Elimination communication: Would you try baby-led potty training from birth?

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  • Would you potty train your newborn? Could you?!

    That’s the thinking with a controversial method that skips nappies and encourages you to read your baby’s cues and timings to spot when they are about to go – so you can hold them over a toilet instead.

    Here, we explore everything you need to know about elimination communication so you can decide if it could work for you and your little one.

    What is elimination communication?

    The potty training method, known as elimination communication or baby-led potty training, encourages parents to work with their baby’s early reflexes by holding them in a squat position over a toilet, potty or bowl to encourage them to release their pelvic floor (and bingo, you get a wee or a poo, straight down the loo).

    The sooner you start, the better, the theory goes – you can start from day one, but preferably before six months and before your baby is crawling or walking.

    That’s right, it means going nappy free (or close to it) from birth.

    So far, so eyebrow raising? The concept has been praised by two doctors (and parents) in US journal Pediatrics, after they used it with their third child.

    Dr Rosemary She and Dr Jeffrey Bender decided not to use disposable nappies, claiming that they ‘felt sheepish’ about sending their first two children’s nappies to landfill – and cloth nappies didn’t seem like a guilt-free option either, what with all the energy and water needed to wash them.

    Instead, they came across elimination communication, and never looked back. (Though we’re pretty sure there must have been some mess to clear up.)

    Other parents come to it as a way to deal with nappy rash by giving their baby plenty of nappy-free time.

    How do I start elimination communication?

    Amber Hatch, author of Nappy Free Baby: A Practical Guide to Baby-led Potty Training From Birth, describes the process as a ‘loose conditioning’ in which your baby will quickly learn to associate being held over a toilet or potty with doing a wee or a poo.

    She told GoodtoKnow: ‘In the early weeks, babies urinate and defecate on a reflex. Parents find that they take the baby’s nappy off and they will urinate or defecate. You can help release the pelvic floor by putting them in a squat position and if you capitalise on that, the chances are they will go.

    ‘You can hold the baby over a potty or bowl and after a few times, it doesn’t take very long for the baby to catch on and make the connection with being held in that position and releasing their pelvic floor and the bladder or bowl; it’s loose conditioning.

    ‘It’s a bit like burping a baby; they can do it by themselves but you can help them.’

    Amber’s book, Nappy Free Baby: A Practical Guide to Baby-led Potty Training From Birth, is available from Amazon

    What are the benefits of baby-led potty training?

    ‘Parents might come at it from environmental reasons or really bad nappy rash,’ says Amber. ‘But there’s a real joy in that communication that you might not even have considered possible.

    ‘There’s not that many times in parenting a baby when you know for sure what’s going on, so it’s confidence boosting for both parent and baby.

    ‘The best thing is just to give it a go. Try it just before a bath, which is an easy way to incorporate it into your routine.’

    Are there any negatives to baby-led potty training?

    Well, as with any potty training, there’s going to be accidents… But seriously, this potty training method needs you to be totally in tune with your baby – and we wonder how practical that is if you have to go back to work or what a nursery or childminder would make of it.

    Interestingly, it’s not an all or nothing approach, so you could fit it into your routine, at a time that suits you, and see where it goes…