Baby Essentials That Aren't, Part 4: Diapers

Open any pregnancy or baby book, and you’ll find that list: the baby essentials, the things you absolutely cannot live without.  While many accessories are easily recognized as frivolous, certain items are truly indispensable: the basic necessities for life with a baby.

Or are they?

In this weekly series, we’ll be looking at several baby essentials that really aren’t.  They may be useful in certain situations, but if money or space is tight, or if you’re just looking to simplify and reduce consumerism and waste, here’s how to get along just fine without these so-called “essentials.

In Part 1, we questioned the crib.   Part 2 bemoaned the bucket.  Part 3 scrutinized the stroller.  This week, let’s ditch the diapers!

Non-Essential #4: Diapers

Okay, okay, you’ll probably need SOME diapers.  But you don’t need as many as the diaper manufacturers will try to tell you.  And sell you.  There are many ways to reduce — and even completely eliminate (heehee) — your dependence on diapers.

Step One: Go Cloth

The first step to reducing your diaper use is to toss the disposables and use cloth diapers.  Not only will this reduce the environmental impact, but cloth-diapered babies tend to potty-learn younger than their sposie-clad kin.  Contrary to manufacturers’ praise of “dryness”, keeping babies aware of the “wetness” of their diapers encourages earlier training.  What’s the incentive to stop peeing in your pants if there is no down side – you don’t have to interrupt what you’re doing and you don’t feel icky afterwards.  It’s little wonder that the average age of potty-learning has increased so much since the advent of disposable diapers.

Not to mention the toxic ingredients found in many brands of disposable diapers.

While you’re at it, toss your disposable wipes.  Specialty cloth wipes, soft facecloths, or just cut-up flannel squares with a bit of water do the job just as well, without the nasty chemicals and staying out of the landfills.

Step Two: Introduce the Potty Early

You can introduce the potty to your baby at any age, even right from birth.  Getting them used to the idea of the potty from the beginning reduces fears and frustrations later on, rather than suddenly expecting them to completely alter where they eliminate come potty-training time.  In other words, they won’t become exclusively “diaper-trained”, and will understand that there is more than one “correct” place to pee and poo.

Besides the potty, you can also hold your baby in “classic position” (facing away from you in a supported squat position, your hands under their knees and thighs, resting against you) over a sink or toilet.  Older babies enjoy standing up in the bathtub to pee!

For best success, try pottying right after your baby wakes up from a nap or after a feeding — you’ll be surprised how often you’ll catch a pee that way!  Babies also frequently pee during diaper changes, so that’s another great time to try it.  Remember that every pee caught — even if just by random chance — is a diaper saved.

Bare bottom time is also very beneficial to all babies.  It’s good for the skin, especially if diaper rash is a problem.  It reduces their tendency (especially as they get older) to ‘explore’ inside their diapers — especially dirty diapers — as they have ample opportunity to explore their bodies while diaper-free.  And it will give you insight into any elimination signals they might have, enabling you to increase your successful pottying — further reducing diaper usage!

Step Three: Try it Full Time

Going completely diaper-free is not for everyone, but it’s a fascinating experience for those who do engage in it.   This is, of course, how it was always done before diapers were commonplace, and is still done this way in many societies around the world; by some estimates, 85% of babies in the world do not wear diapers.  Frequently called Elimination Communication in modern western usage, it’s an eye-opening revelation of the ignored and neglected abilities and awareness of infants and toddlers.

Full-time EC can save you hundreds of dollars, even if you use cloth for back-up.  For instance, when our daughter was 5 months old, we switched completely to trim, cloth training pants instead of diapers, and the dozen-or-so training pants we invested in at that time lasted until we eventually graduated to underwear-only.

If you’re curious to learn more, even just to try it part-time, some great resources are The Diaper-Free Baby, Born Potty-Trained, Tribal Baby, and

Fringe Benefits:

There are other benefits to reducing your dependence on diapers besides the obvious cost savings and environmental advantages.  Here are just some of them, read this article for more:

  • Diaper Rash is greatly reduced or even completely eliminated.
  • Diaper Bags are smaller, lighter, or unnecessary.
  • Blowouts are rare, since babies will naturally prefer to poo in the ‘open’ rather than in their pants, when given the opportunity.
  • Convenience when out and about: babies can go in any toilet or even outside, rather than having to find a safe place to lie them down to change them.

I’d like to conclude with this quote, from Jen Allbritton, CN, at The Weston A. Price Foundation, as food for thought:

According to Contemporary Pediatrics, over 50 percent of the world’s children are toilet trained between six months and one year of age, and 80 percent by one to two years, with 18 months as the average. This trend was also true in the United States prior to the mid 1950s when disposable diapers were introduced. However it is now only in the US and other “disposable diaper” nations that toilet training is delayed to 36 or 48 months.

Be sure to check out Part 5: Baby Bathtubs, Part 6: Baby Brain Boosters and Part 7: Baby Food.

[This post was written by Heather Dunham]

Photo: x86x86 under Creative Commons

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  5. The environmental impact of cloth diapers is severely mitigated, if not eliminated, if you live in a drought-prone part of the world. As to “toxic” chemicals, show me one study that establishes a real-world link between diapers and wipes and toxicity in a living creature. As to EC, it’s great if you have the time, but most modern Americans don’t.

  6. @ Rich: It takes more water to produce a disposable diaper than it takes to wash a diaper (people have no idea how much water is used in pulp production and plastics manufacturing! It is crazy) . This is even more true now with high efficiency washers.
    Disposable diapers are full of SAPs which are actually banned in feminine products because of their link to TSS. The perfumes and plastics are carcinogenic as well and disposable diapers have been linked to make infertility problems later in life.

  7. @Rich, Kelly’s right, but the truth is, disposable diapers haven’t been around long enough to have reliable studies on their long-term effects. We don’t know how much harm disposables can cause, but the preliminary tests don’t look good.

  8. My cloth diapered daughter was not easier to potty train. In fact, she was harder. 2 months after turning 3. Misery.