Infant Potty Training

Potty Training Doesn't Always Start in Toddlerhood

Potty training in cultures outside the United States is sometimes handled quite differently. If you have the time and patience and want to avoid diapers as much as possible, you can start watching for patterns and cues that allow potty training to begin when your child is just a baby. Here's how.

What is Infant Potty Training?

In other cultures, some parents never use disposable diapers. Even the cloth diapers that we're familiar with aren't used at all.

Babies are wrapped in thin strips of cloth, allowed to be naked and worn by their mothers or siblings in slings or dressed in light clothing without many fasteners. Placing a child on the potty or holding him while he goes potty somewhere, then, is not the ordeal that it would be in the United States or other countries where babies wear diapers, diaper covers and layers of clothing over that.

In these same cultures, mothers, siblings and other caregivers spend a lot of time in very close proximity to their babies. A mother is able to recognize certain cues that the baby gives when he needs to use the bathroom. In addition, parents and caregivers also know the child's routines and patterns of eating, sleeping and going to the bathroom.

As a result, potty training that begins as early as birth is practiced. In the United States, we call this infant potty training or elimination communication.

In other countries, they just see it as the natural way that children learn to use the bathroom and don't really call it anything special.

For most of us, the norm is to immediately wrap a diaper around our baby's bottom and then wait passively until he poops or pees so we can clean up the mess. Some of us may set a schedule for diaper changes, but it still involves letting pee and poop happen and then cleaning it and starting the process all over again.

Our active role takes place after the event. For these other moms and caregivers, their active role takes place before and during the event. It's very different, but when you think about it, the work involved is about the same. It's possible it's even less with infant potty training because these moms get to avoid the intense potty training efforts that we engage in when children are toddlers.

How Do I Get Started?

Some proponents believe that there is an optimal window for starting the process between birth and about 6 months. Others have experienced success starting later, however. The key thing to remember (at no matter which age you start) is that you, the parent, will be responsible for recognizing when your child needs to use the bathroom before he goes. You will also be responsible for taking him and putting him on the potty each time.

If you go into infant potty training with that in mind, then you've got your expectations set correctly. If, however, you feel that your child should be the one to let you know or should possess some sort of awareness at this early age, your expectations are unrealistic and you should not attempt this process.

Awareness on your child's part is very gradual, as is his participation.

Now that you've got the right mindset, you'll need to get physically prepared. To prepare your child's environment, you'll just need to buy cloth diapers, very small underwear (doll underwear can work) or just dress your child in his clothes without anything on underneath. Some parents prefer to let their child be naked and that's fine, too, as long as he's warm enough. Be ready for accidents to happen. It will take some time to recognize the signs and you will make mistakes at first. That's all right. Remember that you'd be changing diapers anyway if you weren't trying this method, so prepare yourself for a bit more laundry. Another way to look at it is that if you wait till your child is a toddler, you'll be experiencing accidents, too, only they're much bigger than a baby's accidents.

Some parents may be tempted to use disposable diapers and while that's up to you, I find that it hinders the process and can set you up for failure. The success of this method depends on you quickly recognizing patterns and learning your child's toileting habits. Disposable diapers can impair your ability to recognize when your child has just wet or soiled himself and delay your awareness. Some disposable diapers are so good at what they do, it's hard to even tell if they are wet when your child has only gone a small amount.

Purchase waterproof pads to go in your child's sleeping area and places where your child may be like car seats, underneath a blanket on the floor or on your lap. If you don't have a sling I suggest getting one since it is a wonderful tool for infant potty training. You will need to observe your baby for signs all the time. There's no better way to do that than by wearing him close to your body. In addition, buy one of the books on the topic that explain the process in depth and have information about troubleshooting problems that could arise. Two I recommend are The Diaper Free Baby Christine Gross-Loh (Compare Prices) and Infant Potty Training by Laurie Boucke (Compare Prices).

Purchasing a potty chair is optional. Some parents prefer to use something smaller, while for others, one of the major points of this method is not having to buy or consume all the stuff of potty training. Using the toilet is completely fine. Just watch out for splashing water. If you know it's your child's poop time, a wad of toilet paper placed in the bowl first can help alleviate that issue.

After you've gotten the environment ready, you're ready to start observing your child and watching for the following signs which indicate he is about to urinate or have a bowel movement:

  • Crying or fussiness just before going
  • Grunting
  • Squinting
  • Red face
  • Kicking legs or flailing arms
  • Squirming
  • Muscle tension, especially in the abdomen
  • Reaching for or touching the genital area

While your child is actively urinating or having a bowel movement, you may notice:

  • Active pushing
  • Contraction of the abdomen
  • A faraway look
  • He stops nursing briefly and then resumes
  • He stops other activities and then resumes
  • Reaching for or touching the genital area

Your child may also have his own unique signs and body language. Over time as you watch your baby carefully, you will begin to pick up on these. Babies sometimes very early on develop a special sound to indicate they'd like to nurse, and likewise, he may develop a special sound to indicate his potty needs. You can encourage this by making the same sounds yourself while he's going. Some parents like to make a soft s sound while baby is urinating or just hum. Another name for infant potty training is elimination communication. So, think of it as a mutual exchange between you and your child. He will begin to pick up on your signs, just as you are picking up on his.

In addition to watching for and learning your child's signs, you will want to get to know his routine (which you can control to some degree by determining bedtimes, bathtimes, playtimes and feeding times) and his body's timing.

How long is it after he eats before he's ready to have a bowel movement? Does he urinate first thing in the morning? It helps to write these times down while you're looking for patterns and getting to know how he operates.

When your child is ready to use the potty or even if it's just close to time, you just securely hold him over it and let him go.

Clean any residue with toilet paper and / or wipes afterward. Some children start to recognize where they are and what they are supposed to do there early in the process so even if they are not completely ready, a couple of minutes after you begin holding them over the potty, they're ready to use it.

Of course, for safety reasons, never try to prop your child on a toilet or potty chair at this age and don't ever leave him unattended. This is an active process that involves parent and child interacting closely, carefully and constantly.

When Does Infant Potty Training End?

Eventually, your child will become more aware of not only the urges and sensations associated with using the bathroom, but also the routine you have already in place. Once he starts walking, you can guide him to the potty and when he's able to follow verbal commands, you can simply tell him to go potty. There will be a period of time where it is still you who shoulders the responsibility of knowing when it's time to go, but slowly you will see your child's potty independence emerge.

Play it by ear and make sure you're backing off sometimes so that your child can step up to the task.

One of the great bonuses of this method is that many of the issues parents face who begin potty training their children later are removed. Your child will already be used to the bathroom environment, won't be afraid to use a potty and won't need to be introduced to underwear, for example. This can lead to earlier independence in some cases.

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