I get so many comments when people see my daughter wearing undies or sitting on the potty – one that often comes up is “oh she’s so clever!’. But the truth is – your babies are just as clever too! We just don’t get taught how to nurture their knowledge of elimination!

One thing that never sat well with me was nappies. Especially not nappies for 3 + years. I thought that there had to be a better way!

Sure, cloth was a given, as I didn’t like the idea of the environmental impact of disposables, but surely the idea that a child has absolutely no control of their bladder till they’re 3 or 4 can’t be right!

And my main question – what do people in countries without nappies do?!

Through my brief research before Bethany was born, I came across a thing called Elimination Communication – or EC. Pretty much it’s all about learning your child’s natural cues before they need to eliminate, and then putting them on the potty.

I’d read that you could use cue keywords, and that then the baby would start associating those words with the need to eliminate. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but decided to just say “psssss” every time Bethany peed and “mmmm” every time she pooped – or at least when we noticed – from birth.

We did try to hold her above the sink and get her to pee using this method as a baby but it never worked for us. Though I did try only about twice before deciding that it was too much effort. But we did keep up the cue words, hoping that it would help one day in the future!

At five months old we got a potty for her. Apparently I’d been potty trained from 6 months old so we decided why not give it a shot. We put her on the potty said “pssss” and what do you know? She peed!!

We laughed – this must be a coincidence!! But we tried a few more times, and sure enough most of the time she actually peed.  Our babies are so much smarter than what we give them credit for.

So from then on we started putting her on the potty at every single nappy change and when she woke up from naps. We did also start giving her more nappy free time to learn when it was that she was going, and to see if she had any cues before she went.

We started off just putting an old cloth nappy under her, but soon once she was more mobile I decided to stitch some undies up for her to keep any poo explosions inside – and off our carpet mainly!!!!

The undies were excellent!! they were thick enough to hold one pee, and could contain poo also thanks to the elastic around the edges. They actually probably did a better job at containing poo than nappies – and if she peed – we knew straight away and just switched the undies. It was also good because she knew that she had peed because she could feel the wet sensation, and we would tell her that we were giving her clean undies. So she was making the link between peeing, and feeling the wet.

We soon realised that she was going pee every time she woke up and every approximately 45 minutes after that. We actually noticed that she never peed during naps!

At night time I sometimes tried to put her on the potty but it’s a lot of effort in the middle of the night when you’re tired and you don’t even want to get out of bed! But I knew she wasn’t going during naps! And that’s when I decided to do something crazy – I just took the nappy right off!

Yep you read that right – I actually just decided that she was going to sleep with no nappy on at 7 months old.

Because at night time, every time she needed to go was usually quite obvious. She would start tossing, turning, and just being generally unsettled. During the day there is so many other distractions, but at night it’s quite easy to know when they need to go.

With the nappy off I had no excuses. I couldn’t just ignore it, because I didn’t want to be changing the bedsheets in the middle of the night!

– Oh, and I should probably say that Bethany sleeps in our bed so it was quite easy to keep an eye on her, but the risk of wet bed sheets was a big deal!

And sure enough, since then we’ve only had an accident at night time a couple of times and that was always when she wasn’t well.

She was never a good sleeper and she actually started sleeping much better after we started taking her potty in the night. I think the real reason that she had been waking up and tossing and turning on the boob like crazy was actually because she needed to pee! Like this, instead she would go pee on the potty while on the boob and then go straight back to sleep! Amazing!

But this I thought was the crazy bit – babies don’t actually want to sit in wet or dirty nappies! Bethany definitely prefered to go in the potty if it was an option! And if she was in any form of baby carrier – she wouldn’t actually pee! And I can’t believe I didn’t realise that till she was almost half a year old! So yes, they do have some control over their bladders – they can’t hold it in long, but the myth that they have absolutely no control is definitely a myth!

Yes, there is the common saying of “but they’re not ready!” – but I was shocked when I found out where the myth of ‘readiness’ came from – turns out – when disposable nappies first came out in the 1950’s, the companies were having trouble selling them. Parents didn’t want to “put their babies in paper”. So one of the companies paid a doctor to come up with the ‘readiness’ guidelines. Till then, almost all children were out of nappies before they turned 2, but now parents were waiting longer, and thus they switched to the convenience of disposables to keep up with the laundry!!!

Some people do EC only occasionally, some part time, or you can take the plunge and go nappy free full time! There’s heaps of benefits to even just doing it occasionally:

  • Less nappy rash! Yes, we do have an awesome nappy rash barrier balm, but going nappy free more often will do your babies skin wonders!
  • The toilet won’t be an unfamiliar concept – they’ve grown up knowing that it’s the preference to go pee in there.
  • Less disposables in landfill! Or less washing if you’re using cloth! And wow a poo explosion is so much less messy if it’s contained to the potty rather than all up your babies back!!!
  • A better connection with your baby! – Your baby tells you when they need to eat, and you help them – it can be the same way with pottying!
  • More freedom to move! – No saggy nappy between the legs means your baby can run around more freely! Plus those little baby bottoms are too cute!
  • And the added bonus?! They might be fully out of nappies a year or two before their peers!

I don’t like it when people say I’ve potty trained Bethany – because we haven’t really – she’s trained us! Trained us to listen to her cues & be in tune with her. She can’t be out without us, and still go pee by herself – but we can assist her – like we help her get dressed, eat, get down off high places if she gets stuck, etc.

And the other comment we tend to get is “that sounds like a lot of work!” – and some days yes I do question myself! But then I remember – when’s the last time I changed a pooey nappy? How light is my bag when I go out? And how much washing have I saved myself? Because changing a poo nappy is definitely way messier… and way more effort!

At the time of writing this, we were at the point where she did sometimes go sit on the potty on her own – amazing! Except she couldn’t pull her pants down on her own, and if we didn’t notice fast enough that she’s sitting on the potty… well… she’d still need a clean pair of pants after that! 

It was great leaving the house during early toddler days – take a spare pair of undies, pants and a wetbag – just in case, but no bulky nappies! And this is perfect for adventuring with the baby!

Bethany was fully out of nappies even at pre-school by 17 months, and by the age of 2, she could take herself to the potty by herself if it was just a wee!

Of course though, just like anything, EC isn’t for everyone, but it is a great way to get more connected with your baby. It is a journey of learning for all parties involved!

Have you tried EC? Do you think you’ll try after reading this post?

FMC thanks Sonia Barrish for her permission to reproduce this article, first published on her Back to the Wild blog.  Sonia makes and sells a range of home-made ointments, rubs and products such as insect repellent which are non-toxic and baby friendly.  

This resource is part of FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. Check out the other articles on Family Tramping here on Wilderlife. If you’ve got stories, tips or encouragement that you’re willing to share, please get in touch.