Many parents approach baby-led potty training (elimination communication*) because of the environmental benefits, but they are surprised to find that there are many other advantages as well, whether parents do BLPT full time, part time, or just occasionally. These benefits make BLPT a great choice for any parent who wants a baby-led, respectful and responsive relationship with their child. Scroll down to read about the benefits to parents, babies and the environment.
Benefits for parents
Perhaps the most important benefit, and possibly the hardest to explain, is the wonderful bond that baby-led potty training helps create between baby and parent.By responding to babies’ toileting needs as and when they occur, parents are opening up another channel of communication.
The BLPT relationship is rather like the breastfeeding relationship: except dads can do it too. Parents report that it helps them to understand their baby’s behavior: the sensation of a full bladder or bowel often turns out to be the cause of previously unexplained fussiness.
Because BLPT can be very successful with bowel movements, many parents find that they rarely need to change a dirty nappy. Some parents just concentrate on ‘catching’ poos in baby’s first year. This is particularly beneficial to parents using cloth nappies as they become much easier to use. It also helps cut the financial cost of full time disposables. If unhindered by a nappy, solid waste leaves the body remarkably cleanly, and generally without odour. If parents hold their baby over the loo, there is no need for parents to handle faeces at all. The whole process is cleaner and quicker than nappy changing. This is much more hygienic for parents, and also more pleasant and satisfying. Because parents learn how to recognize and respond to their baby’s need to empty the bowel, they are less often taken by surprise. They can feel comfortable taking their baby swimming or for a massage without fear of an explosion. Parents are able to use public toilets without having to worry about finding a change table. They don’t have to carry soiled nappies around with them.
Benefits for baby
Versions of baby-led potty training are practiced by more traditional and tribal societies, and presumably this is how our prehistoric ancestors dealt with toileting needs. No other animal in the animal kingdom uses nappies on its young. It is certainly the ‘natural’ choice. But how does this translate into benefits for babies?
People sometimes wonder if BLPT offers advantages to parents at the expense of babies. Some parents may worry that ‘early potty training’ is psychologically damaging to babies. Any practise that is coercive or manipulative is potentially damaging. Parents know their babies best and will know whether a practice ‘feels right’ for their family. Baby-led potty training is a gentle, responsive method of working with a baby to meet her needs. Instead of being damaging to babies, it offers a range of benefits.
Whether disposable or cloth, nappies cause nappy rash. The chemicals and perfumes used in disposables can irritate, and urine or faeces in contact with the skin can cause soreness. When families practise BLPT, they generally either ‘catch’ urine and faeces, or they change ‘misses’ straight away. This means that these babies do not get as much nappy rash. Any amount of BLPT that parents can do, whether it is a few consecutive hours once a week, or just offering the potty at convenient times, helps to prevent soreness. BLPT also helps prevent urinary tract infections, and contributes to general hygiene, as babies are less likely to have faeces in between their labia (girls) or under their foreskin (boys).
The waterproof layer in both disposable and cloth nappies can make them hot. Families who practise BLPT tend to be more willing to give their baby nappy free time or use cloth nappies or training pants without a cover, as they are more tuned into their babies toileting needs, and are prepared to change clothing/nappies as soon as it is wet. This makes things more comfortable for babies and children on hot summer days or if they have a fever. Some scientists also believe that there is a link between disposable nappy use and male infertility, due to the nappy’s interference with the testicular cooling process.
When they do wear nappies, babies tend to require a slimmer, less absorbent nappy, as parents change them more frequently, usually after every wee. Some companies have designed nappies and covers especially for EC, which allows for extra slim inserts, (for example a single folded muslin square or booster pad.) This gives babies greater freedom of movement.
The squat or ‘potty’ position that parents use in order to help their baby go seems to be very comfortable for babies. Just as for a labouring mother, the position helps to relax the pelvic floor muscles. This seems to help babies who are suffering from mild constipation. Some babies find defecating to be an unsettling process, especially once they are eating solid food. With BLPT, parents can offer emotional and physical support.
We have already spoken about how the enhanced communication can build confidence in parents. We believe that it also builds confidence in babies. Just as they can communicate about when they are hungry, they can also communicate about sensations of fullness, and have their parents recognize and respond. This must give them a sense of empowerment.
When nappies are changed on a schedule, for example, every three hours, and when soiled, nappy change times can become a battle of wills. When BLPT babies and toddlers wear nappies, they understand the link between urination or soiling and a change. Parents may still find difficulties when toddlers are asserting their independence, but they can at least explain why they are changing them at a certain time. Toddlers often resist lying down for a change, but BLPT families can often avoid this, and change standing up, as there is generally less need for wiping.
Many families use pants or training pants instead of nappies, and many give their children lots of naked bottom time. Nappies are designed to be difficult for toddlers to undo, whereas pants are the opposite. This gives children freedom to explore their genitals and it also helps them to become autonomous in their toileting and dressing. BLPT promotes a healthy attitude toward the sexual organs. No matter how hard parents and caregivers try, it is difficult to completely mask distaste for a bad smell or sight. This may be apparent to a child in the way a parent holds her breath, or gingerly handles a dirty nappy. In families where soiled nappies are rare, children may have a more positive attitude towards the nappy area.
Although most parents can tell when their child is passing a bowel movement, many find it difficult to tell when they are urinating. Parents who practise BLPT come to learn to recognize and respond to the signals that a baby or toddler has a full bladder. When they communicate about the passing of urine or a wet nappy, the parent is providing feedback which reinforces the baby’s sensation of having a full bladder. Children in full time nappies (especially those in disposables which always feel dry) rarely get this type of feedback. Over the months and years the child may begin not to notice when he or she is full. This can cause difficulties when parents do ask their children to switch from using the nappy as a toilet and use a potty or lavatory instead. Children who practise BLPT (even if only occasionally) are accustomed to using the potty. This means that they don’t need to make that intellectual leap of understanding, nor do they find the idea unsettling. BLPT children also seem to have better control of their pelvic floor muscles as they have been practicing holding and releasing the bladder and bowel since a very young age.
The transition from assisted toilet use, or ‘pottying’, to toilet independence is likely to be smoother and possibly earlier for an BLPT child. Parents do not need to “potty train” their children at an arbitrary time. They therefore avoid some of the difficulties associated with potty training, which can be stressful for both parents and children.
Benefits for the environment
The ecological impact of nappies, particularly disposable, has been extensively documented. Ninety-five per cent of parents in the UK choose disposable nappies, and eight million are sent to landfill every day. Parents can reduce their carbon footprint and waste by using washables, but even these have an impact on the environment. With BLPT, however, much of a baby’s waste ends up outside the nappy. Parents who use cloth report that they can wash nappies less often and at a lower temperature. Many parents rarely have to change a soiled nappy.
BLPT itself encourages the use of cloth nappies, both because it makes cloth easier to use, and also because it is easier for babies and parents to maintain awareness of patterns when babies wear cloth nappies. Parents who use disposables also find that they use fewer nappies.
Also, with BLPT, babies’ solid waste tends to travel via the potty or toilet to the sewer. With conventionally nappied babies, much of their solid waste gets sent to landfill, where it eventually breaks down, releasing harmful greenhouse gases.