Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why the Diaper-Free Insanity?

"Windelfrei" top hat potty from 
image: audrey mei

"This sounds like a lot of work! I used diapers and potty trained both my kids in one week, when they were ready around 2 1/2 years. Why would you subject yourself to all this stress?" 
"I started elimination communication with my daughter when she was 18 months old and she was fully potty trained by 20 months. So what I did in 2 months, you took a year and a half to do." 
"In my experience with my children, the earlier you begin potty training, the longer it takes and the more accidents you have."
These are comments from parents who wonder why anyone would practice elimination communication (EC), a.k.a. natural infant hygiene, with their babies. Reports across the internet call EC a trend, although it is a practice from the beginning of time that never went out of fashion in much of the world.

I have my own reasons for choosing natural infant hygiene over standard diapering. But I want to clarify what EC is. To start, the goals of natural infant hygiene are not the following:

1. Have baby completely potty trained very early. 
Contrary to what many people believe, including many EC parents themselves. In 1957 before the advent of disposable diapers, American children were cloth-diapered and 92% were potty trained by 18 months. The average age of "graduating" from EC? 17-22 months. So, whether you do full-time EC or conscious cloth diapering (changing as soon as baby is wet, or every 2 hours), a baby's natural readiness can only be so early.

2. Read all your baby's signals perfectly and catch all your baby's pees and poops. 
Diaper-less, non-western societies are so in touch with their babies that they never miss a pee, right? Not true! Read accounts here from China and Kenya. In addition, the Fulani tribe of western Africa have a saying: You're lucky if you have someone who shits on you. Indeed, randomly peeing babies are a universal phenomenon. Besides, if we could understand our babies' cries perfectly, they would never learn to talk.

3. Have baby bare-bottomed all the time and making a huge mess everywhere. 
Unless you're in a warm climate where you spend all day outside in nature, elimination communication does not actually mean zero diapers. Babies wear diapers (preferably cloth so parents can feel immediately if it's wet) like underwear because missing a pee/poo is inevitable, but otherwise the diaper is removed like underwear at potty time. 

So... what is the point of EC?

1. Your baby's hygiene.
Dry is healthy, clean is healthy. There's no substitute. Disposable diapers are a mystery – how can a product that soaks up 1 cup of urine guarantee "dryness for up to 12 hours" while being wrapped around your baby? – and some of their chemical components have already been implicated in causing irritation, allergies, and asthma. And the occurrence of diaper rash has increased from 7% in 1955 to 78% in 1991. We use even more chemicals with baby wipes and diaper rash cream. But with natural infant hygiene, the baby's skin comes into minimal contact with its waste and clean-up only requires a splash of water, a wet cloth, or two squares of toilet paper.

2. Protect the environment.
It's no secret that disposable diapers are an environmental catastrophe. The EPA reports that 20 billion diapers are dumped into landfills each year, taking up to 500 years to decompose in the absence of oxygen and water. With natural infant hygiene, you minimize the use of diapers of any kind. An EC baby wets about 30 cloth diapers per week (compared to 70 with standard cloth diapers), and because the EC baby seldom poops into its diapers, a quick hot water wash suffices for a load of laundry.

3. Respond to your baby's needs.
The great a-ha for EC parents is the realization that the baby's "mystery cries", fighting sleep, night grunting and flailing, and sometimes even colic and night terrors are actually signs that baby needs to wee. Knowing this, it's difficult to try to distract baby from her discomfort with toys or baby talk ever again.

4. Avoid creating diaper dependency.
Disposable diapers that offer "dryness" allow babies to forget that they have wet themselves. Children then don't feel the urgency to learn to use the potty and the window of optimal natural readiness (15-27 months) can be missed, inadvertently creating a 3-year-old potty "refuser". However, diaper companies are more than happy to extend childhood incontinence to 36 months and beyond. Pampers sells its "Underjams" for children up to age 12.

5. Combine natural hygiene practice with our modern sanitation. 
By containing human waste, diapers are a public health measure just like modern plumbing and clean running water. We should appreciate the public hygiene of the western world and not litter the streets with baby poop. But disposable diapers have created their own environmental hazard, so the goal of EC is to avoid the long-term damage of diapers and take advantage of a baby's natural hygiene instinct responsibly, without reverting back to unsanitary conditions that spread diseases in developing countries.

More knowledge, more grooves.

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