Infant Potty Training and
By Laurie Boucke
Have you ever thought about how
babies were toilet trained in the days before diapers? Or how
they are potty trained today in places without diapers? There
is a growing community of mothers who are using infant potty training
(IPT) with their babies, a method similar to the way mothers around
the world have been handling the elimination issue for centuries.
It is important to emphasize from the start that IPT is about
working with infants (as opposed to toddlers) towards accomplishing
what is commonly known as "potty training." The ideal
time to start is between birth and 4 to 5 months of age.
There is no English term to suitably
describe “infant potty training" as a whole, since
(a) an infant cannot sit on a potty and (b) the process is more
akin to teamwork (with your baby) and interconnectedness than
actual training. In other words, IPT is really about communication
and responsiveness. It has little to do with what we normally
call “training.” Communication is the key to connecting
with your baby about elimination.
Let’s start at the
very beginning of infant potty training
Perhaps the most unique characteristic of this method is that
parents typically begin working with a baby before she can even
sit. Instead of beginning research on toilet training around the
time a child takes her first steps, parents need to consider this
method during pregnancy or the first weeks/months after delivery.
I refer to this method as "infant
pottying" and "infant potty training." Other terms
include "elimination communication" and "trickle
treat" (the title of my first book on this topic, now out
Babies are smarter than we think!
The big mistake that people make is to presume that a newborn
baby is unaware of going to the toilet. We assume an infant is
incapable of toilet learning since infants are small and uncoordinated
and also because they cannot walk or talk. An infant is helpless
in so many ways that it is hard for Westerners to imagine such
a tiny being could be aware of peeing and pooping. It is even
harder for us to believe that an infant has some control over
Learning to use diapers
With these preconceived and narrow views, we encourage and teach
our babies to be unconcerned about wetting and soiling diapers.
In short, we teach our infants to use diapers as a toilet.
A normal, healthy infant is indeed
aware of the bodily function of elimination and can learn to respond
to it from infancy. By using diapers, we condition and thereby
train baby to go in them. Later the child must unlearn this training.
This can be confusing and a traumatic experience for the child.
An infant does his best to communicate
his awareness to you, but if you don't listen, he will stop communicating
and gradually lose touch with the elimination functions. He will
be conditioned not to care and learn that you want him to use
his diaper as a toilet.
Not only is toilet training from
infancy basically unheard of in the United States, it also strikes
many as inconvenient. With relatively few exceptions, however,
toilet training is by definition inconvenient no matter how you
do it. If you wait for your baby to self-train at 2, 3, 4 or older,
you are both subjected to years of diaper changes (not to mention
laundry, baby wipes and other means of sanitation).
Diapers, especially disposable
ones, are a temporary way to deal with toileting. We attempt to
"plug up" our child's disposal system with diapers in
the same way as we temporarily stop the flow from a leaking pipe.
How many parents have pondered whether or not this is the most
hygienic solution for the child? How many parents care about the
effects of diapers on the environment? How many would care if
they knew of an alternative to full-time diapers?
Who can use the infant
potty training method?
Parents of infants, parents-to-be, grandparents, nannies and anyone
else interested in lovingly and patiently working with an infant
towards accomplishing potty training at the earliest possible
age can use this method. "Infant" is the operative word
here, as opposed to "toddler," in that a caregiver begins
working as a team with an infant in the early months of life.
Infant potty training is best used
by a parent who spends at least the first one or two years caring
for baby, or a working parent with one or more trustworthy and
reliable helper(s) such as a family member, nanny or friend.
What does it take?
Infant potty training takes time, diligence and patience. If you
cannot devote these qualities or arrange for any assistance you
may need, this is not the method for you or your baby. But if
this method makes sense, if it resonates, go for it! It can’t
hurt to try, and if it doesn’t work out, you can go back
to full-time diapering.
When do you start elimination
The ideal time to start is anytime from birth to 4 to 5 months
old. During this time, there is a sensitive period where there
is a window of learning open.
How long does it take?
The average age of completion in the west is around 2 years, although
babies have fairly good control of elimination for many months
Is it safe?
Infant potty training is safe, of course, as long as parents have
the right mindset. Parents must be relaxed and positive about
working with their babies. Parents must exercise patience and
gentleness; observe and respond to baby's signals on time whenever
reasonably possible; and provide proper and loving support while
holding their infants.
This is a non-punitive method.
Punishment, anger and control are not a part of this method. Note
that this method is different from the harsh "early toilet
training" method used in Western countries until the 1950s.
Does it really work?
Yes, but not without some effort. Success does not just happen
on its own. It takes at least one committed adult and several
months of perseverance to complete infant potty training. Right
from the very start, there are fun and exciting daily rewards
for both baby and caregiver. Baby's communication is acknowledged
and encouraged. Parents are amazed at the degree of their infant's
awareness and are thrilled when he signals and responds so easily
Does my baby have to be
This is not a requirement. Many parents keep a diaper or training
pants on their baby in between potty visits, while others prefer
to leave their baby bare-bottomed or naked most of the time. In
short, it is a matter of preference.
A wonderful discovery
My first two children experienced conventional potty training.
When my third son was born, I dreaded the thought of another bout
of conventional toilet training that would entail additional years
of diapers and began seeking a better means to accomplish this
I learned the basis for an alternative
technique through a lady visiting us from India. She was horrified
when I told her the way Westerners handle the "waste disposal
issue" and explained to me the way things are done "back
home" in her culture. I was skeptical when she told me that
there is no need to use "the cloths" on an infant unless
it is "ill of the stomach," feverish or wets the bed
most nights. I had been to India several times and had noticed
families peeing and pooping their babies around the countryside,
but had not paid close attention. Like many others, I mistakenly
assumed that Westerners could not use this technique.
I begged my new friend to tell
me more and to teach me how to hold my son and get him to "go"
for me, which she gladly and effortlessly did.
I was spellbound watching her communicate
with my tiny 3-month-old son, who somehow instinctively knew what
she wanted him to do. I can only describe the exchange and instant
understanding between them -- a stranger and an infant -- as a
I used the technique she demonstrated,
slightly modifying and adapting it to a Western lifestyle, and
found it to be far superior to conventional diaper-to-potty-training.
From the day I started working with my 3-month-old son, he rarely
needed a diaper, day or night. He stayed dry during most of the
day at age 18 months and was finished with all aspects of potty
training at age 25 months.
Outlook and source
The trickle treat method begins with conditioning and can be approached
in a rational and scientific manner as well as an intuitive and
spiritual one, or a combination of both depending on what works
best for you and your baby. The rational approach involves timing
and observation of elimination patterns and baby body language.
The more spiritual approach involves intuition and "tuning
in" to your baby in more subtle ways.
Remember, it is teamwork, something
you do together via close and trusting communication. It is not
something you are doing to your baby, and it is not something
your baby can do without you. If you are willing and able and
if your baby is healthy, your baby is ready for you.
Infant potty training is based
on an elimination training technique used in much of Asia and
rural Sub-Saharan Africa. The method has been adapted to the Western
lifestyle in various ways, including the use of a sink, potty,
toilet or other container; variations in elimination positions;
part-time use of the technique; and, where desired, part-time
use of diapers.
Synopsis of the elimination
Observation Lay your undiapered baby in a comfortable, warm and
safe place, then observe her:
1. timing (how long and how frequently
she goes after waking or feeding)
2. body language (such as twisting or grimacing while defecating)
3. sounds (such as grunting while defecating
This can also be done using a sling.
In fact, babywearing is one of the best ways to become familiar
with your baby's elimination timing and patterns since you know
straightaway when she goes. It is especially beneficial in cold
climates or rooms without sufficient heating. Some mothers keep
their babies naked in the sling, carrying them skin-to-skin, which
keeps baby at a perfect body temperature. If so desired, you can
keep a cloth diaper under her while in the sling. It is, of course,
not a requirement to keep your baby naked in the sling. Even if
she is wearing some clothing and/or a cloth dipe without a waterproof
cover, you will know when she goes.
Anticipation or intuition Anticipate
when your infant needs to go; then at that moment, make a watery
sound such as "sss." Alternatively, if your baby starts
to go while you are observing her, immediately make the "sss"
sound. Within a few days, your baby will associate this sound
Position and toilet place When
you think your infant needs to go, hold her gently and securely
over your preferred toilet place while giving an audible signal
("sssss" or whatever sound/words you prefer). Your baby
will soon associate the sound, position and place with elimination.
Use whatever location and receptacle are most comfy and convenient.
Examples include the bathroom sink, a mixing bowl, a basin and
the outdoors. Older babies can sit between your legs on the toilet.
Baby-mother communication From
now on, pay close attention to baby's timing and signals. When
you think she needs to go, hold her in position and give your
signal. If it is near time to go, infants are able to relax those
muscles upon receiving your cues.
How do I know when my baby
needs to go?
You can know when baby needs to go by one or more of the following:
1. Timing (by the clock)
2. Signals and cues (including body language and vocalizations)
3. Patterns of elimination (relation to feeding, waking, etc.)
4. Intuition and instinct
How do I dress my baby
for best results?
There are two main considerations that come into play and that
need to be balanced: individual circumstances such as climate,
lifestyle, health; and social pressures.
The fewer the layers of clothing
on baby, the easier it is for both you and your baby to connect
and learn and communicate about elimination. It is easier to read
and respond to the body language and other signals of a baby who
is unclothed, bare-bottomed or otherwise easily accessible. Wearing
baby in a sling helps too since you are more likely to be synchronized.
The ideal situation (not always possible or desirable) is for
baby to remain naked or bare-bottomed.
If this is not an option, strive
to dress baby in as few layers as possible. Use clothing which
can be quickly and easily removed (avoid buckles, buttons, etc).
There are many different ways to dress your baby for easy access.
Be creative and adapt to your situation and to baby’s different
phases of development. Many mothers prefer to sew their own baby
Aside from using diapers as a backup,
here are some other suggestions:
Pants, custom made to fit any size infant
2. For neonates, "baby bag" pajamas that tie at the
3. Long shirt or dress (optimum length varies depending on mobility
4. Stretchy shorts or pants (terrycloth, cotton knit or wool
knit) with elastic waists
5. Training pants
6. Chinese baby clothes with open crotch, available at WeeBees,
and Discrete Chinese Pants available at home.socal.rr.com.....
Benefits of infant potty
The three big winners in infant potty training are baby, parents
and the environment. Here is a more complete list of the benefits
of infant potty training.
1. Enhances bonding through closeness,
natural communication and loving patience
2. Responds to infants’ natural elimination communication
3. Taps into first window of learning (sensitive period) for
4. Helps environment by conserving/saving trees, water, petroleum
and landfill space
5. Eliminates or drastically reduces diaper use
6. Allows babies to achieve reasonable control by 12 to 18 months
7. Lets baby complete potty training at a relatively young age
(around 24 months)
8. Frees baby from diapers and all negative associations (bulk
between legs, chemicals, etc.)
9. Avoids/eliminates enuresis (bed wetting)
10. Prevents diaper rash
11. Provides hygienic respect for your baby
12. Eliminates embarrassing "accidents" for toddlers
13. Allows dads or other close, trusted ones to bond and communicate
14. Yields big savings on diapers and laundry costs
15. Keeps babies in touch with their own bodies
16. Reduces risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
If you would like even more reasons
and benefits to try infant potty training, read 101
Reasons to EC Your Baby.
What do medical experts
Although infant potty training is not well known in the West,
there is a growing number of doctors and pediatricians who are
supportive. Many of these have either traveled abroad and witnessed
the method firsthand or else are (spouses of) immigrants who grew
up in cultures where this method is commonplace. Some medical
experts have used this method with their own babies.
Like so many other things in life,
theories and opinions on when to start toilet learning have gone
back and forth over the years. Until the 1950s, most Western families
started relatively young, anywhere from 3 to 10 months, and finished
relatively young. Then came the disposable diaper industry, more
hectic lifestyles and a new theory that it is better to delay
and let baby self-train when ready.
The tide is beginning to turn again,
with new European research (August 2000) concluding that the current
Western views on bladder and bowel control are flawed and that
it is often better to start earlier than to delay. Despite varying
Western medical opinions and psychological theories, infant toilet
learning has been the mainstream method used by billions of happy
and well-adjusted babies in many societies for centuries. No one
can deny this fact.
What about babies 6 months
and older -- is it too late?
Many parents have started potty training their babies at 6, 9,
even 12 months and have done okay by making some modifications.
It is usually harder to start with a mobile baby who has been
"trained" to go in a diaper or who wears disposables
and does not associate the feeling of wetness with elimination.
It mainly depends on your convictions.
If this method resonates, if you feel it is right for you and
your baby, and if your healthy baby takes to it, it is certainly
worth an honest try! As long as there are no major upsets in your
family life or health, you are likely to be open and receptive
to your baby’s elimination communication.
Another factor to consider is that
there is not a fixed cutoff age at which all babies lose their
connection with the elimination functions. Each child is unique
and develops in his own manner. There are parents who have learned
about IPT or who have started other methods of toilet learning
when their babies were 6 to 18 months, 2 years or even older and
who have been delighted to find that their little ones were ready,
receptive and communicative about toileting at these ages.
In short, the window of learning
seems to remain open or accessible for some older babies. No matter
what age your baby is when you first learn about IPT, I usually
recommend that parents give this gentle and nurturing method a
try for a few weeks, then assess whether you want to continue.
tips about late starters for babies over 6 months old.
Infant Potty Training Terminology
Different expressions are used to describe infant potty training,
and you will encounter these as you travel around the internet.
Here are some of the more common ones:
Infant potty training (IPT)
Trickle treat (TT)
Elimination timing (ET)
Elimination communication (EC)
Natural infant hygiene (NIH)
Infant Potty Training Links
Links (on the topic of infant potty training)
© 2004 Laurie Boucke.
Used with permission.
Laurie Boucke, Phi
Beta Kappa University of California, is the mother of three sons
and has authored eight books, including three on the topic of
this article; Infant Potty Basics (2003) and Infant Potty Training
(2002) are the most recent. She also works as a court reporter
for the deaf and encourages sign language as a means of communication
with all infants. For more information, visit her web
site or call (800) 382-7922.
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