Nappy Free guide for childcarers

I’ve just written a new guide for childcare providers. This concise fact-sheet gives a brief introduction to BLPT. It explains how childcarers can work with parents to provide consistency of care, and gives some ideas as to how they can offer the potty in the childcare setting.

Feel free to download it, print it off and give it to your childcare provider.

Download this free guide for childcare providers

I’d love to hear what your nursery, childminder or nanny thinks about BLPT, and how they get on with pottying your baby. Let me know in the comments below.

Nappy Free Baby – Looking for a guide book?

“Nappy Free Baby is positive, easy to read, and makes freedom from nappies obvious, simple and doable.” (Gill Rapley, author of Baby-led Weaning)

“I am definitely going to use this with my next baby” (Dr Alice Roberts, Presenter, Costing the Earth, BBC Radio 4)

 

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After running BLPT workshops since 2008, helping hundreds of families in real-life and on-line, potty training children at various ages as a childminder, and from seeing my own two children through BLPT from start to finish, I felt that I had enough material to write a book.


So I did. Published by Vermilion (an imprint of Penguin Random House), Nappy Free Baby: a practical guide to baby-led potty training from birth was published in June 2015.

BLPT is officially mainstream!

Do I need to buy it?

DSC_0234Of course you don’t! Just like I did, you can work out how to do BLPT through trial and error, and from talking to like-minded parents online and maybe even in your neighbourhood. But if you ever feel unsure, or confused or isolated – or wonder if you could be doing it differently, whatever stage you are at in your BLPT journey, then my book may be for you. Or, perhaps you are just interested in the cultural and historical context of potty training. Maybe you want to understand more about the biology of potty training, and what you can expect at different ages – and how to adapt! Perhaps you’d like ideas about how to take BLPT to the next stage, how to manage childcare, or comments from your mother-in-law. Nappy Free Baby is just the job.

DSC_0233It’s a comprehensive, practical guide to every conceivable aspect of BLPT, from history, to clothing, to potties, to nappies and nights, from starting out to finishing up. I cover the whole lot.

Buy now from Amazon, or your local bookshop.

What people are saying about Nappy Free Baby:

Easy to follow practical guide to reading your baby and getting them to use the toilet from birth. I started reading this after my daughter had gone to bed and thought I would give it a try the next day. The next morning she did her first wee and poo on the potty. She was three months old!” (Charlotte Jessop, amazon reviewer)

I like the way the book is really relaxed and encourages you to try helping them go to the toilet without saying you have to do it all the time, or that you must use particular kinds of nappies.” (Berthabertha, amazon reviewer)

This well laid out guide not only shows that early pottying is a flexible technique which offers instant benefits no matter your level of commitment to it, but also offers some very useful reflections on approaches to parenting in general. A genuinely enjoyable read which rejects any sort of fundamentalism and puts the emphasis on doing what’s right for your particular family. Having started at 8 weeks, we can’t imagine doing anything different now – it just makes perfect sense and this book shows you why.” (Thereses mate, amazon reviewer)

Informative, well-researched, and compassionate towards both parents and their children. I found the book well written and enjoyed some of the lightheartedness within, as well as the many useful tips and ideas on how to best tailor Baby Led Potty Training to my own needs. Thank you Ms. Hatch for a very useful guide which makes me feel connected to a wider community of parents and carers, especially on those more challenging days!” (Beatrice, amazon reviewer)

What’s in a name? Baby-led Potty Training in many guises

Elimination Communication, EC, Natural Infant Hygiene, Infant Potty Training, Pottying, Diaper free, holding baby out…

All of these names and more have been used to describe the technique of actively toileting baby. In cultures where EC is the norm, for example in China and much of Africa, it is not common for this technique to have a name, in the same way that we do not have a single word or phrase in English that describes the technique of keeping a baby in nappies. We could almost say that linguistically, we are not even aware that keeping a baby in nappies is a technique.

The process described on these pages has been re-discovered in the US. As it is different from the conventional method, it needed a name to distinguish it. And we have agonised over what that should be ever since!

Infant potty training perhaps gives the biggest clue to the method it describes, however, practitioners are quick to point out that “potty training” suggests a goal oriented approach. It also has nuances of an adult led, potentially coercive, practice. In the UK, the term infant is also problematic, as it is rarely used in everyday speech. We prefer baby.

Elimination Communication, or EC appears to have stuck, though it is rare that anyone in the UK will have the slightest idea what it means, if they are new to the term. Coined by Ingrid Bauer, in her book Diaper Free, communication emphasises the two-way nature of the method. The problem for those of us in the UK, is that we do not habitually use the term elimination to describe bodily functions. In fact, it has sinister overtones! EC has become popular probably because of its brevity. All the other terms are a bit of a mouthful.

Diaper Free/ Nappy Free Baby This gives some clue to what the method entails to someone new to the term, but again it is somewhat misleading. Nappy Free implies that babies don’t wear a nappy, when in fact most ECed babies do wear a nappy as a back up, at least in the first year.

Natural Infant Hygiene. It’s a good description in some ways, once you know what it means, but it seems a little obscure to the casual observer. Hygiene could refer to a number of aspects of baby-care. Again, in the UK we have the same problem with infant.

Baby-Led Potty Training This term was coined by Amber in response to the above difficulties. She hopes that the clarification of baby-led  addresses the problems associated with baby/infant potty training. It emphasises the gentle nature of the method, while still giving some clue as to what it refers. It is reminiscent of baby-led weaning, another gentle, intuitive baby-care method.

Does it matter? The problem with giving a technique a catchy name, particularly a slightly obscure one, is that it turns the technique into a separate thing, which parents either “do” or “don’t do”. Parents sometimes worry whether they are “doing EC properly”, or what the “rules” are.  The method can become associated with a particular way of thinking, or set of people (e.g American). This can even put people off trying it out. There is no one “right” way to do baby led potty training. Every family will approach the method differently. It can be thought of simply as a baby-care tip.

This website mostly uses the term Baby-led potty training (BLPT), as it seems the least self-conscious of the terms, and most likely to convey its meaning. We also use EC and Elimination Communication, as these are the common words found on the forums and in the US. You will also find to potty as a verb, to describe the process of offering the potty, or holding baby out.

Why I love Victorian Potties

The Victorians knew what they were doing when they designed these enamelled child size chamber pots.

The Victorians knew what they were doing when they designed these enamelled child size chamber pots.

 

I really loved this potty. Here’s why:

1) It was small enough to fit between my legs as I sat cross legged.

2) I could keep it really steady holding the handle.

3) I could hang it to the back of a back-pack whilst travelling.

4) It was significantly smaller than a standard plastic toddler potty.

5) If I knocked it over, most of the contents would stay in.

6) It’s made of durable enamel.

7) It’s a really comfortable shape for babies of all ages.

8) It looks beautiful.

 

I left this potty on a plane as I landed in Mexico in January 2012. Within minutes I realised what I had done and I fought my way back onto the plane, but alas! the flight attendants blocked my path and said it couldn’t be found. Perhaps they recognised its worth and wanted to keep it for themselves.

 

Potty Training: a historical perspective #1: Ancient Greece to seventeenth century swaddling bands

When I was writing Nappy Free Baby in 2014, I did a huge amount of research on the history of nappy use and toilet training.

However, when it came to editing my book for publication, my publisher felt that the historical content weighed too heavy on the book. I agreed and cut much of it, excepting the very latter part of the twenty-first century.

Rather than let all that good research go to waste, I thought I ought to write it up here as blogs posts. So here’s the first instalment:

Although babies have remained largely the same for the last few hundreds of thousands of years, the way we care for them changes, sometimes dramatically, from one generation to the next. One of the earliest writings on baby care, however, chimes with the spirit of this book. The Greek physician Galen wrote in c. 175 AD: “When they cry or scream or are upset, we should understand that it means something is disturbing them, and we must try to discover what they need and give it to them before their minds and bodies become more overly excited… When they want to move their bowels or urinate or are hungry or thirsty, they show their needs by a continuous restlessness as if distressed.”[1]

Some modern parents, who take a more intuitive approach to childcare, believe that gentle methods are harking back to a simpler, more harmonious way of baby-raising. We (I count myself in this) sometimes have a romantic view that pre-industrial revolution, or perhaps in tribal cultures, babies’ needs were always met and respected. In my research for this book, I have been rather disillusioned! Authors report that this was very often not the case. Nathan Miller’s The Child in Primitive Society, (published in 1928, when there were still quite a few primitive tribes around), is full of the horrors of infanticide, deprivation and mutilation in tribal societies.[2] The historian DeMause reports that so-called ‘civilised’ societies before the industrial revolution were absolutely rife with child abuse – evidence suggests that virtually all children were beaten prior to the eighteenth century – usually severely; a thirteenth century law proclaimed: “If one beats a child until it bleeds, then it will remember, but if one beats it to death, the law applies.”[3] So we have to be careful when waxing lyrical about simpler societies: although in some cases the traditions of those societies seem to match babies’ needs for physical closeness, a constant attachment figure and autonomous play, there was sometimes a lack of empathy with children. Without a basis of understanding of children’s needs, it is easy for any society to develop detrimental practices without realising the consequences. This is true in all areas of childrearing, including toilet management and training.

I want to give you an overview of how mothers have historically dealt with their babies’ waste. It’s not an easy subject to research: even when cultures of the past did keep a written record of their lives, matters so ordinary as baby care (especially when it was the concern of women) was not often deemed important enough to write about. Instructional manuals may not provide a true picture. Some of the ‘waste management’ systems I discovered were undoubtedly coercive and damaging, however, I don’t want to be too judgemental about practices from an earlier age. So…

 

Swaddling bands

In warmer parts of the world, both in the past and today, it is common to find babies kept naked, or strapped to their mothers, covered only with a sling. (And even in some cold climates, for example, the Inuits.) However, the practice of swaddling was fully embraced in England for many centuries. Deborah Jackson notes in her wonderful book, Baby Wisdom, that medieval procedures for swaddling were complicated and precise, and could take up to two hours. At times splints were added to the swaddling bands to keep babies straight. As we know from our own experience, lots of complicated clothing can reduce our motivation to potty, or even change baby. It was the same in the sixteenth century: “Once swaddled, there was a reluctance to undo all one’s careful work. Although all the childcare authorities pleaded with women to change their babies three times a day, the extreme passivity of the child and the trouble it took to get him that way militated against his being frequently unwrapped. Some people even argued that babies were best stewed in their own ‘nourishing juices.’”[4] In 1601 the French Dauphin, Louis XIII, was kept in his swaddling bands until he was 9 months, thereafter he wore frocks with no underwear.[5] Presumably his toilet training also began at that point.

Once babies were out of swaddling bands, however, sources from the seventeenth century show us that doctors and parents alike were extremely concerned about constipation, and ‘regularity’ of bowel movement was much desired. In 1693, John Lock published his theories of maintaining regularity:

“I would therefore advise that this Course should be taken with a Child everyday, presently after he has eaten his Break-fast. Let him be set upon the Stool, as if disburdening were as much in his power, as filling his Belly; and let not him, or his Maid, know anything to the Contrary, but that it is so; and if he be forced to endeavour, by being hindered from his play, or Eating again, till he has been effectually at stool, or at least done his utmost, I doubt not, but in a little while, it will become natural to him.”[6]

Although Lock does not specify the age of the child, the language indicates a baby or small child “let him be set upon the stool”. By his own account, Dr Heroud administered literally thousands of enemas and suppositories to the Dauphin, in an effort to induce regularity of movements.[7]

In the mid-eighteenth century, Jean Jacques Rousseau argued vehemently against swaddling and in England the practice gradually fell out of favour, especially in the daytime. It is also around this time that records show toilet training in early infancy was gaining sway.[8]

Click here For Part 2 – The Victorians and Freud

[1] Quoted in Beekman, Daniel, The Mechanical Baby: A popular history of the theory and practice of child raising (London : Dennis Dobson, 1979).

[2] Miller, Nathan, The Child in Primitive Society (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1928).

[3] deMause, Loyd, ‘The Evolution of Childhood’ in The History of Childhood ed. by deMause (Norwich: Fletcher and Son ltd, 1976) p42.

[4] Jackson, Deborah Baby Wisdom (London: Hodder and Stoughton 2002) p. 263.

[5] Crump, Lucy, Nursery life 300 years ago: The Story of a Dauphin of France 1601-10(London: Routledge 1929).

[6] Locke, John, “Some thoughts concerning education” (London: Churchill, 1693) p29.

[7] Crump.

[8] deMause , Lloyd, ‘The Evolution of Childhood’ in The History of Childhood ed. by deMause, (Norwich: Fletcher and Son ltd, 1976) p.50

Potty Training: a Historical perspective #2 The Victorians and Freud

The Victorians

The concept of childhood itself, with children having distinct needs and identities, was seeded during the enlightenment and developed by the Victorians. However, they were also rather prudish: Priscilla Robertson argues that “The Victorians hated to put on paper what they considered to be dirty words, so that otherwise comprehensive manuals of childcare usually omit the entire subject of toilet training.”[1] The Victorian doctor, Pye Henry Chavasse, seems to show this exact hesitation. His first editions of Advice to a Mother on the Management of Her Children, which appeared in 1839, only alludes to toilet training. (Though it did suggest an almost obsessional preoccupation with constipation – or ‘costiveness’) However, by his eleventh edition, he was sufficiently confident to include a paragraph on the subject:

How soon may an infant dispense with nappies?

A babe of three months and upwards, ought to be held out, at least, a dozen times during the twenty-four hours; if such a plan were adopted, napkins might at the end of three months be dispensed with – a great desideratum – and he would be inducted into clean habits – a blessing to himself and a comfort to all around – and a great saving of dresses and furniture “Teach your children to be clean. A dirty child is the mother’s disgrace.” Truer words were never written – A DIRTY CHILD IS THE MOTHER’S DISGRACE!”[2]

By the end of the nineteenth century, authors (mainly male doctors) were becoming increasingly didactic in both their advice, and in their methods of ‘training’ babies. Dr Emmett Holt published a manual in 1894 (reprinted 1903). His approach is particularly hardline:

How is an infant to be managed that cries from temper, habit, or to be indulged? It should simply be allowed to “cry it out.” This often requires an hour, and in extreme cases, two or three hours.”

He also advises that “babies under six months old should never be played with and the less of it at any time the better.”[3] He is very explicit in his recommendations for bowel control – which is a system based entirely on timing and conditioning:

How may a child be trained to be regular in the action of its bowels?

By endeavouring to have them move at exactly the same time every day.

At what age may an infant be trained in this way?

Usually by the second month if training is begun early.

What is the best method of such training?

A small chamber, about the size of a pint bowl, is placed between the nurse’s knees, and upon this the infant is held, its back being against the nurse’s chest and its body fully supported. This should be done twice a day, after the morning and afternoon feedings, and always at the same hour. At first there may be necessary some local irritation, like that produced by tickling the anus or introducing just inside the rectum a small cone of oiled paper or a piece of soap, as a suggestion of the purpose for which the baby is placed upon the chamber; but in a surprisingly short time the position is all that is required. With most infants, after a few weeks the bowels will move as soon as the infant is placed in the chamber.

What advantage has such training?

It forms the habit of having the bowels move regularly at the same hours, which is a matter of great importance in infancy and makes regularity in childhood much easier. It also saves the nurse much trouble and labour.”

Modern readers will cringe at the idea of the ‘cone of oiled paper or a piece of soap’, but the use of enemas and suppositories was widespread amongst the whole population at this time. Although in the main this account is alienatingly prescriptive, the words ‘in a surprisingly short time’ hint of the delight that mothers today often feel when their babies seem to grasp the concept so quickly.

Freud

It was at about this time that Freud published his seminal work “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.”[4] We can see from Holt’s book that early toilet training was associated with aggressive parenting practices. Although Holt does not advocate punishment for accidents, his whole approach to childcare is one of behaviour management and control. Given the Victorian’s emphasis on cleanliness and order, we can guess toilet training was generally a matter of rigidity and recrimination. Freud observed that such conflicts in early childhood had significant consequences in later life.

Freud’s writings (though hotly contested) have permeated our thinking and current society accepts received wisdoms such as ‘early potty training is psychologically damaging’ without properly examining them. Freud’s original work shows that his observations are more complex than such truisms suggest. They are also absolutely particular to the time in which he was writing. Because Freud is so influential, I’m going to make an exception and evaluate his theories, rather than just recount them.

Freud claims that “one of the clearest signs of a subsequent eccentricity or nervousness is to be seen when a baby obstinately refuses to empty his bowels when he is put on the pot – that is when his nurse wants him to – and holds back that function till he himself chooses to exercise it.” Freud suggests that the baby withholds his bowel movement to serve “as a masturbatory stimulus upon the anal zone”, and that this behaviour indicates subsequent neuroses. I think it is quite normal (perhaps universal) for children to experiment with holding their bowel movements and see what sensations are produced. The process of passing a movement can be complicated and confusing, and outside pressure may inhibit the process. Much of the time, they probably don’t need to go. So I think it is wrong to suggest that the child that doesn’t defecate is asserting his disobedience – it is only disobedience if the caregiver turns the issue into a conflict, and even then, the child may be trying, but failing, to please.

Elsewhere Freud notes that:

“The way in which this training is carried out determines whether or not anal fixations result. The training may be too early, too late, too strict, too libidinous. If it is done too early, the typical result is a repression of anal eroticism, characterized by a superficial fear and obedience and a deep tendency toward rebellion; if it is done too late, rebellion and stubbornness are to be expected; strictness causes fixations because of the frustration involved; a libidinous behaviour on the part of the mother causes fixation because of gratification.”[5]

It’s interesting that Freud does not single out early potty training, but rather anyextremes, including being too late. Would he have considered 24 – 30 months late? I’m sure! We can only guess what he means by ‘libidinous behaviour on the part of the mother.’ Numerous studies have tried to establish Freud’s hypothesis. Fisher and Greenberg conclude that “sifting through the disparate findings, one is forced to conclude there is little support for the hypothesis that a child’s toilet training determines whether he will manifest the three traits (orderliness, obstinancy, parsimony) Freud linked with anality.”[6]

Examining Freud’s original texts, and understanding the context, has led me to believe that BLPT today is very different from early potty training at the turn of the Twentieth Century. His descriptions of the potty training process and of the parent-child interaction just don’t ring true for me. His claims linking potty training and neuroses are not supported by subsequent research.

It’s easy to dismiss Freud’s theories as being overly concerned with sexual impulses. However, the more general observations that he made – that early relationships are vital in the process of personality development – have formed the basis of our understanding of child development. And, it is thanks largely to Freud, that we understand that making a big issue – introducing conflict – over such matters, (whether that’s potty training, or sleeping or eating, or any other kind of behaviour) can have lasting affects on our child’s psychology.

Read on… Part 3: The Twentieth Century

There was also a Part 1: Ancient Greece to C17th Swaddling bands

[1] Robertson, Priscilla, ‘The Home as a Nest’ in The History of Childhood ed. by deMause (Norwich: Fletcher and Son ltd, 1976) P.419.

[2] Chavasse, Pye Henry, ‘Advice to a Mother on the Management of Her Children’ (London, 1873).

[3] Holt, Emmett, The Care and feeding of children (London and New York, 1903) p.125.

[4] Freud, Sigmund “ Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” (first appeared in 1905, new editions with revisions until 1942) translated by James Stachey (London: Imago 1949)

 

[5] Freud, Sigmund quoted in Fisher & Greenberg, The Scientific Credibility of Freud’s Theories and Therapy (Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1977) p.145.

[6] Fisher & Greenberg, The Scientific Credibility of Freud’s Theories and Therapy(Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1977) p.146.

Historical Perspective – part 3

A gentler approach – The Twentieth Century

As the Twentieth Century progressed, this new kind of psychological understanding of children’s development influenced the way experts thought about toilet training. The use of enemas and soap-sticks – once utterly widespread for both adults and children, was now regarded as interfering, with a good chance of causing dependency.[1]

In Frederic Bartlett’s 1934 childcare guide, he provides a comprehensive guide to both bowel and bladder training.

“In his second month you may start to train him to have a regular bowel movement. Towards the end of his first year, you start to train him in bladder control… In training young babies, the power of suggestion may be used by the mother’s grunting to indicate to the baby what is expected of him. Of course, these suggestions are unnecessary for mothers who have had several children, but they may be news to the mother with her first baby.”

It shows how far we have come that Bartlett thought that this method would be self-evident to more experienced mothers. His bladder training programme will also sound familiar to those following the practices in this book:

“It is a good plan to begin at 6 or 8 months to put the baby on the chamber as often and as regularly as possible, when he wakes up in the morning, before and after meals and naps and at least once during the night, in spite of the fact that he may have already wet his diapers…

Whether trained or not, most children should go without diapers in the daytime from 18 months. I know that practically speaking this may mean wet shoes and floors for mothers to face. On the other hand, if you keep your baby in diapers too long, his training in the matter of wetting will surely be delayed.”

Bartlett reveals himself to be compassionate and insightful in his summary of the process and is refreshingly relaxed about further advice:

“Punishments are not of the slightest value in training a child to have a regular bowel movement or to control his urination. Rewards are sometimes helpful. Unfortunately I can give you no more specific advice about the method of training your child in this control. You will have to exercise your patience and your ingenuity.” [2]

Bartlett shows how early potty training does not have to be synonymous with conflict and control. His account suggests that mothers need only follow babies’ natural stages of development to achieve timely potty training. It is interesting that his instructions are very similar to those I have given in my book – with the notable exception, however, of the use of babies’ signals as a means to work out when to offer the potty. There is no discussion of the joys of communication and feedback that, to me, is the biggest advantage of the method. (Though of course, Bartlett was writing in an age when saving laundry was the primary factor in toilet training; modern parents are more interested in other gains.)

In 1938, the doctor and wife team, Charles and Mary Aldrich, argued against the use of artificial methods to produce a bowel movement. Their method of bowel training was respectful:

“The developmental formula for true training is simple and efficient. After a few weeks, automatic evacuations gradually become less frequent so that only one or two occur daily. Their time and number vary in different children but the tendency for them to come at definite periods in each day is steadily more pronounced. As soon as it is possible to discover the exact moment at which the mass movement takes place, it is reasonable to put the baby on a chamber pot or toilet seat and relieve his mother of the irksome task of diaper-washing. When he is placed on the toilet seat at his right time, his brain naturally develops the necessary association between the mass movement, the toilet seat and his own, satisfying effort. Our co-operation in this growth process is merely to observe the baby’s own rhythm, in selecting the times of day for a bowel movement. Such synchrony leads to training at a reasonably early date and does not subtract from the baby’s innate capabilities. When this is done, real, permanent training becomes a fact, and his future health is protected, even though the period of diaper-washing may be prolonged for a few weeks.”[3]

Again we can see similarities between the Aldriches’ method, and the method I advocate here. Both rely on a gentle, respectful partnership between parent and baby. The main difference I see is that the Aldriches advise mothers to wait until their baby is voiding at a regular time. I would argue that by offering before then (even from birth) we can assist baby in their voiding, and help encourage them to fully empty their bowels. It seems to me that this process is the same whether they are voiding many times a day or only once. Anecdotal evidence from mothers I know suggest that babies who are offered the potty move towards more regular stools more quickly than those who are not.

None of this advice takes into account the fact that we can often recognise a baby’s immediate need to defecate or urinate. This understanding arises from a strong bond between parents and babies – a bond built on empathy and careful watching. Instead of directing them to pass a bowel movement or urinate at a certain time, we respond to the needs of the baby – we observe them to find out how regularly they go, and at what usual times, and offer accordingly; or we wait until they display the symptoms of a full bladder or bowel and offer them a chance to go. This subtle interaction – the dance of trial and error – of communication in both directions, this is what makes BLPT such a joyful explorative experience.

Did mothers in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries also experience this wonderful bond – at least at times? Surely they did! The earlier ‘expert guides’ were written by male doctors – often for the benefit of the nurses that looked after the babies. So the guides (and presumably the lives of the babies) were much more detached and precise. The Twentieth Century sees more female authors – and tellingly, the advice is much more gentle and sensitive.

The responsive aspect of BLPT relies on closeness, and careful watching and interpreting of baby’s signals. It’s hard to know whether this was absent (or discouraged) in a culture that embraced the cot and the pram, or whether experts simply did not acknowledge the complex interactions between mother and child. (Though Bartlett seems to hint at this with his words: “You will have to exercise your patience and your ingenuity.”) Inevitably, childcare manuals were aimed at the higher, educated social classes, who could afford wet nurses and nannies for their offspring. It would be nice to think that the lower classes, who were forced to raise their children themselves, had a stronger bond with them.

The delayers

In 1949 the child psychoanalyst Edith Buxbaum argued that a delayed start to bowel training was more effective. In her book she complains mothers start too early with first children, get impatient and show disapproval.

“The first child had to “educate” the parents so subsequent children in the family were usually not so rigorously attended to and bowel training was started when they were about ten to fifteen months of age, when they could cooperate in the process and know what it was about. Training would then be perhaps only a few weeks duration with everyone happy.”[4]

The key childcare manual, however, came in 1955, when the American Dr Benjamin Spock published Baby and Child Care. This book became a great success on both sides of the Atlantic, and was probably the most influential childcare guide of the century. Although Spock’s ideas seem somewhat old fashioned nowadays (for example with his four hour feeding schedules), at the time he revolutionised childcare through his baby-friendly, respectful, and flexible approach. He advocated a gentle, more relaxed approach to toilet training. Though his summary may still come as a surprise:

“It has been the style, lately, to try to ‘train’ the baby to move his bowels at a very early age…. This isn’t exactly training, because the baby doesn’t really know what he’s doing. It’s the mother who’s trained. Many times the baby rebels against these efforts when he is old enough to realize what is happening to him. Some psychologists think that early training is harmful, in certain cases at least, whether the baby rebels later or not. It seems sensible to give the baby the benefit of the doubt, and leave him in peace until he is old enough to know a little of what it’s all about. I would wait until he can at least sit up steadily alone, which will be around 7 to 9 months.”

Spock is refreshingly flexible about the timing of bowel training. He says that his preferred method is “to leave bowel training almost entirely to your baby.” He suggests that around the latter part of the second year a baby will make some kind of signal that he needs to go, and the mother can lead him to the potty. However, he sees no harm in a mother “lending a hand earlier [from 7 months], if she does it tactfully, takes baby’s readiness into account and, doesn’t make an issue of it.” He argues “whether you start bowel training early or late, the most important thing is how you go about it during the second year.” He notes that many children get rebellious at this time, even when the mother has been ‘pretty polite and reasonable’ about it. He suggests mothers “shrug [their] shoulders and let him move them in his own way for a few weeks, or even months if necessary, until he feels more co-operative. All you can work with is his willingness; you can never really beat him in a battle. Wait until he is settled down again and willing and predictable enough to do his part.”

As for urine training, Spock is more specific. He recommends waiting until the child can stay dry for two hours. He advises sitting them on the pot if their nappy has been dry for two hours. He suggests that this will happen gradually as mothers will only find a dry nappy every few days. He suggests that for most children this will occur around 15 months, some as early as 10 months, and others as late as 20 months. When the child has been dry more regularly, this is the practical time to switch to training pants. He suggests they will complete urine training between 1 ½ and 2 ½ years.[5]

Part 4: the 60s to the present day

There was also Part 1 (Ancient Greece – C17th) and Part 2 (Victorians and Freud)

[1] Langdon, Grace. Home Guidance for Young Children. New York: John Day, 1938.

[2] Bartlett, Frederic, Infants and Children: Their feeding and growth (London: Cassell, 1934) p. 225.

[3] Aldrich, Charles Anderson and Aldrich, Mary M, Babies are human beings: an interpretation of growth (New York: The Macmillan company, 1938).

[4] Buxbaum, Edith, Your Child Makes Sense. (London: Allen and Unwin1951) p.23.

[5] Spock, Bejamin, Baby and Childcare (London 1955: The Bodley Head) pp.177 – 187.