When Kelly was a PhD student at the Australian National University, researching mother’s economic contributions to society amongst Chinese Muslims in western China, she travelled there with her young daughter. Part of her research looked at activities that mothers do for the wellbeing of the family – this includes among other things helping baby deal with elimination needs.
As she was practicing EC with her daughter Imogen, and had done so from the time she was born, Kelly has shared her insights and observations into a culture familiar with the idea of babies communicating their needs from birth and gradually aiding their transition to independent toileting.
She sent us these fascinating stories about her experiences and insights at the time.
I met two old ladies yesterday who were sitting in the sun outside our apartment block taking their grandsons for a wee in the garden. It was nice to see. They just kept offering, neither did anything. The babies seemed very placid, I couldn't imagine Imogen just sitting there like that for very long. I’m adding some questions about how people EC to my research for my own interest.
It seems like most kids wear split crotch pants until around three years old. I bought Imogen some split crotch dungarees and long thermals... they all come stitched up, but the part where you split them is reinforced around the edges, so you just unpick that seam if you want them to be split and its all tidy. I got the lady at the market to do it for me. Haven't taken her out in them yet!! Having so many misses today, must be something in the Chinese food she is reacting to…
Kelly and Imogen (8 months)
Today I took Imogen down for her afternoon toddle in the sun with all the old grandmas and their charges. She kept holding on to my arms then squatting. She was wearing split crotch pants like all the other kids. Sometimes she sits down to wee, so I took her for a pee opp and she went -- first time with split crotch pants... they are so easy!!!! It’s quite troublesome to offer her if you have to pull her pants down and back up but with split crotch pants it’s like "You wanna go? No? - OK then" - finished.
Anyway, for those with younger babies, I noted that the grannies had the little ones in split crotch pants then tucked a folded, tea-towel shaped cloth into the waistband underneath the split crotch pants. This meant that a wee was caught in the cloth rather than on the person if there was a miss. It's so much easier to change this than change nappies too!! I thought it was a great idea.. like a prefold belt but with legs.
It's about 3 degrees outside at this time of day, although with the sun it feels like 10 or so. All the bubs have split crotch pants with long ones underneath and other ones on top. They are carried with a blanket or jacket wrapped around their butts, and they wear longer tops than what we normally have our bubs in. I bought some for Imogen, just very simple polar fleece pinnies that have long sleeves and do up at the back, about mid thigh in length. they use these instead of bibs, so you just wash the pinny not the woollen jersey.
Kelly and Imogen (9 months)
Today our house helper came round (Yes, we do! ...she cleans the floors and bathroom once a week – it’s GREAT!!), and I talked with her about EC. I was complaining that Imogen didn't like going anymore and I kept getting weed on. She said this (10 months) is a difficult time, because they don't go every time they feed like when they are little. It’s more like once an hour, but then sometimes three times per hour.
She said a mother can tell, if she is holding her baby a lot. Other people can't tell. Men often can't tell. But even then, she got wee-ed on alot. Today Imogen went through 4 pairs of split crotch pants!! In one afternoon. In the end I worked out it was the coffee I had been drinking over the last few weeks. My house helper said... Ah so it's your problem, not her problem!!
Anyway, she said, once she can walk it should get easier. At least they just pee on the floor, or squat over the toilet and not so much in their trousers. (Floor is easy because you can wipe it up, changing trousers is a hassle). She also said that when it rains they pee more. Anyway, she was very encouraging and said it's quite normal at this age to go through this!!
She also expressed surprise at how long her foreign bosses babies slept during the day.. Chinese babies have lots of little naps, out and about, in mum's arms. I said people train their babies to by leaving them to cry, she couldn't believe it!!
In saying that, I do find a lot of Chinese parents do things to their babies against their will a lot more, like pretending to steal each other's babies, which is very confusing for the baby. The babies seem VERY placid compared to the babies I know, possibly because they are wearing like ten layers of clothing and can't move LOL!! They are carried a lot, and don't squirm when they are carried like Imogen does.
Kelly and Imogen (10 months)
We went out today with some foreign (western) friends for lunch. A lot of us had kids so the conversation turned to 'bad' habits they had picked up in China that would have to change when they went home for visits. The first was eating with their hands at the table (until old enough to use chopsticks). The next one was being able to pee wherever they want when out. One guy was saying "yeah, now my daughter is 5 we are really encouraging her to use the toilet when out rather than peeing on the grass, as she's getting a bit old. It will definitely have to stop before she is 15". I shared with them that we actually were practicing EC (or split crotch pants baby pottying) in Australia before we came, although I was always a bit nervous about whipping her bum out in public and peeing her. Here I do it on the side of the road, hundreds of people stopping to look at the FOREIGN blonde baby weeing on cue.
The conversation then turned to why they had to use split crotch pants. One Malaysian girl said her mum had pottied her from very young but used ordinary pants. I said that the climate here was such that when wearing two pairs of long pants, shoes jackets etc, its really hard to pull them all down and offer a baby a wee -- and then if they don't want to go it was such a big drama. With split crotch pants you just hold them in position – need to go? No? No problem.
We then discussed cues... apparently most Chinese mums use a special whistle, which I have never heard but I haven't been here as long.
Other interesting things... my house helper told me that foreign mums force their children to eat Chinese food even if the don't like it and why was that? I said that our baby food is very plain and boring, and hence when kids are a bit older they don't tend to like a lot of 'interesting' food.
She asked why is our baby food so boring? I said I don't know because we are too lazy to make any, we just give her what we are eating!! Imogen even eats a bit of spicy food at 10 months, hasn't affected her wind or bowels at all (Garlic does though).
My house helper wondered why we were so 'Chinese' in our parenting style. You know what I think it is? I think its different ideas about discipline. Many of the western cultures are built on Christian tradition -- the bible emphasises the role of the parent in disciplining children. Some people think disciplining is making sure your children always do what they are told, and making sure that you don't get your children used to you being lenient from an early age. Now we are Christians, (just not 'traditional' ones) and I think the bible emphasises understanding and loving your child just as much as discipline... anyway, how can you discipline if you don't understand them? We are meant to model the discipline of God -- who loves us and cares for us and shows us more grace and mercy than punishment. In fact he loved us so much he sent his Son/himself to pay our punishment for us! Anyway, we are going to discipline Imogen when she is old enough to understand (Sears style...), but not in a way that distances her from us, or causes her to try to 'please' us with her actions -- I want her to know that we love her no matter what!!
The same with the
comments I made previously about Chinese people not letting their
babies cry to sleep, or giving them forced routines until they
submit.... it's not that I want to be Chinese necessarily, but I think
there are more important things in life and our relationships than
forcing routine and 'showing them who's boss'. They KNOW you have power
over them – they can't do anything themselves! You don't have to SHOW
them, just give them kindness.
I talked to my Chinese teacher about EC again... her child woke through the night until she was 3. Most of the time she woke three times a night, even after she self-weaned at one. She slept with her mum, and preferred her mum to have her arm over her while she slept. It has been such a relief to talk about Imogen's late night antics without any judgement... everyone here seems to have the same lifestyle. Imogen is now sleeping much better, only waking twice a night which is fine by me if I go to bed early. In fact, we often hear the baby in the apartment above us (must be also in the master bedroom) waking through the night too.
Had a few EC conversations this week with my teacher. She has a six-year-old and she EC'd her from one month (obviously not so much now :-). She used disposable nappies at night, although she said after around one year her daughter started wanting mum to take her to the loo at night, so she took her for wees THREE times per night until she was THREE YEARS OLD! (wow that's tiring...) She used split crotch pants from one month until one year. Then put her in ordinary pants with split crotch underwear. She thinks it’s strange that some mums keep their bubs in split crotch pants until they are well older than three... I think this is the Chinese equivalent to the late toilet trainer. Her daughter prefers the western toilet to the squat toilet, as it's more comfortable.. In fact once she even found her daughter asleep on there!
We also shared with a whole group of foreigners (none with kids.. some pregnant) what we were doing. It came from them seeing us change her wet pants on my lap from one pair of training pants to another, plus a new pair of pants. They though that was much more convenient than having to find somewhere to change nappies (or worse.. just never changing them) (because you have to lay the baby down to change nappies, and there is no where clean enough to do that when out). Anyway, then we got on to talking about EC and they all thought it was really cool and amazing. I guess I just don't think it is that amazing anymore (sad I know) because it is so normal in China... misses are normal, weeing in the potty and toilet is normal, it's just part of a learning process like learning to walk, talk and eat.
Greetings from springtime in Xining! Getting out a bit more means that Imogen can do her business outdoors a lot more, which of course is much appreciated. She is now 11 months, and the one year mark is approaching rapidly. The developmental leaps have just kept coming, with the development of small motor skills her major focus at the moment (after mastering her first steps, she has gone on walking strike and is now wanting to do little things!). She spends her time putting things in and out of bags and baskets, and on top of that spends a lot of time trying to get herself on the potty (this is difficult considering she isn't walking). Mostly it involves holding on to a chair and trying to put both feet in the potty then squatting. She has yet to really sit down herself, but after 20 minutes of trying will (finally) let me help her lower herself down to wee.
Imogen is wearing split crotch pants most of the time, and is growing out of her dungarees so I have bought her some trousers. Kids clothes in China are very bright, do not come in matching sets, and in general are covered with little faces, cartoons or interesting buttons and glitters. Imogen LOVES them, especially the orange ones. She has almost grown out of all her pastel pink and purple and is wearing bright colours mostly, it's really cute. Apparently mis-matching clothing is considered really cute in China (so I'm told) for babies and kids anyway. So no worries with your orange shoes, pink stockings and yellow and black spotted dress.
The coolest thing I have found is SPLIT CROTCH STOCKINGS. These are really cool, as they are very fitted and warm, but with a nice big split. They don't have feet actually, just a sort of frill round the bottom that goes over the shoes. And little bows and ribbons attached. Anyway, I have yet to buy her a dress to wear with them, but sometimes she wears them round home. They are so convenient, and I think with a dress would be quite modest.
I've had a few chats this week with Chinese EC’ers. My cleaner said that in the village they don't change the babies' pants in the summer if they have a miss, just let them dry. I was thinking about this myself, as when Imogen pees on me I don't always need to change my pants, same with the split crotch pants, a lot might go on the floor (or Mum) and not so much on the pants, they can then quickly dry. She said in the winter they change them immediately, but only really do washing once a week. I assume this means they actually dry the pants without washing and rotate them until washing day. Not sure how many pairs they would have. They also have hand-knitted woollen split crotch pants so these wouldn't smell too bad. I know this sounds gross, but if you don't have running water or a washing machine this is really your only option. I try to use only two pairs of pants a day, and dry them in between, then put them in the wash at the end of the day.
My husband asked our cleaner if Chinese babies also refuse to go for you. She said YES all the time!! Her nephew is currently three months old and on a potty strike - he just straightens his legs and refuses to let you take him. We asked this because Imogen REALLY wants to do it herself now, and this has led to a lot of misses. I think Chinese people just accept this as part of the process, along with getting wet, having misses and doing washing. They don't stress about it or punish them or anything. It's just normal.
In saying that, I think for us I like using one wets the best, with pants overtop. But our One Wets have stopped working (homemade ones... I didn't put a waterproof layer and now I think they have just lost a lot of their absorbency) and her pants get wet anyway, so I think I might as well just put her in split crotch pants. I still feel embarrassed when we go out with foreigners, so I put her in training pants and other pants then, but still have to bring changes of over pants anyway!
That's all for now!! Happy International Workers' week (a big holiday in China... communist country you know!)
The health nurses here in China say you are damaging your baby to leave them in nappies until two or three years old - ha ha!! Fears in the West about the dangers of infant potty training are concerned with PSYCHOLOGICAL damage, and they are referring to Freud's observation that early toilet training involving punishing and shaming can lead to psychological damage in a child. However, many many societies, such as China (a nation made up of 56 different nationalities, mostly native) have been practicing EC for centuries. Children are not expected to hold on, they are not shamed or punished, but parents do know their children well enough to help them eliminate in a more convenient place, even if it is just the gutter or in a bush. There are many misses, and parents just matter-of-factly change the babies pants, or wipe up the mess, or even in the summer just let the pants dry (at least until the wees start getting smelly as they are older!).
The people that say their body is not developed enough to be able to respond and release should just come here and have a look! Even my friends take my daughter to wee and she responds to their little whistles!
I was talking to a Chinese mum the other day who co-sleeps with her six year old. She was squirming, squirming and mum says "Sweetie you need to go wees." So she wakes up and takes herself. Apparently this happens a few times a month. I wonder whether some of the problems with bed wetting in the West could be solved with a bit more parental responsibility? I do remember my brother needing to be woken at 11pm every night to wee otherwise he would wet his bed in the morning.
Anyway, we were talking about extended bed wetting problems even in four-year-olds, who were still in night nappies. She thought that was the problem and nappies should be stopped between twelve to eighteen months old at night, to encourage the child to wake to wee. I don't know how reliable her theory is, but it certainly made me think about whether we expect too much of our kids sometimes -- do WE need to be responsible for helping them stay dry, and learn to stay dry, rather than resorting to nappy use?
We are planning to go out and spend some time in the village for my research, I feel more confident now that Imogen is more reliably dry during the night and day (14 months), as there is no running water for washing. Most people sleep on a kang... a raised brick bed platform that can be heated from underneath like an oven. They put several thick cotton quilts over it and the whole family sleeps on it. Sure would be convenient for drying wet bedding... just rinse the spot and heat the kang up for a few hours!
During the day, they fold up the bedding and sit on a quilt and put a coffee table on it, you can sit around on the bedding and drink cups of tea, eat dinner and so on, great when its cold. But anyway, a foreigner told me there wouldn't be much chance of me being able to stay out there with Imogen because of not having running water. Afterwards I thought… Well they have their children out there too don't they? I'm glad we decided to adopt a very simple approach with Imogen, no cots, prams, nappies and so on, as it means she can adjust to village life so much easier.
Although we did just buy a folding buggy for around town... she is around 12kg and hates the sling now, either wants to be carried or walk by herself. I was doubtful about the pram as the footpaths here are so bad, but my supervisor bought it for us... Imogen LOVES it, she even goes to find it in the storage room and asks to go out in it. So glad to have it, and so much easier to take her out for longer walks. I guess the lesson is to go with your baby's leading and never say never right?
Kelly and Imogen (14 months)
They have these disposable nappies here that are more like sanitary pads. They have a sticky bit at the front and the back, but no sides, just like a big ‘U’ shaped nappy/pad. You can stick them to the front and back of the split crotch pants and then change them easily while out -- you don't need to find a nappy change area, if such a thing in fact exists in this part of China? I bought some as we had finally used our last nappy from Australia while we were in Beijing (for night wees). I bought them back here in Xining, and you wouldn't believe the price. It's Western prices, but everyone here is on Chinese wages (at the low-end in fact). So people want to be able to take baby for wees easily so the disposable can last for much longer. Cool aye?
I've been doing some real research this week, and can't help but stick a few nappy-free and breastfeeding questions in there for interest's sake. I was going over some interviews my research assistant did for me this week -- he is supposed to be interviewing men for me but has ended up interviewing women as they are more willing to talk to him (I have the opposite problem!
Maybe because he is young and good looking all the women want to chat with him LOL!!).
One of the questions is "Whose responsibility is it to take baby/toddler to the toilet?" The answer was mostly "who-ever is free, normally MIL, FIL or the mother". I know that he lives with his aunty and 18 month old cousin so I asked him "How do you know when your cousin
needs to go to the toilet?" He said that it's a bit difficult before they can talk, so if he was looking after them he normally just offered them every half hour, or if they were wriggly. This is a 19 year old uni student! But after they can talk they mostly tell him. Sometimes he is on the couch watching TV with his cousin next to him, and his cousin wees on the couch. So he slaps his wrist and says "You have to tell big brother if you want to go!" and his cousin says "OK".
This is the first time I have heard of punishing in relation to EC here -- I don't know if its just this guy or whether other family members do too, or how old the kids are when they start (probably when they start reliably talking). Anyway, everyone I have talked to recently said that they basically are dry from around about one year old.
thing I have been noticing is that kids not much older than Imogen are
able to squat down outside and go by themselves. Imogen has only a few
times actually squatted and gone (SOOOOO much better as it misses her
split-crotch pants altogether). I wonder if its because we don't spend
enough time outside with her -- obviously no-one wants to teach their
kids to squat on the floor inside! I wonder how to teach her to squat
rather than just stand? I will have to find that out this week!
Kelly (and Imogen, 14 months)