02/03/2005: "Behavioural conditioning"
So I got this book on infant potty training. Yes, you read that right. Training your infant to use a potty. When I first heard about it, I thought it was the most foolish idea I'd ever heard of. There are certain aspects of attachment parenting that I really respect and support. Things like breastfeeding, infant co-sleeping, home schooling, natural childbirth, baby wearing, and things like that. Then there are other things, like family beds, that I think don't work for me. This latest idea of toilet training your infant I figured was more hippie talk (not that there is anything inherently wrong with hippies).
But I started reading up on it, and while on the outside it seems ludicrous, it began to make more sense. It started with this: Road Rage telling me her sister was trying this method of reducing the amount of diapers her newborn infant was using, by training her to go potty before the baby could even walk or talk. ("Huh?" I said, and shook my head. "Not use diapers with an infant!?") Then, after The Nipper was born, I started really reading up on it. Then Road Rage and/or Der Kaptin mentioned something about women in line for a clinic in a developing country carrying their diaperless infants and Westerners realising the kids weren't peeing and pooping on anyone, and when the Westerners asked "how does your child know when it needs to go to the bathroom?" the mothers cocked a wary eye that way and answered, "well how do *you* know when *you* have to go?" And that got me thinking.
So the theory is this: you become attuned to your child's rhythms and bodily functions. As a nursing mother, you are already physically trained to know when your child needs to eat (my milk will let down minutes before The Nipper asks to eat). You know when your child is tired or grumpy, and all of this without your baby being able to "talk". So why shouldn't you be able to tell when your baby needs to go to the bathroom?
Conventional Western theories say that babies have no control over their sphincter muscles and bladder until they're toddlers. But if that were the case, why wouldn't they leak all the time? If you've ever been hit in the eye by an errant urine stream while chaging a diaper, you know there's some kind of control. Maybe not *conscious*, but it's there. And then take into account the fact that babies are sponges; they're not, as some people would argue, 'little blobs' who are unable to make sense of their surroundings, interpret external communications, or interact with their environment. Just because grown-ups don't know baby language doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
Babies are sponges, not blobs. They are *constantly* learning. Even from a time before they are born, they are learning about their environment. I'd argue that they're a hell of a lot more able to adapt to their environments than everyone else. AND, add to this the fact that it's relatively easy to condition their behaviour. Breastfed babies will 'root' when held in the feeding position while bottle fed babies don't. Studies have been done that have found newborn babies can 'learn' to turn their head toward certain sounds. "Learn" or "Be Trained". The difference is minimal.
Anyway, so you watch your baby and learn the facial expressions, body language, and sounds the baby uses before or while it eliminates. Then you couple those body functions with a sound stimulus. F'rinstance, saying, as Road Rage explained to me, "Sssssssss" when your baby is peeing. Then, after as little as three or four times coupling the sound with the function, baby learns, essentially, to pee on command.
From there it's fairly easy to train baby to pee and poop on a potty rather than in a diaper. You watch for the times baby tends to go, then hold him over a potty (or toilet or sink), say your trigger words or sounds, and baby goes in the potty. Far fewer diapers to change and wash, and rumour has it babies can be toilet trained *by the time they're two* rather than beginning at two when the child has already learned to toilet in its pants.
Even after reading up on this, I thought most of it was malarky, although I could see the method of behavioural conditioning would work for certain things, providing babies do indeed have control over their eliminatory systems and functions (that was the leap for me; I have always been taught that babies can't control their poops and pees and that it's as much a surprise to them as it is to us when it happens).
Well, I started trying this stuff with The Nipper, and by God if "they" aren't right. In just two or three days of working on it, I am more attuned to The Nipper's body language and can tell when he needs to poop (we're working on the pee). He's gone poop in the potty three or four times already and I haven't had to clean a poopy diaper in more than a day. He hates having dirty pants, so the poop thing is fairly easy. Boys tend to pee a lot, so we're working on that one. He does pee when I hold him over his potty and say "Ssssss", but we're going to have to work on not having *wet* pants. He tends to go about once an hour.
This is SO COOL!!!!
There's a great line in the book about how babies *do* communicate their needs with us, but if we ignore them, they eventually stop trying. That really hit home.
15 CommentsTUO , on Thursday, 3rd February:
Babies have sphincters? Aren't they like ducks?
(OK, that was a hopelessly in-joke. Sorry, everyone)
cenobyte , on Thursday, 3rd February:
Not just ducks; ALL birds. Ducks are some of the ones that would sink, though.
Let's take a moment and reflect on one of the funniest discussions I can remember having: In Which Our Good Friend Declares Birds Have No Sphincters.
Terry , on Friday, 4th February:
I've never believed in magic or supernatural forces... But I do believe that we can do more with our instincts and the human mind than we currently understand. You call it intuition, I call it your brain processing information you aren't even conciously aware of.
Anyway, this fits in that category for me. Training an infant to use a toilet? That would be some kind of Godless voodoo...
TUO , on Friday, 4th February:
I think I call it just paying a lot of attention to the baby. I'd think it *would* require conscious information processing. Is anyone even trying to attribute anything mystical to the process?
The thought of having an infant trained to eliminate on command has a lot of potential, though... now I'm remembering another mutual friend holding up a baby (male) German Shepherd dog so it was facing outwards, and saying "Don't move! I've got a loaded puppy!" It was an effective threat.
I need coffee, I think...
cenobyte , on Friday, 4th February:
I don't *think* anyone is attributing anything to magic or mystical forces. As a matter of fact, the stuff I've read just talks about how you can attune yourself to your baby's needs by paying a lot of attention to him, and how in other cultures, babies don't leave their mothers' sides or arms all day and how in Western culture, babies spend as much as 18 hours a day *alone* (not being held, sleeping alone, etc.). Studies have shown that babies who are held more (in a carrier or sling) cry less, sleep better, are generally healthier, and develop faster.
Doesn't sound like magic to me. Although if you want to call it 'mommy magic', I'm sure there's a whole crew of Hallmark people out there just waiting for new ideas (that don't involve The Cure or Depeche Mode).
Der Kaptin , on Friday, 4th February:
Let me just say what a strange yet heartening discussion this is to be reading on the internet. Good for you to have the temerity to try this non-traditional stuff. Who knows where it could lead if people started simply tapping into their, and their children's true mental, and physical, potential?
Joseph Chilton Pearce thinks he knows. I can lend you The Magical Child if you haven't already got it. Don't worry Terry, it's only "magical" in the way we refer to anything we can't understand, or didn't imagine, as "magical".
If the Hallmark people ever discover The Cure, and consider it a valuable find, we'll know the tide has turned......
RR , on Friday, 4th February:
The point of this matter, to me, is that many things worked very well until the arrogant or the money makers thought..... hey this could be done better, easier, faster and then, and then and then...... disposible diapers. And formula. And pollution. And everthing and anything that is backwards and out of touch with what worked before and shouldn't have been screwed with. Modern and new isn't bad when it developes good things like medicines( still some of which originally found in nature but weren't being used safely). Unfortunatly, the short and long term consequences aren't always thought of before advances are made. Anyhow, I really get pissed when people use the term "non-traditional". To whom is it non-traditional? When is it customary or necessary to feed your baby something other than booby juice or stick a bleached paper product wrapped in plastic on their tushes? COME ON ALREADY. Lots, nay, millions of people all over the world for centuries have not been using diapers as they exist now. And I believe that amount of people doing something for that long makes it the standard and tradition. I am sooooo very glad that the Western Hemispheres' diaper is not being used by the most populated parts of the world, Africa, India and China just to name a few. It's that old colonialistic thinking and arrogance that makes me cringe. Why, oh why, do the few rich nations think they know more and are right and better in anything and everything? It's really working out great for everyone, isn't it? Potty train your infants. Breastfeed your infants. Carry them with you. Co-sleep with them. Millions of people all over the world are doing it right now. I guess it's because they don't know any better. Interesting thinking, eh?
Der Kaptin , on Saturday, 5th February:
"Don't change the world. Toilet-train the world, and you'll never have to change it again."
I'm thinking disposable diapers were another of the mod cons invented after WWII to entice women out of men's jorbs in the factories and back into the homes where they belonged. But the kind of connectedness to baby that COTU is exploring had largely passed out of "traditional" North American childrearing even earlier than that. The ruling classes always had servants to do all the childcare stuff -- they had to procreate to carry on the bloodline and the estate, but that didn't mean they actually had to be hands on with the, er, offspring. Religions (western) that encouraged people to be at a distance from all things to do with the (sinful) body ("christianity", et al)were no help. At the same time, they encouraged large families ("Every sperm is sacred -- Monty Python, The Meaning of Life), with children born so close together that this kind if individual care and attention was simply not possible. Two babies in diapers, and another couple not school aged yet? The "traditional" family. My mom lived it. I imagine the psychic stress she and many others experienced (well, I don't even have to imagine -- she's told me) of not having enough hours in the day, enough human energy, to be as hands on with all her cherished babies as her heart wished.
RR , on Saturday, 5th February:
Most people could not and technically still can't afford formula and diapers.Go to your local food bank and see how much formual and diapers they dish out as opposed to a larger amount of food they could be giving out instead. People choose to be environmental or save money that they don't have vs. spend what little money they do have on food and shelter or be more connected to their children. Any of those choices have nothing to do with traditions of any sort in North America. It's economically driven on North America. Nearly everyone has bought into the idea of living in debt or beyond their means and into the NIMBY and instant gratification. People think that they have to keep up with the Jones' and have all the things they think they need. It's all very unnecssary. Life is much simpler than that. Women have always used their older children to help with the younger children or their extended families. In the last 100 years life seems to have become so much more complicated. Why? I think there are many reason. I think rapid change globally could account for a lot. But mainly people figured out that they could make money off of others who wanted to do less and spend more. The equation still flips backwards where you can do more and spend less. And in that situation, a lot of people find themselves enjoying more time with their children in more meaningful ways. I really don't think raising children was supposed to be stressful because of all the things you have to buy to raise a child. I think raising children is a worthwhile and respectful thing to do hands on, regardless of your economic situation. It's a person's choice to have children as well as raise them in whatever fashion they decide. No one forces you to buy diapers or formula or have more children. Women have always had the means to only have as many children as they personally wanted regardless of cultural traditions. Choices have always existed and they do now. It's not an alternative or non-traditional way to live. It's a choice. And pracically speaking, the majority of people that have existed and continue to exist are not ruling class or even middle class and therefore cannot afford to have the same luxuries. People still have large families to act as a larger domestic force for the family unit and because of infant death rates. Christianity was not as widespread or predominant worldwide as it is now. I am trying to point out, succesfully or not, that traditional ways of thinking are subjective. And in terms of historical popularity, breastfeeding, non-disposible diapers and non-existent diapers(ie. the flap) win hands down worldwide.
Der Kaptin , on Sunday, 6th February:
It's true that a lot of the comments I made about traditional vs alternative, cultural forces, social realities etc., are based on the 20th Century, North American context as opposed to all peoples over all of time. But "Women have always had the means to only have as many children as they personally wanted regardless of cultural traditions" is as white, middle class, North American a comment as has ever appeared.
RR , on Sunday, 6th February:
Who has delivered babies? Who gives birth? Women have always known more about their reproductive systems than men. Women have known about the plants to use in order to abort, and also the means in which to improve or decrease the chances of conception. A woman's ability to control their reproductive systems predates written language. So, Der Kaptin, your arguement is.... what? That I don't know much about feminist history? Or that women haven't known how to control their own reproductive systems? What exactly is your arguement? It seems like you are making assumptions about who I am and history. And saying that my comment is" more white, middle class, North Amercian a comment as has ever appeared" is just a bit questionable as well.
If you intend to continue commenting on this subject and about my comments in particular, perhaps you should reign in your emotions and join in a more rational debate. Or just drop the topic since I am right and you are clearly wrong.
cenobyte , on Sunday, 6th February:
Well, I'd argue that *some* women have known this stuff in Western culture, but it certainly isn't (and hasn't been) common knowledge for the last three hundred years or so. As a matter of fact, during the 30s and 40s, it was considered common practise to aenesthetise women during childbirth and medical examinations usually didn't involve a) being naked b) internal exams, or c) speculums.
Yes, women traditionally learn from their grandmothers the 'special womens' herbs', but I think the point Der Kaptin is trying to make is that this knowledge really hasn't been readily available to most women in Western culture. And I wholeheartedly agree. In eighteenth century New England, women were burned at the stake for having knowedge of 'the plants to use in order to abort'.
Throughout history, there are myriad examples of how women's knowledge of their own bodies and of their reproductive cycles have been repressed.
The truth is that for many years, if you were a Roman Catholic woman, you simply did *not* have the choice of how many children to have (or not to have). Sure, you could go to back-door abortionists whose methods could just as easily kill you as make you sterile. Sure, you could try to visit the neighbourhood granny who knew about blue cohosh or black cohosh or whichever one it is that causes one's uterus to shed its lining (and can also cause sterility if taken wrong). And as a Roman Catholic woman, you would have to live with the guilt of having taken a human life, sacred to God. Many women, I think, couldn't bear that.
If women have always had the ability to decrease the chances of conception, why was the birth control pill such a huge force behind women's liberation in the 60s? Why was sexual freedom so important to the rising equalism movement? (And, as some people argue, why was all of this so threatening to the 'status quo' of patriarchal Western society)
Because if women could choose when (or IF) to have children, then women could also choose when (and IF) to have a career. They didn't have to be tied down at home with the family. They 'took control of their own uteruses' as it were and stormed out of the roles that had been cast for them in the first half of the 20th century.
And in fact in Victorian England, if you could afford to have children, you usually had a nanny, and even a wet nurse so that you didn't have to sully your hands in the messy business of child rearing, and for the most part, if you could afford such luxuries, your children rarely saw you. As soon as they were born, they were taken from you and put in "the nursery", that ubiquitous place that generally means "away from the parents". And when they were old enough to leave the nursery, they were sent away to boarding school. And if you couldn't afford the luxury of, essentially, not having children, you had so many you couldn't keep track of them.
This was in a time when children were exploited and abused partly because they weren't valued. Child labour laws didn't really exist, and as soon as you could work (age four or five, in some cases), you were sent into the streets to make some money to support the family.
So while the knowledge about 'family planning' has been around since time immemorial, I'm going to have to argue that it hasn't always been readily available.
If it were, why was sex education in schools such a hot topic?
And I don't know about women knowing more about their reproductive systems than men. In many cultures, men are encouraged to take herbs that help keep their reproductive systems healthy; the fact remains that because women actually grow and bear the babies, their systems are a little more ...involved... than men's.
For a large part of our history in Western culture, people have tried to remove women from the labour and delivery process. That's part of the problem we're experiencing now, I think. It's been a few generations since women almost exclusively used midwives during their pregnancy, labour, delivery, and post-natal period. And during those times, many families were large and raising children kind of was the entire family's responsibility. But lately (especially in the last 70 years or so - it's only now starting to change back) many women don't even know how exactly their reproductive systems work. They're not told about sex or reproduction at home, and if they don't learn about it at school, they just don't know. And if they don't know about how the whole baby business starts, how on earth can we expect them to know how to control their reproductive cycles?
I think the point I'm trying to make here is that I agree that women have been the keepers and protectors of the kind of knowledge that women need to have. But I really don't think it's been as readily available (at least in European culture) in the last several hundred years as perhaps it ought to.
Der Kaptin , on Sunday, 6th February:
Yeah, what she said.
RR , on Sunday, 6th February:
The problems I am having with cenobyte's and Der Kaptin's arguements are that they focus on the recent history of a specific culture. Their views exclude a large population of people and a great deal of history. Opinion and facts seemed to get blurred together quite a bit in your most recent comments, cenobyte. It is typical of your style of discussion. You have even admitted to the slightly inaccurate way you embellish information to make your point or tell a story. I have listened to many examples. Plus you love to think you are right and a bigger smarty pants. I still love ya. But your comments do not disprove my comments. Women have always had control over reproduction, unless they were raped. Regardless of oppression, knowledge has been passed down. Yes, in the last 100 years, Western culture(whomever you choose to lump into that category) has obliterated a great deal of old knowledge within its own culture. The Pill was a big hit for Western women because it would become more effective than previous methods of contraception and find its way to a larger portion of women. It was a new and different form of contraception, but contraception itself wasn't new. Burning women at the stake was done for hundreds of years, in Anglo- Saxon culture for several more reasons than herbal knowledge. Property and money being controlled by women( by inheritance or widowed) was not popular with any male landlords or men in places of power. The Christian and Catholic churches were big into driving out anything that had a wiff of paganism in a pretty successful attempt to make their religions predominant in practice, economics and ability to rule. And.....? We are not going to agree on much here. You have different *interpretations* of history than I do. ;)
Plus I can't believe I stayed up this late to write this. Tired. bye bye now.
cenobyte , on Monday, 7th February:
Yes, our arguments *do* focus in the recent history of a specific culture. That is precisely the differentiation we're trying to make. And in doing so, we're not saying your points are wrong. On the contrary, I for one agree wholeheartedly. I'm not trying to DISPROVE anything, here. I don't know where you got that idea; *I* am not the one who said "I am right and you are clearly wrong" ;)
A couple of points: I don't think anyone is *disuputing* you. I think we're *agreeing* with you, but are trying to make the point that in Western/European (read: predominantly white, originating from western Europe and Britain, and in the last several centuries predominantly patriarchal cultures) societies, the knowledge you're talking about hasn't been *readily accessible*.
Nobody's arguing that contraception is an invention of the 20th century. Nobody's arguing that 'the new traditional' isn't a throwback to the way things have been done for millennia (when it comes to childbearing and rearing). All we're saying is that while what we're talking about *is* knowledge that is still "common knowledge" in places where Western/European peoples aren't utterly infiltrating the native populations, most of the "Western World" (ie. most parts of Western Europe, most of the British Isles, nearly all of the U.S. and Canada) have lost or ignored that important knowledge so long that it seems like a new discovery when we relearn it.
And, for the record, the Catholic church *IS* the Christian church. I only singled out Roman Catholicism because that denomination is so very vehemently against controlled reproduction (because fornication is a sin and only becomes sanctified inside the confines of marriage, and then only for the purpose of havince children to be raised in the Roman Catholic Church, in the doctrine of that denomination). There are other denominations of the Christian Church that aren't nearly so restrictive, but they've only really come about in the last five hundred to eight hundred years.
There's no doubt that men (and women, in some cases) acting in what they believed to be the directives of the Church have very nearly irrepairably damaged and repressed some of the most important wisdom and knowledge humans have to offer - how to foster and care for women during thier pregnancy, labour, delivery, and child rearing. And that's a shame. More than that, it's a travesty.
The bottom line is that it seems to me that we're agreeing on a whole lot more than 'not much'. It seems to me that we're agreeing with pretty much all of what you're saying, and are just trying to concede that things are different the more WASPish you get.
Unless you're really arguing that even throughout the last two- to three-hundred years (particularly the Puritan/Protestant migration to North America and the Victorian period of England) that traditional women's knowledge and wisdom has been prevalent and easily and readily accessible by anyone who wanted or needed to know about it. Sure, the knowledge was there for women to learn about contraception and fertility and all that stuff, and many women did. But it was secret knowledge. Stuff that men were scared of because if women had power over their own reproductive cycles, then they ultimately had power over the men themselves - if women could control what happened to the 'seed', then wasn't it the women who were clearly the stronger of the species?
Even if women were raped, they still had the ability, if they had access to the ancient and powerful wisdom of their grandmothers, to abort the pregnancy should one occur. From what I've read, that case was one in which women *did* actively seek out this knowledge, regardless of the repercussions.
And yes, women *were* burned at the stake for much more than knowing the 'secrets of herbs'. But we weren't talking about that, so I didn't bring it up.
As an aside, where exactly do opinions and facts get blurred in my previous comments? I think the line was fairly clear which were opinions.
Bottom line: you're right. Women always HAVE had the knowledge and the ability to control their own reproductive abilities. Women have been the carriers of the wisdom and mystery and power of childbirth and child rearing. The only point I'm trying to make (and it's not disagreeing with you in any way) is that it's a shame it's taken so many people of British and Western European descent so long to rediscover it, honour it, and promote it.