NEW YORK — When Jada Shapiro decided to raise her daughter from birth without diapers, for the most part, not everyone was amused. Shapiro scattered little bowls around the house to catch her daughter’s offerings, and her sister insisted that she use a big, dark marker to mark the bowls so that they could never find their way back to the kitchen.
“My sister wasn’t a huge fan,” she said.
But “elimination communication,” as the diaper-free method of child-rearing is called, is finding an audience in the hipper precincts of New York City.
Shapiro, who is a doula, a birth and child-rearing coach, says it is practically now a job qualification to at least be able to offer diaper-free training as an option to clients. Caribou Baby, an “eco-friendly maternity, baby and lifestyle store,” has been drawing capacity crowds to its diaper-free “Meetups,” where parents exchange tips like how to get a baby to urinate on the street between parked cars.
Parents are drawn to the method as a way of preserving the environment from the ravages of disposable diapers, as well as reducing the laundering of cloth diapers and preventing diaper rash.
“I think for a lot of parents, the motivation is just to be more in tune with what their kids’ needs are,” said Adriane Stare, proprietor of Caribou Baby and a diaper-free mother.
Stare said she “E.C.’d” her oldest son, Damien, who is now almost 4, and is doing it again with her second boy, Loren, who is almost 4 months old. Stare watched for cues that meant her baby needed to go to the bathroom or was going to the bathroom, like a certain cry or squirming or a grimace. Then, she began associating those cues with her own noises, like “sss,” or grunting. After a while she could make those noises — the elimination communication — to the baby while holding him over the toilet or the sink for perhaps 20 seconds, and he would go to the bathroom on command or refuse if he was not ready.
There are misses, she admits, but even cleaning up a small mess on the floor is easier, she says, than laundering diapers.
The diaper-free mothers said it was rare for their babies to go without diapers 100 percent of the time. They usually put them on at nighttime and for trips to stores, restaurants and the like. But their children often have been weaned of their diapers by 18 months.
Asked whether the practice was a health hazard, Jean Weinberg, a spokeswoman for the New York City health department said: “Really the only infectious disease problem at hand has to do with hand washing. Otherwise, it’s just a general sanitation issue.”
Shapiro, a founder of Birth Day Presence, a childbirth education studio in Park Slope and SoHo, said most clients laughed when they heard about elimination communication, but one or two in every group signed up. At three weeks, her daughter could hold her bowel movements until she was put over the bowl, she said.
“I have absolutely been at parties and witnessed people putting their baby over the sink,” she said. One client took her baby and her bowl to a party, held her naked baby over the bowl, “and she just did it at this person’s party in the corner, but obviously they were close friends,” Shapiro said.
Still, even the most ardent practitioners observe some limits. “I don’t think you can walk down Fifth Avenue and just let your baby poop on the sidewalk,” she said.