Sunday, March 14, 2010

Adventures in Potty Training

My unconventional potty training methods have earned a few quizzical looks, some "you must be crazy" eye rolls, and an occasional gasp. But I'm glad I did it the way I did. I know potty training is a hot topic for moms so I want to put this out there for anyone interested. For this post I'll write a summary of what I did and then point out the advantages and disadvantages of this method. Warning: If potty training is gross to you or body functions make you squirm, don't read on. Second Warning: This is a long post.

I introduced Ella to the potty when she was only 7 months old. At the time she was sitting up very well and showing a lot of interest in her surroundings. I did some reading on some methods of infant potty training but what I saw was a bit extreme. I didn't want my baby crawling around diaper-less in a fully carpeted rental apartment, nor did I want to arrange life around my baby's potty schedule. However, I did see an advantage to making the potty a regular part of daily life early on. So I scaled back the method and worked on "infant potty awareness" with my daughter. When she was 7 months old, I found a cheap little potty ($0.99 at Ikea) for Ella and started sitting her on it.

Week 1 (7 mos old)
The first day I sat her on the potty when her diaper had been dry for a while. We played and read books and sang songs. After about 15 minutes she went and I acted really excited, clapped my hands and cheered and covered her in kisses. I also made a "pshhhhh" sound so she would associate the sound with going potty. I showed her what she put in the potty and how we cleaned it up then I put her diaper back on and we went about our business. We did this about 3 times the first day and 4 times the second day. By the third day when I sat Ella on the potty and made the "pshhhhh" sound she voluntarily went within the first minute. She still went in her diaper between potty breaks, but she definitely understood the concept of going in the potty and got really excited with huge grins when she went. During that week she also pooped on the potty a few times and figured out the difference between the two functions.

Week 2 (7 mos old)
By the second week, I had made sitting on the potty part of our routine. We went when she woke up in the morning, after meals, before and after naps, and before bedtime. Nothing was rigid and we missed a few times, but the point was to simply give her opportunities to go. I tried to give her 4-7 opportunities each day to go to the potty. I never expected her to keep her diaper dry or to always go every time I decided to sit her on the potty. The point was to just let her be comfortable using the potty.

After 1 month (8 mos old)
By the end of 1 month, Ella stopped pooping in her diaper. She decided it was uncomfortable to sit in her own poop and much better to go on the potty. If she needed to poop, she would either hold it until a regular potty time or make a noise to tell me she needed to poop. Since she was 8 months old, she has soiled a diaper less than 15 times. That alone made the potty awareness worth it to me--No wiping up a poop covered bum for us.

After 2-3 months (9-10 mos old)
Ella started peeing less in her diaper and more in the potty. This translated into big savings on diapers for us. By the time she was 10 months old we were down to using 2-3 diapers a day (including one at night!).

Holding Pattern (10 mos-18 mos old)
We continued in this pattern for several months. I eventually found a potty seat that goes on a regular toilet and Ella started using that. This eliminated potty clean up and helped Ella identify more with how grown-ups go potty. I decided to wait until Ella was walking and able to communicate to us that she needed the potty before I transitioned from diapers to panties.

At 18 months old
Just before Ella turned 18 months old the time felt right. She was mobile enough to come get my attention and she had just learned to say potty ("otty"). Santa also brought Ella some brand new panties for Christmas and I was tired of seeing her wear them like hats. So one morning I put panties on Ella and sat with her in the kitchen for 3 hours and we played with a doll who drinks and wets. We talked about wet panties and dry panties and sat the baby doll on the potty. We clapped for baby when she peed in the potty and told he we were sad when she made her panties wet. We repeated this over and over and over. All the time I gave Ella snacks that made her thirsty and made sure she had plenty to drink. I also let her have her first accident on the tile floor (that's why we were in the kitchen) so we could talk about how her panties got wet and how uncomfortable it was. (This one-day method comes from a book called "Toilet Training in Less than Day" by Nathan H. Azrin and Richard M. Foxx.) After 3 hours we took a break but kept the panties on. She had a couple more accidents that day but only 2 accidents the next day and only 1 the day after that.

Present day
Ella hasn't worn a diaper since the day we played with the drink and wet baby doll. She tells us "otty" when she needs to go and unless she gets too distracted with playing, she rarely has an accident. She's used to the routine and has even started to use toilet paper to clean herself. I still pay attention to how much she has had to drink and how long it has been since she went to the bathroom and try to remind her if it has been a while.

I didn't want to put pull-ups on Ella because they are so similar to diapers. But when we go out in public I don't want her making messes. So I compromised and decided to put a pull-up over her own panties. We call them her "girl panties" because there is a picture of a girl on them. This way if she has an accident while we're out, all I have to do is change her panties and pull-up. I take the pull-up off when we're at home and there hasn't been any problem or confusion so far.

Public Toilets
Public Toilets were a big concern for me because Ella is just physically too little to use a public toilet. But I didn't want to plan my life around potty breaks at home, so we hunted around and found a fold-up travel potty seat that goes with us on errands and outings. It sits right on top of the regular toilet and Ella loves the pictures of Elmo and Cookie Monster that are on it. She has used several public toilets without any problem. I keep the travel potty seat in a ziploc bag inside of a zipper pouch designed for holding soiled clothing/diapers. I also keep a spare pair of panties and a pull-up in there just in case. So far I've never had to use them. (Just FYI, I clean the seat and change the ziploc bag regularly.)

Night Time and Sleeping
Ella stopped having accidents in bed after 4 nights of wearing panties. Though I wanted to claw my eyes out and shoot myself when she woke up wet at 2 am and I had to clean up the mess, bathe her, and change the bedding, I held out and refused to go the route of pull-ups. By the 4th night she had held it all night long and barely went just as she was waking up. On the morning after the fifth night, she held it until I got her out of bed and took her to the potty. She keeps her bed dry now and will wake us up if she really has to go (this has happened less than 5 times since she fully trained). For dry bed insurance, I stop giving her liquids 45 minutes before bedtime so she'll be less likely to have a full bladder during the first half of the night. Ella did have one week of relapse just a couple of weeks ago when she wet her bed every night for 5 nights in a row. I think she stared sleeping more deeply and lost control, or she might have had a mild bladder infection that affected her potty routine. In any case, she stopped as abruptly as she started and again keeps her bed dry all night.

Was it Worth it? Yes.
Here are the advantages to this method:
Huge $$$ Savings: Fewer diapers and wipes from 8 mos old to 18 mos old; NO diapers and wipes after 18 months old!
No fighting: The potty was never a choice for Ella--it was just part of the routine
No manipulation: The potty isn't a power struggle (as it might be for a 3 year old)
Quality time: Potty time is one on one time with mommy or daddy-she loves it
Confidence: Ella is very proud of herself and knows we're proud of her
Less stinky: No poopy bum since she was 8 months old

Here are the disadvantages to this method:
Time: It can be time consuming and so may not be as doable for a baby with older siblings or a working mom
Convenience: Diapers are simply more convenient--they get changed on mom's schedule
Patience: This method requires a lot of patience--rushing Ella or getting mad if she didn't go when I put her on the potty could have spelled big trouble
Spouse Cooperation: If you have a spouse, you have to have have their full support and cooperation (my husband was supportive and helpful but I might have lost it if he hadn't been so great)

This method is a fusion of two known methods of potty training. Though doctors and specialists have been known to support both infant potty training and Potty Training in Less than a Day, I have not seen any references that from doctors or specialists that either recommend or discourage using them together. This method may not work with every child. I paid close attention to my daughter and how she reacted to and learned about her body and the potty. It was a good method for her and I'll use it again with future children only if they are similarly receptive and eager.


Justin and Toshi said...

Thanks! I am very interested to learn how kids are potty-trained as the diaper routine is starting to get old! I love how you explained month by month...very helpful! By the way I am very much in awe of the fact that your 18 month old is completely potty-trained!!!

Laurie said...

Thanks for posting this and I hope it will inspire others to try the same approach.

Two things I'd like to clear up. With infant potty training, most parents *do* use diapers in between potty visits. In other words, what you did is what I consider to be infant pottying. We used it and our baby always wore a diaper or training pants.

Secondly, I'm happy to tell you that there are indeed doctors (including pediatricians) and specialists who support infant potty training and the approach you took. You can see a list of supportive medical professionals on this short website: (International Board for the Study, Research and Promotion of Assisted Infant Toilet Training)
One of the pages on the site lists supportive medical journal articles.

Here are some other resources:

Book: "Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living"
DVD "Potty Whispering"

We started at three months old with our third child and much preferred it to traditional delayed toilet training. We finished sooner and needed fewer diapers. And now 30 years later, our grandchild is using ipt too.


Jessica Nelson said...

When I first heard that you were doing this - I didn't want to be weird and say "So can i get a play by play? What did you do and how did it work?" I'd really like to try something like this when we have children and I'm SO glad you posted this!! =) The reference to books you used will be helpful as well! Thanks!

Katrina said...


Thanks for clearing up those points! I also appreciate the other resources you listed. I'll check them out.

Shelly Beth said...

Wow. Amazing! I don't think I have the patience for that, but good for you! I might take some of the tips and use them in my own training of #2.

Sarah said...

What an interesting post! I remember us talking about this when you had first started so it was interesting to read how it all turned out! I am kinda jealous, but at the same time I don't know if I'd have the patience for all that, I'm very impressed! :-)
So, I want to know how you guys are doing and how things are in Florida!!

Chelsea said...

Thanks for posting this! I had been thinking about getting a potty even though I knew I was very early, and you completely inspired me! It's now becoming part of our routine and he's even gone on it a few times! (Twice in three days is not bad for a 13 month old!) THANK YOU!!!


Wow. That is most impressive!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

Penny said...


I know we haven't talked in forever, but I think of you guys often, and I've enjoyed taking peeks at your blog. :) We're potty training Sarah right now, and I've gotta say I'm a little jealous, but this was FABULOUS to read! I need to bookmark this or something, so I can find it when we're ready to potty train our next one. I started a month and a half ago with Sarah, and she's dry all the time now, but she doesn't like pooping on the potty and I'm having a hard time figuring out how to overcome this. I think if we'd started earlier, it would have been different. Oh, well- we learn as we go, right? But thank you so much for sharing your approach and your successes! We love you guys!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for this...Paige is 11 months and I've started setting her on the potty chair after naps and she always pees. After I get back from vacation I'm going to try letting her go bare bottom for a few days and really work on potty training. We have tile, so I'm not worried about clean-up. I'll let you know how the process goes over the next few months.
BTW, I read "Diaper-Free Before Three" and think it's the greatest book! Totally agree with most of the stuff in it--like limiting juice intake.
You're an inspiration!