Save on nappies - don't use them?

30 August 2010

Nappy Free Three Babies On Potties

I'd picked up the idea that going without nappies from (almost) birth was an example of extreme parenting. You know, all those child-centric ideas that are impossible to even think about achieving for most of us. Because we have to do things like earn a living as well as be a parent, and fit in time for the rest of the family.

So as always when confronted with a conundrum, I turned to the experts and to the experiences of other parents to find out more. I expected to find this just to be a US phenomenon, but that wasn't the case at all. Two of the best sites that I found were from the UK and Australia.

Convince me!

Nappy Free ToddlerGoing nappy free is an intriguing idea. Especially the thought of not having to spend a fortune each week on nappies for three years of your life (or more depending on the number of children you have). I first thought that maybe this might not be such a far-fetched idea when a friend moved to Hong Kong. The staff at the nursery were rather surprised to find her 18 month old still in nappies. 'Don't worry', they said, 'we'll handle it'. And they did. The nappies went, messes were cleaned up, and he was held over the toilet (or other receptacles to hand) whenever needed and at key points in the day. Staff would make a 'pishing' noise whenever he urinated, and this would be used to provide a cue for him to pee.

And it worked. When I told this to a mutual friend, she was astounded. As was I. We both mentioned it to our mums. Who weren't at all surprised. Seems that back in the late sixties, that's pretty much what most mums did, or at least they both had.

Nappy Free Baby On PottyWhat had changed? In the examples we'd come across, then, there were two things in common. Warm or hot climates, and extended families as the norm. It is probably, we reasoned, something that's possible to do when childcare is shared with the family and not outsourced to babysitters, childminders and nurseries.

Recently though, I've got more involved in environmental issues and started exploring alternative parenting options. Happily these are often also cheaper and money saving options too. And going nappy free is one of them.

Show me!

First off, this is not toilet training. You're learning when the child is going to go, and helping them learn a few cues too to go when they don't necessarily need to. But they're not going to have control over their toilet functions. That's not something they'll develop until much later.

Dr Graham Clayden of Kings’ College London and consultant paediatrician at Evelina Children’s Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’, explained in Green Parenting magazine that “When the stomach fills there is a gastro-colic reflex,which causes the lower bowel to fill and defecation is then precipitated. Lots of babies defecate within 20 minutes of filling their stomachs. If that becomes totally predictable, yes, why not catch it – save a nappy, save the planet.”

Nappy Free Baby NewbornThe jargon then for this parenting practice is Elimination Communication, or EC for short. Plus you don't actually do without nappies entirely. The Australian website Tribal Baby, which contains a lot of excellent tips and advice for parents wanting to give this a go, puts it this way "It is about  using nappies as a tool rather than a necessity."

Help Me!

Naturally, you don't need to join a group to learn about EC, but it always helps to have support and advice. In the UK, Nappy Free Baby provides information, resources, discussion forums and links to groups around the country.

The main 'bible' on this subject appears to be an American one (don't they all!). The terms elimination communication, as well as 'natural infant hygiene' were coined by parenting author Ingrid Baur. Both appear in her book 'Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene' published in 2001.

Nappy Free Baby On summarises the main principles involved into four main components. Timing (newborns need to urinate every 10 to 20 minutes - personally that sounds like a lot of running to the potty to me!), signals (what faces, noises, body language babies use to signal that they are about to go), cueing (how we can tell the baby when it is an appropriate place to eliminate), and intuition (where you just 'know' baby needs to wee/poo).

And Finally

Are you sold on the idea? I'm not entirely but I do wish I'd had the chance to have a go. At five years old (and no chance of more) I think it is probably just a tad too late for me! What I really liked about all the advice I read on the internet is that it isn't pressurised, one-size-fits all, do it my way or the highway kind of stuff. No-one goes without nappies entirely. Everyone uses nappies as well. Sometimes just when they go out, but also at home when they're just too busy/ill/need a rest. It seems like a really good mix.

Nappy Free Two Bare Bottomed BabiesNeither does it seem to be a sure fire way to toilet train. Although from what I've read little ones have, with EC, become more toilet confident. It doesn't actually result in them learning to use the toilet independently any earlier than the development of their own bowel controls will allow them.

Post a comment - what do you think?


  • SlayerKat
    Great article. I didn't discover elimination communication till I had my second child and it's harder to do with more than one child. If I'd know about it with my first born I definitely would have tried.
  • Jenn
    There's now a uk forum on this subject for parents or carers seeking support or advice. Feel free to dip in at leisure, or register for email updates. My girls were part-time nappy free and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience :-)

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