Yes, it’s quite a long title. I practised this with my daughter when she was little. What is Natural infant Elimination Communication? Well it’s basically the principle that mammals don’t usually soil their nest (although early days do involve something that would not be appropriate when mothers clean up babies with their tongues – yep not going to go there) and that our modern use of nappies is based on being misled into how human infants behave and develop.
When my baby was little I was lucky enough to have heard from several mothers who told me about a book called Diaper Free and about Elimination Communication aka Natural Infant Hygiene. I also heard from mothers who were pre-WW2 generation and they too didn’t use nappies/diapers in the way they are used now. Me being me, started to ask questions about why and how nappies were introduced into the mindset of people and used and what the truth was (sadly my studying of developmental psychology and my natural curiousity means I tend to look deeper into things which at times can be frustrating because sometimes I feel the world is asleep to things it needs to be awake for).
In summary, diapers/nappies were marketed to parents in a way that has misled quite a few generations. My generation was a cloth nappy one as the disposables were only starting to be used and were not well made due to the technology of the time. My mum used to use Terry nappy cotton squares and plastic underpants that acted as a water proof barrier. She gave me some to use but my daughter was a 6 lber and they were huge on her and uncomfy. Also, the soaking and the washing was something I found hard as I didn’t have a washing machine when my daughter was very little so cloth nappies would have been really hard work. Alhough I tried a few of the more modern cloth nappies with velcro etc and they were better fitting and more comfy I still found they were not easy to utilise and environmentally they required detergents and a lot of water. I didn’t like the idea of the landfill from disposables either plus all the chemicals that go into the production of modern nappies. Although there are biodegradeable ones out there like Nature boy/girl at the time, from Scandinavia, and although they were good in terms of effective I still didn’t agree with the environmental impact. Also I had issues with how long babies who are in ‘wick away’ nappies end up using them for. Many people I knew had older toddlers and even school age children using nappies because… Well here is the because – the principles behind it all.
Babies don’t want to soil their nest so they normally communicate before micturition (wee) and defecation (poo). Communication is a 2-way process – baby signifies something and it is up us the adult to notice, interpret and then take appropriate action. However, with clever marketing we were taught to ignore these toileting signals in the belief that babies are incapable unless they use nappies. When you place an infant into a diaper (nappy) two things happen. First the adult has less need to keep baby clean and away from wee and poop as the nappy does that job (well poop needs changing urgent but wee, especially with the modern brands of disposable nappies gets wicked away into the lining so baby wees, and over a short time the sensation of being wet ceases. Once this goes on for a while baby stops communication (because they get ignored) and also stops noticing the urine/faeces as they desensitise to their own bodily functions. Slightly wet becomes the new norm as the nappy/diaper rather than the response of the adult to elimination is first in line.
On my reading of Diaper Free which deconstructs how we got to using so many diapers in the first place it became clear that the paediatrician in the USA who wrote about development of maturity in terms of being ready for not being diapered (in nappies) had very vested interests. He was being sponsored by the new diaper companies who were emerging and instead of declaring that interest covered it up and – well money has influence. Whole generations now believe that babies are born without an awareness of the sensation of toileting and that they can’t be trusted not to need diapers/nappies. The marketing made the belief that babies are immature and unaware of bodily function as the norm.
With limited parental rights for maternity and paternity care diapers are very convenient and generate a lot of income for some very big corporations who a) ensure that government doesn’t scupper the financial feedback loop and b) do a lot to work against parental leave. It does take a very aware caregiver to learn the initial concept and be able to home in on an infant’s toileting cues. However, once it is picked up and not ignored and as baby develops and matures they get more adept at being able to communicate and that means it’s much easier for other caregivers to also learn.
So what does this mean? Well in simple terms it means that nappies are the problem, not the solution. It means that instead of worrying about cloth versus disposable it would be better to go and deconstruct as Ingrid Bauer did in her book Diaper Free (sadly out of print) where our beliefs around nappy use come from and then work with the facts on how babies perceive elimination. Neither cloth nor disposable are better in terms of environmental impact. According to research neither are environmentally friendly as it depends what environment you live in – water in short supply in some regions can mean issues plus use of detergents and then with landfill disposable are a problem too – the mainstream brands being made of lots of components that do not breakdown easily and many of which are toxic. And yes that does say toxic. Basically when you use many of the mainstream nappy brands you are placing a chemical cocktail onto your infant’s skin and near membranes that can easily absorb them.
The solution: From early on believe that the wisdom of your ancestors can win. As humans we are mammals. We are also skilled communicators. If we stop watching TV for a bit and instead notice our infants and tune into them we can learn how they communicate. If we trust in ourselves that sometimes mistakes happen but we create an environment that if a the odd bit of wee or poop gets out it is easy to clean up then we will be fine. It took me a bit to trust in the process and it took me a bit to notice when my daughter was communication. I could time some of the releases of output to feeds. It got easier to work out when and my daughter would engage in the process of communicating that she needed to toilet. We had a wash basin that I found easier to use when she was little and I would hold her face forward in a squat position and make a “Pssssttt” noise at the same time as she would wee (and yes it went where it was supposed to go and not all over the walls and floor). Poos were a little different and I would use a potty and yes she did express differently. We learned from each other. It wasn’t coercive and it wasn’t about “My baby is so intelligent she doesn’t use nappies and she’s so incredibly bright that she tells me so”. It was about being aware, observing and as a parent being on a learning curve. I learned to tune in and also knew that certain things like a breastfeed would trigger a need to eliminate in other words input = output. Later on, it meant that if we went out somewhere I could help cue her in to go. Did I use nappies? Yes. Sometimes I did put her in a nappy if we were going out somewhere and I knew it would be difficult to find a safe, hygienic place to go. At home we didn’t use them. It cut a lot of costs down and by a year she and I were very attuned (if I did use them it was either the Nature Girl ones or I had a couple of cloth ones that fitted like lined underpants and the rare occasion that she needed to use the nappy instead of the receptacle was probably less than 6 times). By 18 months we had no need for nappies and didn’t have any that fitted. I did have a sheet for night time that was cotton one side and waterproof the other in case of any accident (we co-slept but she had that under her). I only remember having to change it a couple of times and it was usually when she was sick.
Resources: http://www.diaperfreebaby.org/ – community for EC/NIH http://www.gentleparents.com/bauer.html – article by Ingrid Bauer (sadly her own site seems to have gone and I’ve lost the contact details I had for her – her book is worth a read but hard to get a hold of)
About Me I am a massage therapist, health coach, reflexologist and former home educator. I birthed my daughter at home back in 2001 when it was not a very normal thing to do. I also breastfed her for 6 years. I utilised infant hygiene/EC principles with my daughter and it went very well resulting in huge savings both to the environment and our finances.