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Potty training for infants

by Traci Schumacher on Tue, 07/03/2012 - 2:13pm

What is the best age to start potty training? Some people would say infancy. Infant potty training or “elimination communication,” while certainly more prevalent in non-western cultures, does have a definite following in the United States.

Before you object to potty training at such a young age due to “negative effects,” it turns out that the scientific studies on potty training demonstrate no long-term effects based on potty training age. There can, however, be negative effects based on using a harsh method regardless of the child's age.

Infant potty training involves closely watching your baby, learning to read his or her potty signals, and then teaching your baby to wait for a cue or signal before “going.” These babies are not independent potty-goers, but they can go potty where their parents want them to go. They achieve a certain level of control, which leads to increasing potty independence as they grow and mature.

This elimination communication is an ongoing process requiring extensive involvement of the parent or caregiver, but it does have its benefits including: financial savings and decreased environmental impact since diapers are unnecessary (or only minimally necessary), avoiding diaper rash and infections, and possibly decreasing the risk of urinary tract infections later in life.

For my friend Kelly, the biggest incentive for infant potty training was to avoid poop. She didn't like dealing with it, and was a stay-at-home mom when she came across the book Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living by Laurie Broucke. Deciding she had nothing to lose, she started trying the techniques. Within a couple weeks Kelly had figured out her 3-month-old daughter's cues (a certain face, grunt, etc) for when she needed to poop, and things progressed from there. She said as her daughter grew, “the seamlessness of completing potty training was so simple. It was really a conversation rather than a battle. There was no introduction to the toilet. It had been there since she could remember. 'Since you can walk, get over there when you need to go.'”

If you're not up to reading the book, Kelly summarizes the technique: “Set the baby against your tummy, naked, and bring their knees up to their chest (so everything shoots away from you) and make a SSSSS sound quietly in their ear. Eventually this will become their cue to “push.” Start by giving it a shot when the baby is naked anyway, like bath time, diaper time, etc. Timing is everything at first. Then eventually it evolves into a situation, if you are consistent enough, where they “hold it” for you to put them in the position with the noise. Then it works anywhere. Toilet, sink, yard, whatever. I suggest starting with a timer, trying every 15 minutes for a couple hours.”

Some other tips if you want to try it:

  • Initially babies will do this for one person until they realize it works with anyone who puts them in the position.

  • Don't feel like you need to go all-or-nothing with the method, as babies are able to switch between potty training at home and wearing diapers for longer excursions out and about. (Kelly focuses on potty training at home with cloth diapers but uses disposable diapers for long trips.)

  • Babies go through phases when they may not be interested in training. Just drop it for a few days and try again.

Kelly is currently potty training her 8-month-old son, and says she appreciates the closeness she has felt with her babies as they have begun to trust her with their signals. She said, “It's weirdly bonding to see your baby turn to you to grunt because they know you understand their need and can help them deal with it in a more pleasant manner.”

Potty training is something every parent has to deal with at some point. For more parents like my friend Kelly, it pays to start early and save money on diapers. As a person concerned about the environment, Kelly adds, “This is a good option for me, especially since I love hugging trees, but I don't enjoy scraping poop out of cloth diapers. I just don't.”

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