Potty training infants

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Three-month-old Sosi Hoerning grunted, frowned and flailed her arms as she sat on her mother Larissa Chen’s lap. Was she hungry, tired or just fussy?

None of the above. Chen gently cradled Sosi’s legs and eased her onto a tiny plastic potty. On cue, little Sosi used it, without a messy diaper in sight.

“It’s a way of being in tune with her, like breastfeeding,” said Chen, 30, of Roselle Park, N.J. “If you know it’s coming, why not try to catch it while you can?”

Sosi can’t even sit up yet, but she’s a veteran of what’s called “elimination communication,” a form of potty training in which babies learn to use a toilet months – even years – before conventional child-rearing advice tells parents to begin.

While it’s been mostly confined to “attachment parents” who “wear” their babies in slings, share the family bed and nurse their toddlers, the concept is reaching a wider audience.

“This is a gentle, natural approach to elimination that can be done by anyone who wants to try it,” said Christine Gross-Loh, author of the just-published “The Diaper-Free Baby,” who is now using the process with her third child, 7-week-old Mia. “I actually find diapering to be kind of a headache.”

The concept of introducing infants to a toilet is not new.

In many Eastern cultures, where modern conveniences like disposable diapers are scarce, mothers have been training their children this way for years.

In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where for decades most babies were in child care very early, weaning babies from diapers is also a common practice.

Advocates say there are many reasons to try “elimination communication,” or EC, among them saving the planet from the billions of disposable diapers clogging landfills each year.

Others want to save money; three years of diapers cost about $3,000, Gross-Loh said.

But for most, it’s another way to stay in tune with their babies, just as they pick up cues the child is hungry or tired. They emphasize that it’s a process, not a goal of training a child within a certain time frame.

They expect that some parents will have “misses,” the EC term for what most of us call “accidents.”

“You can tell they’re content. I think he enjoys sitting there,” said Shelley Brown, 34, of Cranford, N.J., as she held 5-month-old Griffin Brown on his Babybjorn potty.

Brown, the co-leader of the Union County, N.J., chapter of Holistic Moms, met Chen at a meeting of La Leche, a breastfeeding advocacy group.

Griffin was wearing BabyLegs, leg warmers that keep his limbs toasty while enabling Brown to remove his cloth diaper and get him on the potty fast (available from www.theECstore.com). which also sells split-crotch pants and underwear for infants).

Gross-Loh said the growing interest in the method may also be a reaction to the perception that children are being toilet trained later and later. Child development gurus like pediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton advise parents to follow their children’s lead in determining when they’re ready.

The American Academy of Pediatrics tells parents that children younger than 12 months have no control over bladder and bowel movements and little control six months after that. Some children, according to the academy’s Web site, won’t be ready until they’re 30 months or older.

Currently, the average age for potty training in the U.S. is 24 months for a girl and 30 months for a boy, said Robert Mendelson, a Portland, Ore.-based pediatrician and an AAP spokesman on toilet training.

“Excuse my pun, but the bottom line is that a child cannot be appropriately trained unless they’re aware they’re going and can do something about it,” he said. “Anything prior to that, the parent is trained to watch the child for cues. You can’t teach a child to walk if he’s not neurologically ready, and the same is true for toilet training.”

But EC parents insist that very young children are aware of their bladder and bowel movements, even though they might not be able to control them yet. It’s up to the parent, sensing the child’s readiness by his or her actions, to put the child on the potty.

Parents can help develop awareness by making certain sounds, like running water, so the baby identifies the urge with the sound, according to Gross-Loh.

“The whole trend of waiting for the so-called signs of readiness can lead people to wait longer than they have to. We’ve had a lot of interest from people who potty-trained older children and had a difficult time,” Gross-Loh said, adding that even working parents could try the method.

Many parents who practice EC admit that some people think they’re downright weird, with visions of frantic parents rushing to the bathroom to dangle their children over the toilet before it’s too late. Others think it’s all about the moms’ need to be in control.

In practice, however, it’s much more low-key. On a recent afternoon, Brown and Chen nursed their babies, held them, and sat them on their potties occasionally. Call it a coincidence, but as if responding on cue, Griffin and Sosi did their duty, much to the delight of their moms.

PH END O’CROWLEY

(Peggy O’Crowley is a staff writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. She can be contacted at pocrowley(at)starledger.com.)

2007-01-19-EARLY-POTTYTRAIN

AP-NY-01-19-07 1626EST

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