Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 19 News List

Parents are ditching disposable diapers

Early potty training has its advocates and detractors, but the advantags are clear, less trash and less child-rearing expenses


Toilet training babies at a young age can be more time consuming for parents than using diapers.


Call it the diaper-free revolution or too much too soon but a growing number of parents in the United States are trying to wean their infants off diapers even before they can walk.

The parents say it is common in other cultures and cite a number of advantages. No more diaper rash, no more money spent on expensive diapers and no more overflowing, foul-smelling trash bins.

Melinda Rothstein, mother of seven-month-old Hannah and three-year-old Samuel, said her concerns about adding yet more man-made rubbish to the world's landfills helped persuade her to adopt "elimination communication" with her daughter.

"I was concerned about the environment," Rothstein said in a telephone interview.

"The savings are a big plus, but mostly it's about having a close relationship with the kid," she said.

Rothstein, who has founded the non-profit association to spread the word, said the technique encourages her daughter to convey her needs.

Soon after giving birth to Hannah, Rothstein showed her how to use the potty seat. For the first three months, Rothstein put cloth diapers on her daughter while looking for the right moments to place Hannah on the potty.

Making a small "pssss" sound, parents encourage the child to urinate. And with a little grunt, they try to stimulate a bowel movement.

According to diaper-free advocates, the best opportunity presents itself after a baby wakes in the morning or after a nap and a few minutes after nursing or feeding.

After a while, the parents begin to recognize and mimic the telltale signs of an imminent event. At about six or seven months, the baby learns to take a seat and to signal her requirements to Mom or Dad.

"Now she lets me know when she needs to go, occasionally she uses sign language or when she's in a sling she pushes me away," Rothstein said.

The fledgling diaper-free movement still has only a small following and runs counter to prevailing attitudes in a country where it is not unusual to see four-year-old children in diapers playing in the park.

The conventional wisdom on toilet training has advised caution, letting things take their course.

According to the writings of the late Benjamin Spock, whose baby books have served as a kind of Bible for many US parents since the 1940s, early toilet training can eventually backfire.

"During the first year there is a small amount of readiness for partial training in some babies in the sense that they always have their first movement of the day within five or ten minutes after breakfast," the pediatrician wrote in his best-selling book, Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care.

Although parents can place the baby on the potty seat to "catch" the bowel movement, it does not add up to genuine toilet training because the infant has merely been conditioned to respond to the toilet underneath, he said.

"This is a small degree of training, but it's not learning because the baby is not really conscious of the bowel movement or of what she herself is doing," Spock wrote.

"She's not cooperating knowingly. And some babies who have been `caught' early in this way are more apt to rebel later through prolonged soiling or bed-wetting."

Jean-Claude Liaudet, a French psychoanalyst, agrees.

"Toilet training must be carried out when an infant has acquired sufficient muscular control, and not at a pre-established age and under constraints," Liaudet wrote.

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