When Jada Shapiro decided to raise her daughter from birth without diapers, for the most part, not everyone was amused. Ms. Shapiro scattered little bowls around the house to catch her daughter’s offerings, and her sister insisted that she use a big, dark marker to mark the bowls so that they could never find their way back to the kitchen.
“My sister wasn’t a huge fan,” she said on Thursday.
But “elimination communication,” as the diaper-free method of child-rearing is called, is finding an audience in the hipper precincts of New York City.
Ms. Shapiro, who is a doula, a birth and child-rearing coach, says it is practically now a job qualification to at least be able to offer diaper-free training as an option to clients. Caribou Baby, an “eco-friendly maternity, baby and lifestyle store” on the border of artsy Greenpoint and Williamsburg, has been drawing capacity crowds to its diaper-free “Meetups,” where parents exchange tips like how to get a baby to urinate on the street between parked cars.
Parents are drawn to the method as a way of preserving the environment from the ravages of disposable diapers, as well as reducing the laundering of cloth diapers and preventing diaper rash. Many of them like the thought that they are rediscovering an ancient practice used in other cultures, though they tend to gloss over the fact that many of those cultures had never heard of Pampers. But mostly, they say, they like feeling more in touch with their babies’ most intimate functions.
“I think for a lot of parents, the motivation is just to be more in tune with what their kids’ needs are,” Adriane Stare, proprietor of Caribou Baby and herself a diaper-free mother, said on Thursday, about a week after holding her most recent meetup. Another meeting was written about on Thursday on the news Web site dnainfo.com; the next is May 14.
Ms. Stare said she “E.C.’d” her oldest son, Damien, who is now almost 4, and is doing it again with her second boy, Loren, who is almost 4 months old. Ms. Stare watched for cues that meant her baby needed to go to the bathroom or was going to the bathroom, like a certain cry or squirming or a grimace. Then, she began associating those cues with her own noises, like “sss,” or grunting. After a while she could make those noises — the elimination communication — to the baby while holding him over the toilet or the sink for perhaps 20 seconds, and he would go to the bathroom on command or refuse if he was not ready.
There are misses, she admits, but even cleaning up a small mess on the floor is easier, she says, than laundering diapers.
Some pediatricians are skeptical that children under a year old are actually capable of controlling their own toileting behavior. “I’ve certainly heard in other countries that they do toilet train babies earlier,” said Dr. Robin Jacobson, chief of outpatient pediatrics at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. “But from what I’ve heard it’s at about a year of age, not at two months of age.”
Toilet training, she said, is a matter of conditioning, “just like Pavlov’s dog,” but in the United States parents begin talking about it around 18 months, with most children being potty-trained around ages 3 or even 4.
The diaper-free mothers said it was rare for their babies to go without diapers all the time. They usually put them on at night and for trips to stores, restaurants and the like, though not necessarily for naps or going to the park, where it is easier to go on the ground or behind a tree. But their children often have been weaned of their diapers by 18 months.
Asked whether the practice was a health hazard, Jean Weinberg, a spokeswoman for the New York City health department, said: “Really, the only infectious disease problem at hand has to do with hand washing. Otherwise, it’s just a general sanitation issue.”