Okay, folks. Get ready for some serious potty talk.
My 19-month-old baby is now potty trained. I've been using a potty with her instead of full-time diapers since she was 10 weeks old. Was it lots of work? Yes. But I calculated that we've saved 4,000 disposable diapers and will save another 3,500 more by not potty training her at 3 years old.
My baby's diaper-free progress looked like the Dow Jones: lots of nervous ups and downs with a general upward trend. Then, last week, I noticed that I had no more laundry to wash. Baby wasn't having any more accidents! Not just a vague feeling, it was a concrete realization that my baby has learned this little adult-person behavior, just like she learned to use a fork or knock on my bedroom door.
Going diaper-free is also known as "elimination communication" or "infant potty training." But those are misnomers because often there is no communication or training happening at all. I like the term "natural infant hygiene", but if you want to capture its true essence, call it "pretend you ran out of diapers during a snowstorm" and, occasionally, "total potty chaos."
Here's the timeline of our diaper-free adventure.
The Beginning: 10 Weeks
When my baby was 2 months old, I bought Andrea Olson's book "Go Diaper Free" and Ingrid Bauer's book "Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene." Then I announced it to my family: I'm going to go diaper free STARTING MONDAY.
No chickening out, no doing it half-way.
The beginning is fun, wonderful, fascinating. Quickly you realize it's a game of catch. I observed my newborn in the buff. I discovered that tiny babies make tiny accidents; no Ghostbuster-sized mess. I discovered that more than half of Frieda's whines and cries were her telling me that she was about to empty her bladder. I saw how it's ridiculous to try comforting a baby with songs and toys when she actually needs to pee. From that point, there was no turning back.
We got into a morning pattern quickly: the wake-up poop, then pee 10 minutes later, then after breakfast. Afternoon play hours were the least predictable.
I was gung-ho about diaper free. I could have packed her in a diaper when we went out, but I hunted down the kid-friendly bathrooms in town to duck away as needed. It mostly worked to hold the little baby over the sink in the restroom. Other times she screamed being in unfamiliar places. I found myself instinctively keeping my outings down to about one hour (in our beautiful walkable town) so Frieda could tinkle comfortably at home. It was stressful at times, but I was too grateful about a fresh, clean baby bottom to go back to diapering.
The 4-Month Sleep Regression
Pottying the baby at night is straightforward, especially if you co-sleep, which we do in our tiny apartment. Babies get restless in their sleep before they pee, enough to wake mama, so it's easy to hold baby over the pot for a tinkle -- baby might not even wake up -- and put her back to bed. A baby sleeps better with an empty bladder.
I had read warnings that night pottying was time-intensive and would disturb a baby's (and mom's) sleep patterns; goodbye to sleeping through the night. But that wasn't enough reason for me to pack her into a 12-hour diaper, so I soldiered on. It ended up that pottying and night feeds coincided, so 1-2 wakings per night didn't affect my already foggy mommy head.
Then came the 4-month sleep regression. Baby stirred and whined every hour; she tinkled in her potty every hour. I experienced that sleepless mommy horror, reading the clock at 4am, 5am, 6am... then hear the birds singing. But just as I was starting to ask myself "WHY am I doing this??" Frieda's sleep regression was over and she fell into a schedule of one pee a night... then, gradually, no pees 9 out of 10 nights. Dry nights before 6 months!
From then, besides the "witching hour" around 6pm that caused Frieda to spring a leak every 10 minutes while we were at the dinner table, we were doing great at catching pees and poops.
At the same time, however, I was browsing Elimination Communication forums and reading about the big potty strike that hits sometime between 6 and 12 months...
6-12 Months: Potty Chaos
But it's not a "potty strike," which implies the assertiveness of a toddler. It's a phase of general chaos because a baby at 6 months is so busy learning -- grabbing things, sitting, crawling, standing, walking -- that, ironically, you can't train her much. Baby's bladder is also growing; she experiments with holding it so she doesn't have to stop playing. She's so distracted by things going on outside her body that she's less aware of what's going on inside.
During these months, I wondered if there was a point in being gung-ho with diaper-free because we were so out of sync. But I kept going, figuring that trying-yet-failing was better than giving up.
Every couple weeks, Frieda developed some new potty pattern. Sometimes she stopped signaling, other times she signaled too much. Sometimes she didn't want to use her day potty, sometimes she didn't want to use her night potty. Sometimes her last wee of the day was after dinner, then she'd stay dry until morning. Sometimes she'd have so much fun sitting on her potty that she'd joyfully have 4 tinkles in one hour.
Weather also played a huge role. Our region was hit hard by climate change: record summer highs and three long heat waves in a row. Frieda was sweating so much that there was nothing left to pee. All of July and August, I had no diapers to wash.
But suddenly, global warming appeared to stop; temperatures dropped 25 degrees overnight. I then discovered that Frieda's bladder had shrunken during the summer and the result was lots of peeing. Like, in biblical proportions. I had her sleep on a thick bath towel at night because everything she drank was flowing out of her with no stopover. It took one week for her bladder to adjust, then we were back on our pre-heatwave routine with dry nights.
So, in summary: Be ready for anything, it's going to change.
And laugh about it, a lot.
12 Months: Starting to Make Sense
Then, Frieda's first birthday came along. The tiny baby was long gone, a new toddler was here. The total randomness of pees and poops started to fade. Her body, brain, and bladder were growing so that her patterns started to resemble a little adult's. More time passed between pottying. She would stop playing if she needed to go and at least give me an informative look. Frieda then started to grab the front of her diaper, sign "potty" with her other hand, and say, "Uh-oh."
A-ha... now we're talking real communication.
I started using activities to keep her from toddling away from her potty. I kept a little bench next to her potty with some books and a cup of water that she could play with. A sip of water would trigger her to wee if she was taking too long.
Outings with Frieda were getting longer. I kept her night potty in my purse since the year-old kid was too big to hold over a restroom sink. But by now, Frieda had learned our daily rhythm and would simply wait until we got home.
I had been bringing Frieda to the potty when I knew she had to go. Then, at 13 months, Frieda started walking to the potty herself! Were those angels singing from heaven, heralding my baby's graduation to being potty trained?
Sadly, it didn't last. When Frieda was 14 months old, we went on an extended trip to California, during which time Frieda had a total potty regression. She only managed to use the potty after meals and waking. The rest of the day was filled with misses.
Fortunately, we were back on track as soon as we got home. Frieda was then 15 months old. I admit that I was listening for those angel voices again since I'd read that other babies had managed to graduate at 16 or 17 months.
Then... 19 Months: Graduation!
Frieda went through a gigantic developmental spurt when she was 18 months old. We had just come back from another long-haul family trip (to Asia) where she was exposed to all new sights and sounds, new relatives, new languages, new foods. On this trip, thankfully, there was no potty regression.
When we returned home, we had an all new kid, chattering and showing off her climbing skills on the furniture. There also came a great sign of impending potty trained-ness: Frieda wasn't having accidents with her babysitter and my in-laws anymore. You bet that our babysitter was impressed.
Then, last week, I noticed that there was no more accident laundry to wash. No diaper back-ups, no towels, no wet clothes. Frieda only needs to sit on the potty 5-6 times a day, followed by a quick wipe-and-flush. It's so easy.
It was lots of work for the stay-at-home mom, but like all things baby-related, it feels like a blip in retrospect.
And, more importantly, I am saving all that time that I invested into going diaper free.
No more laundry.
No changing diapers.
No diaper rash, ever.
No shopping for diapers, baby wipes, or diaper cremes.
No blow outs.
No accidentally "teaching" the child to depend on diapers.
No potty struggles with a toddler.
No cleaning up a toddler's accidents.
"I am saving all that time that
I invested into going diaper free."
Why the Diaper-Free Insanity?
The Journey to Minimal Baby
The Minimal Baby Year One: Things We Haven't Needed