When we had our first child, one day my husband watched me changing our son’s nappies and asked, “How did the ancients do this?”. Yes, how did they do it without disposable nappies or plastic covers over the cloth nappy? I supposed they somehow used wool but didn’t know much more about it and had never really thought about it either. But actually, babies do communicate their need to pee or poo the same way they communicate their need to feed, or to be close, or to be carried around. But we don’t know about this, so we don’t pick up on it. Or we notice and say, “When he makes this face he needs to poo.” We then wait until he is done, and proceed to change the nappy. But what if we tried to pick up on this communication and hold the baby over the toilet so he or she can do whatever needs to be done? Well, it is very, VERY rewarding and a source of great pride in my baby’s abilities and in our connection. He does his pee and poo into the toilet and the backup cloth nappy is dry and clean. There are many great articles on the web about this. It is often called “elimination communication” or “nappy-free” and you’ll find really good articles on the topic, like sign lists and more about the practical side of “natural baby hygiene”.
So here is what I do: my children usually wear cloth nappies with a woolen cover. The lanolin, the natural fat in wool, connects with the urine and forms soap, so you only need to wash your wool cover once a month or so; but otherwise just air it out and it will be hygienically clean. After every sleep, and sometimes when my babies make a funny face or start pushing, I will hold them over the toilet and usually they will do their business. My daughter was able to tell me that she needs to pee from 8 months onward and is complete out of her nap pies since she was 19 months. We still use a backup nappy for the nights; she is almost 2 now, but they are always dry since 4 months. Our newborn boy is only three weeks old, but he even can wait quite a while now before he goes and often I am surprised that his nappy is still dry after a long sleep and a long breastfeed.
I don’t really bother at night because a good sleep is so very important, but if it is very apparent and baby is awake and looking desperately at me communicating, “I need to, I really need to go to the toilet,” then I will not ignore it. Have a go! Usually the instinct to “not soil the nest” is quite strong until 3-4 months, but if you never reacted to the signals, babies stop communicating them, so it might be a bit late after 4 months as it was the case for our first son unfortunately. but still, at 8 months he was able to do the poo on the toilet because I knew his routine. SO catching your babies elimination is partly your baby telling you and partly you knowing your baby’s rhythms and using your intuition. So good luck with trying this; it’s a great feeling when you understand your baby and it has many other benefits for your baby, for you, and the environment too.