criticism against them and what they haven’t done. Locally, it’s been a somewhat lonely journey, made bearable only by my choice to create a ginormous online community of others who follow the same start-super-early path as I have. They have saved me. 100,000s of them.

So here it is…what we’ve done.

What we did instead of potty training

Alright, so what we do with our five kiddos is called “elimination communication.” We call it EC for short, but it also is known as diaper-free, infant potty training, early potty training, natural infant hygiene, and my fave obscure 80’s title, trickle treat.

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

We start EC right at birth (although one can technically start anytime between birth and 18 months) because it’s easier to start early, it connects us more completely, and they signal more clearly (newborns prefer good hygiene more strongly). And why would I want my babies to use the diaper as a toilet when their instincts clearly say otherwise? For me, knowing what I know about infant biology and psychology, that would feel neglectful. And did I mention I hate cleaning up poopy diapers?

So, newborn babies are super-easy to EC. When they wake up, we offer the potty before nursing and usually catch a pee or a poo, or both. (Try it!) Doing EC with a newborn has totally helped us learn our babies on a deeper level, a level that informs us about our babies by filling in the mysterious other 5th of the baby-caring pie: eating, sleeping, loving, keeping-warm, and pottying. By getting familiar with both the ins and the outs, our babies cry less often, and we are way less confused as a new mom or dad. More confident. More bonded.

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

How I heard about elimination communication

Way back in 2005, a friend of a friend posted on Facebook that they didn’t use diapers – they simply held their baby over the toilet or the ground, from birth, and avoided poopy diapers.

I am in! Where do I sign up? I don’t even have a baby yet! Or a steady boyfriend! I exclaimed.

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com
All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

And 4 years later, when I discovered I was pregnant, I immediately bought a book that explained this phenomenon that could save me from All. The. Mess. It just felt right. But in the nauseated pregnant reality I was in, I had a really hard time wrapping my head around how to do EC when my baby was born at home in 2010. What exactly do I do? (Which is why, when he was 5 months old, I began writing my popular EC book – it is VERY visual and step-by-step!)

On the day of his birth, my son started wriggling and bearing down. I was handed a small potty and held him over it as I’d seen it done in the book. He did that first nasty tarry poop in the potty, and I can assure you that I never looked back from that day forward. This was the best thing ever! I dedicated myself to learning my baby in this way, and am certain I became a better mom because of it. I was engaged, connected, and felt like I at least knew how to do two things with my new baby: nurse and potty! For me, that built lots of confidence.

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

Then over the course of 8 years I had four more babies. Every one of them has been started at birth. When people ask me why I start at birth, I answer:

‘It’s way easier than changing endless blowout diapers. And WHY would I want to sit there and wait for my baby to poop in her diaper, only to clean it up later? My babies LOVE EC.’

The many benefits we’ve experienced by pottying our tiny babies

Doing EC keeps our babies way more comfortable (we all want that, right?), less fussy, way less ‘colicky,’ and more healthy – we get an earlier heads-up when baby is becoming ill or about to push out a tooth, and we completely avoid diaper rash, medical constipation, endless accidents, unnecessary tantrums, erratic behavior, and bedwetting. (Many of these things are rampant in children whose toilet learning does not begin until age 2 or later – I have a blog post about the science behind all this on my website if you’re curious or doubtful.)

We have saved an estimated $10,000 in diaper costs, kept literally TONS of diapers out of the landfill, and have raised our babies without the disgusting task (and smell) of endless poopy diapers and without ever buying a diaper genie. We never had more than one child in diapers (they average 18 months apart), and the one in diapers rarely poops in them. Our older kiddos didn’t regress with toileting when new babies were born because they helped us potty their newborn siblings. It is just what our family does.

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

But the biggest benefit? We didn’t have to endure traumatic potty training with 2 and 3-year-olds who are in the ‘No!’ – why would anyone sentence parents to do THAT?

Okay, that all sounds great, Andrea…but it seems very overwhelming! How did you do it without the overwhelm, and keep it up?

Two short-cuts that made EC easier to start, and keep up with

I have something for those of you going, ‘but Andrea, you were a stay-at-home mom and I just don’t have time for that, I have to go back to work, what’s the point, I’ll just keep changing diapers, I’ll let my child lead the process when he’s ready.’

News flash! I own 3 businesses, have 5 kids age 1-9 (3 of whom are currently in preschool), and own a farmhouse from 1890 (hello: endless remodeling). I work 4 hours a day, at home, and I breastfeed in the middle of all that. The rest of the day I parent, meal plan, cook, shop, wipe up spills and tears, and squeeze in my hobbies and exercise. If I can fit EC into my life, so can you. But here are some extra-credit shortcuts based on what has worked for us busy folk – because I get it. Even having ONE child is HARD!

First, we do not do EC 24/7 for all pees – we do it part-time, with a full-time awareness. So, part-time for you could mean only going for every other pee, only getting the poops (which are typically easier: instincts!), only doing the wake-up pees…stuff like that. I consider us ‘full-timers’ because we always regard the diaper as a back-up, not a toilet, never a toilet!

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

Which leads me to: Second, we use a diaper when doing EC – until the babies start to walk. Ironically, using a diaper has made EC more sustainable for us. We are less stressed. By using a ‘back-up,’ our babies didn’t learn the wrong behavior of just peeing wherever, whenever – which is the same exact thing as wearing a diaper, when you think about it! We use a biodegradable diaper backup by Dyper…wish they would have been around for our first four babies – and while we also use cloth diapers in the beginning, we rely heavily on Tiny Trainers, TinyUps, and Tiny Undies for our diaper-free time (I make and sell these and small potties over at tinyundies.com). Any time without a diaper is awesome, but do it responsibly using clothing or a diaper back-up if you’re not trying to learn baby’s timing during a naked sesh.

Just dipping in like this has kept things manageable for us. Sustainable. And our babies love it! They were always more into EC than I’d expect. We just stuck with some sort of consistency and supported our babies’ hygiene in a predictable manner, and they all followed suit.

How we do EC – the 4 Easy Catches, observation, positions

Because I teach about EC for a living, I have tips! You can start EC with a 0-18 month baby by checking out my free Easy Start Guide. It will introduce you to the 4 Easy Catches: wake-ups, poops, diaper changes, and transitions times. These are the go-to times to potty your baby and find some success and rhythm to this mysterious practice (which used to be what ALL parents did, for all of human history).

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

The Easy Start Guide also covers observation and the most common baby signals that say, ‘Hey, I need to pee!’ It also shows you a few examples of EC positions, which shorten the canals for easier pooping and peeing.

Why I take my kids out of diapers when they start walking

With every one of my babies, once they’re walking, I’ve taken them out of daytime diapers. They were diaper free during the awake hours at 9.5 months, 13 months, 17 months, 12 months, and 13 months. At night they were typically dry all night by about 26 months, and out of the diaper back-up by that age. Often they would stay dry all night if we pottied them as needed at night, as early as months-old.

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

Taking a child out of diapers when they start to walk is what our great-grandparents and some of our grandparents did. Using a diaper as a ‘back-up,’ not a full-time toilet, is what all of our ancestors did at one point or another. I mean, what did people do before diapers? It just makes sense. And it’s easier than it sounds. When they start to walk, babies can totally own the process. You just start teaching them the ropes and hand off the baton at the time. Oh, the pride they feel! Montessori deemed the sensitive period for potty learning to be 12-18 months. Once it’s achieved during the frame, babies are freed up to learn the next thing, and the next. And it normalizes their behavior. My kids are independent, confident, and pretty good at self control.

A mission from a mole-hill

So, I’ve made it my mission to give people the correct information and loving support they need to go completely counter-culture and do elimination communication with their babies. It’s what I sought when I had my first baby, and what I wish I could have had. In an effort to spread awareness about EC, which I am hyper-passionate about, I leave you with the following next steps.

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

If you wanna start EC with your 0-18 month baby, grab my free Easy Start Guide. It will show you the ropes and help you dip your toe in to a new paradigm of baby-raising.

If you wanna start potty training your 18+ month baby (as early as 16 months), grab my 3-day Potty Training Primer. It will get you in the right headspace to tackle this monster.

And if you need small cotton underwear and cotton-core training pants, including undies that teach your kiddo how to self-dress (!), or possibly a newborn or small toddler potty, I’ve got those stocked up over at my sister site, tinyundies.com. Because: gear! It can make it easier to go against the cultural grain, for sure.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our journey. Please leave a comment with any thoughtful questions you might have for me!”

All photos credit @godiaperfree Instagram, copyright Andrea Olson at godiaperfree.com

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Andrea Olson of Asheville, North Carolina. You can follow her journey on Instagram here and here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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