As I prepared to have kids, I thought a lot about how to save money on diapers. I clipped coupons, compared prices at different stores, and considered using cloth diapers to save money, but then I learned a huge money-saving secret that parents in many countries don’t consider a secret at all.
They don’t use diapers.
Weeks before my son was born, my Chinese mother-in-law brought over a pile of “diapers” — old, cut-up shirts that would maybe absorb a tablespoon of liquid! She told me that we’d use them for the baby as we worked on teaching him how to communicate his needs, and that feeling the discomfort of a wet diaper would speed up the process. By the time he was six months old, she informed me, he’d be able to go without diapers at all.
I wasn’t sure about how this would work, so I didn’t bother returning the package of disposable diapers that I’d bought, nor the Western-style cloth diapers a friend gave me.
Going Diaper Free
According to an article in Contemporary Pediatrics, half of the world’s children are potty trained before their first birthday, and the main way parents and caregivers are able to accomplish this is by getting the baby familiar with his or her body. In Western countries, this method is called elimination communication, “diaper free baby” or “natural infant hygiene.” In countries where this is regularly practiced — including China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and India — there is no special name for this method; it’s just what’s done.
From birth, babies are taught to go to the bathroom on cue. We held our bare-bottomed baby over a small basin or the toilet and made a hissing sound. Over a matter of weeks, he learned to respond to the noise only go when he heard it. He also became more aware of his body and, by seven weeks of age, he’d use a specific cry to tell us when he had to use the toilet.
Lo and behold, it actually worked for us! By the time he was five months old, our son never soiled another diaper unless we were out and just couldn’t get to a bathroom in time.
While the goal of elimination communication isn’t solely to save money, it’s a welcome side effect. Disposable diapers are quite rare, not to mention expensive, in developing countries, and the “cloth diapers” my mother-in-law made for my children were just cut up squares of old T-shirts.
Diaperless Babies: A Growing Trend?
Not a lot of people in the Western world are keen on letting their kids run around without diapers, but mom and diaper-free enthusiast Sarah Quinney says that she wishes that she had started her daughter, now three years old, from birth. Sarah started Isabelle’s diaper-free journey when she was nine months old, and by 18 months Isabelle was able to regularly communicate to her parents when she needed to use her toilet.
Quinney estimates that they’ve saved hundreds of dollars on diapers, though they did put her in diapers when going out of the house. Additionally, there was less mess and wasted time washing the cloth diapers they’d previously used. No baby is perfect, and on the occasion that Isabelle got too involved in her play and didn’t make it to the toilet in time, a mop and a new change of clothes made for a fairly simple clean-up.
How Much Money Can You Save?
According to Babyworks, the average newborn goes through 10 diapers a day. Reduce that number to eight for baby’s second and third years, and you’ve gone through roughly 8,580 diapers by his third birthday!
At about $0.25 a diaper (which is on the cheap end if you’re buying in bulk), that’s a cool $2,154. Add in all of the wipes and diaper rash cream, and you’ve easily spent another $500. And that’s assuming that the child is pottytrained at 36 months.
The verdict? Even trying a diaper-free lifestyle on a part-time basis could save you hundreds of dollars a year!
What Supplies Do I Need?
Since we’re talking money, you probably won’t get by without spending some money on diapers. You’ll want to have some on hand for long car trips and other times when an accident would cause extra trouble, but otherwise, you won’t require any extra supplies to practice elimination communication — just the desire to help your baby learn to more about his body and how to communicate with you.
You’ll need toilet paper, but that’s something you already have on hand. When you’re out with a diapered baby, a small package of wet wipes is useful in case your child does use her diaper.
In Asia, babies wear split pants (pants or shorts with an open crotch seam) which allow them to go to the bathroom without undressing. Online stores like EC Wear and The EC Store offer practical and convenient clothing solutions for Western parents who don’t want their baby’s bottom exposed to everyone.
Going Diaper Free: My Results
While I’m now totally on-board with this method and recommend giving it a fair try, I wasn’t always so gung-ho about it. Seeing my mother-in-law whistle at my son to get him to “go” in the toilet was quite odd. But when he caught on and stopped using diapers when he was three months old, I was sold on the process.
We’ve done this again with his little sister, and had similar results. Plus, only buying 300 diapers has left us with more cash to sock away for their college educations.
Your Turn: Do you know anyone who’s practiced elimination communication? Would you use it in the interest of saving money?
Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.