Mothers who potty-train babies from BIRTH: Believe it or not, it's the new parenting fad. Experts say it's risky, but these proud mums insist it's good for baby - and the planet
Jill has been ‘potty-training’ Ryker since birth
You can understand friends of Jill Williamson being a little nervous when she decides to pay a call with her six-month-old baby Ryker in tow.
True, he’s not quite at the ‘fingers in the electrical sockets and pouring bleach into the fish bowl’ stage just yet, but they’ve every reason to be on their guard.
For Jill won’t be bringing any nappies with her. Ryker doesn’t wear one.
And Jill has been ‘potty-training’ him since birth and swears she knows, from his movements and demeanour, exactly when Ryker needs to ‘go’ and usually — usually — gets him to the toilet on time.
Jill, a 38-year-old teacher, from South Croydon, is proud to be an ‘EC Mum’ (that’s Elimination Communication). She’s proud to not be filling landfill sites and sewers with disposable nappies and wipes and glad to keep her baby’s bottom clean and rash-free.
She’s also proud to be reviving a lost art of natural mothering, surrendered to modern laziness and convenience.
And she’s not alone in finding this parenting skill something to show off — indeed potty training newborns is, in some circles anyway, the latest status symbol.
Internet forum Mumsnet is filled with posts from mums talking about the fact their tots can go nappy-free, saying it’s made them the envy of other parents and their lives so much easier.
While common in Asia and Africa, the method is becoming a ‘new age’ trend here — perhaps in the wake of other hippyish practices such as yoga and mindfulness crossing over into the mainstream.
There have already been several books published on how parents can do it at home, along with websites offering comprehensive guides.
However, many experts say it is yet another lifestyle trend for women to brag about — which could prove dangerous to young children.
Jill says she cracked it at ten weeks with her daughter, Jocelyn, now six, and at six weeks with son, Hudson, three, both of whom were fully potty trained before the age of two.
‘Disposable nappies only came to the fore in the Seventies and my parents have a photo of me sitting on the potty at six months old,’ says Jill.
Jill, a 38-year-old teacher, from South Croydon, is proud to be an ‘EC Mum’ (that’s Elimination Communication)
Jill Williamson, 38, from south Croydon, has baby potty trained all three of her children - Jocelyn, six, Hudson, three, and Ryker, six months
‘My sister did it with her children and it seemed to make sense. My husband Steve thought it was nuts at the beginning, but then got on the bandwagon once he saw how effective, and less messy, it was.
‘You can quickly see when a baby needs to go, usually after they wake up from a nap or after a feed, and all I had to do was hold them over a potty in a squatting position.
‘No messy nappies, no change of clothes; just a quick wipe and off we go.
‘It meant I had to watch for the signs and be sensitive to their every noise and wriggle — especially at the newborn stage when they’re going several times a day.
‘There are plenty of “misses” — but by four or five months I’m usually catching the majority of it.’
You can imagine the reaction of harried mothers across the UK right now. They’re shaking their heads in either admiration or utter increduity. Who, after all, when they’re already half-insane with sleep deprivation in charge of a young baby, needs that much extra work?
Jill says she cracked it at ten weeks with her daughter, Jocelyn, now six, and at six weeks with son, Hudson, three, both of whom were fully potty trained before the age of two
Especially when you hear what Jill goes through at night, when she’s listening out for ‘warning shots’ that Ryker needs the potty, so she can take him, half-asleep, before putting him back to bed.
She even managed to persuade staff at the nursery she sent her oldest two children to after she returned to work to continue the practice, and says they were happy to oblige.
In fact, thanks to the thousands of parents in the UK who have latched on to this new trend, there’s now something of an industry for it.
Jenn Philpott, a nanny trainer who has sold more than 200 workshops on baby pottying online in the past year alone at £15 each, and manages a Facebook group on Elimination Communication of more than 2,000 active members, believes early potty training makes sense for the environment — and a family’s finances.
‘In England and Wales we send nine million disposables to landfill every single day and with every one costing approximately 10p each and newborns often needing to be changed over eight times a day, you can see how the savings add up,’ she says.
‘As well as those benefits, it’s about tapping into a baby’s natural instinct. Babies (in common with many animals and birds) have a strong instinct not to “soil the nest” or themselves,’ she says.
‘Most parents experience a newborn “waiting” for a nappy change and then weeing all over the changing mat. Baby pottying is all about honing that instinct rather than training it out of them.
‘It’s also a great way of paying attention to your child and understanding what’s going on with them. It’s so easy to put newborns into a pram and ignore them, but just like we tap into a baby’s need to feed or sleep if they’re crying, we can also tap into when they need the potty.’
As worthy as it sounds, however, some paediatricians are concerned early potty training could encourage dangerous long-term toilet habits.
Becca Heorton (pictured, right with her daughter Fern), a 33-year-old midwife and mother from Peckham, South London, is not convinced by the warnings
A study published in the scientific journal Urology in 2012 indicated some children develop a habit of ‘chronic holding’, in which they resist the urge to go to the toilet, leading to constipation, bladder problems and urinary tract infections. And those most prone to the condition are those who were potty trained early — especially before the age of two.
According to Feilim Murphy, consultant paediatric urologist at the Portland Hospital in London, EC interferes with the natural maturing process of the body and brain.
‘There is huge evidence to show that maturation of the bladder and brain comes between the ages of 24 to 36 months, and it is only at this time the skills develop which can allow children to control their bladder and bowels,’ he explains.
‘Constipation and holding is a real problem in our Western society — and who knows what problems early potty training can cause in this regard?
‘Yes, other societies do it — in Vietnam, Africa and Greenland — but their diets are very different and the children are kept in constant close contact with their mother. To me, early potty training is unnecessary.’
Becca read about EC while she was pregnant with her first child seven years ago, and gave it a go
Becca Heorton, a 33-year-old midwife and mother from Peckham, South London, is not convinced by the warnings, however.
She read about EC while she was pregnant with her first child seven years ago, and gave it a go.
‘It sounded completely crazy, but I was intrigued,’ she says. ‘As soon as my daughter Iris was born, I would hold her legs up in a squat position over a potty every hour or so, making a “psssss” sound in her ear, and after about ten days it was obvious she understood the connection and would often go.
‘My husband Harry and I were amazed. When she was about two to three months old I found she’d wait for me to offer her the potty before she did anything and by the time she was one, I’d say we were catching nearly 80 per cent of everything.
‘I was so surprised how easy it was and friends who saw me do it were incredulous and so impressed.’
Becca, who now has three children — Iris, seven, Hazel, four, and 18-month-old Fern — all of whom were potty trained from birth, uses cloth nappies in between pottying and isn’t afraid to practise EC anywhere and everywhere.
‘Before doing my supermarket shop, I’d take my babies to the toilet first so I knew I had a clear run to shop,’ she recalls.
‘I even held Iris over a drain at a bus stop once in the middle of Oxford Circus when she needed to go — thank goodness, no one was looking — and have pottied them in a tent on camping holidays, in planes, trains, and behind trees in a park.
‘I don’t even use a potty. I use those tubs that our Indian takeaway gets delivered in. I look at friends having to deal with dirty nappies and feel so happy we rarely have to deal with that kind of thing.
‘People are generally amazed when they see what I do, but I think we underestimate what babies can do.’
There are, of course, mishaps, but according to Camilla Manson, 32, a stay-at-home mother from Keiss, Scotland, who has practised EC with two of her three children, they occur if she’s distracted.
‘We’d have had no accidents for a week and then as soon as I’d meet up with a friend and I wasn’t paying attention as usual there’d be a slip-up,’ recalls Camilla, who has three boys — Loic, six, Enzo, three, and 18-month-old Leo — and practised EC from three months with Enzo and from birth with Leo after stumbling across a book about it.
‘Preparation is key so I always make sure we have a fold up potty in the car in case anyone needs it and if we go to the cinema, I’ll just take them to the toilet beforehand.’
Becca, who now has three children — Iris, seven, Hazel, four, and 18-month-old Fern — all of whom were potty trained from birth, uses cloth nappies in between pottying and isn’t afraid to practise EC anywhere and everywhere
Both Enzo and Leo were out of nappies at 11 and ten months old respectively and although her husband Andrew, 33, a head chef, thought the idea was a bit wacky at first, he soon bought into it when he could see it was working.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of The Gentle Parenting Book (£12.78, Piatkus), says early potty training is a new trend most popular with privileged, stay-at-home mothers.
‘I’m concerned it puts yet another pressure on parents, especially those who are working or are single parents, to nail potty training early when it’s not necessary at all,’ she says.
‘I don’t like the implication that parents who use normal disposable nappies are ignoring their child’s needs... It is very much a lifestyle choice, and little else.’
While many insist potty training from birth is the ultimate in pushy mothering, try telling that to its devotees — who firmly believe their little darlings are ready to be toilet-trained years before their peers.
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