Archive for the 'Parenting Choices' Category

Sustainable Baby: Natural Infant Hygiene

An article by one of our local members, Leith Pugmire

When I first heard about babies using the toilet instead of nappies I was surprised: surely they just poo and wee randomly without even being aware they need to go? The idea that you can communicate with your child from birth seemed magical and avoiding nappies seemed too good to be true, but during our pregnancy we read the book Diaper free: The gentle wisdom of natural infant hygiene by Ingrid Bauer and we were hooked! Now the idea of letting our baby poo in her most intimate clothing seems horrible. To begin with our motives were entirely selfish: save money, save time, avoid potty training and having to change dirty nappies. Looking back I’m amused at how much our ideas have changed. Things we found a bit wishy-washy the first time we read the book (e.g. the emphasis on how communicating with your baby about their elimination needs can make you a more responsive and gentle parent) we now totally agree with. For people who believe in ‘attachment’ parenting, natural infant hygiene is the missing piece of the puzzle.

Also called ‘elimination communication’ (or in our family, simply ‘pottying’), natural infant hygiene is an environmentally-friendly alternative to nappies. Instead of teaching our babies to ignore their body’s need to eliminate and go in their nappy (and then reverse our expectations several years later during potty training), natural infant hygiene involves responding to those needs from birth, and providing the baby with a hygienic place to poo or wee. We have been practicing this with our 5 month old daughter since she was one day old and it is fantastic! Like breastfeeding, taking my child to the potty just feels right. I hold her snuggled up against me, and because I’m meeting her physical and emotional needs simultaneously she’s happy and smiley. Then, when she actually goes, it’s so exciting! Even now it often feels more like a game than a chore. Unlike breastfeeding, there’s hardly any skill involved and anybody can do it.

Juniper sleeps in our room, so when she stirs during the night we wake up. Morri gets out of bed, removes her nappy, and sits her on a potty. He makes a ‘sssss’ noise to let her know she has the chance to eliminate, and within a few seconds or minutes she does a wee or poo. When she seems to be finished (she no longer looks comfortable, and may get annoyed if we leave her there) he carries her to the bathroom, rinses her with warm water and dries her with a towel. Then he replaces her nappy. If she’s not hungry she falls asleep again. Sometimes she doesn’t even wake up completely. Babies don’t eliminate during deep sleep, so unless we are slow getting up she is dry. At nine weeks old Juna could sleep for eight hours and wake up dry, and had often gone five hours long before that. If we are exhausted and don’t wake when she first stirs her body language and noises become louder and more obvious. Eventually she would probably cry.

During the day we need to be more alert to catch her signals because they can be subtle. Like breast-feeding on demand, natural infant hygiene is inevitably baby-led. Each baby is different, but with love and attention you learn to recognise your baby’s attempts to communicate their needs. Juna’s most obvious signals are to suddenly cry out or rub her eyes (and I always thought that meant they were tired!). If she is wiggly and won’t latch onto the breast properly that generally means either a wind bubble or that she wants the potty. Anytime she won’t settle to feed or sleep we take her, even if she’s just been. Sometimes she smiles when we remove her nappy at the right time, or cries when we take her off the potty too soon. Sometimes we take her to the potty and she does nothing, and then cries when we start putting her nappy back on. We just take it off and try again. Sometimes it’s hard to say exactly how we know she needs to go, but we’ve learned to act on our intuition. Numerous times we have ignored such thoughts because she just went five minutes ago and then regretted not trusting ourselves and her! Some days we catch every poo or wee and put her to bed in the same nappy she started with, but if we miss a bunch it’s no big deal. We only ever miss by a few minutes, so she never has to sit in her own waste and usually does the majority in the potty after we finally notice and give her the chance. We throw the slightly damp nappy in the wash and thank our lucky stars we virtually never have to deal with a poo-smeared-all-over-the-baby-and-every-piece-of-clothing kind of situation! Fresh baby pee is sterile and poo pretty innocuous, but leave it sitting in a nappy for an hour and it’s a different story altogether.

The potty, of course, is totally unnecessary. When Juna was tiny we held her over a bowl or basin, with her back against our arm or tummy and a hand under each thigh to put her in a squatting position. When we’re out we often hold her like this over a normal toilet. Outside on the grass is fun. If you’re keen you can forgo nappies altogether and just tune in better. We like the convenience of a nappy, but we’re very aware that it would be easy to depend on it and that wouldn’t be fair on Juna. She continues to communicate her needs because she trusts us to respond. We need to take our part of the bargain seriously and respond straight away or she will learn that we are not trustworthy. The ‘bargain’ is particularly apparent when she waits for us to find an appropriate place. Sometimes fifteen minutes pass between her signal and our response. Some babies wouldn’t have this much muscle control so to have a dry nappy after such a wait is a boon. We never expect her to wait. If she is forced to use her nappy it is completely our fault, and it is essential to be totally relaxed about this, which is why a nappy backup is nice. We simply offer her the potty late and get out a new nappy.

A word about nappies. For us, using disposables was never an option. We didn’t want our child to start life by creating 1-2 tonnes of toxic waste, and we couldn’t afford them anyway. We also weren’t keen to spend hours folding, pinning and washing traditional flat nappies. Our solution was to combine natural infant hygiene with several kinds of the amazing fitted nappies that are available. We bought our second-hand ‘Kushies Ultra’ on Trademe for $10 each. These look and work like disposables, with a waterproof outer layer, but you just throw them in the wash when they’re grubby. We also use ‘pea pods’, which are $15 each new and dry much quicker because you can take the middle out. This sounds expensive until you consider that each nappy will last for several children (or you can sell them second hand). We used to rinse dirty nappies, soak them in plain water and wash with half strength detergent. Now we rarely have anything worth soaking! We have five Kushies and eight pea pods in the smallest size, which will fit Juniper ‘till she’s about 9 months old. Medium pea pods fit from 6 months to three years, but children brought up with natural infant hygiene usually use the potty independently soon after they can walk and have left nappies and ‘accidents’ behind by the time they are one or so. The nice thing about this is that it’s a natural progression – there is no need for ‘toilet training’ of any kind, because the child already has the necessary skills and knowledge.

Some people I talk to seem to think taking their baby to the toilet would be too hard or too time-consuming, but I don’t see why it should be. Either I take Juna to the potty when she needs to go, or I spend that time cleaning up poo, washing clothes and applying bee balm to her nappy rash. At some point every child has to learn how to use a toilet. We figure we’ll put in the time now while she can’t move around and save her the trouble of ‘unlearning’ bad habits. About two thirds of her wees/poos are easy to catch, so even on a bad day we save ourselves a lot of trouble and have one more way to show her how much we love her. Even more importantly, we save ourselves heartache. Before I had my own child I thought babies just cry sometimes, even when you’re doing everything right. Now I think there’s always a reason, and needing the potty is Juna’s most frequent need (narrowly beating hunger). Juna’s ‘unexplained crying’ seems to be a thing of the past and that by itself makes any effort worthwhile!

Many of us are searching for ways to reduce our impact on the environment. This is one way we have found which also fits with the kind of positive parenting we want to do. If you are even vaguely curious I encourage you to give natural infant hygiene a go. It’s easier than it sounds and you could always do it part time. Cutting out just one nappy a day would save you 365 a year and in our first week we managed to catch 43 wees and 13 poos, mostly by offering the opportunity at sensible times (like after a sleep or feed). How about trying it with your nephew or grandchild? Kia kaha tatou!