Ask Naomi: Self-directed Diaper Graduation

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question: I have read about raising babies without diapers, or getting them out of diapers by one-year or so. Do you recommend toilet training? If so, at what age and how, and if not, how do you suggest to support the baby's progress out of diapers?

naomi: I wouldn't recommend any attempt to get a toddler or young child out of diapers. It is her body and it must be her own volition that guides her. Your attempt to toilet train can only slow her down. In addition, many children develop inhibition and emotional discomfort with their own bodies due to pressure to get out of diapers. If you have used disposable diapers, it will take the child longer to change a familiar habit, but in time, she will. Without pressure she will do so of her own initiative and be emotionally healthier and more self-reliant.heart goes out to her and you really want to hold her, yet, you believe that loving her means resisting your own natural responses and following an idea that isn't even yours.

Infants are born with the ability to be aware when they eliminate. In natural societies, a baby is often carried naked on her mother's body and when she needs to eliminate, the mother knows it and holds the baby away from her body above ground or a container. A doctor who visited a tribe in Africa was amazed by mothers' ability to know when the baby has to eliminate. "How do you know when she needs to go?" this doctor asked a mother whose naked baby was snuggled against her bare body. She looked puzzled and said, "How do you know when you need to go?"

I am not suggesting that you don't use diapers (although you could); I suggest that you support your baby or toddler in being aware of her body experiences as I will specify later in this column.

The first lesson most babies receive in western civilization is that elimination occurs in the privacy of their own clothes and is then ignored some of the time. They learn to become unaware of their bodily functions. They assume that life includes this experience of wetness, stickiness and smell on their bodies. The child is so comfortable with these familiar sensations that giving them up may not be so easy. You are asking her to change what she assumed was part of life and of herself.

Therefore, if you raised your baby in disposable diapers, as do many parents these days, expect a slower graduation. You can start the new path toward awareness no matter how old your baby or child is. The following is guidance on how to nurture natural elimination awareness, followed by ways to recognize babies' elimination cues:

Nurturing the baby's awareness of her own body functions:

  • When your baby/toddler is eliminating, acknowledge what is going on with a sound or words. With delight and ease, let him know what he is doing and change his diaper as soon as he is done. An aware baby wants to be dry because that's what he is used to.
  • For faster growth out of diapers, use cotton ones. With cloth diapers the baby is instantly aware of his own experience. Your prompt removal of the diaper brings that awareness to a sharp focus. AlI-in-one cloth diapers are as or more convenient than disposable and they are better for your baby's skin, health and the environment. Clear the soiled ones into the toilet and put all the dirty diapers in a pail with water and vinegar till you launder them.
  • Have your baby and toddler watch you on the toilet and acknowledge what you are doing with the same sounds as you make when he eliminates.
  • As soon as your baby crawls or walks, put a potty next to the toilet. Just have it available without an agenda. Your wee one wants to be like you. With autonomy and self-awareness she will take the initiative when ready and become more independent by learning to rely on herself.

While I am diving into the details of moving from diaper to toilet I would like to suggest that, as parents, we have the opportunity to bring to an end the habit of males who pee standing and and leave a mist of urine all around. I have raised three boys who sit while they pee and so does their father. It seems much more civilized and makes the bathroom a nicer place for all.

Recognizing a baby's urge to eliminate:

Here are some typical cues babies and toddlers give when they are about to eliminate:

  • Timing: Many babies go at specific intervals and times. Notice if the baby eliminates at a set number of minutes after nursing, specific times of the day or fixed intervals.
  • Facial expressions: Babies give us cues like tensed face, raised eyebrows, frowning, concentrating, pausing as though listening, becoming motionless, squirming, fussing, making specific sounds and/or movements, sudden increase or decrease of activity, stirring or waking from sleep, looking intently or reaching for you.
  • Movement: For an older baby, signals could also include moving toward the bathroom, holding the genitals, grunting, struggling to get out of a car seat or a snugly, or trying to get off padded places.
  • Intuition: You may find that you develop intuitive recognition of your baby's physical need to eliminate even before they occur. Your mind may actually tell you that your baby needs to go. Listen to it. If you need to pee, it is possible that your baby needs to as well. One mother told me that she gets the sensation of warm wetness on her lap while the baby is still dry and the baby pees shortly after.
  • Prompt diaper change: When you know that the baby is going to eliminate, say, "You are going to pee now" and as soon as she does, add the sounds of whatever the event is and promptly change her diaper. After she has cleared her bowel, let her walk around naked as much as possible. If she ends up peeing when nude, give her the same verbal feedback; she sees, feels and hears you and her awareness will grow.
  • Advanced Notice: At times you will find your senses so clear that you may be able to get your daughter to the bathroom before the diaper is soiled. If she prefers the diaper, respect her choice, but if she is inclined to try the potty; let her. Respond to the child's preference not as the director, but as the nurturer of her path. If the child senses that you want her to go in the potty, she may resist doing so and stay in diapers for a longer time; it must be her own desire.
  • No Cheer Leading: Stay neutral in your attitude. If your child senses that you are invested in her choices, she will either back off and delay getting out of diapers, or become dependent on pleasing and seeking approval.

There is no rush to get out of diapers. I have seen children in diapers at age five. Eventually they do get out of them. Have you noticed that when you are with your adult friends you cannot tell when each one of them got out of diapers? Enjoy every minute of surrender and delight. Early toilet training does not mean anything, and it often makes life with wee ones more difficult as you have to stop the car, interrupt dinner and take junior to handle his business.

Trust your child's inner guidance. It is reliable. Everything unfolds right on time as long as we understand the cues and respond to them.

©Copyright Naomi Aldort
Naomi Aldort is the author of, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. Parents from around the globe seek Aldort's advice by phone, in person and by listening to her CDs and attending her workshops. Her advice columns appear in progressive parenting magazines in Canada, USA, AU, UK, and translated to German, French, Hebrew, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian and Spanish. Naomi Aldort is married and a mother of three. Her youngest son is fourteen-year-old cellist Oliver Aldort Her middle son is seventeen year old composer and self made pianist Lennon Aldort, For free newsletter, information on teleclasses, phone sessions and products: or

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