Would you like to reduce your plastic use by ditching the disposable nappies? Are you keen to find out how to potty train? Or are you looking for a specifically gentle approach for teaching toileting to your little one? I am going to give you the low down on all of these topics and so much more!
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A bit of history
Babies haven’t always worn disposable nappies. I know that is probably very obvious, but in our modern culture we often live life as though it would be impossible to survive without all of our modern conveniences. The vast majority of cultures around the world prove us wrong.
“Convenient” is probably the best word to describe our approach to most things parenting in Western Culture. I will happily admit that it is starting to change as many parents are starting to question the status quo. But sadly, traditional methods are still vehemently encouraged by the older generation (and the less educated). These traditional methods were often ideas borne from the desire (or desperation) for an easier life. And unfortunately, somewhere along the (very long) road, we got so caught up in what was convenient that we forgot what was right – for us, for baby, for the planet.
Thankfully, we now have much better technology and a demand for scientific methods. So we can have an evidence based approach to parenting. And where there is a parenting approach, there is unstoppable consumerism ready to produce products to meet everyone’s ‘needs’. Win-win.
For example, disposable nappies became popular around the time my parents were having baby number one. I am 28 and baby number 3 out of 4. You do the math! However, my mum was still using ‘Terry Towelling’ nappies like so many mothers before her. By the time baby number 4 came around, disposables were the best seller. My little sister turned 26 last month and thankfully we have all now realised the damage plastic does to the environment. Cloth nappies are back on trend once again.
A similar thing has been happening with sleep, feeding, discipline, formal education and so on. So it is always important to do your own research, make your own decisions and most importantly follow your own instincts!
That is exactly how I came to Baby Led Pottying (BLP).
How i discovered Baby Led Pottying
At around 9 months, my son was enjoying his solid food and happily turning it into solid poop. Since newborn he had always preferred to poop lying on the changing mat once his nappy was off. But as his poop became solid, I noticed he also began to prefer pooping upright in his bouncer seat or high chair. Since he could already sit up unaided, and I knew that there were smaller potties out there, I decided to have a go at introducing toileting.
I had already known about the practice of introducing toileting early from all that research i did during pregnancy. Do you remember the panic driven, obsessive book buying that happens in your first pregnancy? Well i think i broke some kind of record.
Anyway, the proper name for this early pottying is ‘Elimination Communication’ and many parents around the world use this method to potty their babies from birth. If you dig far enough into sustainable methods (read: cloth nappy Googling that goes too far) then you start to push past the accepted Western methods and realise there is a whole world out there.
And OF COURSE most of that world DOESN’T use disposable nappies.
But sadly, the already overwhelmed, desperate-to-be-perfect, pregnant, and soon-to-be a first-time mum, version of me did not take that particular thought process any further before having a panic attack. She didn’t even manage to get the cloth nappies sorted out.
BUT it did mean I knew little potties existed and I could find one relatively easily online. So we bought the Pourty and got started.
Starting Baby Led Pottying
We started slowly but we quickly gained momentum and we are now pretty confident in our method.
At 16 months old, my son uses the potty several times a day. He generally does his poops in the potty and we catch several pees as well. He can sign ‘potty’ and ‘poop’ and he has just recently started saying ‘wet’. This is not perfect ‘Elimination Communication’ and it isn’t ‘Potty Training’.
It is Baby Led Pottying (BLP).
The Principles behind Baby Led Pottying
Baby Led Pottying (BLP) is very similar in it’s principles to Elimination Communication. But I do prefer the BLP title as there are some differences.
The reasons I prefer the BLP title are:
A) It is easier to say and it just feels friendlier. (‘Elimination Communication’ is an intimidating phrase which, I personally feel, alienates people.)
B) We always used a potty.
C) I like the emphasis on the ‘Baby Led’ approaches which are becoming more popular.
So what are the principles?
In her book, Go Diaper Free, Andrea Olson describes the following principles perfectly:
“EC is gentle. Hold your baby gently, speak gently, and handle the whole process with care. EC is non-coercive. It doesn’t involve praise, rewards, punishment, force, anger, or consequences. EC is about communication, connection, responsive caregiving, and making future potty independence smoother and less confusing. It is not about goals, pressure, timelines, conventional ‘potty training’, or completion.”
I would also like to add that a big principle of Baby Led Pottying is that it is IMPERFECT. It is not a full time, zero nappy, scared-to-leave-the-house stress fest. It is simply a gentle way of introducing a potty to your child’s daily routine. It’s success is not measured by the number of catches or how old your child is when they are toileting independently. It is about gradually teaching your child a skill and communicating with them along the way. It is about recognising that wearing a nappy isn’t particularly pleasant or hygienic. And it is teaching your child how to care for themselves and clean themselves as a priority.
So how do you get started?
Easy. You just do it! Buy a potty, put your child on the potty and voila!
You can start in whatever way suits you best. As I mentioned above, Joseph wasn’t keen on pooping in his nappy and he preferred to go once that nappy was off. But here’s the thing, we still caught that poop in the nappy and that is still a CATCH!
At 9 months, we started to sit him on the potty morning and night. He reliably began pooping in the potty within two days. We then began offering it more often. We chose times for a ‘pottytunity’ based on normal human behaviour i.e. before/after a meal, a sleep, or an outing.
As we got used to the patterns and the reliable catches, we felt it would be better to associate the potty with the bathroom. So just before Joseph’s first birthday we made ‘potty stations’ in each bathroom. This consisted of a basket filled with nappies, training pants, wipes (reusable & cloth), nappy bags, spare trousers and books. This is still our set up and Joseph loves to read on the potty. We have a book all about using the potty and at the end he waves his undies in the air to celebrate!
The Part Time Method
Embracing part time pottying was the only way it worked for me. I am a (recovering) perfectionist and i was too stressed out trying to catch everything. But if you want to go full time, that is entirely up to you. Have a go and see what works!
Some families prefer to hold their baby over the toilet or bathroom sink. Others use ‘top hat’ potties or simply hold their baby over the grass/bushes when outside.
I have never used a potty out of the house. This is part choice and part circumstance. Lockdown made time away from home much less. And I didn’t feel it was necessary with our part time arrangement.
Responding to your child
Before you get started, it is important to take time noticing your child’s habits and subtle signals. Little things like going quiet, changing their facial expression or even shivering can indicate that they need to go.
Once you are offering a ‘pottytunity’ you need to also introduce a signal for that experience. Something that your child will be able to learn easily and hopefully start to use to indicate their need.
We already attended baby signing classes, as I feel that communication is a priority for everyone. No matter your age or ability. Therefore, we naturally introduced the sign for ‘potty’.
In British Sign Language (BSL) / Makaton the sign for potty is the middle finger rubbed against the shoulder. Sometimes it is done as only the middle finger on the opposite shoulder. With the other fingers hidden.
But we use the baby BSL version which is the whole hand above your same shoulder with just the middle finger pressed down.
Mr Blake also began helping Joseph to bear down when pooping by making the facial expression, saying “pooooop” and using his fists out in front to show the pushing motion. Joseph now uses this to tell us specifically when he needs a poop. It’s a great organic sign that also allows us to ask him if he might need a poop on days where his usual patterns aren’t occurring.
While on the potty, we also read lots of books. This is a way to keep the experience enjoyable. We rotate the books around the house every so often so they don’t get boring.
A Gentle Approach
Our approach is very much a gentle one. If Joseph refuses the potty, or gets upset when I tell him his nappy needs changing, then we stop. I will offer him a standing nappy change instead and often at these times I will put a disposable nappy on instead of training pants. This way he doesn’t have to be returned to the potty immediately if he wets after refusing a pottytunity.
No force. No rewards or punishments. Only natural consequences such as he needs a nappy on instead of pants or he gets wet.
I also see wet pants as learning opportunities. Joseph will only understand why we use a toilet by understanding what wet feels like. I try to keep my language neutral when noticing he is wet.
The ‘Sports Casting’ Method
I also use the ‘Sports Casting’ method (detailed in Simone Davies’ book) as a way to cope when my toddler is unwilling to be changed. The ‘Sports Casting’ method is used by describing what you are doing as you are doing it. Just like a sport’s caster commentating a football game.
” We need to change your pants because you are wet. I am taking off your wet trousers and pants. I am using my arm to hold you up in a standing position. I am wiping your penis and bottom so they are clean. I am getting you a new nappy. I am using my gentle hands to put your legs into the nappy. I am pulling the nappy up now.”
This method helps me to communicate with Joseph even when we are both finding the situation stressful. It reminds me to be calm and gentle. And it tells him what is happening and why.
Make it fun
Not all nappy changes are fun but we can make sure our pottytunities are! As I mentioned earlier, reading books is a great way to keep your little one entertained. But why not try singing songs and playing games too? Joseph also likes to help by holding the wipes bag. He will often do the first wipe himself too.
The Back Up Plan
Some families potty their babies from birth. This means they are experienced and often confident enough to go nappy free at home.
As I mentioned earlier, we introduced a potty at 9 months and choose to do a part time approach. This means we try to offer lots of pottytunities AND we use a back up.
We use a back up of absorbent, small sized, cloth training pants at home. As this still allows Joseph to recognise when he is wet without a puddle on the floor. It does mean a lot of changes of clothes, especially on the days we aren’t getting our pottytunities timed just right. But it is still better for the planet than all of those plastic disposables!
We do still use disposable nappies out and about. I would prefer to use cloth but I haven’t managed to purchase a tumble dryer just yet. And unfortunately, I already find the two loads of washing a day stressful enough to get dry. If we have another baby in the future (and have finally got a tumble dryer), then i would definitely go for the simple and reliable Terry Towelling nappy! There are of course many others to choose from including all-in-one options with waterproof wraps built in. If you need information on the different types of cloth nappies out there, The Nappy Lady website is the best for detailed comparisons.
It is entirely your decision whether to use nappies. Some people go nappy free at home and use cloth out and about. This cuts out plastic all together. We use reusable cloth wipes at home too which also helps cut down on plastic.
The Benefits of Baby Led Pottying
So what are the benefits of Baby Led Pottying?
1) Better for the Planet
Of course a HUGE benefit is cutting down on all this plastic! This is better for everyone, because it is better for the planet.
2) Normalising Toileting
Another benefit is that introducing the potty gradually, and making it part of your routine early on, means your child isn’t suddenly thrown in at the deep end.
Imagine your next birthday comes around and all of a sudden you are expected to completely change your behaviour in regards to toileting? Perhaps your boss decides all workers have to do their business outside with immediate effect. Would that be an easy change to cope with?
Toddlers are already coping with big emotions, developing new skills and a lack of control as they figure out their identity as their own separate person. Bombarding them with a brand new set of rules which they are meant to master in only a few days, just because they turned a certain age, seems like a recipe for disaster!
Baby Led Pottying allows a gradual and respectful introduction to toileting without the need for bootcamp style potty training.
Baby Led Pottying is also a brilliant way to improve communication between you and your child. It requires the parent to offer new methods of communication like sound association, signing or key words. It also promotes communication from your child, as they realise a basic need will be met in a more effective way when they engage in a particular behaviour. It gives them more control over their toileting habits and provides a bit of independence in their day.
4) Responsive Caregiving
To offer your child ‘pottytunities’ at the right times, you have to become attuned to your child’s behaviour, their body language and the patterns of their bodily functions. It requires you to pre-empt their needs, rather than wait until the aftermath becomes apparent. As you learn more about your child’s behaviour, you may notice little preferences or subtle signals. Reacting to these and providing more opportunities for your child to have their needs met can only be a positive thing.
5) Less Mess
And if all of that isn’t enough, you are also going to make your life a lot less messy! My son reliably poops in the potty. There have only been a handful of times he has pooped in training pants or a nappy in the past 6 months. For most parents, cleaning up messy toddler nappies is a daily occurrence. For us, it isn’t even monthly! And I am so grateful, as my toddler has been a ‘bum shuffler’ since 10 months old…
So, what do you need to get started?
Absolutely nothing. You can potty your child over the big toilet or even the bathroom sink. We, however, chose to buy a potty. I have linked to our potty and some of our other tried and tested products below.
Need to know more?
So there we have it. My beginner’s guide to Baby Led Pottying. If you would like to find out more I have listed further resources below.
Go Diaper Free by Andrea Olson