“They don’t use diapers in China” I said to my husband by way of explanation. Initially, he was skeptical… but when he no longer had to transfer dirty diapers from the bucket to the washing machine, he was all for it! Now, four children down the line, neither of us can imagine doing it any other way.
For our first 6 months as parents we used cloth diapers in the same way as everyone else. Multiple poos a day were rinsed off in the toilet and then sat festering in the diaper pail until wash day. I never even considered taking my daughter’s diaper off before she filled it.
But then we discovered baby-led pottying and everything changed. I say ‘discovered’ as if it was a new thing, but of course it wasn’t. My mum put me (and my siblings) on a potty from a few months old, and her mum would have used a potty from birth because that’s what everyone did in the UK before the 1960s.
In the back of my mind, I wasn’t surprised. We all know that humans evolved without diapers, after all. But they also evolved without fitted carpets and expensive sofas, so would the idea really be practical in a modern home? We found real freedom in the Born Ready approach when we realised we could offer the potty while using a backup diaper pretty much all the time. All the benefits and none of the risks. Perfect.
With hindsight, it seems such an obvious thing to do – take the diaper off to catch the mess somewhere cleaner – but to us it was a revelation!
So many signals that we had overlooked suddenly made sense. Popping on and off the breast, meant we should offer the potty. If a baby wouldn’t settle to sleep? Offer the potty. Wriggling in the sling? Again, the potty. That potty meant so much more to us than a clean bottom and less washing. It meant we actually knew how to recognise and respond to our children’s needs.
How To Start Baby-led Potty Training
One of the best things about baby pottying is how easy it is to get started.
All you need to do is take your baby’s diaper off and either hold them over a bowl, or sit them on a potty.
You don’t have to commit to never using diapers again, or plan your next two years around bathroom trips – you simply need to take their diaper off once, offer the potty once, and then take it from there.
When To Offer The Potty
The easiest time to offer the potty is at diaper change time. You’re taking the diaper off anyway, so it doesn’t take much to offer the potty while you’re at it. If you have a very young baby who still reflexively pees when their diaper is opened, this is a great time to catch a pee!
The best time to try, is when you’re most likely to have a catch.
You might already know when your baby is going to poop… Do you see a particular facial expression or body position that makes you reach for the changing bag? Rather than waiting until you have a full scale clean up on your hands, quickly and calmly take their diaper off and go for the catch instead.
Or if you know your tot always poops at a particular time of day (say, first thing in the morning or right after breakfast) that’s an ideal time to try for a catch. There’s no need to wait until you see them focus or strain, if you know a poop is due you can offer and see what happens.
If that sounds a bit fraught for your first offer, you can pick a routine time when your baby is likely to pee.
Babies tend to hold their bladders while sleeping, so immediately on waking is a great time to catch a pee. They also tend to pee and poop after a milk feed, so that’s another good time to try. Or, if your baby is on solids, try sitting them on a potty after a meal.
If this seems confusing, use this quiz to create a first potty offer tailored to you own baby’s habits. Once you’ve chosen when and where to offer the potty for the first time, it’s much easier to go ahead and do it.
How To Hold Your Baby
You want your baby to be in a comfortable squat position to trigger a release.
You can achieve this by holding them as shown in the photo, or sitting them on a low potty. Babies of up to 3 or 4 months old should be happy peeing and pooping in the ‘in-arms’ position, but older babies who have their own preferred position for poops might take a little while to get used to it.
There are many variations on these holds, including sitting your baby on your lap on the toilet, holding them over the bathroom sink (so they can grin and gurgle at their reflection in the bathroom mirror) or crouching low to the ground outside.
It doesn’t matter which you use, but once you get going I’d encourage you to use as many as you can!
Babies and toddlers like to have control, and a good way to accommodate that is to offer choices. The more pottying positions and locations you can offer, the better.
A Modern Approach: Not-so-diaper free
Baby-led potty training is a flexible technique that bends to fit almost every lifestyle.
The majority of practicing parents use modern diapers (whether cloth, disposable or something designed to make potty offers easier, like Flaparaps) while also offering the potty regularly.
This gives parents the best of both worlds. They can try to catch most pees and poops, or only offer once a day – pottying never needs to be a cause of tension. After all, a pee in a diaper is hardly something to get worked up about.
What to expect from the experience
Expect co-operation, but don’t expect miracles.
Your baby is growing and developing is so many ways! Everything overlaps and interferes with everything else, so pottying is rarely a linear progression.
Most babes don’t go from the newborn diaper-off-reflex-pee to independent potty use without some unexpectedly wet pants along the way. This doesn’t make the process any less worthwhile – but if you’re expecting something different it can cause unnecessary stress.
If you change diapers, you’re already involved in your baby’s toileting. If your toddler has ever run away from a diaper change or protested violently that they don’t want to be changed, you’re already involved in ‘conflict’ around toileting choices. If you take these battles in your stride – all part of normal life when raising little person – then offering a potty needn’t worry you either.
You can try it without being much more involved than you are already, and there are plenty of benefits to giving it a go.
Benefits of Baby-led Potty Training
Bonding: Like other methods of natural parenting, baby-led pottying is an incredibly rewarding experience. The feeling of connection that comes from helping your baby perform such a basic bodily function is surprisingly uplifting! Everyone remembers their first catch.
Everyone can join in: Parents, grandparents, older siblings – anyone can learn a baby’s signals or timing and help out.
No diaper rash: A consistently clean dry bottom means no diaper rash, no barrier creams and often, no wet wipes either. A single dab of loo roll is all you need.
Soothing: Offering the potty can instantly soothe an uncomfortable baby. If you don’t have ‘offer the potty’ somewhere near the top of your mental ‘how to comfort my baby’ list, you’re missing a trick.
Prevents constipation: Offering the potty regularly can help to keep a baby … regular. Many parents discover baby pottying when looking for ways to help their constipated babies stay more comfortable.
Environmentally friendly: Whether you use fewer diapers because they stay drier for longer, choose cloth diapers over disposables, or potty train earlier and save a year’s worth of diapers going to landfill, catching poop in a potty is good for the environment.
Shows potty training as a developmental process: Watching a child progress from pottying to potty trained is as rewarding as watching any other aspect of their development. To see a 9 month old crawl over and climb onto the potty, or a 13 month old use the chest slap potty sign to ask for help before a poop, or an 18 month old choose a book and a toy before taking heading off to the bathroom is to enjoy a part of parenting most people don’t experience.
It really can be this easy. If you’re curious, give it a go! Good luck! (And do come and find me if you need help.)
Born Ready Jenn.
Jenn Philpott is a mother of four and owner of Born Ready. She teaches baby-led and toddler potty training to nannies, child minders and parents. Get started at www.bornready.uk/evolutionaryparenting and find her on twitter @bornreadyjenn.