When my partner and I first heard about infant “potty training,” we laughed. “Crazy,” we thought. We always hear how little babies have zero control over their elimination functions. Definitely not for our family.
Fast forward a week when our baby was using 10-15 diapers a night (!!), barely wetting them, but screaming to be changed immediately. I took to google machine and narrowed the options down to: UTI or child diabetes. I was terrified! Then I stumbled across a forum on infant potty training (or as I like to call it “infant potty learning”–because I dislike the term”training” when applied to human babies), and everything she had been trying to tell us made perfect sense.
We’ve been using Infant Potty Learning (IPL) ever since, and it has been an exciting adventure for all of us. I’ve had so many moms ask for information (hard to find) about IPL, so I’m chronicling what we do, how we do it, and–perhaps most importantly–why we do it. Enjoy!
**NOTE: I am not a healthcare professional or an expert on IPL, by any means. This is a description of our methods and experience. We’ve drawn tips from many online sources and improvised a lot based on what works for our baby.
- Babies, like most animals, have a natural desire to be clean and avoid filth. Dogs are frequently crate trained because they are less likely to soil the area where they sleep. Why would a baby be any different? This isn’t what we’re told by diaper companies, pediatricians, or the mainstream media, but it makes sense.
- Babies ARE born with the ability to hold poop/urine for short periods of time if they want to and/or have an incentive to do so (ex. avoiding a wet diaper).
- Babies are also born with sensitivity to wetness and a connection to their bodily functions. After a while they lose this sensitivity. When infants are made to go pee or poop in their diapers, they learn that they are supposed to use their diaper as a toilet.
- There seems to be a sensitive period between zero and six months during which infants ‘want’ to avoid eliminating on themselves (in a diaper). After this period, infants start ignoring this natural impulse, and have to re-learn this when they go through potty “training” later in life.
- Comfort for baby: Being dirty and wet is unpleasant. Sitting in your own urine and feces must be terrible. It makes me sad to think that babies sit in their pee and poop and slowly learn that’s what they’re supposed to do–even if it is uncomfortable and unnatural!
- Saving money: From the first day we started IPL, we saved 3 diapers! And it only got better from there. I am convinced there is a conspiracy between diaper companies and pediatricians to say babies are “incapable” of holding their pee or poop. This is false (within limits, of course). This also makes me angry, because everyone (baby and parents) loses EXCEPT the diaper companies when babies are in diapers for years and years.
- Connection to baby: This is why we started IPL. The happy look my girl gave me after our first few successes told me I was doing the right thing.
- Environmental impact: cutting down on non-reusable waste (diapers, wipes, etc).
- Less mess: Because baby isn’t making a mess in his/her diaper, there is much less to clean! No need to use 2-5 wipes for one poop diaper. I’ll use one square of toilet paper or our “family cloth” (see below) if any clean-up is needed.
- It’s exciting: Now, people who don’t have kids may not understand this, but watching your baby learn anything (even something as simple as “it feels good not to be wet after peeing) is incredibly exciting! My partner and I would look at each other in amazement as we were discovering how well infant potty learning worked for our baby.
- I’ve read that you can start on day 1! I started when our girl was 10 weeks old because that’s when I learned about IPT/elimination communication and did enough research on it to decide I wanted to try it.
- Some people wait until there’s a hint of a rhythm about baby’s elimination. When I started IPL, I knew that our baby would always go upon waking and soon after eating.
- As I mentioned above, we also started when we noticed our baby holding her pee. She would let out only a tiny bit of pee at a time–just enough to relieve pressure–then stop–every 15-20 minutes. Because she always hated a wet diaper, this resulted in a LOT of barely-wet diapers going in the trash! I was convinced she had diabetes or a UTI (first-time mom alert), but once I stumbled across a forum post on IPT, I immediately told my partner and we both knew right away!
- Have reasonable expectations. Not all babies are good candidates for IPL and not all ADULTS are good candidates for helping their infant learn to use the potty. I am confident we wouldn’t have been so successful if our girl didn’t hate a wet diaper so (although I believe most babies are born with this instinct and will react just as well, as long as they never learn to use their diaper as a toilet). If your baby hates the process, I would take a break or even stop and pick back up at another time. That was my approach. We took a couple breaks (ex. for two days when she was sick, for an evening if she was feeling fussy, etc.) and didn’t suffer any big setbacks. It’s kind of a staged process.
- It is very important to be calm, relaxed, and supportive with your baby if you’re going to try IPL. There were several days when our baby did not want to use the potty and looking back, I attribute this to my nerves! I had been peed on (I didn’t have a great hold down yet) and was nervous, and she could sense that. I switched my hold, moved from toilet to bathtub, and made a conscious effort to stay relaxed, and it was smooth sailing from there!
- Think about whether IPL is right for your family. IPL is time-consuming (especially up front). You should be comfortable with the possibility of mess, especially when you’re getting started. I do 99% of the potty trips, even though my partner changes a lot of diapers. I’m also a stay-at-home mom, which makes IPL much more feasible, but I think even doing IPL part-time might be beneficial for an infant. Obviously, IPL is much easier if you have one parent staying at home full-time with the baby.
- Be patient. I’ll sit down with our baby where we’re going to try to let her eliminate, take off her diaper, and hold her. Then I sing her a couple sounds and bounce or rock her gently. She’ll usually go within 5-30 seconds for pee, but it can be a few minutes for poop. After several weeks, she started “trying” to pee/poop ever time her diaper was removed.
- There are two main “methods” for offering the potty: working with a schedule and reading elimination cues. We do a bit of both. I watch our baby closely for signs she wants to be taken to the potty (her sign for pee is to give a small cry/scream and kick her legs, but it could also be grunts , fussiness, breaking his/her latch repeatedly during breastfeeding, etc) and I take her right away. If it’s been more than 40 minutes, I will take her to the potty and take her diaper off and she will almost always pee within 5-30 seconds. I also take her every time she wakes up.
- Some people suggest giving baby 2-4 hours of no-diaper time before starting IPL to learn baby’s signals. See how he/she moves and acts and vocalizes before eliminating. I didn’t do this because we were lucky and our baby always gave a small cry as a signal. If your baby is more comfortable in a wet diaper, or doesn’t give any readable signals at first, this might be an effective way to learn about how he communicates that he needs to eliminate.
- There are many holds you can use to help a small baby. I started off holding her in front of me on the toilet, but it was kind of awkward especially because she didn’t have great head control at first and she is a big (and heavy) baby. What worked for us is holding her in a cradle hold with my supporting arm holding her thigh. Then I hold her other thigh (the one close to my body) with my other hand. I sit on the edge of the bathtub. It’s really comfortable for both of us! I chose this position because it’s close to having her laying down (this position was familiar to her because she started out peeing whenever her diaper was opened on the changing table). You can let them eliminate into the sink if that is comfortable for both of you, too.
- You can use a potty chair, a potty ring, or use the adult toilet, bathtub, or sink. I like using the bathtub because of the comfort factor for both of us (it’s just what worked for us) and easy cleanup! We just spray the shower and run water to wash away pee and a quick spray of cleaner after poop. Some people even use the access to a tap to rinse off baby’s diaper area after pee or poop. I like this idea! But we don’t do it because I’m worried about the temperature of the water. We use “family cloth” for pee and toilet paper or a wipe for poop (see “Notes”). I prefer using the toilet (and I’ll switch to the toilet when our baby can sit up) for older infants because it eliminates the extra step of switching from potty chair to adult toilet later! If you’re starting with a 4-7 month old infant, I’d try toilet right away. We started off trying the potty ring, but since we started when she was 10 weeks old, it was uncomfortable for everyone.
- Only and always use positive reinforcement. Personally, I am genuinely happy and excited about my baby using the potty (and I think you will be, too), so this isn’t hard! I smile at her and celebrate her little victories. I also sing her a little potty song I made up for her when she uses the potty. When we have “misses,” I just calmly take her to the changing table and change her.
- Never use punishment! Sitting in a wet or dirty diaper is more than enough punishment.
- Cues may help your baby. Some people suggest making a “ssssss” sound to encourage baby to pee. The idea is that they will learn to associate the sound with the action. This didn’t do much for our baby, so I don’t do it.
- Baby may be more likely to pee when put down (in car seat, swing etc). Mine is. This makes sense to me because she wants to avoid soiling me. She will rarely eliminate while being held or “worn” in a baby carrier. You can use this to your advantage.
- I have a little potty station by the toilet with our “family cloth” (small squares of cloth from old pillowcases that my daughter and I use for pee), wipes, a plastic cup (in case I want to rinse her with water), diapers, and washcloths.
- Many people use cloth diapers when doing infant potty learning. We used disposables, but I like the idea of doing cloth both because of increased sensitivity and reduction of non-reusable waste.