baby in diaper

While still pregnant, an environmentalist friend of mine announced that she was going to skip diapers altogether and go straight to communicating with her baby about going to the bathroom on the toilet. Say, wha?

I have two children. Diapers were changed at least six to eight times a day in the first few months. Yes, there are some who poo-poo (pun, couldn’t help myself) disposable diapers. They’re packed with polymer pellets (hello, absorption). They’re dumped in landfills at an alarming rate. They stink up the nursery. With all those faults, they’re convenient time-savers for exhausted parents attempting to wipe a baby’s bottom at 3 a.m. (Read about Diaper Changing Battles here).

So my husband and I laughed. What does she know? She’ll be running for Huggies within two days. Four days—tops. Well, a year later, I found myself eating a slice of humble (diaper) pie. Not only does her one-year-old son communicate when he has to go to the bathroom, but he rarely goes to the bathroom in his diaper. “Of course this means that he needs to go in middle of the night,” she said, “but it’s usually after nursing.”

How does it work?

The diaper-free method follows a practice of “elimination communication,” EC for short, by “observing one’s baby’s signs and signals, providing cue sounds and elimination-place associations,” according to DiaperFreeBaby.org, a non-profit site. The website instructs parents to closely watch your baby for tensing, fussing or squirming. Once you think baby is ready, hold her over the toilet or potty and cue with watery sounds such as “psss.”

This is nothing new. Many cultures don’t use diapers—and haven’t ever. “Child-rearing traditions are culturally entrenched,” writes anthropologist Meredith Small, in a New York Times op-ed. “The use of diapers in particular is so engrained in Western culture that it’s almost impossible to imagine life without them.”

It’s impossible because much of parenting is defined by time. On any given day, I’m attempting, and often failing, to strike a balance between my needs and playing with and caring for my kids. If I’m looking for “cues” 10-20 times a day, when do I get to take a shower? Or grocery shop? Or sit and stare at the wall until my eyes fall out just for the sake of quiet? Though DiaperFreeBaby.org swears this isn’t a time-consuming process, I wonder how can it not be?

I commend my friend for making EC work, and when her son hits the potty training age, she’s not going to have to struggle with the dirty (yep, pun again) struggle of potty training. Still, I wouldn’t follow EC if I had another baby.

You?

image: AmberStrocel