This Secret Potty-Training Method Could Save You Thousands on Diapers

Go diaper free
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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. 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 each maybe absorb a tablespoon of liquid!

She told me we’d use them for the baby as we worked on teaching him how to communicate his needs, and 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 how this would work, so I didn’t bother returning the package of disposable diapers I’d bought — or the Western-style cloth diapers a friend had given me.

Why Go Diaper Free?

While it’s controversial in the U.S., parents in at least 75 countries around the world go diaper free with young babies. The main way parents and caregivers accomplish this is by getting the baby familiar with their body.

In Western countries, this method is called “elimination communication,” “diaper free baby” or “natural infant hygiene.” In countries that regularly use this practice — including China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and India — no special name exists; it’s just what’s done.

Using this method, babies are taught to go to the bathroom on cue from birth.

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 and only go when he heard it. He also became more aware of his body. By seven weeks old, 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 saving money isn’t the sole goal of elimination communication, 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.

Is It a Growing Trend to Go Diaper Free?

Not a lot of people in the Western world are keen on letting their kids run around without diapers. Mom and diaper-free enthusiast Sarah Quinney, however, says she wishes she had started her daughter Isabelle from birth.

Sarah started Isabelle’s diaper-free journey when she was nine months old. By 18 months, Isabelle was able to regularly communicate to her parents when she needed to use her toilet.

Quinney estimates they’ve saved hundreds of dollars on diapers, though they did put Isabelle in diapers when leaving the house. Additionally, there was less mess and time wasted washing the cloth diapers they’d previously used.

No baby is perfect. 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 Can You Save if You Go Diaper Free?

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 their third birthday!

At about 25 cents a diaper (which is on the cheap end if you’re buying in bulk), that’s a cool $2,145.

Pro Tip

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Add in all the wipes and diaper rash cream, and you’ve easily spent another $500. And that’s assuming the child is potty-trained at 36 months.

Even trying to go diaper-free part time could save you hundreds of dollars a year!

What Supplies Do You Need to Go Diaper Free?

You probably won’t get by without spending some money on diapers. You’ll want to have them on hand for long car trips and other times when an accident would cause extra trouble.

Otherwise, you don’t need any extra supplies to practice elimination communication — just the desire to help your baby learn more about their 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 their 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.

My Family’s Diaper-Free Experience

While I’m now totally on board with this method and recommend giving it a fair try, I wasn’t always so gung-ho.

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 so early, I was sold on the process.

We did 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.

Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Hawaii Parent, The Simple Dollar, Money Under 30 and Incomes Abroad. After many years of penny pinching, she and her husband have just bought their first (of a dozen, hopefully!) rental property.