Tips for Stress-Free Diaper Freedom
This tip sheet is for mothers who already understand the benefits of Natural Infant Hygiene and the overall methods of pursuing it, who are simply looking for some extra tips and encouragement. For more information about Diaper Freedom, read Ingrid Bauer’s book, Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene, and check out her website, www.natural-wisdom.com.
Even if you choose to continue diapering full-time for a period, you can still begin cuing your baby to eliminate diaper-free. When changing your baby’s diaper, hold her over an appropriate receptacle for 1 or 2 minutes (but stop immediately if she protests) and make a “ssss” noise. You may be surprised by the results! Even a one-day-old baby may pee or poop when cued in this way (mine did). If baby begins to pee, make the “ssss” noise during the entire pee. If she starts to poop, make a grunting sound such as “uhh uhh uhh” during the poop. Careful – if baby starts to poop, you will need to hold her for several minutes (or until she protests), as even when you think she is done there may be more to come!
Babies seem to have a natural instinct to pee or poop when held in a squatting or sitting position away from mother’s body, with the bottom and genitals unclothed and in the air. You are simply harnessing this instinct before it disappears through continual diaper use. Most parents of conventionally diapered babies know that babies tend to pee when their bottoms are exposed to air – how many times has this happened to you accidentally while changing your baby’s diaper?
Begin leaving your baby diaper-free for short periods of time when he is awake and content and you are able to focus your attention on him. Observe, observe, observe. You will know immediately when he eliminates, and you may be able to start detecting patterns of elimination based on timing (how often) relative to other events (waking, nursing, time of day). You may even see signals that indicate an impending pee or poop, although many mothers don’t initially.
Keep your baby comfortable and protect your home from messes during diaper-free periods in any way that works for you. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable holding or putting down your baby without feeling that she is a bomb about to explode everywhere. So take whatever steps you need to so that you feel at ease even if baby eliminates unexpectedly. Here are a few ideas:
Buy a generous number of the smallest, least expensive underwear you can find for your baby. Thicker fabric is best for absorbing more pee and poop. Surprisingly, the smallest available sizes (intended for ages 2-3 years usually) often fit a 2-4 month old infant fairly well (although a newborn will probably be a bit small still). Babies tend to grow in length less than girth and frequently become more slender into their walking years, so underwear intended for toddlers or preschoolers are often just right for your baby! I found it necessary to buy about 25 pair (I have no clothes dryer) to get through the first weeks while avoiding having to wash every single day. Later you won’t go through as many pairs in a day!
Put undies on your baby during diaper-free periods. This is especially handy for boys, who tend to spray in unpredictable directions, but even for girls it is great. When baby is lying down on the floor or in a bouncy chair (transat), you can simply put an absorbent layer under baby’s bottom (prefold diaper, folded old towel, folded receiving blanket, squares of waterproof washable changing pads, old washcloths, etc.). When baby is in arms (or in sling or wrap), an absorbent cloth can be tucked under the bottom and between the legs, or even better, tucked inside the undies and anchored in place by the undies. This is also a great solution for squirmy or crawling babies who may get away from their cloth protection. Absorbent cloth inside undies is, in essence, a non-binding cloth diaper with no diaper cover, so it is comfortable and breathable for baby, doesn’t restrict baby’s movements, lets you know instantly when baby has wet or pooped because you will feel or see the wetness, and helps protect your home and your clothing from messes.
When baby wets or poops, the undies and cloth can be instantly changed. I put poopy undies and cloths in a diaper pail to be washed separately when needed, and put wet undies and cloths directly in the wash to go with whatever load I am doing next. Since I tend to do a load of laundry every 1-2 days, that keeps me always with a fresh supply.
During diaper-free periods, observe your baby and interact with her as much as possible. If you have a feeling for any reason that she may be about to eliminate, hold her over a nearby appropriate receptacle (I like the molded plastic pot available at Monoprix for about 4€50 – it doesn’t tip over easily and has a raised front to avoid pee squirting over the top). Make the cuing noise (e.g., “ssss” for a pee and “uhh uhh uhh” for a poop). Careful, even when cuing to pee, hold your baby so that her bottom is also over the receptacle, in case a surprise poop is on the way! Each time you cue, be patient, wait 1-2 minutes while continuing to cue, but stop immediately if your baby protests. Sometimes little physical cues like patting the tummy, pointing the penis down for a boy, patting or stroking the naked skin just above the genitals gently, or blowing on the genitals, can also stimulate elimination.
If you have no instincts or feelings about when your baby is going to eliminate, you are not alone! The mothers of young babies that I know (including myself, initially) just notice their baby peeing suddenly with no prior indication that they can detect. Try using timing. For instance, try to pee the baby each time you change a diaper, finish a nursing, and upon baby’s waking. Then during your focused diaper-free time with baby, use a time interval that works for you (say 10 or 15 minutes) and try again. There will inevitably be many times when you will hold your baby over the bowl, cue, cue, cue, and nothing will happen. Then seconds later your baby will pee in his undies. This will happen over and over and over again! But gradually something happens and baby gets better at releasing on cue and therefore staying dry in between, and you get better at cuing at the right times. You will have more successes and fewer misses as time goes on (although not in a linear fashion – there are good days and bad days!).
During diapered times, you can still cue when convenient – if your baby is diapered but you think she has to pee or poop, pull off her clothing and diaper and cue her over the receptacle. You can do this more or less frequently, depending on your ability to devote time to it. Obviously, a diapered baby is less easy to “read” than a diaper-free baby, because you will not know when she last peed, only whether her diaper is wet or dry when you check it. But you can use obvious cues (grunting, grimacing, flexing and arching the body, and my favorite, toots) to cue for poops (easier to catch a poop than to clean up after one inside a diaper!), and timing for pees (a diapered baby who is just waking in the morning or from a nap will usually respond with a nice big pee if swiftly unclothed and cued).
As convenient, gradually increase the amount of time you devote to diaper freedom. For instance, if carrying your baby in a sling around the house while accomplishing tasks, consider going diaper-free during those times and tuning into your baby’s movements and vocalizations to anticipate pees or poops. It helps to have an extra sling for just wearing around the house so if it gets a little pee on it you have a fresh one for outings. Many mothers find it easier to tune into signals while carrying baby because baby’s subtle movement changes are more easily detected against the body than when baby is out of arms. Also, baby’s instinct not to eliminate on mommy seems to be strongest when the baby is worn. Or you may feel like going diaper free in the mornings and putting on diapers in your more hectic afternoons; going diaper free only when older kids are in school; only when you are well-rested and patient; only during the day; only at home; whatever works for you.
As you get better and better at catching, the amount of time you feel willing to devote to diaper freedom will automatically increase because it becomes more rewarding and less work. Gradually you will feel comfortable letting your baby drift off to sleep diaper free and seeing what her sleeping elimination patterns are (you just need to take steps to protect the sleeping place from messes, of course), making short outings from the house diaper free, going diaper-free at a friend’s house, and so on. The more time your baby spends diaper free, the faster your progress, so you will see an accelerating spiral of success!
Start listening and watching for “intentional” cues. As baby becomes more experienced with diaper freedom, he will start to cue in a way that seems more aware and directed. For instance, a baby who previously squirmed (or seemingly had no cue) to indicate a pee might start vocalizing with a gentle complaint, which might have seemed random or unrelated to you before but which you suddenly realize predicts a pee on many occasions. Of course, it is easier to read the “complaints” of a content baby than a fussy one, since the complaints will get lost in the fuss. Meeting all of your baby’s needs as promptly as possible enhances your ability to meet his elimination needs!
Consider creating a baby sign to go along with cuing noises, or just to mean “potty”. For example, I use the ASL sign for toilet when I am removing my son’s undies or diaper to pee or poop him (this is a good time because he is lying down facing me and we are making eye contact). While I make the sign, I typically say something like, “do you need to go potty?” Then while he is sitting on the potty, I make the sign again while saying “going potty, going potty.” I do this in addition to the cuing noises for pee and poop. If you choose to use a sign in addition to the cuing noises, your baby may be able to sign her need to use the potty well before she can cue you in other ways (verbally or with the cuing noises). Babies as young as seven or eight months are often capable of learning signs and using them, although the age at which babies are ready for signing varies tremendously. Several books on baby signing are available if you are interested in learning more about this intriguing topic.
If the baby’s father (or grandmother or anyone who spends time with the baby) is reluctant to participate in diaper freedom, that’s okay. Often, when baby’s father gets home after a day of separation, he just wants to hold his baby without worrying about whether she is about to pee or poop all over him. Or he may be worried about missing baby’s cues and not being “good” at knowing when to pee and poop the baby. Whatever solution you work out needs to be respectful of the father’s feelings (as well as his unique relationship with your child). For instance, you can tell the baby’s father that he is welcome to put a diaper on the baby at any time. Or he may be OK with holding the baby if she is well padded with cloth-stuffed undies, and you are nearby to attend to baby’s cues and elimination needs. He may become more enthusiastic and willing to participate as he sees that diaper freedom really does work.
Setbacks are normal. A baby who is sick or suffering from teething pain is probably not going to cue his elimination needs very consistently. Likewise, a baby who is excited about learning to crawl, walk or talk may temporarily stop cuing or cue inconsistently for a period. Those times can be frustrating because you may feel that you are not making forward progress. Don’t feel bad about using diapers more than usual (or resign yourself to lots of underwear changes) during these periods. Be kind to yourself about misses, and wait for things to get back to normal. They will.
Pull back if frustration is making you want to quit altogether. If you’re having a bad day (sick, too many misses, too much else going on) just diaper your baby and relax. You can return to diaper freedom when you are ready (in an hour, a day, a week!). Holding yourself to an impossible ideal serves no one, least of all your baby.
Remember that the goal isn’t to catch every elimination. The goal is to enhance your understanding of your baby’s needs and your ability to meet those needs, to (eventually) cut down on disposable waste and laundry, and to allow your baby the comfort and dryness of diaper freedom. Even if you catch NO pees and your baby wets 20 undies in one day, if you change those wets promptly, your baby has enjoyed a day of dryness, freedom of movement, and no constricting bulk inhibiting movement and body exploration. So your worst day is still a success!
As misses decrease and catches increase, your confidence will grow. Gradually diaper freedom will become easier than diapering! While at first it seems like a lot of work, it is so rewarding once you start catching more and missing less. This is a gradual process – it takes weeks and months, not hours or days. Celebrate your small successes.
If I can do it, you can too!
I would like to thank you again for the diaper free meeting on Friday which was very interesting and instructive.
After summarising the meeting to my husband we’ve decided to try it with T. Yesterday I went out and bought a plastic pot and a few undies and this morning I started diaper free.
I thought you’d enjoy the day’s resume :
When T woke up, first thing I did was take his diaper off and sit him on the pot with the ssssss cue. Nothing happened.
I put on an undie with a cloth on him and went on to prepare breakfast.
Halfway through my breakfast, T started pushing... I put him on the pot as fast as I could. The poop got half in the pot and half in his underwear. After cleaning up, I decided the undies are a little big, so after the first try (and miss) I put the diaper back on T but kept watching for the signs.
He dirtied the two diapers in the morning but eliminated only in the pot for the rest of the day. It seems that I caught every pipi and poop !
Tonight I feel proud and confident (although it was probably only luck) and ready to try diaper free again tomorrow.
Thank you again ! Without this session, I probably would never even have thought of trying.
A few months later...
We actually put him on the pot first thing in the morning when we wake up and he really does a lot. However, until now his diaper was always a little wet in the morning. I would put him on the pot before the morning nurse if I knew it was the morning nurse.
You see T nurses a number of times at night (variable from 3 to ?) and the early morning is when he nurses the most frequently. Since I don't usually have a specific wake-up time, T is the one who says when, generally around 8:00, but I don’t look at the clock when he asks to nurse and I don't always realize it's morning! I'll try paying more attention to that though.
Thanks. Love, C.
A few more months later...
I just felt like sharing with you all this new event. For the first time T woke up this morning with a dry diaper! It might just be "an accident" but I have to say I'm very excited.
For those of you who haven't followed the story : T is now 11 months and we've been experiencing diaper free since he was 5 months old. He really is diaper free in the morning but most of the time he's in diapers during the rest of the day although we put him on the potty regularly. We already knew that he could go diaper free for naps and I don't think he's ready to go without a diaper for the night but him waking up with a dry diaper in the morning for the first time is already such a huge step, that's 11 hours with no wee!!
Well I won't bother you any longer with "mother's pride"!
Dear A, all your questions are welcomed!
I will be happy if I can help or encourage someone to be diaper free.
Myself, I needed much support in the beginning. Maybe if my midwife
hadn't put on a diaper the first day, my daughter would have been
diaper free from her birth. But because of diapers I thought It was
far more difficult without. Now I think it is not, it is just
different, very different. That's what I would do with my second child.
She is not entirely diaper free, as in the subject the question was
money costs, I didn't go into details, as our diaper costs are very
little compared to common ones.
So, I began all that during the day when she was 2 weeks old. And
although everyone doing it said it is even easier in the night, I
started it in the night only when she was 3 month old. It's true, it
is FAR FAR easier in the night!
I am still putting her a diaper on, from time to time, but less and
less, only when we are outside. It's a whashable diaper - a kind of
pant where I put a piece of tissu (made with old towel) and most of
the time if we don't go out for more than 3 h it stays dry! If we go
out for a longer time and there is no way to change her, I put her a
one-use diaper. But this is very rare now. I think as she's used to do
everything "in the air", that's to say naked, and she doesn't like
doing it in clothes. It's true that sometimes she's screaming when
she's wearing someting and I don't react to her first signal.
I think that in the summer I will not put her any diapers when out. I
know that many parents practicing it do it that way. Anyway, that's
what you would have to do in case of usual potty training but at the
Well, we have central heating and it's a little bit too hot in our
flat + 23 C, that's why even naked L often sweats. As I know,
since it's +19 at home, it's ok for the baby. moreover L’s not
old enaugh to stay longtime alone on the floor, so she's much carried.
Even if sh's spent 30-40 minutes on the floor, than I get her in my
arms, so I warm her up. At the same time the older they get the more
thay move, so it compensates. I think it is rather a question of
attitude. When a child is born, his termo-regulation is immature. It's
up to us to regulate it at some level.For instance, I was born in
Siberia and the apartments are overheated there in the winter
(+25+26). Moreover, my mother was all the time putting clothes on me, thinking I was cold. So now I am sensitive to cold. That's why I don't rely on my feelings, but I see how my daughter feels. It doesn't
matter if her feet are a bit cool. What matters is that it is warm in the
folds. Actually, there is a kind of natural parenting "school" in
Russia with a very active forum and many things I learn come from
there.(for instance, diaper free goes without saying for them, and
it's as important as long BF) There are thousands of mother's experience.
AS for sleeping, from the first night I did it I realized that it's
really easier. We sleep together on a kind of under-sheet (IKEA), I
put a piece of folded tissu on it (or a folded towel). This is in case
I miss any pees. Every child wakes up to do things (not entirely, but you
feel it - like for nursing) Often they do it around nursing or at the
same time. I put a bucket next to my bed (i found it far more
convinient so it doesn't spray around - because our bed is quite high,
sorry for that detailes))) If i miss it (which is seldom, there are 2-4
times in the night from 22 to 7 hours)i just change the tissu, I keep
some of clean ones next to my bed. After 7 in the morning there are
many, many things happening! She needs to pee about every 10-15 minutes. And it becomes more end more seldom during the day.
There are other ingenious ways I have heard of like making sort of
"layerd pie or cake" of tissus and under-sheets. or putting a bottle
at the right place for boys.
Well, of course there are times when I miss, when I am too
occupied. But more and more whatever I do I get used to always being
"tuned in" on these signals, if you see what I mean. It's important also
to feel relaxed about those missed times. We have just a little carpet
and I don't worry even if she does pee on it, it is quite seldom that it
happens. Also there are days when I have to change my home trousers
several times. It doesn't bother me. What would bother me is if my
daughter discovered clothes instead of her body (socks or diapers or
whatever), and that she forgets her elimination sensations because of
diapers and because I think it's simply not natural.
Anyway, I think that it's normal that we miss sometimes, because we
are not born and educated in the society where diaper free is common practice and a norm, so we are learning, with our own mistakes.
Moreover, I know that when there is potty-training on a daily basis, there are also many missed times, maybe even more than we have and at an older age, so more disturbing for the child. So it is inevitable,
don't you think?
Feel free to ask me any questions, hope it can help you or anyone else.
May be you know, but there are many english-speaking forums about it and it is of much support. Like those of Ingrid Bauer, the author of