Money Mic: Why My Babies Didn’t Use Diapers

Cheryl Lock

We’re proud to introduce our first-ever LV Moms Money Mic, in which we hand the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a money topic. In the LearnVest Daily, past editions have included conversations about whether living together wrecks your finances, why staying home to make jam could be the new feminist career and why the CARD Act may actually hurt women.

For our first Money Mic on a parenting topic, we spoke with Ingrid Bauer, author of “Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene.” She’s an advocate of a parenting style that’s sweeping the nation—and could save you thousands. 

The views expressed here are those of the essayist and not the LearnVest staff, but we look forward to opening the floor to debate and discussion. Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Disposable diaper or reusable cloth? Organic or conventional?

My choice: None of the above.

Going diaper-free—also known as Elimination Communication—is an effective, more comfortable routine for both you and your child, and can work no matter what your schedule is. Plus, it could save you thousands of dollars.

When I had my first son, now in his 20s, I spent about $3,000 a year on diapers and accessories. But for my other three kids, I went diaper-free and only needed six to ten cloth diapers and a potty or two.

I spent $50 to $100 for all three of them. Total.

What Is Diaper-Free?

As infants, our natural instinct is to not want to sit around in our own waste. But as parents, we train this instinct out of babies when we put them in diapers. Then, two years later, we reverse that message again when it’s time for potty training.

That would be confusing to almost anyone.

We don’t actually need diapers, as seen by the fact that they were only introduced recently into Western culture. Much of the rest of the world still doesn’t use them … which makes me think they just aren’t necessary.

How does it work? As a parent, you naturally become attuned to your child’s signals. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll know when your baby needs to go. You can also take cues from him by recognizing regular timing. For example, if you know that your baby always has to go 20 minutes after feeding, you could just bring him to the toilet exactly at that point.

Would You Go Diaper Free?

What do you think of the diaper-free movement? Does the idea of not using diapers for your baby interest you?

I called my book “Diaper Free” to get people’s attention—but you’ll still use a few diapers, just not as many. For example, you might feel more comfortable having your child in a diaper when you’re out and about, but you might let your kid go mostly bare-bottomed around the house once you have your routine down. While there are a lot of different methods and nuances to this, it basically comes down to communicating non-verbally with your baby. Some parents get so good at it that they can give their kids cues that it is time to go. For example, I could do this with my kids by making a simple ‘shhhh’ sound.

You don’t have to go completely diaper-free, either. Some parents use this method solely to keep their children from pooping in a diaper, which still saves on diapers and mess. Also, you don’t necessarily have to start right at birth; your kid will catch on whenever you start the process.

My Journey to Going Diaper-Free

I used reusable cloth diapers for my first child, and washing them and schlepping them around was obviously inconvenient. Then, when I traveled to Africa and India, I saw mothers carrying their children around with no diapers—and nary an accident.

I brought the idea back with me, testing out diaper-free with my three younger children, and after four or five months, my three youngest never messed their pants.

The idea caught on. My book is now published in seven languages, and there are dozens of organizations and websites about the process.

Why You Should Do It

Here are my main reasons for going diaper-free:

  • It helps you develop a deeper bond with your kids. You develop a sort of communication beyond just the usual “I cry, you pick me up” pattern
  • Your kid will not have to sit in his own waste (would you want to do that?)
  • You’re not contributing to landfills, or wasting water on washing too many cloth diapers
  • As I learned with my first child, potty training can be really challenging; here, you put in the work and time earlier (it’s much easier to deal with a one-year-old having an accident than a four-year-old)

Should You Try It?

While Elimination Communication may seem a little strange at first, it’s a natural process that could lower your carbon footprint and your costs, while strengthening your bond with your child.

From where I’m standing, there really are no drawbacks … unless you like giving money to the diaper companies!

Ingrid Bauer is a passionate parenting advocate and pioneer of the diaper-free movement in the Western world.

Photo credit: Juergen Raeuber

  • JDubs

    I have to admit, at first I thought this was a totally out there idea (and I’m pretty liberal about these kinds of things).  But it kind of makes sense. 

    Not sure how parents who work out of the home follow through – you’d need a great nanny or childcare provider to make this work. 

    • JLS

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. I am due in Dec and won’t be able to stay home after my 6 week maternity leave. Wish I could so I could try this out. It makes sense and seems like it could work. I seriously doubt my mother-in-law would make these efforts. I wonder if it would be too confusing to practice this evenings and weekends, but use diapers (cloth) during the days w/Grandma….???

      • ALL

        My thoughts exactly. This only seems practical if you’re a stay-at-home parent.

  • Michelle

    I have family who have done this. And they say it has worked great for all of their kids. Having a 5 week old who is potty trained has to be great.

    • Ailsa

      That might be a little optimistic. Even if you aren’t using diapers, I don’t think you could ever call a 5-week old “potty trained”. Most 5-week olds are barely able to control their body movement, roll over even. In that sense, you can’t train a 5-week old to do anything. A 5-week old is starting to learn things and elimination communication could be one of those things, don’t get me wrong, but it won’t be potty trained.
      However appealing diaper-free sounds it’s a huge challenge if you work away from your baby. It wouldn’t have worked for us for precisely that reason. I don’t like the suggestion in this article that if you aren’t going diaper-free then your communication with your baby is “just the usual “I cry, you pick me up” pattern”.

      • Michelle

        I was exaggerating. But my cousin’s baby is just a couple of months old and is pretty much completely potty trained. Same with a friend of mine.

  • Kellyn Westra

    I want to try it as well, but I work full time so looks like that won’t work for us. Maybe with the next one if I’m not working. Isn’t it hard to watch the babies cues while you’re cleaning dishes, etc?

  • J K Pelc

    I did it a little with my first son and he was fully potty trained at age 2.5 years. I used cloth a lot and no nappies during naps and during long periods during the day. Is till used regular nappies when we went out and mix not only saved heaps on nappies but was also easy to do. With a full time job and a toddler I didn’t have the energy/time to do the same with my second and he shows no signs of wanting to use the potty yet, but now that he’s nearly three I’m going to let him go nappy-free this summer and hope he’s out of nappies by the end of it! What a great article – good on you for sharing such fresh ideas

  • guest

    This reads more like an ad for her book. All I could hear was “I, I, I, my book, my book, etc.” Even a few tidbits or teasers on how it’s done would make this article worthwhile. She certainly didn’t invent the practice, so she shouldn’t hoard the secret!

    • Cliffton Thompson

       My thoughts exactly. I’m very interested in the idea but am skeptical that anyone that has any other responsibilities, even if it’s just doing the dishes, could conceivably accomplish this.

      So yes, some teasers or ideas would be nice. Something besides watching your babies cues. Maybe this makes us sound like inattentive parents, but we’re not watching the baby every second of the day.

    • Jendel

      Guest: She knows something that you don’t. If you want to know, then pay her to tell you. It doesn’t matter if she “invented the practice” lol. This is how the world works. You want something from me, including knowledge, then you give me something in return. Duh!

  • Elizabeth Mahler

    What about all of the messes from accidents that you would need to clean up, ruined furniture, etc.? That’s not going to save you any money. Also, babies can’t sit up on the toilet by themselves, and they can’t walk until about one year old, so they can not be completely potty trained as an infant like you said. Are you going to stay up all night and wait until you think they have to go potty and then take them to the bathroom?