While conventional potty-training usually starts around the age of two, there’s a growing movement known as elimination communication – aka baby-led potty training – where babies are encouraged to use the potty or toilet from the moment they’re born. We speak to one Dubai-based parent who’s tried it…

There’s a lot to be said for disposable nappies. Quick, clean and convenient, some of us might be tempted to put off the potty-training phase for as long as possible if we could. But alongside the long-held environmental concerns about disposable diapers, experts are starting to complain that they are almost too effective – they keep little ones so dry that they are losing the connection with their bodily functions.

In fact, in the past five years there’s been a significant rise in the number of children aged between three and seven who are starting school without proper toilet-training, which is having a disruptive impact in classrooms, according to a recent survey* of teachers in the UK. Enter the US-founded elimination communication (EC), better known as baby-led potty-training in the UK, which encourages parents to introduce babies to the potty or toilet between the ages of zero and four months – although it can be started with babies of any age. Based on traditional practices of nappy-free baby care in hunter-gatherer cultures, EC states that babies are born signalling their desire to eliminate (in the same way as they signal their desire to eat or sleep), and emphasises communication between caregivers and babies to enable both to become attuned to the child’s rhythms and control of waste elimination.

While it’s not for everyone, it’s an increasingly popular practice that parents such as Dubai-based Yasmin AbuAyed, 30, from the US, say ends up being easier and more cost-effective than the traditional nappy route – especially as it’s perfectly OK to use nappies as a backup when necessary. A certified birth doula and mum to Jamil, three, and Adeo, four months, Yasmin shares her experience with elimination communication with her two boys:

“We first started with EC when Jamil was four months old. It was ‘part-time’, so I wasn’t aiming to catch everything – I just put him on the potty on occasion and left a diaper on all the time. Even though we were only doing it part-time, he was still fully potty-trained by the age of two and never had a big accident in his underwear; at most there would be spots of pee before he would run to a toilet.

“When I went into labour with my second son, Adeo, I brought a potty with me to the hospital so that we could try EC from birth. To start, you have to keep your child diaper-free and watch what they’re doing before they eliminate. His first pees I didn’t try to catch – I just observed and while he eliminated, I made a noise so he would start to associate my noise with his elimination (one noise for pee, one for poo).

“It definitely requires a lot of attention on baby to begin with, but for us it was the middle of summer so we didn’t go out a whole lot anyway. If we do go out I usually stick a diaper on him as a backup and take him to a restroom intermittently when he signals he needs to go, or when I think he’s likely to need to go.

Yasmin with her sons, Adeo and Jamil. Photo by Anas Thacharpadikkal

“The kind of cues I watch out for have been changing as Adeo gets older, and they’re different for every kid. The most amazing thing for me was to realise that babies really do come out with the ability to communicate their need to eliminate, in the same way as they communicate their desire to eat. As a newborn Adeo would pucker his face when he needed to pee, so that was thankfully quite easy to notice. Now he squirms and makes noises that indicate he’s uncomfortable, then he squawks if we’re not responding. When he needs to or is trying to poo he stops being interactive and will stare. I’m also very aware of the times he typically tends to go, such as after a feed or a sleep.

“At the age of four months now, Adeo is in a transition where rather than us pre-empting or catching his elimination, he will also eliminate on cue when we put him on the potty. It’s been going amazingly well; he’s consistently at least trying to go when he’s on a potty and usually does. I hardly ever have a poo diaper either. There’s still improvement that could be made from my side as I’m not always taking him often enough or responding to cues fast enough, but I don’t foresee that improving a whole lot; it would be very time-consuming.

“The benefits of EC for me are fewer diapers, less time doing full potty-training, earlier complete potty-training, a stronger bond and understanding with your baby as you are so tuned into each other, and potentially a more satisfied baby

“The disadvantages are of course the time and attention required if you’re aiming for 100 per cent diaper-free.

“I would recommend EC to any parent or caretaker who can see the benefits. It definitely requires patience when you first start out, and you also might need to grow a thick skin – at least in my experience, people tend to think you’re crazy when they hear you’re trying to potty-train your baby! That is until they see that it works for themselves – then they change their tune.”

*By The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, September 2016

Photo by Istock