are your cloth diapers REALLY green?

are your cloth diapers REALLY green?

Parents who use cloth diapers don’t usually worry about how green our diapering choices are. We feel pretty safe in assuming that cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposable diapers. It seems obvious, right? They fit all the criteria: Reduce (36 diapers instead of 6,000), Reuse (use the same diapers over and over, use the same diapers for subsequent children, and then resell them for someone else to use), Recycle (use old diapers as rags, or make diapers out of recycled materials like sweaters). And as it turns out, we’re right. True, a handful of studies have claimed that the differences are negligible, but the studies were flawed in a lot of important ways. If you don’t want to read a detailed analysis, I’ll sum it up: the studies didn’t look at enough cloth diapering families, and they only took the worst-case scenario for cloth (environmentally speaking) to compare to the best-case scenario for disposable. Conclusion? Cloth diapers with the highest environmental impact have an overlap with disposables with the lowest possible impact. But take a few steps to make your cloth diapering choices more eco-friendly, and your diaper system will beat any disposable options, hands down.

Sound like a lot of work? It’s not. Chances are you’re already doing things that reduce the impact of your diapers on the environment.

1. Evaluate the manufacturing process. The studies comparing cloth to disposable assume that cloth diapers are manufactured with conventional cotton, which requires a lot of pesticides and water to grow. So if you buy organic diapers, consider yourself off the hook. And if organic is out of your budget, consider buying used. Try Diaper Swappers or the Cloth Diaper Swap on Facebook. Or just make your own.

2. Consider location. Many diapers, such as Sustainable Babyish, Thirsties, and Happy Heinys, are made in the USA. Some also use local fabric and materials, enabling you to cut the impact of shipping across the ocean from your diapers’ environmental lifecycle, and others, like Mommy’s Touch, are manufactured solely by work-at-home moms. But a diaper made overseas isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Gaelle Wizenberg of Charlie Banana chose a China-based manufacturer for her diapers, not because that’s where the factories are, but because it’s where she lives. Her Hong Kong office is less than two hours from the factory, so she personally oversees manufacturing to ensure processes are as eco-friendly as possible. She also limits shipping by air, opting for more environmental sea shipping. A little research can tell you a lot about the source of your diapers and the company’s efforts to reduce their impact.

3. Adjust your wash routine. In the comparison studies, the way cloth diapers were washed made the biggest difference to their environmental impact. The best option is also the easiest: use a diaper service. (Actually, you could probably be more eco-friendly than a diaper service if you washed by hand in grey water using homemade organic detergent. Have fun with that.) But if that’s too expensive or not available, a high-efficiency washer makes a big difference too. Avoid very hot water (which isn’t good for your PUL anyway) to save more energy; hang to dry and you’ll save even more (while also disinfecting your diapers and naturally getting rid of stains). If all that is too much work, you can do what Wizenberg does for her own cloth diapers: wash the rest of your laundry a little less often. “I used to change my sheets every week,” she says, “and now I do it every ten days. That’s a lot less loads per year.”

I think I change my sheets every two months, and my jeans only slightly more often, so I figure I can probably wash as many diapers as I want.

4. Buy offsets. I know, offsets are greenwashing, and they don’t really mean anything. Right? Well — maybe. Again, do your research before you buy. The best offsets are the ones that put money toward developing renewable, sustainable systems to replace what you’re trying to offset. Thirsties offsets its transportation with Renewable Energy Credits. Charlie Banana buys offsets for their manufacturing from Climate Action, a Beijing-based company that’s developing clean energy for China.

5. Go diaper free. A friend of mine says that cloth diapers are just a gateway drug to elimination communication, but really, if you want to be green, there’s no better choice. EC doesn’t mean you never use diapers, but every catch in the potty means one less diaper to wash in the short term, and for most families, being potty independent sooner means fewer diapers in the long term too. I’m writing this at 1 pm, and Teddy is still wearing the same flat fold I put on him 5 hours ago. It’s still dry. He’s peed four times and pooped once, all in the potty (or, er, the sink, or maybe the bathtub). That’s five diapers I don’t need to wash. (And if you want to learn more about EC, you can find out about local Atlanta meetings by signing up for my DiaperFreeBaby mailing list.)

So are your cloth diapers really green? To tell the truth — they probably are. But could a few simple steps make them even more eco-friendly? Only you know the answer to that.

Me, I should really hang to dry. At least every once in a while. But I’m too lazy, so I’ll probably just wash my shirts less often instead. Nobody minds the milk stains, right?

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how to potty your kid in public without being a jerk

how to potty your kid in public without being a jerk

Several friends sent this story to me last week. If you didn’t hear about it, here’s the deal: last week, a woman brought her potty training twins to a Utah restaurant. Where she proceeded to potty them. In the restaurant. At the table. Using little portable potties. While they (and all the other diners) were eating.

Now, I’m the last person to be offended by a little baby pee. For one thing, it’s sterile, and for another, I’ve had occasional pee puddles on my floor pretty much constantly for the past few years. Poop is a different matter, but still — I’m not easily offended by baby poop. Even toddler poop is just one of those realities of parenting. No big deal.

But however much I may love diaper free time, even I think it’s totally unacceptable to potty your toddler at the table in a public restaurant.

I’ll admit: I’ve been tempted. There have been times when I’ve sat in a restaurant and noticed my baby signaling a pee. Sometimes I just happen to have the baby potty in my bag or the bottom of my stroller. Sometimes I don’t feel like getting up and schlepping everything to the bathroom just for a quick little pee. But I’ve never done it. Not once in four years. I’ve never pottied my kid at the table, and I never will.

Because even though I think there are times and places where it’s okay to potty a baby in public, at an indoor table of a restaurant is not one of them.

And this is just one of the many reasons why elimination communication is so much less stressful than potty training. Potty training, at least in many of its common methods, is an all-or-nothing deal. You have to ditch the diapers and never look back. You have to commit to it all day, every day. Which means either that you are stuck at home till you finish, or you are going to be tempted to try something like this. And honestly? I understand where this mom is coming from. She’s got two kids in the middle of potty training. They probably always pee while they’re eating. At home, she sits them on little potties at the table, and they pee while they sip their juice, and she doesn’t have to use a diaper, and everything works out great. I’m sure she struggled with what to do at the restaurant. Do I put them back in diapers and undo all the work we’ve put into training? she thought. Do I risk them peeing all over the restaurant seats? Or…do I just do what we do at home?

I can understand why she opted for C. It’s a better choice than B. She probably thought nobody would even notice what she was doing — those chairs do look a lot like booster seats, after all. It was a risk she was willing to take.

Unfortunately for her, it backfired.

But you don’t need to make her mistakes.

If you’re practicing elimination communication, then you know that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal. It’s perfectly okay to go back and forth between diapers and underwear as much as you need to. Your baby won’t get confused. You communicate about it, and you potty the baby if you can, and if you can’t then you reassure them it’s fine to use the diaper and then you change as quickly as possible. It’s no big deal. The babies don’t mind.

But even if you’re going for the more conventional potty training route, you can learn a few tips from the EC crowd. Because those of us who are used to pottying our babies from birth everywhere we go, in the house and out in public, have developed a few codes for when and where it is — or is not — okay to potty a baby. So even if you’re doing conventional training and ditching the diapers once for all, you don’t have to be stuck in the house. At least not entirely. Here’s how to find an appropriate location to pee a baby in public.

1. Look for a bathroom first. This is obvious, right? If there’s a bathroom available, use it. If your kid doesn’t like public toilets, bring a little potty and put it in the bathroom. Nobody will have a problem with that. You can even take him into a stall and put the potty on the floor in there. That way he’ll have privacy, and he’ll be in an appropriate place. If there is a bathroom, the fact that it’s gross or small or has a loud toilet is not an excuse to go somewhere else. If you can get to the bathroom in time, then you should potty in the bathroom. Period.

2. If you can’t get to a bathroom, go outside. The basic rule of public pottying for babies is this: if it’s an okay place to pee a dog, then it’s an okay place to pee a baby. So, grassy spot behind a tree in the park: good. Middle of the pavement in a basketball court: bad. Bushes or trees are best; grass is next best; dirt will do in a pinch. Avoid pavement.

3. Bring your bathroom with you. A portable potty such as the the Beco potty (which is compostable, bonus points!), the Ikea potty (cheapest option), or the potette potty (my favorite) is easy to keep in your car or even your diaper bag. Very few people will be offended by a baby or toddler sitting on a portable potty in an appropriate place such as behind a tree near the playground. And if you must potty on pavement, then you should definitely use a little potty. If you’re in a public, crowded place such as a festival and you can’t get to the bathroom in time because there’s a line, then you should put your little potty close to the port-o-potties, in an out-of-the-way corner, and let your child use it there.

3. Look for privacy. This is the reason why I prefer trees and bushes to just grass: you can hold the baby between your body and the tree and screen him from view in most directions. Most babies don’t care whether people are watching (although some do!), but it’s still more polite — to other people and to your baby — to try to avoid public view. You can also use a little potty inside your car (vans, station wagons, and many hatchbacks have a wonderful flat spot in the back where you can set the potty and hold the baby comfortably).

4. Consider the people around you. Other parents will generally be more understanding than singles and childless couples. An outdoor birthday party in a garden for an adult with few or no other children as guests is not an appropriate place to potty your baby, no matter how private and appealing those bushes seem. The playground, however, is probably okay.

5. Always clean up. If you have a potty, this is easy — just dump the potty in a toilet (preferably) or a trash can (if necessary). If you’re using the grass, then pee, of course, requires no cleanup, but you should always be prepared to scoop an unexpected poop. If you know a poop is coming, you don’t have a portable potty, and you have to use the ground, then the easiest way to scoop is to place a disposable wipe on the ground, hold the baby over that, and then use another wipe to pick it up. You can also have the child squat over a diaper. Ideally you should always dispose of it in the toilet, but I’ve thrown poop in the trash at the playground before. I figure since 99% of my kids’ poops go into the septic system, I’m allowed to dump the occasional one in the trash as a last resort. It’s also a good idea to keep a trash bag handy.

6. Consider your child’s age. At some point, it becomes inappropriate for your child to use the bathroom anywhere other than in the bathroom (except when camping). At six months, it’s not a big deal to potty your baby on the grass. At age two, it’s generally still okay in a pinch. At ten, it’s no longer okay. I’m not sure exactly when the transition happens, and it probably depends on the culture where you live. Out in rural parts of Georgia, kids probably pee in the backyard till they’re six or seven. I’m just guessing. Here in Atlanta, the limit is closer to age three. Of course, if your backyard is fenced and you don’t have close neighbors, then nobody will know, so it’s your call. I have heard of boys who insisted on peeing on trees till they were school age. Actually I’m pretty sure my husband has peed in the backyard at some point. Sometimes guys need to mark their territory.

Ultimately, it’s your call how to handle potty emergencies in public. At some point, most children will need to pee in a less-than-perfect location. Heck, even adults may need to take advantage of these public pottying tips on occasion. I won’t lie: I’m not too good to pee behind a tree. Postpartum recovery can be a real pain.

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do you have to go naked to do elimination communication?

Most people, when they first hear about elimination communication, are intimidated — terrified, even — at the thought of diaperless babies. I find this hard to picture, because I know so many people who leave diapers off a lot of the time. But I have come to realize that for many parents, leaving the diaper off is simply Not Done.

It’s so unusual that people even refer to a baby who is wearing only a diaper as “naked.” I wouldn’t have known this, but a friend of mine (who also practices EC) has had people comment on her “naked baby” when he was wearing a diaper. Which annoys her. “He’s not naked,” she protests. “He’s wearing a diaper. That’s like saying an adult wearing just underwear is naked.”

Not naked.

I guess a diaper is so essential and ubiquitous in many people’s picture of babies that they don’t even notice it. It’s like we think it grew there.

Another friend who’s a lactation consultant told me she’s experienced a similar level of shock. When she asks people to “get their baby naked” in order to practice skin-to-skin and help breastfeeding, they’re horrified. They’re so scared of getting peed on. “It’s like pee is some sort of irreversible corrosive that scars everyone for life,” she said.

And so a lot of people say they can’t do EC, because they’re terrified of pee.

But there’s no need to be.

First, pee is not corrosive. It is not scarring. It’s not even dangerous. In fact, it’s sterile. You do not need to fear pee.

(Poop, on the other hand, is a bit scary. But still not dangerous in the grand scheme of things. Even if your toddler eats it, it will not kill him. You may never want to kiss him on the mouth again. But that’s the worst that could happen.)

And second, you don’t have to go naked to do EC.

Many experienced EC’ers will tell you that it helps. That you’re more aware and tuned in when your baby isn’t wearing a diaper. But I think that depends. And more importantly, the key factor in EC is not that your baby doesn’t wear a diaper. The key factor is that you communicate with your baby — and listen to his communication with you — regarding pee and poop. That can be done with or without a diaper, or a waterproof trainer, or a pair of cotton pants, or an absorbent mat on the floor. Practicing EC does not mean that all pee and poop go in the potty. Practicing EC simply means that you communicate about bodily functions, no matter where they end up going. It’s not a set of rules about how you dress your baby. It’s a way of connecting.

And so I believe that you can practice EC full-time while also using diapers all or most of the time. Many babies will signal more clearly when they are not wearing a diaper — but some babies signal more clearly when they are wearing one. Most parents will tune in better to signals when their baby is diaperless (it adds to what another friend of mine describes as “the sense of adventure”), but some parents tune in better to a diapered baby. The best way to practice EC is the way that it works best for you.

Me, for instance. I have no fear of taking the diaper off. I do it so often that it actually looks a little odd to me to see a baby in a diaper. But when my baby is naked on the floor and happily playing, I pay less attention to his signals. Because I could care less if he pees on my hardwood floor. I’ll wipe it up and be done. No big deal.

On the other hand, if he pees in my brand-new favorite Green Acres diaper with an embroidered panda on the cover, I will be very sad. Because then I will have to wash the diaper and he will not get to wear it again until it’s washed. And then his whole outfit for the day will be ruined, because I planned his outfit to go with the diaper. And it will be a day or two before I get to dress him in it again.

Don’t pee in this diaper!

So when he signals in a fancy diaper? The diaper is coming off STAT.

Plus, for some people, the “sense of adventure” is actually a disadvantage. When you’re really worried that your baby is going to pee on the floor, you tend to overthink things, imagine the baby is signaling when he’s not, and offer too often. Which interrupts him and annoys him and leads to more misses. If that’s you, then the backup of a diaper could actually allow you to relax, stop worrying, and tune into your intuition — thus increasing your awareness and your catches.

So when you’re first getting started with EC, I recommend that you try it both ways and see how it works best for you. Try just offering at diaper changes, or right after waking when babies always need to pee. After you have some catches and feel like you’re getting the hang of it, you can try protecting your floor and spending a morning diaperless to become more aware of signals. Or you can wait till after he’s pooped for the day and then try a diaper-free hour or two. Or you can employ the “three miss” rule: start the day diaperless, and after three misses, put a diaper on.

It’s like anything else with parenting: do it the way it works best for you.

But no matter how you start — you should try it. Really. Don’t be scared. EC is for everybody.

And babies love to be naked.

Also not naked. 

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diaper rash? with cloth diapers and elimination communication? WHAT?!

diaper rash? with cloth diapers and elimination communication? WHAT?!

Teddy is two weeks old today, and he has a diaper rash.

And I don’t mean to sound like a high-maintenance over-worried first-time mom or anything, but to me, this is a disaster of massive proportions.

There are several reasons. One, Anastasia never had a diaper rash. Not once. She did get a mild rash when she was about three months old, but at that point I was using diapers rarely enough that I knew it wasn’t caused by diapers. And it wasn’t–it was caused by me eating dairy. I took dairy out of my diet, and she never had another rash. Ever.

Second, even though I haven’t kept Teddy diaper-free all the time, he has had a lot of diaper-free time. A lot more than Anastasia had had at this age, too–I didn’t even start EC with her till she was two weeks old. Teddy has been peeing and pooping in the potty since the day he was born, and even though he also was wearing diapers pretty much all the time for the first ten days or so, I almost never left him in a wet diaper. And absolutely never in a dirty diaper. I don’t use any chemical wipes on him (just cloth wipes and plain water), and even when he’s diapered, it’s often just a cotton diaper with no cover. Or with a breathable wool cover. There is absolutely no reason why this baby should have a rash of any kind.

But a couple of days ago I noticed some redness on his bum. Horrified, I decided to step up my EC a notch and kept him diaperless for most of two days (yesterday and the day before), except for two periods when we left the house for a couple of hours. He did great with EC while diaper-free–only a handful of pee misses, and no poop misses!–but the rash was still there. And yesterday, when I took him for his first doctor’s visit, the doctor thought it might be yeast.


If I’d been horrified by any rash, you can only imagine how upset I was when she said the y-word. Again, I realize that yeast is pretty common. But for a cloth diapering, breastfeeding mom, it’s a scary possibility. Not only because a yeast infection can cause breastfeeding problems, but also because it gets into your cloth diapers. And it’s almost impossible to get yeast out of cloth diapers.

The doctor gave me a prescription for Nystatin cream (eek!), but she told me I didn’t have to use it right away. I could keep giving him lots of air time first and see if that helped. But two days of it hadn’t helped. And Nystatin cream, like most barrier creams, is not safe for cloth diapers. And seeing as I’ve survived four years of motherhood without buying a single disposable diaper, I can’t imagine starting now. Mostly because I really hate the smell of disposable diapers.

But after I got home and recovered from the shock, I realized I had another option.

I also thought of something else that could be causing the rash.

Here’s the thing. I’ve always believed that when it comes to EC, sleep trumps potty. When Anastasia was a newborn, she rarely slept more than two hours at a time, and every time she woke, she pooped. So I changed her a lot at night.

Teddy, however, sleeps all the time. And although he usually signals when he needs to poop, he doesn’t mind sleeping with a wet diaper. So I don’t always know when he’s wet. And he frequently sleeps four-hour stretches at night. So I’ve gone long stretches at night without changing him. When he’s wearing nothing but a plain cotton diaper that doesn’t wick moisture away at all. And no barrier cream. Because Anastasia never needed barrier cream, so I figured he wouldn’t either.

And twelve hours of daytime diaperless time may not make up for eight hours in a wet diaper at night.

But this problem, fortunately, is easy to fix.

So last night, I pulled out the big guns. The last-ditch effort. I used gDiapers.

I am not a fan of hybrid diapers, and the brief time when I tried gDiapers with Anastasia (about half a day) involved multiple leaks and a couple of clogged toilets. And when I first realized that the problem was probably Teddy’s long nighttime sleep stretches, my first thought was to run to Target and get some California baby cream or something else that I could use with cloth. But Teddy was fussy and tired, and leaving the house at 9 pm last night didn’t seem like a good idea, and then I remembered that I had some Desitin cream.

I hate Desitin. I would never have bought it. It’s smelly and chemical-y and not safe for cloth diapers. My mom bought it when Anastasia was an infant and had the dairy-caused rash. I don’t think I ever used it for Anastasia. But last night, I decided it was worth it to try for one night to see if it helped. And luckily, a friend had given me an extra small gDiaper cover and half a box of disposable gDiaper inserts. I had planned to give them away, but last night I put one on and slathered the rash in Desitin.

Sure enough, this morning it was less red.

Also, the gDiaper leaked.

But I had prepared for that with a prefold under Teddy’s bum. And it was worth it. Today I’ll go and get some safe-for-cloth-diapers barrier cream, and tonight I’ll try a cloth method that includes a wicking layer–maybe a Fuzzi Bunz pocket (if I can get the “one-size” small enough; most one size diaper are pretty bulky on newborns) or a Lil Joey Rumparooz.

Meanwhile, I’ll take some probiotics, just to be safe, and I’ll add a few drops of tea tree oil to my cloth diaper laundry.

And I will remain calm. Rash is not the end of the world.

And too much sleep is a good problem to have!

Update: I’ve switched to using pocket diapers (he’s already big enough for my one-size Fuzzi Bunz!) at night, and I’m using California Baby cream. In two days, the rash was completely gone. 

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elimination communication with a newborn: setting up the potty/diaper stations

This past weekend, while my mother-in-law was in town, I got our room ready for the baby.

This is a big accomplishment on so many levels.

First, you have to realize that between our bedroom and the guest room, I’m pretty sure there were boxes I hadn’t unpacked since my husband and I got married. We kept moving to houses that either didn’t have room for whatever was in them (I still don’t know what was in some of them!) or to houses that had so much storage, it was easy to just stuff them in a closet or an attic and forget about them. Our new house, however, although it has lots of windows and beautiful high ceilings, has no storage space. We have lived in a 500-foot apartment with more storage space. So I decided it was time to finally get that stuff organized.

Mind you, I still have quite a few unpacked boxes. But I know what’s in most of them (the notebooks and books downstairs that I’ll put on shelves as soon as I get some), and there aren’t many of them (four are stacked into our tiny hall closet). I’m not completely moved in and organized yet. But I’m closer than I’ve been in about five years.

Second, I finally washed all the laundry. And I really do mean finally. There were boxes of laundry that I’d packed for moving when we came back from holiday travels in December and hadn’t unpacked since. That means I haven’t been caught up on laundry in almost a year. And the more pregnant I got, the more overwhelming the thought of folding laundry became. Lucky for me, my mother-in-law convinced me that she likes folding laundry. I’m sure she was just saying that to be nice, but hey, I wanted to believe her. Anyway, she folded almost all of mine. It was wonderful. Everything is clean and put away now. It’s an amazing feeling. And I am so glad to have finally found that maternity shirt I was looking for.

Finally, and best of all, I organized the diapers for the baby. Yes, I know I’m supposed to be the diaper-free lady, but I love diapers. And it’s not like I won’t use diapers–although I do plan to use them mostly as lap pads at first. But hey, why wash your clothes when you can just wash a prefold? Plus, practicing EC means dealing with diaper stuff a lot, especially for a newborn. I will be offering a lot of pee opportunities and changing a lot of lap pads. So I decided to create multiple diaper/potty stations.

Station one is by my bed, since hopefully I’ll get to stay in bed for a few days after the birth like I did last time. I decided to put the crib mattress in there as well, even though I don’t know how much I’ll use it, just in case I decide I want a separate sleeping surface for the baby (unlikely, but options are always good). The Amby is also in our bedroom, ready to be set up, but I’ll probably end up putting it in a different room (probably the playroom/office by the kitchen) and only using it for naps. Anyway, station one consists of the crib mattress with a waterproof mattress cover, a sheet, a fleece blanket and then a prefold on top, a baby bjorn little potty, and a basket of flat folds and covers. I mostly used newborn prefolds when Anastasia was a newborn, but I must have given them away, because I can’t find any of them. Flat folds are trimmer anyway. And they make me feel more like a diaper expert, since you actually do have to fold them. I used a basic triangle fold for now, because I didn’t feel like spending the time on the origami fold (although the latter is my favorite, mostly because of the name).

Station two is in the living room. We’ve had a potty station there for Anastasia for a while, because she’ll take herself if the potty is in the room but will beg to be carried if she has to go all the way to the bathroom (because, you know, she has to pee so bad that she can’t walk). So that station has the bigger baby bjorn potty, the changing mat, a basket of cloth wipes, toilet paper, a basket of diapers, and the lidded laundry can.

One thing is conspicuously absent from both locations (did you notice?): a way to clean hands. I have no delusions that I’ll ever actually, you know, walk all the way to the sink after changing or pottying the baby, but despite the fact that pee is sterile when it comes out, I do want to be able to clean my hands. The trouble is that I don’t want to use hand sanitizer. It kills too many germs. And since everything is right at floor level (intentionally, so it’s accessible for Anastasia as well), I don’t really want to leave alcohol-based sanitizer lying around anyway. So I’ve been trying to figure out an alternative portable hand cleansing method, probably something with vinegar and essential oil(s). If you know any good recipes, please share them!–I’ll post about it when I decide on something.

Now I just need two things to be ready for this baby: a vinyl waterproof cover for our adult mattress (I learned the hard way that the fancy “waterproof” covers aren’t) and my birth tub. Although I could certainly use more diapers. I had no idea what fancy diaper options existed when Anastasia was a newborn, and I used such cheap diapers. I’d love to try a few high-quality organic unbleached newborn indian prefolds. Just for fun.

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transitions and elimination communication

The topic for our DiaperFreeBaby meeting this month is EC’ing through transitions. Transitions are a big deal in our house. They’re hard for any kid, but they’re especially hard for my daughter.

When she was born, this was hard for me to adjust to. I’m a roll-with-the-punches kind of girl. I love to be spontaneous. But you can’t be very spontaneous when your child can only handle one outing per day and it has to happen between 10 am and 1 pm. Especially not if you want the outing to actually involve, you know, other people. And said child doesn’t wake up till 9:30, because she won’t fall asleep at night till after 11.

When I was pregnant with her, I planned for her to be a portable baby. The kind of baby you just pop in the sling and take with you anywhere. And she did have stages like that, but it was never really easy. She was always more affected by the environment than you’d expect of a child who never actually saw the environment because she was always enclosed in a sling. She’s a sensitive kid, and she’s aware of everything. Traveling, having visitors, even meeting new friends–any kind of change affects her strongly.

This past week, for example, my mother-in-law was visiting. My mother-in-law is wonderful (really!–I love her), and she is brilliant and creative and patient with my daughter, and my daughter adores her. We were all thrilled to have her and sad when she left. (And thanks again for folding all that laundry, Mom! You’re the best!) But despite the fact that her being here meant Anastasia got lots more adult attention than usual, despite the fact that someone was playing with her pretty much all day every day, despite the fact that Grandma brought lots of crafts and activities that Anastasia loves for them to do together–it still stressed her a little bit to have a visitor. Just because it’s different. Change is always hard, even good change.

And right now, our family is facing a big change–the biggest one in my daughter’s life so far. In a month or so, she’ll become a big sister. And even though she’s really excited about this, even though she’s old enough to handle it and to be a real help, even though she adores babies and can’t wait to have one she’s allowed to help with and play with–she’s still scared. Right now I’m seeing that on a daily basis. Which is okay. Of course she’s nervous–I am too. And she’ll need a lot of time and help to process this transition.

What does all this have to do with EC? For us–and I think for many kids–elimination is an early indicator. It’s the canary in the coal mine, so to speak: it tells you first when something is a little off. This week, for example, my daughter peed on the bed four times (and she’s been out of diapers at night for a year). I don’t know exactly why she suddenly had trouble with nighttime pees. It could have been because Grandma was visiting, or it could have been the time change. It could have been that the reality of becoming a big sister is starting to sink in. Or it could have been because she was coming down with a cold. I think after you’ve been doing EC for a while, you stop thinking of misses as related to pottying, and instead you see them as a symptom of something else. Figuring out what that something else is is the hard part. And usually you don’t know until after it passes.

Which brings up the question: what’s the point? How does EC help if it doesn’t actually give you a clue what’s wrong?

That’s easy: it’s because it tells you something is wrong. Of course there are lots of ways you can figure that out–EC is only one of them. But frequently, for us anyway, it’s the first one. When a toddler who’s usually continent suddenly starts having lots of misses, you know something is going on with her system. It’s an obvious signal that something is going on. So you become more patient. You become more attentive. You become more accepting of behavior that you wouldn’t normally tolerate. You watch and wait it out, and eventually it passes. At some point in retrospect, you realize what caused it. You learn a little more about your child, and you learn a little more about parenting. And you do it again the next time.

And in the meantime, well, you wash the sheets.

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babywearing and elimination communication

babywearing and elimination communication

The topic for our DiaperFreeBaby meeting this Friday (where I hope to see you!) is babywearing and elimination communication. I thought this would be fun to talk about, partly because I’ve been thinking about babywearing lately as I anticipate doing it a lot again soon, and partly because even though plenty of people practice EC without ever wearing their babies (and vice versa), the two skills do support each other a lot. I’ve heard plenty of stories of moms who suddenly gained an instinctive, intuitive awareness of their babies’ need to pee after wearing the baby for a few days. I’ve used babywearing as a tool to increase my own EC awareness, and I’ve used EC as an excuse to wear my baby more. But, fun as it is to combine wearing your baby with going diaperless, there are some (rather obvious) pitfalls. I’ve been thinking about how I can avoid at least some of them with the next baby. So here are my tips for EC’ing while babywearing.

1. Get more than one carrier. More than one good carrier. If your baby is particular about how she’s worn–like my daughter was–then you’ll need more than one of her favorite carrier. I did not have this when my daughter was an infant. Because good carriers, unfortunately, are expensive. And the only carrier my daughter liked was the Maya wrap ring sling–which, at $60, is a very reasonably priced carrier, but not one that I particularly wanted to buy twice. My husband simply couldn’t understand why I might need a second carrier identical to the first. This led to quite a few afternoons of hastily washing the carrier on the fastest setting, putting it out on the porch to dry (because I didn’t have a dryer!), and walking around with a crying baby in my arms until I gave up and put the damp carrier back on so she could go to sleep already.

For this next baby, I’m better prepared. I have two wraps and two soft structured carriers. But only one mei tai, only one pouch, and only one ring sling. This makes me a little nervous. I may buy another ring sling just to be safe.

2. Use back-up. Or at least padding. I say this a lot in workshops and presentations, but let me reiterate: diaper free doesn’t have to mean diaperless. Seriously. You can practice EC full-time and still have your baby in diapers all the time. It’s okay. If you have only one carrier and that’s the only place where your baby will sleep, it’s really ok. But although I did often put my daughter in the carrier without a diaper actually on her, I would almost always put a cloth prefold under her bum. This was usually sufficient to protect the carrier, and it was really easy to switch out without even having to take her out at all. Which is convenient if your baby pees but you don’t think he’s quite done with his nap yet.

3. Take advantage of the opportunity to observe. The great thing about babywearing–and one of the main reasons it makes EC so much easier–is that it puts you in such close contact with your baby. It makes it really easy to notice subtle signals, movements, and expressions that you might otherwise miss. When my daughter was sleeping in the carrier, I would know the second she stirred, and if I took her out right then and offered the potty, she always peed. When she was awake, I would sometimes feel her kick or tense her abdomen in a way that I knew meant she needed to potty. Her signals were much more obvious when her body was so close to mine.

4. Stop thinking about it and relax. I think this will be a lot easier to do with my second child (but isn’t that true of everything about parenting?). With my daughter, I was fascinated by the concept of EC, even after I was well into the middle of doing it. Quite honestly, I rarely stopped thinking about it. In many ways, I still haven’t stopped thinking about it (hence this blog!), but of course I don’t spend all my time wondering if my daughter needs to pee like I did when she was a baby. There’s nothing wrong with obsessing about EC if you’re enjoying it; if you’re thinking about it because you like it and it fascinates you, then it’s no different from obsessing about how beautiful your baby’s sleeping face is or counting her toes over and over and over (and haven’t we all done that?). But if you’re thinking about it constantly because you’re worried that your baby is about to pee on you, then not only are you not having fun with it (which is one of the most important keys to EC success), but you’re also limiting your ability to hear your baby’s communication. Because–and I know this sounds crazy, but it actually works, and it’s amazing when it does–you thinking about pee is sometimes actually a signal from your baby that she needs to pee. And this kind of intuitive signal happens most frequently when you’re wearing your baby. Probably it’s really just that you subconsciously notice a slight kick or a tension in your baby’s body, and you translate that into “she’s uncomfortable–maybe she needs to pee” without noticing your thought process. (But then again, maybe your baby psychically communicates her need to pee by sending a telepathic message into your brain. Whichever seems more plausible to you. Stranger things have happened!) Either way, though, if you’re constantly thinking about EC in a way that’s stressful or worried, then you’re going to miss that subtle signal. And the great thing about babywearing is that it enables you–and even encourages you–to do your own thing while being with your baby. When you’re babywearing, you can go about your daily life and think about other things. You’re still with your baby, but you don’t have to be focusing on her, playing with her, entertaining her, and thinking about her constantly. You can think about a conversation with a friend, the dishes you’re washing, or even the blog article you’re writing–but because you’re still so physically close to your baby, you can do those things while still maintaining a close attention to your baby’s needs. And this mindset of focusing on something else while subconsciously paying close attention to your baby is the ideal mindset for EC. It sets you up to stop watching constantly for signals and to only notice when something is a little off–which is the most likely time for a successful potty opportunity. When you’re wearing your baby, you can go for a long walk with a friend and talk about something interesting and adult. Then suddenly, something will happen–you won’t notice exactly what–that draws your attention to your baby. She wriggles a little in the carrier and looks at you with an expression you recognize. “She might need to pee,” you think, and you pull her out and step to the side so you can hold her over the grass, all while keeping up the conversation with your friend. Sure enough, she pees, and you put her back in the carrier and keep walking.

Mind you, that’s never happened to me. Not quite so perfectly, anyway. But I’ve heard stories. And if you ever do have a moment when you’re so perfectly in tune with your baby that you catch a pee like that, in the middle of a conversation with a friend, then please, consider yourself an EC genius. In fact, consider yourself supermom. Your friend will think that anyway. And you deserve it.

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to sleep or to potty? that is the question

to sleep or to potty? that is the question

Sleep or pee? No, I’m not talking about those midnight pregnancy awakenings (that’s a relief, right? I’m sure you’re tired of all this pregnancy TMI). No, I’m talking about my three-year-old daughter. Let her sleep or wake her to potty? That’s my parenting dilemma this week.

I feel like I should offer a couple of disclaimers here. First, if you’re not familiar with elimination communication, you should know that most babies who are EC’d from birth are actually able to stay dry all night at a much younger age than three. In fact, babies who are EC’d full-time at night often start staying dry all night (sometimes with a midnight potty break, but sometimes without it) before they are a year old. So it’s not totally crazy for me to think my daughter could go all night without peeing.

On the other hand, for children who are conventionally potty trained, peeing in sleep is normal until around age five or six. So if your four year old is still wearing diapers at night, he’s totally normal; don’t worry about it.

Which leads to the logical question: if my daughter sometimes pees on the bed, then why am I not still using diapers at night?

Simple answer? Because I don’t have any of these. (Hint to any relatives wondering what to get for the new baby.) When my daughter was an infant, I ran across several EC’ing families who stated that “sleep trumps potty” when it comes to nighttime decisions. For tired mamas and newborn babies, sleeping is more important than pottying. Some babies sleep better after pottying (you take them once and then they’ll sleep for four hours instead of two), so those families practice EC at night. Other babies will pee in a diaper and go back to sleep without waking mama, so those families don’t do EC at night. My daughter woke every three hours no matter what I did, but EC’ing required sitting up and nursing didn’t, so I used diapers at night.

Then around age two, my daughter started leaking through all her nighttime diapers. Rather than buy new diapers (which just seemed like a waste of money at that stage; she’d been out of daytime diapers for a year!), I decided to start nighttime EC. At that point I was already occasionally pottying her at night, and she was staying dry through the night about three out of four nights. And every time she did pee, it got all over the sheets anyway, so I figured it would be just as easy to get rid of diapers as not.

After a few months, I figured out that if I took her potty at least once during the night–usually around midnight–then she would stay dry all night. She was still waking every three hours to nurse, so adding potty to one of the nighttime wake-ups wasn’t that big of a deal.

But then, when she was three and a half, we finally figured out that she was waking so much at night for physiological reasons. After a week of taking a (liquid) magnesium supplement every night at bedtime, she went from waking every three hours to sleeping all night. Really all night. Like ten to twelve hours. I was in heaven.

But she also started peeing on the bed.

Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it: not only is she sleeping twelve straight hours, which is longer than she’s ever stayed in bed on a regular basis in her life, but she’s also taking a liquid supplement right before bed.

My first thought was to limit liquids in the evening, so I started giving her the supplement at dinner instead of at bedtime. That helped. But she was still peeing on the bed at least one night out of three.

So I started taking her potty during the night again. Since she now goes to bed earlier than I do (which is a miracle in itself!), I figured I could take her before I went to bed without disrupting my own sleep. I noticed that she usually stirs a little and calls out around 11 or midnight and then puts herself back to sleep. But I started taking that as my signal to go in and potty her in the little potty in her room, and it worked great. She would pee without ever waking up (there are few things cuter than a three year old leaning on your shoulder, eyes still closed, peeing on the potty in her sleep!), and I’d put her back in bed and she’d sleep soundly all night. Perfect solution, right?

Except that recently I’ve been wanting to go to bed earlier, and I found myself getting stressed about sitting up waiting for her to stir so I could go potty her while she was in a light sleep. So the other night I did something I’ve never done before. Instead of waiting for her to call for me, I went in when I was ready to go to bed. She was in a deep sleep, but I picked her up and put her on the potty. She peed without waking or protesting at all, and then I put her back in bed and she went straight back to sleep. Which was awesome. But ever since I’ve been worrying about it. Did I disrupt her sleep patterns by taking her when she was in a deep sleep? Did she sleep poorly the rest of the night? She seemed kind of tired the next day, but that could have been my guilty imagination.

I know I’m overthinking this, but if you had any idea how awful her sleep has been for the past three years–and how challenging all of our lives were as a result of her poor sleep–then you’d understand how scary it is for me to do anything that might disrupt her sleep at all. It’s practically sacrilege. On the other hand, peeing on the bed disrupts her sleep (and mine!) a lot more. But then again, a lot of nights (like last night, when I was too tired to take her potty before bed), she sleeps all night and stays dry. So maybe if I left her alone, she would just sleep all night.

I do think that pretty soon she’ll be able to take herself at night–she’s just not quite aware enough yet to take herself when she’s half-asleep. In a year or two, this dilemma, like so many other past parenting dilemmas, will be a thing of the past. In the meantime, I’ll remember my mantra: sleep trumps potty. Right now sleep better after I’ve pottied her, because I know she’s not going to wake wet and crying at 3 am. She sleeps better after pottying on nights when she would have peed on the bed…but on nights when she would otherwise have slept all night, then pottying might make her sleep worse.

So whose sleep trumps potty? I’ll let you guess.

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10 essential parenting skills that I learned from elimination communication

One of the biggest misconceptions about elimination communication–one I hear all the time–is the idea that the point of it is potty training. Which is perfectly understandable: it does involve helping a baby use the potty, so it can look a lot like potty training from the outside. I say this all the time–DiaperFreeBaby actually issued a statement earlier this year explaining it–but I’ll say it again: elimination communication is not potty training. Potty training is about getting your child to use the toilet, all of the time. Elimination communication is about listening to your baby, respecting your baby’s innate desire to be clean and dry, and encouraging your baby’s natural ability to control his body. Yes, EC eventually leads to potty training–or potty learning and independence, as EC’ers generally prefer to phrase it. But that’s not the point. It’s really not. And if you practice EC thinking that every single pee needs to go in the toilet from a very early age, well, you and your baby are probably going to both get pretty frustrated. And EC should never be frustrating. If it’s not fun for both you and your baby, then you should take a break, because something is wrong.

So. This Thursday at our DiaperFreeBaby meeting, we’ll be talking about how EC helps us as parents and what we’ve learned about parenting by practicing EC. This topic is, without a doubt, the reason why I’m so passionate about EC, the reason why I’m a DiaperFreeBaby Mentor, the reason why I tell everyone I see who has a baby under age two about EC. Not because I want to help the environment (although that’s why I started doing EC), and not because I think it’s great for kids to potty learn early (although it is nice). But because learning the skill of EC has taught me so many other skills as a parent. And I want every parent to experience the many lessons that your baby can teach you through EC. What lessons are those? Here are just a few:

1. Trust your baby’s ability. EC taught me that my daughter could communicate clearly from infancy and control her body in ways I never knew were possible for a young baby. That encouraged me to trust and encourage her ability in lots of other areas as well, from rolling over and reaching for toys to dressing herself and preparing her own peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Of course you can learn this truth many ways–Montessori school helped me learn it as well–but EC was the first glimpse I had of how capable she is. There’s nothing like that inner glow of confidence that your child is a capable genius when they’re only three months old. Shouldn’t every parent feel that?

2. Listen to your baby. EC taught me, from my daughter’s earliest infancy, that there is always a reason for her fussing. Always. The reason wasn’t always because she needed to pee, of course, and I couldn’t always figure out the reason, but EC did help me understand a lot of what would have otherwise been “unexplained fussiness.” And it helped me believe that the fussiness had an explanation. Now that she’s three, this knowledge is invaluable. She amazes me sometimes with the logic of her distress: her reason for being upset may not always be sensible from an adult perspective, but it always makes perfect sense from hers. She has good reason for her feelings. I first learned this from EC.

3. Behavior I don’t like is communication, not misbehavior. This is a central tenant of positive discipline: that negative behavior in children is communicating an unmet need. Again, you can learn this truth through lots of experiences, but I learned it through EC. When my daughter was 12 months old and she refused to pee on the potty but then peed on the floor immediately afterward, EC taught me not to regard that as a mistake or even as something negative, but rather as an opportunity to learn and understand my daughter. What was she telling me? What did she need in order to stay clean and dry? Did she need more independence, more interesting locations, more help? EC taught me to find a path that worked for both of us toward a behavior that would keep us both happy. Again, at age three, the value of learning this lesson early can’t be overestimated!

4. Be creative. EC taught me to hear what my daughter was really communicating. Refusing to sit on the potty didn’t necessarily mean she didn’t need to pee, just as refusing an apple doesn’t necessarily mean she’s not hungry. Sometimes refusing the potty meant she wanted to take herself, or that she wanted to go in a different place, or that she wanted to practice holding it a little longer. Sometimes refusing an apple means she wants chicken instead. EC taught me to think outside the box (maybe she’ll prefer peeing in the bathtub?) and to consider all the options. There’s often a solution I haven’t thought of yet.

5. Be playful. Did I mention that EC is always supposed to be fun? I often tell people that if it’s not fun, for both you and your baby, then you’re doing it wrong. As long as it’s fun, you’re doing it right. And this is true of a lot of aspects of parenting. No, it’s not possible to have fun all the time–sometimes I just don’t have the energy or the creativity for it, and that’s okay; I’m not perfect–but the vast majority of the time, playful parenting will get you farther on the road to cooperation than anything else. EC taught me to set up a little table next to the toilet so she could do puzzles while pooping so she didn’t get bored (because hey, we all need entertainment while we poop!). It taught me to make up funny songs to help her pee when she was having trouble relaxing. It taught me to use playfulness to smooth transitions throughout the day.

6. Learn to read your child. In an ideal world, EC would always be child-initiated: the baby signals and the caregiver responds. But in the real world, the baby’s attentiveness to his need to eliminate, just like his attentiveness to his need to sleep or his need to eat, varies through different developmental stages. Even now, at three years old, my daughter often doesn’t notice when she’s hungry. (My husband has the same problem, so I’m not sure if this is something she’ll ever grow out of!) But I know when she’s hungry. I know when she’s tired. I know when she needs to pee, too. Most of the time I can tell at a glance, just from her body language and her general attitude, if she has an unmet basic physical need. And quite honestly, I’m not sure if I could have learned that ability without EC. EC teaches you to listen to your intuition (one of the “common signals” that you’ll see listed, in any EC advice guide, is “a feeling or intuition that your baby needs to pee.” Really), and when she was a baby, I focused a lot on developing this skill. Now I can sometimes tell even with other people’s babies, just at a glance, that they’re tired or hungry or need to pee. Intuition is like any other skill–once you learn it, you just know it.

7. Your baby doesn’t need all the stuff you think she needs. Again, you can learn this a lot of ways. But again, I learned it from EC. I discovered EC because I was struggling with the disposables vs. cloth diapers debate when I was pregnant: living in a small apartment with no washing machine, I thought cloth seemed impossible, but I couldn’t bear the thought of the environmental impact of disposables. For me, realizing that the answer to the debate was actually “neither” was freeing, and it freed me to reconsider a lot of baby stuff and gear that many families consider essential. There are certainly plenty of minimalist parents out there who believe that babies need very little. But only us EC’ers put diapers on the “nice to have” instead of “necessary” list.

8. It’s okay to question mainstream opinion. I know it’s possible to take this questioning to an extreme, but really, it’s good to research things for yourself. Many of the childcare practices widely accepted in our society really don’t have any science to back them up. Just because your pediatrician tells you something doesn’t make it true. Doctors are human like everybody else, and they don’t always keep up-to-date on the latest research. New information is coming out all the time. EC taught me to question the AAP’s recommendations on toilet training readiness, and when I saw how well that worked, I felt comfortable questioning a lot of other things, too.

9. Kids like routines. Ok, I know every parent knows this, but to be honest, I was hoping to avoid it. Only because I am just not a routine person. Schedules stress me out. I have a passionate hatred of watches. I’ve always wanted to live in a country where “on time” actually means “within 30 minutes or so of the time we said.” But EC was one of the first things that made me realize that lax approach to life just wasn’t going to work for my daughter. She wants everything just so, and she always have. At one point I actually bought a watch (the first one I’ve owned since college) for the sole purpose of remembering to take her potty, because her timing was so precise, and she would gladly go when she needed to, but she would never tell me she needed to go. EC also taught me to respect her need to have everything “just so” in the bathroom: the potty in the exact right place, the exact same puzzle to play with, the exact same song every time. That’s how she wanted it. I learned to be okay with that.

10. Pay attention to small changes or quirks in your child’s health and attitude. I really don’t think I would have learned this without EC. My pediatrician told me, for example, that a little bit of diaper rash is fine and it’s practically impossible to diagnose diarrhea in a breastfed baby. But I knew diaper rash wasn’t fine for a baby who rarely wore a diaper. If I hadn’t been practicing EC, I never would have recognized my daughter’s sensitivity to dairy. Would it have made a big difference in the big picture of her health? Probably not. But would it have caused a lot more fussiness and discomfort when she was young? Definitely. More importantly, that experience taught me to pay close attention to her quirks and functioning and to listen to my instincts when it came to her health. Even when doctors insist she’s fine, even when no one else sees anything wrong, I pay attention and keep searching for the cause. Because if I think something’s off with her system, I’m probably right. EC taught me that.

What about you? What parenting skills has EC taught you?

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