Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene
by Ingrid Bauer
There are as many different ways of approaching parenting as there are cultures. However, in cultures where mothers are still parenting in the same gentle ways they have for generations, the similarities are also striking. Nurturing practices such as natural weaning ("extended nursing"), co-sleeping, carrying the baby in close physical contact, responding promptly to cries or distress, and never leaving a baby alone, are all virtually universal in traditional societies that have not become overly "westernized". In the majority of non-industrialized cultures, mothers also know how to tune into their babies' elimination needs, and how to keep them clean and dry without diapers.
Since I discovered this, I've had to re-examine everything I ever believed about toilet learning. My son, like millions of babies around the globe, experienced no difficulty in developing awareness and control of his body functions from infancy. We've been communicating about it since his birth and he has been out of diapers since he was four months old. The consequences have been very positive: a strengthened trust, an intimate bond, and a child who is conscious and comfortable in his own body.
What I learned, and came to call "natural infant hygiene", may seem new, unusual, and revolutionary in our culture. Yet throughout human existence, parents have cared for their babies hygienically without diapers. This natural practice is common in Asia, Africa, and parts of South America, and was traditionally practiced among the Inuit and some Native North American peoples. For these mothers, knowing when their baby "needs to go," and holding them over an appropriate place, is (or was) second nature.
There is a small but steadily growing resurgence of interest in this practice among North American and European parents today. Parents are drawn to it for the baby's physical comfort, because "it's natural", to avoid diaper rash and digestive problems, to support the baby's body awareness, for environmental reasons, to prevent diapering and toilet training struggles, and to reduce diaper use.
The greatest reason and benefit, however, is that parents feel they are responding to their baby's needs in the present moment, enhancing their bond, and developing a deeper communication and trust. Natural infant hygiene provides yet another opportunity to understand and grow closer to our babies.
Ingrid Bauer is the author of the book Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene, and many articles on parenting and natural living.