Diaper-Free Part 2 – Learning Your Baby's Elimination Cues

Continuing on from my earlier post on the Diaper-Free Movement, this post examines how parents can learn to read their baby’s elimination cues and practice the art of going diaper-free.

How Do You Learn a Baby’s Elimination Cues?

There are essentially four ways you can do this, although a combination approach is usually the way to go.  The first two methods relate to your baby’s signs and communication.  The second two methods relate to parents’ instincts and cues.

1. Following your baby’s timing patterns and rhythms.

This involves knowing when your baby is most likely to eliminate. Although there will be variation between babies, there are some general patterns you can look out for. For instance:

  • after waking up (in the morning and after naps)
  • during or after a feed
  • frequent and regular periods in the morning
  • less frequent and regular periods in the afternoon

As you practice keeping your baby diaper-free, you will eventually learn which pattern your baby follows.

Personally, I found following cues to take Gavin to the toilet immediately after waking offered the greatest successes.  It is interesting to note that babies usually pee less during the night because of an anti-diuretic hormone that is secreted.  This allows them to hold off going to the toilet until they wake.  If they do need to pee during the night, a baby will normally stir and fuss in his sleep, which is another cue you can follow.

Unfortunately, as I have since discovered with a two and a half year old toddler, this practice doesn’t survive the toddler years.  Nowadays, trying to pee Gavin upon waking doesn’t necessarily guarantee peeing-in-the-toilet-bowl success.  Whether it is because the anti-diuretic hormone is no longer effective at night or if Gavin has been trained to pee immediately upon waking, I am not certain.

I am aware, though, of Gavin fussing at night when he has peed in his sleep as I can usually smell it when it occurs.  However, unlike in the case of when he was a baby, by the time he fusses at night now, he has usually peed and it is too late to take him to the toilet.  So I guess there is a lot of truth in the statement that we train our children to pee into their diapers when we diaper them.

2. Reading your baby’s body language and signals.

Before the age of six months (where it is believed that a diapered baby will become conditioned to pee and poop in a diaper), babies naturally show signs of wanting to eliminate. These may be:

  • squirming or fussing
  • wearing a look of concentration
  • ceasing all activity
  • increasing in activity
  • stirring or waking from sleep

If you baby has been diaper-free for a while, you will also find that your baby might reach for you so you can take him or her to the potty.

In my personal experience, I could never read when Gavin needed to pee when he was a baby.  His fussing was minimal, and sometimes, to me anyway, non-existent.  No matter how I tried to observe him, I could never read the signs.

Now that Gavin is a toddler, I have caught moments of when he is in the act of peeing.  There is usually a momentary freeze in action, almost as if he is deep in thought, and then a resumption of activity.  If I am close enough, I will also detect the tell-tale signs of the pee smell.

Recently, hubby also noted that one of Gavin’s complaints of tummy owie might be related to his attempts to hold his pee.  For instance, he has been telling us of late quite often that he has a “wee wee owie”.  It had been confusing us for a while because we could not understand how peeing might cause an owie unless he had a urinary tract infection (which wasn’t the case).  Then hubby cottoned-on that it was Gavin’s need to pee and inability to hold it that was causing the owie.  If we waited a while after the “wee wee owie” it would soon go away on its own and Gavin would admit to having peed in his diaper.

In the case of pooping, it was much easier to read.  I had Gavin poop-trained before the age of one and was almost consistently catching his poop in the toilet.  The first regression occurred when we went to Australia for a holiday.  I assume that because the weather was cold, Gavin didn’t like having his bottom exposed for extended periods of time while I waited for the poop to come.

Reading the need to poop also becomes easier after your baby begins solids because it requires extra effort to push out solid poop as opposed to the softer stuff that comes from a diet consisting solely of milk.  If you’re quick enough, you can usually act on this sign and get your baby to the toilet before he has successfully pooped into the diaper.

Despite the poop-regression we experienced in Australia, it didn’t stop Gavin from seeking the bathroom when he needed to poop later when he was older.  I distinctly remember occasions when he would wake up in the morning running to the bathroom, banging on the door and demanding to be let in.  Unfortunately, this period didn’t last long and Gavin, for reasons unknown to us, stopped telling us he needed to go.

Whether this regression would have happened even if we had fully practiced the diaper-free movement, I can’t say.  All I do know is that two and a half year old toddlers are extremely adept at pooping and often the sign of a strained face is usually too late to act upon.  These days, by the time I recognise Gavin’s look of concentration, it is usually too late – the poop will be in the diaper faster than you can say, “Stop pushing Gavin!”

3. Using mother’s (or father’s) intuition.

Some parents will have a natural instinct for knowing when their babies need to eliminate. Even if you don’t have the instinct naturally, you will develop it as you continue to practice natural infant hygiene with your baby. Here are some examples of intuition at work:

  • a sudden thought wondering if your baby needs to go
  • just knowing that your baby needs to go
  • feeling an urge to pee
  • feeling the sensation of warmth spreading over your lap even though your baby is dry

I’m afraid my intuition skills never really kicked in.  The one and only time I felt the sensation of warmth spreading over my lap, it was because it really was.  Somehow, Gavin’s diaper leaked.  Then again, I never fully practiced going diaper free so maybe that had a role to play in my failure to develop the instincts for it.

4. Creating mother’s (or father’s) cues.

To help communication with your baby regarding elimination, you can have a routine “position” and sound associated with each elimination experience. For instance, always holding your baby a certain way over the toilet and making the same cuing sound to tell your baby that it is time to eliminate.

We’ll take a look at the practice of going diaper-free in the next post.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “Diaper-Free Part 2 – Learning Your Baby's Elimination Cues

  1. I have been doing EC with my now 1 year old since she was 2 months old. We have had a significant level of success. I had never planned on using EC but while trying to teach my daughter sign language, I noticed that she was using many forms of non-verbal communication. These non-verbal cues combined with the close contact of nursing and bed-sharing made it impossible to miss the fact that my daughter clearly knew and communicated when she needed to eliminate. It was as clear to me as when she communicated hunger or exhaustion. My blog outlines our year of EC. Now that she is older, she doesn’t not always eliminate immediately upon waking, especially after a nap. She always still eliminates after waking in the morning and pees frequently between the hours of 5 am and 11 am. For some reason she has started resisting pooping in the toilet. I believe this is linked to her need to plant her feet firmly in order to go. We have always used the big toilet with me sitting her in between my legs for support. Now she prefers her little toilet that she can stand-squat over to poop. If you want to email me with any questions about our EC experience. I’d love to offer insight when I can.


  2. Thank you Clarissa. Your blog is extremely informative and very inspiring. There’s a lot of information on EC there already.

    I’m still trying to toilet train my son as he’s regressed in a big way but I’m content to work on it at his pace.

    Thank you so much for your offer. If I think of anything, I’ll be sure to drop you a line.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: