New thing in potty prep
|||Toiling with sensible potty training|
By Julie Hinds
Knight Ridder News Service
By Julie Hinds
Erin Burck Lafreniere, 26, is holding her 8-month-old son, Peter, above a bathroom sink. He's not wearing a diaper. She's cradling him securely under the thighs in a squat position.
"Pee in the potty," says Lafreniere, a stay-at-home mom from Willis, south of Ypsilanti, Mich.
He's doing exactly that as she speaks.
"Good boy!" she coos.
Not long afterward, Lori Saunders puts her son, Aiden, 11 months, on top of a seat that adjusts the toilet to his size. He sits quietly, flipping through a picture book.
"My friends all thought I was crazy," admits Saunders, who works part-time as an occupational therapist. "My own mother thought I was crazy until she watched him and tried it herself."
Lafreniere, Saunders and two other mothers have gathered at a pediatricians' office for a meeting of DiaperFreeBaby.
They're among a small number of parents who embrace a method that's been in the media spotlight lately, in places such as "Good Morning, America," "Today" and People magazine.
It's called "elimination communication," or, sometimes, "infant potty training," and it advocates starting the process of toilet training before children can talk or walk.
Basically, parents take their infant to a sink, a potty chair or a toilet when it's time to go. And how does a parent know when? By tuning in to a baby's physical and behavioral cues and monitoring daily routines.
The idea goes against cultural norms, since many American toddlers are in diapers until past age 3.
According to the American Academy of Pediatricians Web site, the important thing is not to rush your child. "Between 18 (months) and 24 months, children often start to show signs of being ready, but some children may not be ready until 30 months or older," it says in a section on toilet-training readiness.
But DiaperFreeBaby (www.diaperfreebaby.org), a national nonprofit group that has connected nearly 1,000 people to e-mail groups like one in Ann Arbor, Mich. and one on O'ahu, maintains a different philosophy. The group, created in 2003 by two Boston-area mothers, advocates elimination communication as a natural process that can begin practically from birth.
The process is essentially about communication between a parent and child — learning how to read cues, said Valerie Walter, a mentor with the DiaperFreeBaby O'ahu group. The local group, which has about seven active members, holds meetings each month.
"It is a way to bond with your child," said Walter, 26, of Pearl Harbor. "It is not forceful or stressful for the baby."
Walter, a stay-at-home mom, practiced the method successfully with her daughters, ages 3 years and 17 months old. Both of her children are now "diaper independent," Walter said.
The national group describes the method as gentle and non-coercive, and insists it has nothing to do with rushing a child's developmental stages.
"It's like knowing when your baby is tired, she rubs her eyes," says Rachel Milgroom, 34, a co-founder of DiaperFreeBaby. "EC is not a quick fix. It's a daily practice, the same way you feed your baby or bathe your baby."
The phrase "diaper free" is a little misleading, since Michigan moms who practice elimination communication say they use diapers all of the time or some of the time (and usually, it's cloth diapers rather than disposables).
"I definitely go through lots of diapers," says Lafreniere, who's the Web moderator of the DiaperFreeBaby group for Ann Arbor. "Everything I catch, I celebrate. And the rest I don't worry about."
In dozens of countries in Asia, Africa and around the world, mothers rely on early toilet training, says Jeneen Nammar, 32, a mother of two and a member of DiaperFreeBaby.
Elimination communication creates a special bond between mother and child, according to Melody Nimmo, 34, of Detroit, who home-schools her five children. Nimmo used the method part-time with her youngest child, daughter Shoshanna, who's 2 now and far along in her potty training.
"I was amazed. I never realized how much an infant was able to communicate," she said.
At the turn of the 20th century, toilet training was done earlier than it is now, but it was a much more stern, rigid process. For modern parents, pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton's child-led, gradual method of toilet training has become the norm.
Dr. Lisa Markman, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, says she doesn't have a problem with elimination communication, as long as it's done in a gentle, loving way. But Markman thinks it's a time-consuming and potentially messy method that won't work for most parents. "Personally, as a parent and pediatrician, I can't imagine having to take a baby to a bathroom up to 20 times a day."
Carolynn Rowland, a nurse for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, worries that in some cases, "you may be setting them up for problems and you're putting a whole lot of pressure on them."
Lafreniere has heard the arguments against infant potty training, especially the one about creating unnecessary stress. She says that cuing in on her son's elimination habits helped relieve stress by explaining why he was fussy.
She says she's not out to convert other moms, but she does want to inform them.
"I'm not saying this is for everyone," she says. But "if you don't know the choice exists, you can't choose to do it."Advertiser staff writer Zenaida Serrano contributed Hawai'i information to this report.