Finding Community: How I started the Oxford Nappy Free Baby Group

(And how you can do it too!)

I was on the phone to my Mum within minutes of my daughter’s first deposit in the potty.

“Can you believe it? I just held her over the potty when she started grunting, and she just did a poo straight  away! She’s only five weeks old!”

Six years later, and I still feel that sense of excitement when I explain to people how easy and marvellous BLPT can be. It seemed so wonderful to me back then, that I couldn’t understand how someone could not do it, once they knew it was possible. Since then I’ve wanted to help as many people as possible to find out about BLPT.

I started the Oxford Nappy Free Baby Group five and a half years ago, though it didn’t have a name back then. Lots of people have asked me how I managed to set up the group, so here is the story:

Once I had got established with BLPT (though I called it elimination communication, or EC, back then)– I suppose when my daughter was around three months – I found myself telling everybody and anybody that might be interested (and quite a few who weren’t). My NCT group was polite, but asked no further questions. But, when I went to the local home birth support group to share my positive birth experience, I met a pregnant mum who had heard of EC and was interested in trying it. I told Patty, a new mum friend, about it, and she was interested to try too. I met another mum, Hannah, who borrowed my birth pool, who was interested and she then told me of another pregnant mum who had been spotted with a copy of diaper-free baby on her shelf.

I stuck these fliers up wherever I could.

So it was that I knew of four mums who were potentially interested in EC, at least once their babies were born. But when I later got in email contact with them, I found that none were actually practising. It was somehow too daunting to give it a try. I proposed that we met up and I would show them how to hold the babies and talk about my experience.

They agreed and we found a date that suited three of us. The first meeting was held in Patty’s house. We cobbled together about eight or nine interested mums, some from Patty’s NCT, others neighbours. Most were new to EC, though one was a local-ish new mum from the ECUK yahoo group. Most of the babies were around three months old, though some were younger. I had told everyone to be prepared for mess. It took about an hour to get everyone to undress their babies – people kept prevaricating: “I’ll just feed him first…” It was my first insight into how parents are scared of babies’ bottoms. Eventually the babies were naked and I did a lot of talking and demonstrating positions. During that meeting four of the mums had their first catches. It was exhilarating. Of the eight or so present, I think four carried on with EC, and I gained enough confidence to start up regular monthly meetings.

It was hard to establish regular attendees to the meetings over the next few months. I continued to tell everyone I could about EC, and by now I had discovered other local attachment parenting type groups – baby cafe, La leche league and slingmeet. They offered an inspirational model. I posted ads about my group on their online chat groups, and I brought it up at baby meetings. I personally met one other established ECer in Oxford, and LLL and baby cafe sent me a couple more. I tried to remember to advertise on ECUK, and over the months about 6 people have come through there (mostly from neighbouring counties). Whenever I heard of somebody interested in trying EC, I would speak to them or email them and persuade them to come to the group and give it a try. The group grew to having 8 or so regular-ish families. Still, I often tried a bit too hard, and I’m sure that some people learnt to avoid me from that time!

I tried having meetings at my house and once in a café, but found the best place was a private venue. That way people can potty their babies in a relaxed manner. I asked a lovely community garden, complete with yurt, sandpit, and eco philosophy. They agreed to charge only a £1 donation per family. We’ve been there ever since.  During this last year they have also helped with advertising, and have included my group in their events programme, both on a leaflet and in an email send out. This has generated quite a bit of interest.

I try to make sure that that meetings are a practical session. I call them workshops. The idea is to make space for parents to try to use the potty or have their baby/ toddler nappy free (or training pants) and observe them. This seems to be parent’s biggest hurdle – making time and having the head space to get started with BLPT. At the meeting they don’t need to worry about feeling stupid or having misses. At the same time we talk about experiences, and I try to get more experienced parents to share with newer ones, so I’m not doing all the talking. More established BLPTers tend to use the workshop to discuss obstacles, or how to step up to the next level. I used to think that my own daughter needed to perform perfectly, but then I realised that it’s really useful to model dealing with misses too.

Things were not always plain sailing. Once, during the early months, a mother came to the group who was practising a very top down style of parenting. She told us how she had trained her baby to sleep through the night from a few weeks old and regularly left her to cry.  She wanted to try EC, as she believed it would make the baby more independent from an earlier age. I had been used to parents from a similar attachment parenting mindset to my own, and her admission came as a shock. I did not know what to say. I didn’t handle the situation very well. The incident made me re-evaluate my policy – was I going to welcome anybody, or was the group only for certain types of parents? I thought long and hard about it and eventually came to the conclusion that it’s beneficial whoever practises it, just like breastfeeding, co-sleeping and babywearing.

However, I decided to make sure that it was clear I was promoting a method with the emphasis on a gentle, responsive process, and not coercive early potty training. I came to realise that BLPT encourages greater understanding between parent and baby, which leads to a closer bond, no matter what point one starts from. For example, I think that because parents pay more attention when they practise BLPT, they understand their babies’ cries better, and they are therefore less likely to leave them crying at night. From a personal point of view, I know that doing BLPT at night with my first born was one of the main reasons why I never considered sleep training.

So I made a decision to welcome anyone to the group, and help support all parents in their journey towards a stronger bond with their babies, no matter where they are starting from. Having said that, I have never had another person attend with such an extreme parenting style!

After about a year of meetings, I had a couple of months with only one or two families, and once no one came at all. That was when I decided to have a new wave of advertising. Over a period of about six months I made an effort to get flyers printed up and posted in the children’s centres, libraries etc. I set up the website for the local group (www.oxfordnappyfreebaby.co.uk) (out of which grew the UK Nappy Free Baby website, now wwwbabyledpottytraining.co.uk). I also wrote an article for the local NCT newsletter, which had details of my group at the end. I also attended a cloth nappy fair, and I have my group posted for free on a very popular local online ‘what’s on’ board. It goes out in the local paper too. I try to get the maximum publicity for the minimum amount of effort, for example, the online ‘what’s on’ board and the paper just post my ad every month, without me having to do anything.

It was about this time that I finally became a mentor for Diaper Free Baby. (I had started the process when my daughter was a baby.) For those who don’t know, DFB is an international US-based organisation that promotes EC and provides a network of mentors and groups. They offer support, but the resources they provide are rather US-centric. My group is listed on their website. Perhaps my biggest coup was getting a free listing in the NCT postnatal leaflet which goes out to all new mums in Oxfordshire.

So that was the effort that I put in. Admittedly, it was quite a lot, but I did it over a very long period of time. Since then, the publicity has been growing itself. Without doing anything, I started getting media requests: Irish radio 4fm, the Independent, a local parenting mag and the Oxford Mail. Then BBC Radio 4 asked me for an interview.

It helps that I’m involved in other attachment parenting networks here in Oxford. (We now have a yahoo group (180+ members) and also a weekly toddler group). This means I know lots of people who are interested to find out more and share skills across all areas of parenting.

My husband and I are childminders, and we used to go to our local children’s centre a lot. They asked me to run a workshop for their under ones group. That was quite exciting. I found lots of blank faces and also three mums who were already practising EC who were new to me. Another three mums had their first catches. One baby had been constipated for over a week, and he did his first poo on the potty! His mum was really pleased. The centre has asked me to come again in a few months to reach new parents.

I have over a 100 families on my current mailing list, and I’ve probably had about 150 families though my doors. I am regularly told by mums that they would never have started BLPT if they hadn’t seen it in action, or that the group has helped them get through a tough time, or helped them focus on the process. That’s very rewarding for me.

Do I have any advice for others looking to start a group?

I would say that the key to the success of the Oxford group has been the fact that we meet in a place where members feel comfortable to practise BLPT. This means that parents can try it out in a supportive environment, and others can watch it in action. Most of the attendees are starting out on their BLPT journey, and of those, most have their first catch at a meeting. I think that lots of parents are hesitant to start BLPT at home on their own, even if they think it’s a good idea to do it.

Otherwise it’s just about persistence – getting as much (free) advertising and word of mouth publicity as you can. Make yourself known to anybody and everybody who might be interested. I think people are much more likely to take BLPT seriously if they know they can come to a group to find out more.

So does that inspire you to give it a try in your local area? Let me know in the comments box.