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by Yulia Belov

diaper-free baby
Photo Zurijeta / Shutterstock Images

An unintentional diaper-free day trip

There is an old way of teaching children swimming – just pushing them into deep water so their instincts will help them figure it out. I started Elimination Communication (EC, also called the diaper-free method or natural infant hygiene) with my son in a similar way.

My son was about three weeks old when my husband and I took him for a day trip to another town for an appointment and shopping. It was the second car trip with the baby on board and I was quite nervous. And when I finally relaxed in the car looking at the sleeping baby, I realized that the extra diapers were still on the table by the door. We had a long day planned; the single diaper, which baby was wearing; and we were running late.

Sure, we could have stopped somewhere to buy more diapers, and thus be late for the appointment or skip shopping at the baby place, which I really looked forward to. But I wanted to take the challenge and practice Elimination Communication.

The first stop was the baby store, where we wanted to get some cloth diapers. I had my son in the wrap and sneaked into the washroom in the store. To my relief, the diaper was still clean. I held my son above the sink and to my great surprise he peed right away. Excited, I ran to my husband and told about our first success.

Next was the midwifery clinic. The same trick did not really work there right away but finally I managed to take him to the washroom on time.

At the end, we went to a restaurant to celebrate our “graduation” from the midwifery clinic. Our son was sleeping when we came in but woke up and started fussing at the very moment the food arrived. But this gave me a chance to take him to the washroom before our trip home. We took the food to go and were on our way. Miraculously, we still had our only diaper dry and clean when we arrived home.

At that time, I did consider it to be a miracle. It was only later that I realized this was quite natural.

Why diaper-free was for me

It all started with my wish to get along without disposable diapers when I had a baby. Initially, I wanted to do this because of the impact on the environment of the disposable diapers. I did not want to use non recyclable materials and thus add even more garbage to the landfills for our planet to handle. It feels great that I can do at least this for the environment and for the generations to come.

So I was thinking of using washable diapers, which is a pretty good alternative. However, when I finally became pregnant I heard about EC. This method utilizes babies’ abilities to develop awareness and control of their bodily functions and communicate about them right from birth. This means that the baby and the mother have a very close connection or bond and that the mother is able to know when the baby needs to go. This sounded really incredible and even unrealistic at first. But I wanted to try.

Doing the research on Elimination Communication, I found many additional great benefits: saving money on disposable diapers, baby’s comfort, healthy body awareness, great bonding with the baby, and more.

But the main reason for me right now is that it is natural. You probably have heard from nurses or doctors that the moment you take diapers from the babies they start peeing right away. It is usually said with a negative tone or irony to it. But in reality, this observation shows that babies do not want to wet their diapers! They do not make a mess in the doctor’s office on purpose. On the contrary, they hold until they are given the opportunity not to wet the diaper. Is that not amazing? In my opinion, this is something to admire, not be sarcastic about.

Our life with a diaper-free baby

However, when I had my first baby I found many reasons to postpone starting using EC full time and relied on disposable diapers. I have read that many mothers are able to read their babies’ signs from birth and go without diapers. However, the first two weeks were pretty crazy with breastfeeding problems, a blocked duct issue with three-day high fever, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and some horrible diaper rash.

Diaper rash? And where were my great intentions to keep my baby’s bottom healthy and diaper-free? At that point, I realized that I was exhausted anyway and I definitely should give EC at least a try.

To my surprise, I started to really enjoy the process. Instead of changing diapers routinely, I started to connect with my baby on a deeper level. I started holding my baby most of the time in a sling, wrap, or just on my lap when I was reading or resting. Paying close attention to my little one, I was often able to read his cues and hold him above the sink or a container on time. At other times, I laughed at my failures with “I knew it; I totally felt it was the time but did not trust my intuition.”

Pretty soon, I learned the pattern and his cues, and could predict when he needed to go. But what was even better, I became more relaxed. All the tension I felt as an inexperienced mother started to melt once my bond with the baby became this strong.

I had several cloth diapers, which I used as back-ups in case if I missed the cues or, which happened more often, did not make it on time to a sink or a basin. In a short time, I have invented my own way of tying foldable diapers. I used the bodysuits to hold the foldable diapers (or just old sheets torn to good size) with great success. I even located medium-size containers from sour cream all around my house close to places where I liked to nurse or spend time with my son. This way, I could grab a container easily when I knew it was the time.

But the true breakthrough came when I finally became comfortable holding my baby the right way above the sink. The book I had, Diaper Free, the Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid Bauer has great pictures of the many positions of holding the baby. But for some reason, I was afraid to hold my newborn the proper way during the first month or two. I was afraid that his spine was not ready or something like that. And I think that it is a good idea to wait for the fear to go away before trying. Even if the fear is for no good reason as in my case, there is no need for the baby to feel your uncertainty. So I was glad to have waited until I was comfortable with the hold.

And what a difference a proper holding position makes! I found the “Basic” position when standing in front of the sink so great. I could make faces to my baby in front of the mirror and he would usually pee and poop simultaneously right away. And there are many other holding positions to try and benefit from. So I would suggest doing a quick research on EC to learn from those who have some experience if you are thinking of trying the diaper-free method.

At first, I relied upon disposables at night. My son slept in our bed and, at around two months, he started to clearly show us when he wanted to pee. He would fuss for several minutes until I would wake up, sit up, and hold him above the basin, which stood beside the bed for the night. He would pee with a sigh of relief and fall asleep right away. This way, we did not have to actually get up and fully wake up. This was really impressive. And he had to pee only two or three times at night.

Of course, there were many times when I would hold him above the basin without any luck because he only wanted to nurse. And the little guy was wearing folding diapers and sleeping on back-up pads (folded blankets on top of a waterproof pad) just in case. And of course accidents happened when I was too tired to wake up on time. But it would take only a couple of minutes to change the cloth diaper and the blanket if wet. I even learned to do this without turning the light on. And back to sleep.

Father’s experience

My husband Leo totally shares my views and also wants to have our baby diaper-free. His support was actually really important to me because not many other people around us understood me. Leo was helping me with the extra work involved and was totally fine if accidents happened. He agreed that several stains on baby’s clothes and some mess from time to time to clean were such a negligible price to pay for being environmentally friendly and kind to our baby. And Leo also practiced EC successfully. I was sharing my observations and tips with Leo, since he was not spending as much time with the baby as I was.

Actually, my husband was the one to take disposable diapers from our son at a friends’ house when he noticed the first signs of diaper rash. Each time, he promised to ensure there would be no accident and kept an eye on the baby gladly.

Was it worth it?

Sure, it is now easy for me to think about those times. But then, my only wish was that my son would start using the potty at five months! I even bought one for him when he turned three months. I dropped those expectations pretty soon though.

I learned to relax and enjoy every day instead of waiting for something. When I was really tired of cleaning up the occasional accidents or doing the laundry, I tried to think about the benefits of my son being diaper-free. And I never regretted it.

First, I really enjoyed the intimate bond with my child. And I am sure that it was partly due to EC.

Second, I once saw the picture of a baby boy with the pile of disposable diapers needed for his first two years. I am really happy that my son’s pile is so much smaller.

Third, it is very important for me that my son was aware of his bodily functions. This awareness is very natural and we might not even realize its importance for the baby’s development. Moreover, my baby was really comfortable in cotton pants or just naked in the summer during the hot days. He never had any diaper rashes, only a couple of times when I had to use disposable diapers during long trips.

Last but not least, I saved quite a bit of money. And this is especially important for me since I chose to stay at home longer with my son instead of going back to work I thought to myself that I was actually making money when being with my baby by saving on the cost of diapers. And this notion made me feel even better.

However, I never pushed myself to having my son be diaper-free one hundred percent of the time. I used disposable diapers when outdoors during the cold months. A single diaper would often last for a couple of weeks this way. And I used cloth diapers or disposable ones when visiting friends or family or having people over. This way I was not stressed out too much with minimum harm to somebody’s carpets, dress, or pants.

Two tips from my experience

So from my experience, I would definitely recommend new mothers and fathers try practicing EC. Do not worry if you do not succeed all the time. You will most likely succeed if you try holding your baby above a sink or a basin just after he or she wakes up. This always worked for me. Even if those are the only times you succeed at first, this is already a lot!

Also, it is important not to be too hard on yourself. It is okay to use cloth diapers as a backup or disposables when you feel too tired or busy with other duties. Just do not give up. Rest, refresh, and continue with EC again. Most of the time, it is not the EC that frustrates you, but the pressure you put yourself under when trying to be perfect and blaming yourself for failures. The baby needs a relaxed and happy parent, so look at all the accidents with good humor.

For example, in my homeland Ukraine there is a saying that if a baby pees on you, then you will be invited to his or her wedding. You can imagine how determined I am that I will be present at my son’s wedding! I bet this saying was invented by a mother or father who wanted to cheer up him or herself and to cheer up the others around. We should learn from this and have fun taking care of our babies.

I heard many times from the people around me that it would have been easier to just use disposable diapers. First of all, I do not agree with this. So many times it was quicker to hold the baby above the sink, to pull the pants back on, and I was done!

Second of all, choosing the easier way is not always the best. Often, you later feel disappointed for not trying your best. There are always great benefits in going the extra mile like doing your daily exercise and walking instead of driving when possible.

Looking back, I am glad I did my best and think that it was totally worth it.

Learn More

Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid Bauer (Plume, 2006)

Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living by Laurie Boucke (White-Boucke Publishing, 2008)

The Continuum Concept by Jean Leidloff (Da Capo Press, 1986)

Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr. Sarah J. Buckley (Celestial Arts, 2008)

Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce (Plume, 1992)

Diaper-Free: There is Another Choice by Rashel Tremblay, in Natural Life Magazine, Sept/Oct 2009

Yulia Belov lives in a beautiful town of Meaford, Ontario with her husband Leo, son Ian (05/2010) and bearded collie Lada (puppy forever). Besides exploring the world together with her little son, she works in the garden and on sustainability projects, participates in a homeschooling group and writes about natural parenting. She shares her experience and thoughts on her blog


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