Baby-Led Potty Training – FAQ’s

How exactly do I need to hold my baby?

Hold your baby in a suspended squat, supporting their back and holding them under the thighs, see the picture below. This used to be called ‘holding baby out’ and was how our grandmothers kept washing to a minimum in the days before washing machines and disposable nappies.

If your child can sit up, you can use a small potty, or a toilet seat reducer.



How can I tell when my child needs to go?

Some parents can tell from their baby’s body language – does he ‘make the face’, does she ‘do the wiggle’? If you notice a signal, take your child’s nappy off and help them to use a potty, tub or toilet. Once your baby has cottoned on to the idea, they will begin to signal their need more clearly, and will try to give you enough time to get them to a potty.

But don’t worry if you only notice the signs when it’s too late to react – there’s another way to get started You can simply offer at a likely time and see what happens.This is a remarkably successful strategy and it’s quite straight forward.

The best times are after a feed or a meal, or on waking from a nap.

If you want to take a more individual approach, you can leave your baby nappy free for a few hours each day and try to identify any changes in body language immediately before they wee or poo. Then, when you notice them going, you make a sound that they’ll associate with what they’re doing like pssssss, or pushhhhhhhhh or shwishwishwishwish. Later, when you hold them over a potty, you can use the sound to tell them it’s time to wee.

To assist with deliberate communication you can teach your baby or toddler some simple sign language. Then they can tell you when they need to go. We used the chest slap – slapping the chest twice with a flat palm. When my babies started to toddle, I would double slap my chest every time I said potty, wee, poo, wet pants, or puddle. The video below explains how it’s done:


How and When Should I Start?

The best time to start is Right Now! 

That’s because the hardest thing about baby pottying, is starting. Once you’ve decided it’s worth a shot, it’s really just a case of taking your baby’s nappy off and giving it a go. If your timing is slightly off and you don’t get a catch, pick another time and try again.

Exactly how you start will depend on the age of your baby. For example, you might start by holding your newborn over a margarine tub, or holding your 4 month old over the bathroom sink after a feed, or helping your toddler to sit on a potty when they wake from a nap.

The best approach is to try a few times, get familiar with the method, and then decide how you want to incorporate it into your life.

(Pottying is such a flexible system that deciding when to offer your first pottitunity can seem overwhelmingly complicated. If you’re confused, this guided quiz will help you to come up with a time and place that suits you and your baby.)



Isn’t this ‘training the mother’ rather than ‘potty training the child’?

Yes! That’s it exactly!

Just as your baby trains you to understand when they’re hungry, rather than you training them to wait until tea time, so it is with baby-led potty training. In the early days, it’s all responsive or preemptive. Then, as they get older, they gradually assume control for themselves.



So… When will my baby be potty trained?

Baby-led potty training is a developmental process so the experience is different for everyone.

Your toddler is likely to be independent within the normal window, so between 18 months and 2.5 years old. They might be out of nappies a lot earlier than that, but they probably won’t be. You’ll know when your toddler is ready for more independence, and by then they’ll know exactly what a potty is and how to use one.

Baby-led pottying isn’t about the race to the finish line.

It’s about responsive parenting from the early days.



Are babies really born ready?

Yes! They really are!

In the first few weeks after birth, babies have a reflex than triggers them to bear down when held in the pottying position (the suspended squat shown in the photos). They’ll also naturally wee when you take their nappy off.

Hold a tiny baby in the right position at approximately the right time and you’re almost guaranteed to trigger a wee, or poo or both. Do that a few times and the baby learns to associate the position with relaxing (for the wee) and bearing down (for the poo) and before you know it they’ll ‘try’ to go every time you hold them out.

It’s surprisingly easy to teach a baby to poo in a pot!

We call this ‘conditioning’. The pottying position acts as the trigger, and causes the conditioned response – in this case the attempt to wee or poo.



If we evolved for this, and it’s that easy, why doesn’t everyone do it?

Actually, not so long ago, everyone did do it.

In a survey taken in 1958 for Mothering magazine, 65% of mothers used a potty before their babies were a month old. And 85% were using a potty by six months old. So the question is, what happened between the late fifties and today to erase the practice from our collective memory?

In two generations we’ve forgotten everything about a technique that was used for thousands of years. How can that be?

As with many aspects of modern parenting, there’s was conflict between how we evolved to develop and our expectations of modern life.



A Nod To The Rest of the World

Caught up in our own culture as we inevitably are, it’s helpful to remember that in cultures that don’t use nappies, the children are clean and dry long before their second birthday and often before their first. Yet it’s also true that they don’t become fully independent until around the age of two. Before then their parents, grandparents and other members of society know exactly how to help them to stay clean. And together they negotiate the tricky times between conditioning and voluntary control without any drama or family crises.

It can be done!



The Best of Both Worlds

And for those who choose to use baby-led potty training today, the burdens are far less cumbersome than they were in the past.

We educate ourselves on our children’s development. We expect wet nappies, and dealing with them is no trouble at all. Disposables and washing machines mean we can ride out any blips on the way to independence with very little inconvenience.

When baby-led potty training is informed and supported, our toddlers can gain their independence with a wonderful parent-child bond completely in tact. And that bond is all the stronger because their parents responded so well to their needs early on in their little lives.


by Jenn Philpott at Born Ready.

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