A Bit of Diaper Wisdom from India That Could Help Save the Amazon

It’s the everyday decisions that can be the most difficult when it comes to being an environmentally-friendly mom/climate change activist.


Here’s one that all moms face: Should I use disposable or cloth diapers?


I’m deep into research on this question and am finding some surprising things.


For starters, here’s the answer: Use neither. You’ll waste less and save money. And as I’ll explain later, you’ll even be saving forests around the world like the Amazon rain forest.


So what should I do if I don’t use cloth or disposable diapers? If you can manage “elimination communication” or early potty training, it’s the way to go.  My family in India managed to raise kids without diapers and inspired me to try this.


My cousin actually had twins, and managed without using diapers during the day with both of them.  This isn’t terribly unusual in India, and in fact, it’s so common that they have a hard time explaining how it is done.  When I sent my cousin an email asking her about it, she said, “It’s no secret, you just take them to the toilet frequently.”  I know that she wasn’t trying to be evasive, but it certainly felt like a secret to me after hearing that answer!


After some internet research, I figured out that in the US the practice is referred to as ”elimination communication,” a concept thoroughly explained in oodles of online videos and tutorials. Basically, you just put your baby over a container and when s/he pees or poops you make a “cue” sound, like “pssssssss”.  Pretty soon you’ll know your baby’s schedule and be able to take him/her to the potty at the right times, and soon after that your baby will be able to go at the sound of the cue.


For us, this worked for 11 months more or less.  diaper


At 11 months, our son was suddenly mobile, and if he didn’t want to sit on the potty, he would just move off of the potty.  He could stand up on his own without holding on to anything.  It might have been my imagination, but I swear that he would stand up from his potty and purposefully poop on the floor next to the potty.  After a few months of a few too many “accidents” we slowly but surely started having a (cloth) diaper on him more often.


We ended up relying on diapers more and more over time (and I’m ashamed to say we still do at 19 months). This was made worse when he started day care, as the providers could not take him to the potty all the time while juggling the other babies’ needs.


And the anti-potty defiance he had developed didn’t help.


It’s also simply not the norm to take babies to the potty in the US, and without being able to be at home more often, I found it hard to convince others to adopt elimination communication approaches.  I also imagine that living with so much extended family and help in India makes the practice easier since there are more people around to make potty trips.


Here in the US, diaper manufacturers have no interest in showing images of a society without diapers.  They push diapers for older kids, even who are so much older that I’d almost call them disposable underwear rather than diapers.


I shouldn’t criticize them too soon however, lest I end up using them despite my disdain!  I find that with parenting, there are many things that I have opinions about that later seem ridiculous when the poop is hitting the floor, so to speak.


But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.


Rather than feel bad about not being able to waste less, I use that guilty energy to sign online petitions and push for policies that would ensure that the only options that are sold to parents are the options that are good for the planet.


This week, I’ll share a petition that could very well save the Amazon.  How is this related to diapers, you ask?  Well, if we keep the Brazilian Forest Code strong, you don’t need to worry that the Amazon is being cut down and turned into packaging for your diapers.  It’s also related to diapers because our little angels who are wearing the diapers will surely thank us one day for having helped to save the Amazon.


Much more on diapers to come, but next week I’ll tackle the weekly question many moms face at the grocery store:  Paper or Plastic?

About Keya Chatterjee

Keya Chatterjee is a Climate Change and Environment expert, and Director for International Climate Policy at World Wildlife Fund. Her work focuses on the environmental crisis facing the planet, and what policies and measures should be taken to ameliorate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Keya’s commentary on climate change policy and sustainability issues has been quoted in dozens of media outlets including USA Today, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. Keya resides in Washington, DC with her husband Andrew and her son Siddharth. She enjoys practicing yoga, biking, and spending time with her friends and family. She is working on a book about how to have a baby without raising your carbon footprint to be published in 2013 by Ig Publishing. Keep up with Keya’s writing on the nexus of climate change activism and motherhood at www.keyachatterjee.com.


2 thoughts on “A Bit of Diaper Wisdom from India That Could Help Save the Amazon”

  1. Thanks for honestly sharing your experiece with elimination communication. It cannot be easy to hold such strong convictions about the environment and then realise that some things are just out of our control.

    Think of all the diapers you saved in the first 11 months!

  2. Yes, thank you for the honesty! Similarly, my 11-month-old responded well when I first began (at about 7 months–my husband was not on board right away), but now she stiffens and squirms and cries until I decide maybe she doesn’t need to pee, so as soon as I set her on the floor she’d pee. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about the EC because I felt like a failure. I’m not the only one! I’m more confident to find more support in this now.

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