The growing movement of toilet training from birth

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

If you overheard Bronwyn Williams in a public toilet with her daughter, you'd be forgiven for thinking she was in there with a toddler.

"I'll be saying things 'OK are you finished? Let's wipe your bum'," says Williams. It's when she emerges with a baby in her arms that people get a bit of a surprise.

"I think most people are thinking – what the f...? Is that even possible?"

While most parents in the western world wait to toilet train their children until they are in the terrible twos, Williams is part of a growing group who are practising a technique to train your children to use the toilet from birth.

The technique, known as Elimination Communication, isn't something new.

In fact, a lot of countries around the world, particular in places like India, have been using it for decades. It works by parents recognising the cues a baby uses to pee or poo and involves teaching your baby signing, sounds and eventually words, which they learn to associate when they need the toilet. 

"We use this," says Williams. She taps her chest twice with a fist and says "toilet time". 

"Etta hasn't started signing back yet, but she will. It usually happens between nine and 12 months old.

"Her signal for when she needs to pee changes over time. For the first few months she would be sitting there then suddenly cry for no reason.


"Sometimes you'll be holding her and she will start thrashing about, and you put her on the potty and she'll pee." 

Williams started employing the technique with her daughter from 9 weeks old.

Now at 9 months old they don't have too many "misses" although it's clear she has a pretty relaxed approach and points out there absolutely no pressure on her daughter.

She uses cloth nappies or tiny knickers at home, and if they go out, she might put her in a disposable nappy. For her, the technique was completely led by her daughter who, from the beginning, would only go to the toilet with her nappy off. 

"One day our midwife strolled in and said 'Oh is she still doing that?' She told us that a couple of her Russian and Indian clients were doing this thing called Elimination Communication.

"She told me to Google it. When I first heard about it I thought 'This is so weird'.

"I couldn't get my head around it. I didn't believe it was possible to read a baby's signs.

"I thought it was a crock of s... It wasn't until I read heaps and found it's becoming more common in America that I decided to try it.

"Once you get the hang of it, you can read them really easily. It's just about understanding them."

The mum-of-one has found support through a book called Go Diaper Free which she says "is like the EC bible".

The book is written by American mum-of-five Andrea Olson, who used the technique with all of her children and has subsequently built an empire out of it. She now has an online store which sells everything a parent choosing to do this technique could possibly need.


A post shared by Go Diaper Free • Andrea Olson (@godiaperfree) on

For her daughter, Williams bought a specific potty purchased from Olsen's store which looks like a plastic upside down top hat with a polar fleece cover.

However, she will also hold her over the toilet. She finds if friends come over they're often intrigued and will sometimes follow her to the bathroom just to see how it all works. 

In her book, Olsen says babies have sphincter control and can use those muscles from as early as day one, meaning they can learn to control their bladder and bowel movements. The whole point of elimination communication is to retain that feeling and to learn to signal when you need to go.

"I think in our society we believe, like I did, that babies are incapable of having any control over their bladder.

"You're told babies aren't able to be toilet trained until they're around two-years-old but actually they're born with an innate sense of knowing that release and knowing the feeling when you need to pee," says Williams.

"When we strap them up in nappies, particularly disposable nappies, the moisture is whipped away when they pee, so they lose that understanding of what their body is doing over time as they're not feeling the result of them peeing straight away."


A post shared by Go Diaper Free • Andrea Olson (@godiaperfree) on

So what are the advantages?

Advocates laud Elimination Communication as a 'natural' choice.

It's certainly not news that concern for disposable nappies is increasing with three billion disposable nappies thrown away in the UK each year. It also can also save young families (often on one wage) money by not continuously needing to purchase nappies.

On top of that, converts say cleaning up pooey nappies are rare, nappy rash – almost nonexistent, and children can be fully toilet trained earlier. 

"Babies can be toilet trained anywhere from 12 to 18 months," says Williams.

"At around 9-12 months, they learn to crawl/walk and will often stop signalling for a period as they focus on working on that big developmental leap. That's what we're going through with Etta. It just means she's peeing more in her nappy than usual.

"Once they've mastered their crawling or whatever they're doing they'll go back to signalling when they need to, and then pretty soon after that they'll graduate - and they're toilet trained."

So far, it's working for Williams and she thinks it's definitely been worth the effort.  

"Traditional toilet training is stressful and exhausting – and you've got the whole toddler attitude on top of that. This is the admin up front – a little bit more as you have to pay attention. But hey it's okay, she's going to be done by 18 months and will be in knickers!"