Introducing the Latest Lunatic Parenting Trend: Diaper-Free Baby Rearing

What Women Really Think
April 22 2013 2:56 PM

Introducing the Latest Lunatic Parenting Trend: Diaper-Free Baby Rearing

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For diaperless babies, the world is their toilet.

Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

At times like these, I wish there were parenting trend story Mad Libs. Here’s a Mad Libs version of the latest at the New York Times:  “But '(lunatic fringe practice),' as the (colloquial name for lunatic fringe practice) method of child-rearing is called, is finding an audience in the hipper (part of Brooklyn/Bay Area).” Sprinkle in a couple of “doulas” and you’ve got the latest parenting article burning up Facebook: a piece about “elimination communication” (EC), aka the diaper-free style of baby rearing.

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

This is exactly what it sounds like—parents who don’t use diapers for their newborns and instead watch their babies for signs that they want to pee or poop, and then rush to the toilet and put their babies over it.  If a toilet is not nearby, the kids can eliminate waste between parked cars, in bowls around the house, or in the park.

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It seems that many of the recent articles—the Times, the Daily Mail, and DNA Info—all stem from one Greenpoint, Brooklyn EC meetup at the eco-friendly baby and maternity store Caribou Baby. So first let’s get out of the way that this isn’t something that’s taking the country by storm. It’s something that a small group of Brooklyn moms is doing. (I would be remiss if I did not point out that one of the moms quoted is a lawyer-turned-Reiki master who gets paid to help people with their “clairaudience, clairsentience and clairvoyance.”)

And let’s also get out of the way that it’s not so new. When I linked to the DNA Info article on Twitter, fellow tweeps were quick to point to this San Francisco Chronicle article from 2008, and to mention that the actress Mayim Bialik, who wrote a book about attachment parenting called Beyond the Sling, has written about doing EC with her boys.

Certainly this approach is not very practical for anyone who does not plan on being with their baby the majority of the time. (As many have noted, try lugging your kid to your local day care and explaining to them that you don’t use diapers.) The moms who practice EC all say they do it because it leads to better communication with their babies and is more environmentally responsible. As Bialik puts it:

EC is a peaceful and loving way to communicate with your child and to meet their most intimate needs. Practicing EC is the ultimate ‘green’ solution: no landfills to consider, and truly minimal washing machine usage after the first months!

But let’s think about what happens when everyone practices EC—when every mom in New York City lets her baby pee between parked cars or poop in the park. It would be a public health crisis. According to the World Health Organization, 1.1 billion people in the world practice open defecation, and this—along with other sanitation problems such as unsafe water supply—causes more than 3,000 child deaths a day. Some of the women who practice EC in industrialized countries say they do it because it’s “natural,” but what they don’t think about is the privilege that goes along with imitating “traditional societies that have not become overly ‘westernized’.” They’re counting on the fact that we live in places where deaths from poor sanitation are not commonplace—and that’s because we have access to things like diapers, both cloth and disposable.