Though Natural Infant Hygiene
has been around for eons, you may never have
heard much about it. Many people have misconceptions
or believe it is possible only in other cultures.
Here are answers to some common questions,
adapted from the book DIAPER FREE! The Gentle
Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene.
What exactly is Natural Infant Hygiene?
Natural Infant Hygiene is a gentle,
compassionate, and practical way to care for
a baby's elimination needs from infancy.
Rather than teaching a baby to
eliminate into his or her most intimate clothing
and cleaning up after the fact, mothers and
fathers learn to listen and respond in the
present moment to the baby's needs and communication.
Observation and close bonding
interaction help the parent understand the
baby's signals, body language, and timing rhythms.
Many parents find that their intuitive responses
also become enhanced. When the baby has to
go, the parent holds him or her in a comfortable
position over an appropriate toilet place and
makes a cueing sound (perhaps a gentle "sss").
In this way, parents can lovingly
meet their baby's needs, deepen their communication,
and significantly reduce diaper use. This gentle
and ancient practice is the most common way
of caring for a baby's hygiene needs in the
non-Western world. Ideally, Natural Infant
Hygiene is part of a larger continuum of gentle
and responsive infant-care, such as breastfeeding
I thought a baby's muscles
aren't developed enough to control elimination
until they are 18 months or even older. Isn't
this forcing a baby to toilet train before
they are ready?
The simple answer is no. For
one thing, Natural Infant Hygiene is quite
different than "toilet training",
early or otherwise. Because babies never learn
to ignore their elimination needs and sensations,
they do not have to be re-taught to recognise
them again later. There is no need to relearn
not to use their clothing as a toilet.
In Natural Infant Hygiene, the
focus is not on the baby retaining or "holding
in" body functions. Rather, the baby communicates
a need, and relaxes and releases it at will.
The ability to retain develops easily and quickly,
at the baby's pace, as a natural consequence
of their awareness.There is no forcing involved
or even possible.
Contrary to popular belief, babies
are aware of and able to exercise their sphincter
muscles almost from birth. "Toilet training
readiness" is a very recently created
myth based on a misunderstanding of an infant's
capabilities. Millions of mothers world-wide
can attest to the fact that babies clearly
can voluntarily regulate their elimination
without any coercion or negative effects.
What's the best age to begin?
Beginning in the first days or
weeks of life is ideal. In non-industrialised
cultures, mothers most commonly begin this
practice between birth and about 3 months,
though there are accounts of up to a year.
For Western mothers, beginning as early as
possible seems to facilitate the process.
The best "window of opportunity"
seems to be prior to five or six months of
age, before the baby loses awareness of elimination
because of diaper use. Parents have successfully
started Natural Infant Hygiene with older babies;
it requires more effort, time, and an especially
Is there any way to learn
my baby's rhythms while still using diapers
at the beginning?
Many mothers prefer to use diapers
at least part-time at the beginning, as they
are still learning the baby's rhythms. It can
be less stressful for parents who are worried
about missing a lot of pees.
It's obviously easiest to notice
the baby's elimination patterns when they are
diaper-less, and having them bare-bottomed
occasionally during the day is really helpful
and obviously more comfortable for baby. If
the baby is young and not mobile yet, it can
work well to have the baby on the diaper instead
of the diaper on the baby. You can carry the
baby with a diaper or cloth under her bottom,
or line your sling with it. Unfitted flat or
prefold diapers, flannel blankets, or old towels
cut to size usually work better for this (and
dry quicker!) than the newer fitted diapers.
Using cloth diapers without a
diaper cover, so that the wetness is immediately
apparent, is also useful. Remember to make
the cueing sound every time they go! Using
diapers as a back-up, you can also simply remove
them before and replace them after "peeing"
the baby. You may feel more confident leaving
the diaper off entirely when you are able to
make do with only one or two diapers a day.
What are some of the common
body signals or other communications that infants
give when they need to pee?
Some common signals that indicate
a need to pee in a young infant are: squirming,
"fussing", tensing the face, frowning
or having a look of "inner concentration",
becoming quiet or pausing in activity, a sudden
increase in activity, looking intently at or
reaching for mother, and waking from sleep.
An older baby may also signal
his need by: coming to you, moving towards
the toilet place, crawling in or out of your
arms, struggling to get out of a sling or carseat,
moving off the bed, calling you insistently,
holding the genital area, making the cueing
sound, or moving into his regular peeing position
in your arms. If the baby is naked, you may
see a tension in the abdomen, or in boys, the
scrotum may contract and the penis enlarge
With some babies, the signals
will be subtler than with others. They will
likley change over time, as your baby grows.
By watching your baby closely, you'll soon
be able to recognise her "need-to-go"
What if I'm trying to observe
my child's signals and I just don't seem to
notice any? What if I don't feel very in tune
with his signals?
Keep trying. Be gentle with yourself
and baby. It's a process, especially as we
don't have the support and examples that mothers
in traditional cultures have. Although many
mothers experience success the first day, full
communication doesn't happen overnight, or
even in the first days or weeks. It will come
with time, patience, and practice.
Many women give up breastfeeding
in the first days or weeks due to initial difficulties.
Those who persevere almost always have a very
positive experience. It's the same with Natural
Infant Hygiene. Like breastfeeding, this process
both natural and instinctive while requiring
patience and commitment to learn.
Remember that there are several
tools to diaper freedom. If reading baby's
signals and following intuition don't seem
to be working for you, try to get a sense of
your baby's timing patterns and rhythms. For
example, does your baby pee just after waking,
or 10-15 minutes after nursing? Offer peeing
opportunities (by holding your baby in position
and making a cueing sound) at the times when
you anticipate your baby may need to go.
Once a communication between
mother and baby is established, the baby will
begin to cue more strongly. Don't forget to
make the cueing sound every time you notice
your baby going, even if you're "too late",
so your baby learns to connect this sound with
the opportunity to eliminate.
How can I use the method if
my baby poops or pees during nursing?
This is one the easiest ways
to practice Natural Infant Hygiene, because
the baby has a very reliable and clear timing
pattern. Simply have a small potty, bucket
or bowl to hold on your lap, between your thighs
or beside you on the couch or bed that the
baby can eliminate into while you nurse. The
baby goes into the receptacle rather than in
Alternately, you can have a diaper
or absorbent cloth on your lap under the baby.
Make the cueing sound as soon as you notice
your baby going so she learns to associate
this "language" with elimination.
Doesn't a young infant pee
or poop the minute she needs to? Do you have
more than a second to run with her to the proper
place to go?
Babies, especially babies who
are experiencing Natural Infant Hygiene, usually
signal their need before the "point of
no return" is reached. Certainly, the
younger the baby, the shorter the interval
between the baby's awareness of the need and
the releasing of the sphincters. The parent's
awareness of baby's timing can help here too.
Remember that Natural Infant
Hygiene is about relaxing and releasing the
sphincters and not about "holding it in".
When the mother is in tune with the baby's
needs and rhythms, she provides a peeing opportunity
at a timely moment, rather than expecting the
child to hold it in.
What do you do when you will
be out in stores or anywhere where you don't
trust yourself to stay in tune with your child?
Interestingly, quite a few mothers,
actually feel more in tune when out and about!
There is a heightened sense of protective awareness
of the baby, as well as an extra motivation
to avoid "accidents". These parents
may rely on using public bathrooms, or bring
along a container such as a tight-lidded bucket.
Being aware of your baby's timing patterns
and providing regular peeing opportunities
is helpful. Staying close to home in the first
weeks and months allows you time to establish
a relaxed and close communication with your
Some parents feel more comfortable
using diapers on outings, especially in the
beginning. With or without diapers, it helps
to familiarise yourself with public facilities,
and to make sure to have regular "pitstops".
What do you do at night, or
when the baby is napping?
There are several approaches
to naps and nighttime (I go into detail in
Babies rarely pee while in a
deep sleep. They almost always stir first,
usually enough to wake the mother, so she can
either take them to the toilet, or hold them
over a potty that is kept right beside the
bed. Babies who "fuss" at night may
just need to pee!
Some mothers pee the baby before,
during or after a night-time nursing. You can
cradle your baby in a nursing position while
holding her over a bowl or potty resting on
your lap, between your thighs, beside you on
the bed, or on the floor by the bed.
Having an absorbent wool or cotton
pad under the baby helps to prevent a wet bed
in case the baby does pee in the bed.
Of course, you can always use
diapers. Most mothers find that after using
Natural Infant Hygiene for a while, the baby
is often dry for long periods or even completely
at night from a very early age.
Can partners who don't spend
as much time with the baby be successful with
Certainly! How ell this works
depends very much on the situation, the relationship
between caregiver and child, how relaxed the
person is with the concept, and sometimes the
stage the child is at. Many fathers participate
actively in the process and are very successful
at tuning in, though the mother may understand
the baby's cues easier at first.
In many countries, babies are
"peed" by several members of the
family or community, including grandparents
and older siblings.
At what point or age can an
infant be expected to reliably hold his pee?
In some ways, this is rather
like the question: "At what age can a
child be expected to wean?" There is a
large variance and it's a shifting and gradual
Natural Infant Hygiene does not
focus on "holding" or retaining the
elimination when the baby needs to go. Rather
the focus is on recognising that the bladder
or bowels need emptying, and on relaxing and
releasing the muscles. As these muscles are
used and toned, being able to "hold it"
for longer periods becomes a natural consequence.
While the ability to release
the sphincters seems to be present at birth,
most parents who practice Natural Infant Hygiene
say that their babies are able to retain their
urine for periods of time beginning by the
age of a few weeks to about four to six months.
However, this may not be consistently reliable
until closer to one year. While every child
is unique, on the average, these babies usually
achieve day and nitghttime continence somewhere
between about 15 to 20 months.
To find out more or to order
a copy of DIAPER FREE! The Gentle Wisdom of
Natural Infant Hygiene
contact Natural Wisdom Press
Visit our web site:
1-888-661-5545 (toll-free in Canada and US)
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