Diaper-free nation

Can kids be potty-trained from birth?

Published August 28, 2007 9:45PM (EDT)

Recent mothers out there -- what do you think of the trend, reported on here by the AP, of parents potty training their children from birth?

That is to say, parents train their diaper-free infants and toddlers to communicate their bathroom needs through specific gestures and sounds. The article opens, for example, with a 13-month-old who stops playing, approaches his mother, and held his left wrist with his right hand, in a signal they both knew means that he has to pee. Mom takes boy to a tree and makes a "gentle hissing sound" that prompts her son to relieve himself.

Sound strange? It's a common practice in places like rural parts of Africa or Asia, where disposable diapers aren't readily available or affordable. But it has its critics. Some American experts, such as those at the Child Study Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, say that "children younger than 12 months have no control over bladder or bowel movements and little control for 6 months after that," reports the AP. What's more, as one recent mother interviewed for the piece points out, the idea of toilet training a newborn on top of feeding it, caring for it, and trying to grab some sleep, sounds too exhausting to be feasible.

Yet there's a growing number of women interested in joining local support groups organized by DiaperFreeBaby.org (its Web site is currently down) and trying their hand at raising their kids diaper-free. For some it's an environmental thing; for others, a way to bond with their newborns. Some try it just to avoid the skin irritation caused by wearing a wet diaper.

I think the idea of cutting down on diapers sounds great. But there's a reason diapers exist -- bowel control aside, if your diaper-free kid gestures that he's got to go, you'd better find him a place ... quick. What do you do if you're in a public place without easy access to a bathroom? One woman mentioned in the article recounted an awkward experience helping her daughter pee in a public sink -- to which I say, that's the sort of thing that should be a little awkward, because it is completely gross.

But anyway, I'm wondering if there are any Broadsheet readers who have experimented with raising their kid without diapers and, if so, if you've got any stories or tips to recount. Should we aim to become a diaper-free nation, or are soggy-bottomed infants an unfortunate necessity?

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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