How to Potty Train Your Infant

New Born Baby
Miho Aikawa / Getty Images

If you have the time and patience and want to avoid diapers as much as possible, you can start watching your child for patterns and cues that allow potty training to begin when your child is just a baby. Here's how to get started with infant potty training, also known as elimination communication. 

Infant Potty Training

In other cultures, some parents never use disposable diapers. Even the cloth diapers that we're familiar with aren't used at all. Babies are wrapped in thin strips of cloth, allowed to be naked and worn by their mothers or siblings in slings or dressed in light clothing without many fasteners.

Placing a child on the potty or holding them while he goes potty somewhere, then, is not the ordeal that it would be in the United States or other countries where babies wear diapers, diaper covers and layers of clothing over that.

In these same cultures, mothers, siblings, and other caregivers spend a lot of time in very close proximity to their babies. A mother is able to recognize certain cues that the baby gives when he needs to use the bathroom.

In addition, parents and caregivers also know the child's routines and patterns of eating, sleeping and going to the bathroom.

As a result, potty training beginning as early as birth is practiced. In the United States, this is known as infant potty training or elimination communication. In other countries, it is seen as the natural way children learn to use the bathroom.

For most of us, the norm is to immediately wrap a diaper around a baby's bottom and then wait passively until he poops or pees so we can clean up the mess. Our active role takes place after the event. In cultures where babies do not wear diapers, a caregiver's active role takes place before and during the event.

Getting Started

Some proponents believe that there is an optimal window for starting the infant potty training between birth and about 6 months. Others have experienced success starting later.

The key to remember is that you, the parent, will be responsible for recognizing when your child needs to use the bathroom before they go. You will also be responsible for taking them and putting them on the potty each time.


If you go into infant potty training with that in mind, then you've got your expectations set correctly. If, however, you feel that your child should be the one to let you know or should possess some sort of awareness at this early age, your expectations are unrealistic and you should not attempt this process. Awareness on your child's part is very gradual, as is his participation.

How to Dress Them

Now that you've got the right mindset, you'll need to get physically prepared. To prepare your child's environment, you'll just need to buy cloth diapers, very small underwear (doll underwear can work) or just dress your child in his clothes without anything on underneath. Some parents prefer to let their child be naked and that's fine, too, as long as he's warm enough.

Accidents Will Happen

Be ready for accidents to happen. It will take some time to recognize the signs and you will make mistakes at first.

That's alright. Another way to look at it is that if you wait until your child is a toddler, you'll be experiencing accidents, too, only they're much bigger than a baby's accidents.

Should You Use Diapers?

Some parents may be tempted to use disposable diapers and while that's up to you, it can hinder the process and set you up for failure. The success of this method depends on you quickly recognizing patterns and learning your child's toileting habits.

Disposable diapers can impair your ability to recognize when your child has just wet or soiled himself and delay your awareness. Some disposable diapers are so good at what they do, it's hard to even tell if they are wet when your child has only gone a small amount.

Watching Your Baby

Purchase waterproof pads to go in your child's sleeping area and places where your child may be like car seats, underneath a blanket on the floor or on your lap. A sling is also a wonderful tool for infant potty training. You will need to observe your baby for signs all the time, and there's no better way to do that than by wearing him close to your body. In addition, buy one of the books on the topic that explain the process in depth and have information about troubleshooting problems that could arise. 

Using a Potty Chair vs. Toilet

Purchasing a potty chair is optional. Some parents prefer to use something smaller, while for others, one of the major points of this method is not having to buy or consume all the stuff of potty training. Using the toilet is completely fine. Just watch out for splashing water. If you know it's your child's poop time, a wad of toilet paper placed in the bowl first can help alleviate that issue.

Signs to Look For

After you've got the environment ready, you're ready to start observing your child and watching for the following signs which indicate they are about to urinate or have a bowel movement:

  • Crying or fussiness just before going
  • Grunting
  • Kicking legs or flailing arms
  • Muscle tension, especially in the abdomen
  • Reaching for or touching the genital area
  • Red face
  • Squinting
  • Squirming

While your child is actively urinating or having a bowel movement, you may notice:

  • A faraway look
  • Active pushing
  • Contraction of the abdomen
  • Reaching for or touching the genital area
  • They stops nursing briefly and then resumes
  • They stop other activities and then resumes

Your child may also have his own unique signs and body language. Over time as you watch your baby carefully, you will begin to pick up on these. Babies sometimes very early on develop a special sound to indicate they'd like to nurse, and likewise, he may develop a special sound to indicate his potty needs. You can encourage this by making the same sounds yourself while he's going. Some parents like to make a soft s sound while the baby is urinating or just hum.

Another name for infant potty training is elimination communication. So, think of it as a mutual exchange between you and your child. They will begin to pick up on your signs, just as you are picking up on theirs.

Monitor Your Child's Routines

In addition to watching for and learning your child's signs, you will want to get to know his routine (which you can control to some degree by determining bedtimes, bath times, playtimes and feeding times) and their body's timing. How long is it after he eats before he's ready to have a bowel movement? Does he urinate first thing in the morning? It helps to write these times down while you're looking for patterns and getting to know how he operates.

When your child is ready to use the potty or even if it's just close to time, you just securely hold him over it and let him go. Clean any residue with toilet paper and/or wipes afterward. Some children start to recognize where they are and what they are supposed to do there early in the process so even if they are not completely ready, a couple of minutes after you begin holding them over the potty, they're ready to use it.

Of course, for safety reasons, never try to prop your child on a toilet or potty chair at this age and don't ever leave him unattended. This is an active process that involves parent and child interacting closely, carefully, and constantly.

When Does Infant Potty Training End?

Eventually, your child will become more aware of not only the urges and sensations associated with using the bathroom but also the routine you have already in place. Once he starts walking, you can guide him to the potty and when he's able to follow verbal commands, you can simply tell him to go potty.

There will be a period of time where it is still you who shoulders the responsibility of knowing when it's time to go, but slowly you will see your child's potty independence emerge. Play it by ear and make sure you're backing off sometimes so that your child can step up to the task.

One of the great bonuses of this method is that many of the issues parents face who begin potty training their children later are removed. Your child will already be used to the bathroom environment, won't be afraid to use a potty and won't need to be introduced to underwear, for example. This can lead to earlier independence in some cases.

Was this page helpful?