If you have ever heard of diaper-free babies but thought it was a fantasy, I am here to tell you that this method is for real.
My goal with this entire blog is to help mamas explore their options, and diapering is no exception.
Disposable diapers have their place. Cloth diapers are more my thing. But if you have ever been curious about going completely diaper-free, I’ve got you covered (haha, see what I did there?) in this article.
As usual with my diapering articles, get your coffee way in advance cause I don’t hold back!
How the diaper-free method works
The diaper-free method is also known as elimination communication (EC) or natural infant hygiene.
I didn’t know this method existed until after C was born. I thought we as parents had only one option: traditional disposable diapers.
Trying to raise your baby with a minimalist lifestyle? Guess what: you don’t need diapers!
But what exactly do we mean by a diaper-free baby?
What is the diaper-free method?
The diaper-free method is the gentle and respectful practice of teaching your baby to eliminate waste without soiling herself into a diaper.
Through observation and communication, you can help your baby learn to pee and poop into a container, like a small potty, or even over a toilet.
Completely bypass diapers and traditional potty training with the diaper-free method!
The only natural method
It is not instinctual to soil oneself. Like all mammals, humans are genetically wired to eliminate waste away from their bodies and living spaces.
The “diaper-free method,” or “elimination communication,” are fancy terms to describe a practice that humans have used since their existence. Prior to traditional disposable diapers, and prior even to cloth diapers, the diaper-free method was the ONLY method used, by EVERYONE, around the world.
Just think: traditional disposable diapers were invented in the 1940s. Who in your family used them, at the earliest? Let’s say your grandmama used them on your mama. That’s only 2 generations away.
And before that? Your great-grandmama would have used cloth diapers on your grandmama. Cloth diapering has been practiced since the 1800s. That’s still very recent in human history.
And even before that? Well, everyone practiced the diaper-free method—only, they didn’t think of it as a “method.” It was just a way of life. It was just how you kept yourself and your living area clean for you and your baby.
Unfortunately, when we use diapers, we unwittingly teach babies to soil themselves, which is unnatural in and of itself. Babies become so used to eliminating waste in their diapers that we then have to re-teach them their natural instinct not to do so in what we know as the traditional potty training method.
By using the diaper-free method, we completely bypass having to do any traditional potty training, because babies and infants learn from the start to eliminate into a “potty.”
Get started with the diaper-free method
Ideally, you’ll be thinking about your diapering method before your baby is born. But if baby is already here, don’t worry—you can still start the diaper-free method.
Read below about when to start, what you need to get started, and how to actually go about helping your baby to eliminate outside of diapers.
When to start
Unlike traditional potty training, you can start the diaper-free method with a preverbal baby. This means that your baby doesn’t even have to know how to talk yet—so you can even start from birth, if you want to!
You can start the diaper-free method at any time, but your approach will differ somewhat according to whether you have already used diapers on your baby for an extended period of time.
If your baby is under 18 months, you can usually begin the diaper-free method with ease, as her natural tendency to not soil herself may still be preserved.
However, if you have diapered your child for 18 months or more, she has probably already learned that it is acceptable to soil herself, and your diaper-free method will have to teach her to unlearn this habit.
Regardless, if you want to give the diaper-free method a shot, the age of your baby shouldn’t stop you from trying this gentle and respectful practice. It’s a long game, but it’s worth it!
What you need
The good news is that you can get started with the diaper-free method FOR FREE.
The only thing you need is a receptacle for waste.
You can use any bowl or container lying around. You can also use a small potty or your own toilet with a child seat on top.
If you start the diaper-free method when your baby is still very small, you can hold her over a container and then dump the contents into your toilet. If your baby can already sit upright unaided, then the small potty or toilet will work great.
What to do
There’s a reason why the diaper-free method is also called elimination communication. Your baby will need to learn to communicate to you that she needs to eliminate, so that you can help her do so in an appropriate place.
Observe your baby’s cues
As for pretty much everything I recommend in parenting, I always suggest you start by quietly observing your child. Keep a notebook at hand if it helps you.
You can learn so much about your baby by simply being receptive and open to their cues. You will start the diaper-free method by observing your baby’s behavior just before she pees or poops.
Does your baby get fussy when she needs to eliminate? Does she make any sounds? Maybe she becomes still and might stare into space. Maybe she looks like she’s straining.
Some cues will be easy to recognize, others more subtle. All babies are different, and babies’ cues can change over time.
Determining your baby’s cues requires you to be on the receiving end of the communication between you and your baby. Once you have a good idea of her cues, you can now communicate to her how she can eliminate.
I would suggest you designate a sign to signal to your baby that you realize she needs to eliminate. The sign can be of your choosing; it doesn’t have to be THE sign from a recognized sign language. Maybe use a wave or a little motion with your fingers.
I also suggest you combine the sign with a verbal cue. Again, keep it simple. It doesn’t even have to be a word. It can be a whooshing sound with your lips if you want.
You can use different signs and verbal cues for pees and poops if you want, or you can use the same ones.
Your preverbal baby will quickly learn YOUR cues, especially if you combine a sign with a sound. You’ll see that your baby will eventually sign back to you, then later repeat the sound.
This is how your baby will eventually come to communicate to you that she needs to eliminate. Then, you can communicate back that you understand and you are going to assist her.
The last step is simply to assist your baby to eliminate.
If your baby cannot yet sit up unaided, you will need to hold her over a container or potty. You could stand over a sink or you could squat down over a bowl while holding your baby. Support your baby’s weight by holding her legs up in a squatting position, her back to your chest.
If your baby can sit up unaided, you can simply put her (or help her climb onto) a small potty or your toilet with the child seat on.
If your position allows, I would suggest repeating the sign and verbal cue while your baby eliminates so they can associate their action with your communication.
Drawbacks and benefits of the diaper-free method
I always like to give my readers a balanced argument. As someone who used traditional disposable diapers AND cloth diapers alongside the diaper-free method, I can safely say I’ve tried them all—so you don’t have to!
Here are some drawbacks and benefits that I saw from my experience.
Getting local support can be a challenge: Since the diaper-free method isn’t widely practiced in the Western world, it can be difficult to get family members and caregivers on board. I’m specifically thinking of those times when you will need someone to watch your baby for you. In this case, you may need to use diapers once in a while.
Investment of time in the beginning: Observing your baby’s cues won’t take a lot of effort, but will take a lot of time. If you need to be away from your baby for long periods of time, such as if you work full-time and have childcare for your baby, it will be harder for you to observe her cues. As I said above, this situation might also require you to use diapers for some of the time.
Using timing alone doesn’t work: Again, you have to be willing to put in the effort to first observe your baby and then communicate with her. The goal is to respond to your baby’s needs. If you think you’ll have success with this method by simply offering your baby the bowl or potty every hour on the hour, you’re wrong.
Sometimes less practical than diapers: I’ll say it. The diaper-free method is often less practical than just using diapers on your baby. Diapering developed out of a need for practicality. I admit that going out of the house presents its own challenges to the diaper-free method, and sometimes it’s just easier to use a diaper.
Cheaper than diapers. There are virtually zero startup costs for the diaper-free method, nor are there any ongoing expenses. You can get started today for free!
Less mess. Okay, there is always some mess involved. But you won’t have to deal with any more diaper leaks, and you probably will bypass bedwetting, too.
The best method for the environment. I’ve already spoken on the blog about how wasteful traditional disposable diapers are. Although I have used cloth diapers as a more ecological alternative, there is NO alternative more ecological than elimination communication.
No traditional potty training required. Skip the stress of having to train your child to use the potty instead of diapers by the time preschool rolls around. With the diaper-free method, your child will already be “potty trained!”
Deeper communication with your child. You probably already know when your child is hungry, in pain, too hot or cold, etc. Continue to foster the intuitive knowledge of your child’s most basic human needs by responding to her cues to eliminate.
My experience with the diaper-free method
I tried it with my daughter and was shocked at the good results in almost no time at all!
When I started
I first began with traditional disposable diapers to get acclimated to caring for my newborn, including breastfeeding. I then changed to cloth diapers after 7 weeks.
When C was 3 months old, I tried the diaper-free method… sorta. Actually, “diaper-free” is a bit of a misnomer. I actually tried elimination communication—my goal was to communicate about the elimination, but I still put C in cloth diapers.
Why I stopped
I stopped doing elimination communication when C was 4 months old. That’s right, I only lasted 1 month!
To be perfectly honest, I was so frazzled about motherhood in the beginning. I found the idea of going diaper-free a bit stressful, specifically in public, but also in my hunt for a nanny.
For our family, we found cloth diapering to be the happy medium between disposable diapers and the diaper-free method. Cloth diapers are still cheaper than disposables, and more ecological, too.
Here is where I’m gonna get a little TMI. Feel free to skip to the comments section!
A big reason why I stopped elimination communication when C was 4 months old was simply because she got too heavy to hold! I was holding her over a sink whose faucet didn’t work anymore. (We didn’t use the sink for anything other than elimination. Any waste that didn’t simply go down the drain on its own was washed down with rainwater.)
It was great to be in a standing position to assist my baby to eliminate. I could have squatted with her over a bowl, but I just didn’t. I don’t know why.
But anyway, in those early days sometimes it took her a long time to eliminate—up to 20 minutes at a time! She wasn’t that heavy, but after 20 minutes those few kilos felt like many, many more kilos.
Elimination communication “worked” during that month, but I just couldn’t keep it up.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely. If I could go back and do everything over again, knowing that much more now about the diaper-free method, I would try harder to make it work from the beginning.
Admittedly, I was mainly interested in saving money and saving the environment, and possibly bypassing traditional potty training down the line. Had I been more focused on the communication aspect, I would have done better in my attempt.
That’s why I definitely recommend every parent give it a shot. If you still feel unsure: as I have often said on the blog, no parenting “method” has to be ride-or-die. You CAN combine the diaper-free method with using actual diapers (such as diapering when out in public or for daycare, and not diapering when at home).
If you try the diaper-free method, don’t let me or anyone else tell you “this is the right way to do it and this is the wrong way.” Make it work for you and your family.
Ready to try the diaper-free method?
Voilà ! Now you know how easy it is to get started with the diaper-free method. It’s not hard and it’s not scary. It’s a long game, though—the diaper-free method requires time and persistence at the start. But if you can avoid or even drastically reduce your dependency on diapers, you’ll be so thankful you tried this method!
For further reading, I would recommend you check out these posts:
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
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