When little darling number one was about five months old, my wife came home one day and said, ‘You know, babies don’t need nappies, they can tell you from birth when they need to wee’, or words to that effect. This had to be one of the craziest things I’ve heard in a long time. That afternoon we took off her nappy and, bizarrely enough, managed to catch lots of wees. After that I became paranoid that any second (in fact about every 15 mins) I would get a yellow fountain (or worse) headed in the direction of my nice clean pair of jeans, which happened several times. I still took some convincing that it wasn’t just chance, but with a little persistence we managed to learn the signs that she was about to wee or poo and started to catch them in a potty at a regular rate and started to relax about the jeans. By the time we got to baby number two it was a race to see who could be the first to catch a wee in the potty. I can now announce that yours truly was the proud winner of that competition and both little darlings are regular potty users.

What’s the theory behind it? After all, it runs totally contrary to everything we are led to believe, that babies cannot be potty trained before two and at earliest after their powers of speech have developed. It turns out that potty training is a retraining. Babies are born with an innate awareness of when they wee. Ok, that’s perhaps not such a bold statement. What is more is that the communicate to their parents when they are about to wee. These signs can be arm or leg movements, a certain kind of cry, or a sudden change behaviour, it depends on the baby and their age. It’s the parents who need training to pick up these signs. After about six months with nappies they stop and become comfortable just going in their nappy. The practice of not using nappies now goes under the terms ‘natural hygeine’ for the hippy inclined, or ‘elimination communication’ for those averse to the common words for what comes out of the nether regions of your little bundle of joy.

So, you never use nappies? Well, that’s not quite true. At the moment with a two and a half month old we have a muslin square wrapped around her bottom which catches anything we miss and mostly avoids having to do a complete change. Choice of clothes is quite critical – it needs to be something that is easy to take off and we generally avoid baby-grows, or tuck the flaps at the bottom up so they don’t get wet. When we are out we usually put on a complete nappy, but if we can find a toilet in time we can usually keep this dry too. My wife came back very proud from a 6 hour trip into town the other day with a dry and clean nappy. Since she was already in her own bedroom when we started, the oldest one also has a nappy at night, which is currently dry in the morning about 50% of the time. For the youngest we’re currently putting on a nappy at night and trying to catch the wees, reducing the need for changes and night-time disruption.

Does it really work and would I recommend it? The benefits are great. With every poo I catch in a potty I breathe a sigh of relief that it didn’t happen in a nappy. Using reusable nappies, we’ve also massively reduced the washing load. Ok, some days there are several changes and lots of nappies, but the trend is definitely downward. Of course, there is no need to potty train your child. I have no idea how much hassle it saves, but judging from some people’s reactions it’s a lot!

It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. You need to be around your baby a lot for a long time, so it’s not suitable if you’re considering using child-care under the age of 18 months or so (unless you have very understanding carers). You also need to be prepared to go anywhere and expect to get odd looks in public (or a round of applause from your paediatrician who happens to be on the same tram, as happened once to us!), although no-one has ever said anything negative to us. We often carry a bucket with us just in case, so if using it in a busy street would make you feel self-conscious, maybe think again. We’re lucky that Freiburg town centre has little channels of water flowing everywhere, which are very convenient as make-shift conveniences. You also need to be prepared to ‘fail’. Whatever you do, don’t blame your baby if you miss a wee – after all they almost certainly told you so if anyone’s to blame it’s your fault! If there’s an accident and the bed/sofa/floor/Aunt Agnes is covered, just smile, clear up and move on.

Got to go, that sounds like a ‘need a wee’ kind of cry…

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