Since babies have been pooping and peeing, parents have been coming up with better and better ways to deal with the inevitable mess. Throughout most of history, parents decided that the sooner their babies were having regular, controlled bowel movements, the better.

Very early diapers consisted of moss, leaves and other plants wrapped inside of crudely woven bits of cloth or fibers.  And in warmer climates, many children never wore  diapers at all–and that is still true in many cultures today. Jump forward several centuries and with the emergence of textile factories, women began to wrap their babies in a kind of pad made from a fabric called “diaper.”–a linen or cotton stitched with a certain geometric pattern. This is where the name “diaper” came from.

Because none of the options were ideal, parents were eager to get their children to pee and poop without getting a diaper (or a bundle of moss) dirty.  Many used a type of potty  training called Elimination Communication–which involves signals and cues between baby and caregiver, resulting in baby urinating or defecating in an designated place.

In the 1950s, the first disposable diapers hit the mass market–and here is where things start to change. Before the emergence of disposable diapers, children were potty-trained at a much earlier age. In fact, in 1957, children began potty-training at around 11 months and most were dry during the day by the age of two!  The fact that the mothers had dirty diapers to wash gave them much more of an incentive to begin the process sooner.  It was a “parent-led process.”  These days we are told to “wait until the child gives us signs that he or she is ready.” And as a result, children are staying in diapers for an average of a year longer than their cloth diaper-wearing grandparents. Hmmmm…I wonder if the disposable diaper companies had anything to do with spreading this advice? It’s certainly possible because they were the primary benefactors of this change.

Using disposable diapers dramatically lessens the impetus on both the child’s end and the parents’ end: throwing diapers away is easier than washing them so Mom and Dad are in no rush to potty train; and baby feels fairly comfortable in today’s sodium polyacrylate-filled disposables—so why not keep peeing in them?  Cloth diapers naturally feel wet to the touch since they are not filled with water-absorbing chemicals. This is actually a good thing, for more than one reason–the child can better understand his or her bodily functions and can begin to relate the feeling of needing to urinate with the feeling of a wet or dirty diaper afterwards. This important lessen may be lost with today’s ultra-absorbent disposables.

In the next few months or so, I will begin trying to potty train Cooper. As a cloth diaper-wearing-baby ,will he train faster than his sisters did?  Time will tell.

Have you potty-trained in cloth, disposables or both? What were your experiences? Please share your stories!