Potty learned

As I mentioned in my “Deceived by EC” post, we’ve made lots of progress with the potty since the 16-month update.  I’m sure I’ve already forgotten some of the details, but better late than never!

Months 17-21
Sir’s ability to climb onto the potty by himself, which developed right around the 16-month mark, did indeed prove to be a big step in his potty-learning journey.

To diaper or not to diaper:

  • No diapers (i.e., bare bottom) around the house when awake
  • Thin cloth diaper under his bottom in the booster chair for eating
  • Diapers when out and about, with potty along also
  • Diapers for nap time (pinned prefolds with Thirsties covers)
  • Diapers for overnight (pocket diaper, once we discovered that their “feel-dry” material helped him sleep longer)

Despite our consistent use of the ASL sign for toilet, he never picked communicated potty needs in that way.  That, along with his continued [slight] speech delay meant he did not have a great way to let us know when he needed to use the toilet.

He rather quickly reached a point where almost all of his at-home, pants- and diaper-free-time pees happened in the potty.  Having the time to be home with him and offer all of the bare-bottom time definitely helped.

There were a few challenges.  He had a hard time staying dry while eating, perhaps because he didn’t have free access to the potty.

Bowel movement timing was often such that he would use his diaper right before waking up in the morning and/or right before waking up from his nap in the afternoon.  In addition to the frustration of this happening in the diaper rather than in the toilet, the timing often led to shortened sleep.

Month 22
By this point, Sir was staying dry at most meals, in addition to his regular success when around the house.  So I started getting brave . . . .

To diaper or not to diaper:

  • Same as above, but halfway through the month, we started to go out wearing underwear (not training pants) instead of diapers

I figured that at some point in all potty-training processes, you call it good enough and just start venturing out in underwear and pants, bringing along a spare in case of an accident.  This went well overall, with very few wet “unders.”

Also around this time, bowel movement timing shifted just enough to give Sir time to wake up and get to the potty, which meant almost zero poopy diapers — awesome, though we still had to clean his little potty.

Month 23
I decided it was time for Sir to verbalize his need to use the potty.  Since his vocabulary was still limited to one-syllable sounds, mostly a few consanants followed by a short “a” (e.g., Mama, Dada, Papa, Baba), we didn’t have much to work with.

Though a “p” sound for “pee” and “poop” would have been intuitive, it was already taken (Papa).  Instead I picked “t” (for “toilet” and “tinkle”), and emphasized that he was going “ttt, ttt” every time he climbed on the potty.

In less than a week, Sir added “ttt, ttt” to his repertoire, and he finally had a way to let us know that he needed to go.

He learned this just in time to take advantage of it on the road trip to Florida, quickly realizing that uttering “ttt, ttt” was a way to make the car stop.  Eventually, in the interest of ever getting to Florida, Matthew had to hold his hand and encourage him to “use his diaper” when in the car seat.

To diaper or not to diaper:

  • No diapers when awake, either at home, others’ homes, and in public
  • Diapers for nap time (pinned prefolds with Thirsties covers)
  • Diapers for overnight (pocket diaper, once we discovered that their “feel-dry” material helped him sleep longer)
  • Diaper in the car for road trips

Despite our using simple, not-to-tight, elastic-waist underwear and pants, Sir cannot pull his pants down on his own, so he still very much needs our assistance in the potty process.  For this reason (as well as habit), we continue to do mostly bare-bottom at home.


Month 24 — Present
More of the same, with the added twist of Sir starting part-time daycare.  I feared that he would regress in the using-the-toilet department when in a new setting, with a new caregiver, and other kids around.  Not so.

I informed Mrs. L about the meaning of “ttt, ttt,” and my little dude handled the transition like a champ.  In two-and-a-half months there, he’s wet his pants only twice, and neither time was in the first few weeks.

In July, we took another long road trip, employing the same method of encouraging him to use his diaper in the car, though of course we offered the potty when we did stop (and we were stopping at least every two hours due to Matthew’s blood clot).

Naps and Nighttime Sleep
I really didn’t/don’t have a plan for this.  For me, Gabriel sleeping well is MUCH more important than him staying dry during those times.  Plus, I really have no idea how you teach a child not to pee while sleeping.

However, several weeks ago, he started waking up from some naps with a dry diaper.  At this point, we’re close to 100% dry at nap time.

Two or three weeks ago, he woke up dry in the morning.  Since then, I’d say we’re over 50% for dry nights.  I find this particularly amazing since he sleeps for ten to eleven hours at night.

We’re still using diapers for both naps and overnights, and I’m not sure when I’ll feel comfortable giving it up, especially at night.  I really dislike the idea of a middle-of-the-night bed sheet change.

At both sleep times, offering the potty immediately before putting on the diaper seems to increase likelihood of waking dry.

We are exclusively a Baby Bjorn potty family.  We received the Little Potty (now with a slightly different design and called the Smart Potty) as a gift (one of the few items on our very, very small baby registry), and I purchased their potty chair and toilet trainer insert from Craigslist.

Due to the low profile, Gabriel could easily climb onto (think, walking over it from the back and sitting down) the Little Potty by himself, long before he was able to stand in front of either potty and sit down on it from that position.

He doesn’t seem particularly interested in the toilet insert, and, since he can’t climb onto the big toilet unassisted yet anyway, I am perfectly happy with him continuing to use the small potties (though I won’t miss emptying the poops).


Psst, psst: Deceived by EC

I last wrote about our “Elimination Communication journey” in November 2012.  We’ve made huge progress in the nine intervening months, which I want to share, but I also became thoroughly disillusioned by the promises made in the Elimination Communication (EC) literature, which feature anecdotes from the very rare (at least in the United States) families that achieve freedom from diapers before or very shortly after the one-year-of-age mark.

The EC literature creates unrealistic expectations, especially in the cultural context of the United States, where EC practice is very rare, and where many infants spend time in daycare facilities where pee and poop free-for-alls from undiapered bottoms would create serious sanitation and health problems, and where caregivers do not possibly have the time to put each and every baby on the potty every time the infant might be showing some need.

After thirteen months of largely wasted time and effort, followed by five months of one step forward, two steps back, I was coming to this realization for myself this past February, when I read the chapter on “natural parenting” in Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?

She raised good questions and provided this thought-provoking critique of EC:

. . . EC also represents the white middle-class phenomenon of fetishizing a largely imaginary “third world” motherhood that’s supposedly more pure and natural than Western parenting practices.  A common refrain from EC advocates, for example, is that mothers in India or Africa don’t use or need diapers.  Never mind that there isn’t a monolithic “Indian” or “African” parenting experience (or that Africa isn’t a country), or that the mothers they’re referring to could be very happy to have diapers, were they available.  It’s easy to appropriate a condescending fixation on “underdeveloped” motherhood when you have the financial means and leisure time to pick whatever kind of parenting works for you at the moment.  This clueless racism is captured perfectly on Krista Cornish Scott’s website, where she assures readers that “EC is not just for African bush-women” (p. 20-21).

I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time as I read that chapter.  If I had actually owned any EC books (I checked them out from the library, of course), I might have planned a book burning.

Unfortunately, my epiphany came too late, long after I’d been sucked into the myth of a diaper-free baby.

Looking back on my EC experience
Feeling frustrated (with yourself and your baby) and discouraged with every wet diaper, like you must be doing something wrong, is not a healthy or fulfilling introduction to motherhood.

Between the normal first-year-with-a-baby, sleep deprived, what-the-hell-am-I-doing haze, plus my postpartum depression haze, I failed to recognize this for many, many months.  Many months when I could, and should, have been enjoying a cute little [cloth] diapered baby butt.  Though I don’t dwell on it, I resent the extra strain and stress I put  on myself (and Matthew), as well as the normal, cuddling with a tiny baby time that I lost to potty efforts and naked-baby-on-the-floor time.

If I had a do-over . . .
I would not even attempt to take my baby anywhere near a potty until at least six months.  Even that is probably crazy early.

For Sir, things really clicked shortly after he began walking and was able to get on and off the [little] potty by himself.  This age will differ for every infant, of course, but in Sir’s case, the walking happened at about 12 1/2 months, with the independent on and off the potty about a month later (this is not to say that he was “diaper-free” at this point).

While there’s no way to know for sure, I have a strong suspicion that the “potty work” and any small progress we made during the first thirteen months of Sir’s life could have been condensed into a single month when he was thirteen- or fourteen-months-old.

One month of effort vs. thirteen months of effort — which would you choose?

I’ve concluded (though again, every child is unique) that there is probably middle ground between the very early potty learning espoused by EC advocates and the much-later, don’t even think about it until the child is at least two-years-old position held by most Western child-rearing “experts.”

I’ll share more about that in an upcoming post on our experience with potty learning from months fourteen through twenty-four, by which point we were diaper-free except for naps and overnights.

Psst, psst: EC at 16 months

Well, it’s been almost ten months since I wrote an official Elimination Communication (EC) update, though I wrote a summary in April and mentioned it briefly in August.

So, after more or less giving it up as a lost cause for a couple of months over the summer, I resumed the EC journey in August, when I became a temporary (?) SAHM.  I felt we were making enough progress that I made room for the little blue potty in our checked luggage when we traveled to Portland in early September.

However, we chose to use disposable diapers on the trip, and I despaired of any EC progress under those conditions.  Surprisingly, it almost seemed that he was MORE reluctant to wet the disposable diapers than the usual cloth.  On the occasions where we did some day trips from Portland in the car, we would often stop to find the diaper dry and a fussing baby very relieved to pee.

Since then, Gabriel figured out how to climb on the potty by himself, which seems like a big step to me.  Up until last Thursday, there was a lot of unproductive climbing on and off.  Then, he peed in the potty completely by himself (I was in another room) twice in one afternoon, though that feat has yet to be repeated.

He still lacks a consistent way to let us know he needs to use the potty.  One semi-consistent signal (that we do not want to encourage) is coming up and biting us, but even this is confusing, because he also uses it as a general “I want attention” signal.

I’m cautiously optimistic about our progress, though we clearly have a long way until we’re “diaper free.”  I still have my doubts about the usefulness of the work we put into EC in the early months (and hence, the whole method, really) — the subject could use better information about when it really makes sense to start putting time and energy into potty learning.

Past EC Posts
Baby steps
Psst, psst: Thoughts on EC so far
Psst, psst: EC at six months

Psst, psst: Thoughts on EC so far

Commenting on Kath’s EC post on Baby KERF helped me reflect more on our elimination communication (EC) journey thus far.*  If you like the “journey” metaphor, I will say that, after nine months of this journey, most days it feels like we’re still trying to pull out of the garage.  There have been a few periods where we made it part way down the driveway, maybe even out into the street, but then we remembered we forgot something and had to go back to the house.

While I’m trying to be patient, and understanding, and optimistic, I fall short much of the time.  Despite all my best intentions to be realistic and not set my expectations too high, especially once he started daycare (where they refuse to sit him on his potty), it’s hard.

So, given my experience thus far, what would I do differently?

  • Wait to start EC until baby is about 6 weeks (or more?), instead of from birth, which is when many cultures that have retained this practice start.
    • During those first weeks, you can watch your baby for elimination signals and try to get a sense of his timing and patterns, but, especially if you’re a first-time mom, you’re dealing with enough other [non-literal] shit.
  • As with any other baby-advice/parenting book, don’t expect YOUR child to match the description of “most other children” — you will just be frustrated.
  • Sleep is more important than diaper-free!  Practice EC during the daytime ONLY.  My initial zeal for trying to catch Every.  Single. Pee. probably contributed to some sleeping problems for bébé.
    • Instead of observing The Pause (a la French parents) when he gave a little cry at night or during nap times, we would rush right in, un-diaper him, and set him on the pot.  Not only were these efforts usually unproductive, but they deprived him of the chance to learn to consolidate his sleep and get the rest he needed.

The anecdotes in the EC books bias one toward thinking the practice is easy and straightforward — if you build it, they will come, and all that jazz.

And maybe it works that way for some people, but when it didn’t for us, it just created one more frustration, one more reason to question my parenting decisions and abilities, at a time that was already stressful and fraught with uncertainty, all fueled of course by sleep deprivation and my struggles with PPD.

I really, really like the idea of EC and I really want it to work.  Most of it makes sense to me in theory, but in practice things just don’t fall into place.  Is it because we’re only part time and the daycare situation?  Because we have yet to go “cold turkey” and ditch the diapers, as some suggest?

Either way, I’m not quite ready to give up — maybe we’re just days from a developmental milestone and a big breakthrough, but I think it’s important to share a perspective that differs from that in most EC literature.

*If you’re new to the blog, you can read more about our EC journey in the “Psst, psst” series:

From Dude to Sir

While I’ve continued to refer to Gabriel as “The Dude” in most of my posts, these days, we use the nickname “Sir” much more frequently.*  I’m not sure where I picked it up, but there is some irony in addressing him as such:

“Would Sir desire a shit in the potty?”

“Is Sir ready for some delicious breast milk?”

Anyhow, at some point we’ll have to drop this “Sir” business, lest he get an inflated impression of his position in this family and society at large, but for now, it’s sticking.

The nickname is not the only change.  Earlier this month, Sir passed the eight-month mark.  One part of me feels like these life-tipped-totally-upside-down-because-of-baby days can’t pass quickly enough and the other part can’t believe it’s already been over eight months.

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Here’s a quick peek at the current state of things.

While mama’s milk continues to provide the majority of calories and nutrients,
Sir enjoys his solid food.  I had some doubts about BabyLed Weaning in the beginning and worried that several bouts of sickness that put Sir back on a milk-only diet would pose significant setbacks in the process, but things are going wonderfully.

He’s tried almost everything we’ve set in front of him thus far, usually displaying great enthusiasm for the whole process, proving that he is, in fact, our child.  He’s also been exposed to most of the foods that are common allergens (peanuts, eggs, soy, wheat, corn) with no apparent issues, which is nice.

Over the past two months, Sir perfected the army crawl.  He moves quite quickly and adroitly, especially when he spots a forbidden object, like the trash can.

So far, he’s displayed little inclination to pick his belly up off of the floor and actually crawl.  I’m not particularly concerned, either he will, or he’ll go straight to walking.

Very hit or miss, much to my frustration, as I mentioned here.  We continue to offer.  These days, Sir usually consents to sit on the potty, but often with no results (despite waiting sitting for several minutes at times, looking at a toy or a book), only to make a big puddle on the floor a few minutes later.

Do I dare to even go here?  Most nights are actually pretty darn good, it’s the daytime sleep, especially at daycare, that’s killing me.  This week has actually been slightly better, but I don’t want to get my hopes up.

Quick Facts

  • Number of teeth: 8 — no molars yet, but he’s working on it!
  • Hair: still brown, though lighter than before, starting to fill in the bald spot on the back of his head, shows signs of having a bit of curl
  • Weight: Somewhere over 20 pounds — a nice little chunker
  • Height: Somewhere over 27 inches
  • Other nicknames: Baby Bulldog (when teething), Little Lizard (when gassy)
  • Likes: Outsa! (how Matthew said “outside” as a baby), eating, putting everything in his mouth, exploring, my animal sound impressions, babbling with us, peeing on the floor shortly after we offer the potty
  • Dislikes: naps, holding still for diaper changes, parental limits on explorations

*I’m sure The Dude will still pop up from time to time.  He was most definitely The Dude while sporting some sunglasses last weekend.