Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Guest blog #29: Minimalist parenting by Crystal Thrall, part 1

Crystal Thrall, queen of the Diva Cup, is back, and this time, she writes about her new baby girl, and her efforts to minimize the ecological impacts of infancy. 

My parenting journey began unconventionally by planning a home birth, but I followed the mainstream idea of what babies need: diapers, a crib, a stroller, a car seat, and so forth.  As someone who lives a relatively minimalist life, I was troubled by the thought of adding all of this child-related baggage to my clutter-free home.  Over time, I realized that most baby gear is wasteful, unnecessary clutter, especially in the first year.  I know, you probably think I am nuts.  "How can you live without a stroller?"There is no way I am going to carry my baby everywhere!"  "And diapers?  Come on, babies certainly need those!"  "What about entertainment?  My baby will get bored!"  I admit that these ideas did not come naturally to me; however, I learned from other parents with similar interests.  All parenting philosophies aside, if your main goal is to minimize your environmental impact, the following topics might interest you: elimination communication; breastfeeding and baby-lead weaning; co-sleeping; and babywearing.  Today, I write about the first two.

Elimination Communication
The guiding principle behind elimination communication (EC) (also known as natural infant hygiene, infant potty training, or gentle potty training) is that people are born with the instinct to not soil themselves.  Babies communicate the need to eliminate just as they communicate other basic needs, and as parents it is our job to understand when that need should be met.  By exclusively diapering a child, the child learns that caregivers will not meet this particular need and that the appropriate place to eliminate is in his pants.  Imagine how confusing it must be after two or three years of eliminating in your pants to learn that you are actually supposed to use a toilet!  I won't go into the details about how to establish this sort of relationship with your baby, there are plenty of references out there that do a much better job than I ever could.  But I will share my personal experience.  

While I was pregnant, I thought I was doing my environmental due diligence by committing to cloth diapers.  Knowing that I would save landfills from a large volume of solid waste while protecting my baby's bottom from diaper rash made the additional laundry burden worth it.  For five months, we happily cloth-diapered our child until a friend and fellow new parent introduced us to the concept of elimination communication.  From the day her son was born, she started putting him on the potty.  I admit that I was skeptical at first, but after reading Diaper Free Baby, I knew that I had to at least try introducing my infant to the potty.  It wasn't long before my daughter refused to poop in her pants, and what an exciting accomplishment that was for us.  At this point, I was completely sold.  Now our daughter is 16 months old, and while she still has accidents, she doesn't wear diapers during the day and spends most of her time dry.  She directly communicates her elimination needs with either a hand signal or words.  Our experience has completely changed my perspective and opinion on diapers, and we are fully committed to respond to any future child's elimination needs in this way from birth.  

Some people would say that "elimination communication" sounds wonderful, but isn't practical for a child with two working parents.  The beauty of EC is that it can be accomplished part time and with zero stress.  Anything that ends up in a potty results in fewer diaper changes, and therefore less waste, so why not try it?!

Breastfeeding and Baby-led Weaning
Breastfeeding is a sensitive and controversial topic for many women.  Personally, I never questioned whether or not I wanted to breastfeed.  And while my breastfeeding relationship was easily established with my baby, I have met numerous women who have struggled for weeks, even months to exclusively breastfeed their babies.  I have also known women who, despite their best efforts, were unable to maintain breastfeeding for physical or psychological reasons beyond their control.  Breastfeeding is certainly not something women can take for granted, but even if it takes blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of time, the benefits to both mom and baby are well worth it.   

Well that's great, but my main point is to minimize "stuff consumption."  Obviously, if a baby receives his meals exclusively from mom, infant formula and the waste associated with it is completely unnecessary.  If mom stays at home, the need to bottle-feed is also unnecessary.  However, many moms work in which case bottles and breast pump supplies are probably necessary.  In the end breastfeeding can still lead to waste, but less so than formula-feeding.  
Breastfeeding is probably the obvious environmentally-friendly choice to many people, but what about the weaning process?  When I was pregnant, I had every intention making my own pureed baby food.  It could be organic, I could make my own concoctions suited to my baby's tastes, I would save money, AND I would contribute less waste by not buying packaged baby food!  This sounded like a great plan until I learned about baby-led weaning (BLW) which makes it even easier to avoid packaged baby food.  It's quite simple: let your child feed himself.  This means that the child eats finger foods rather than purees.  For us this means our child generally eats what we prepare for ourselves.  Honestly, BLW probably lengthens the path to weaning, so you have to be willing to commit to an extended breastfeeding relationship with your child.  As a mom who has been breastfeeding for 16 months, I know that it isn't always easy.  However, I didn't go into parenting thinking it would be easy, and I know she won't be breastfeeding forever.  

Come back tomorrow to read part 2 of Crystal's guest blog!

Crystal, a nuclear engineer, and her organic baby.

Brian, Crystal's husband, also a nuclear engineer, with his organic baby.


  1. Before I was a mother I spent some time in China and was amazed by EC - I have not heard of many here practicing it. I tried but did not have great support or a full understanding of the method and would love to start now with a 15 month old. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hey there Crystal,

    Totally agree with the Elimination Communication part. Anything that ends up in the toilet, ultimately saves a diaper change, thus positive for the environment...and our wallets. I admit, I was skeptical about EC when I first met my wife, Andrea, an author of two parenting books, one of them being on EC. I figured, up until I met her, that diapers were the norm, and cloth diapers were the best alternative. I didn't realize you could start teaching kids good potty etiquette and set them up for success from pretty much birth.

    When I met her, her son was 2 and pretty much fully toilet bound, except for the occasional accident when he would want to keep playing vs go pee. Apparently Andrea only had to deal with 1 week of poopy diapers, and that was just when he was learning to crawl.

    We are about to have a baby girl in October and it is exciting. My turn to go through EC from the beginning. I have been reading into Andrea's book more and learned a lot at her website (which I developed....so I had to look at everything everyday :) http://godiaperfree.com. Not a sales pitch, but she has a bunch of great free information all over the site. I recommend that anyone interested check out the 'New Here?' Page. Great for practicing or curious parents.

    Thanks for the positivity around EC.

  3. Mommymita, it's true that EC is not exactly popular here in the States. Not having support makes it difficult to do successfully. Fortunately, I know a few moms who practice EC. If you cannot find anyone in your area, there are online communities. The author of the book ECSimplified has an online forum and a blog which I have found quite helpful.

    Thank you for your comment, David. Your wife is famous in the EC community! I expect that Darshan will post my list of resources which includes ECSimplified when he posts the second half today. Your wife has done a wonderful job raising EC awareness!

  4. These diapers are the only ones that keep my baby from waking up soaking wet in the morning. I like them better than other expensive diapers, because they are more absorbent and fit my baby better. And you can't beat the price with free shipping! WOW!

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  6. Good artcile, but it would be better if in future you can share more about this subject. Keep posting.
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