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Turns Out, the U.S. Lags Way Behind Other Countries When It Comes to Potty Training

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Parents of babies and toddlers have a lot on their minds. And most of it is poop and pee-related. When did she last poop? Do we have enough diapers and wipes in case she poops? Oh my gosh is she pooping again? Is that chocolate or poop on my shirt? AHHHH, POOP UP THE BACK! … Why is this wet? Is this apple juice or pee? Did he seriously just take off his diaper and pee in the crib?!

And then, just as that sweet baby nears toddlerhood, you start to think, When should I start potty-training?

Most American parents attempt this arduous task around two or three, but as it turns out, countries around the world actually start much younger — even as early as the first few weeks of life.

That’s right. Mothers in other countries start training and regulating their baby’s poop when they are only a few days old. According to a recent report by The Washington Post, in West Africa’s Ivory Coast, Beng mothers begin “training their infants’ bowels a few days after birth.” How so, you ask? WaPo reports that that they administer enemas twice daily — starting on the day a newborn’s umbilical cord stump falls off. (Yes, really.) “By the time the little one is a few months old,” WaPo reports, “caregivers shouldn’t have to worry about him pooping during the day at all.”

Vietnamese mothers also begin “training” their children when they’re just babies. According to a study published in The Journal of Pediatric Urology, parents actually begin to look for signs that their baby needs “empty” their bladder and bowels starting at birth. “They also observe intervals between,” Anna-Lena Hellström, a professor emerita at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and a co-author of the study, says. The study also states that all of the Vietnamese mothers studied had their children trained by 24 months. (Impressive, huh?)

You may wonder why on earth Vietnamese and Beng mothers would subject themselves and their babies to such insanity. But, for their culture, it actually makes sense. First of all, many nations around the world have no access to disposable diapers (which, frankly, our planet could use less of anyway). Also, in the Ivory Coast babies spend their early months of life strapped to someone’s back — without a diaper on. So now it all makes sense that moms would commit to regulating their babies’ bowel movements from day one. And, to be done BEFORE turning two?! Sounds good to me!

In the Chinese countryside, kids may not get trained at birth, but they are definitely done well before 2 or 3 years old. In fact, children in this part of world wear what they call “split pants” — a traditional piece of clothing that has an opening along the seam of the crotch that allows kids to go to the bathroom freely without ruining their clothes.

And then there are kids like mine. Kids who, as I look back at the horror that was potty training, were nowhere near ready at 2. Or even 2½. After a year straight of peeing on the rug, peeing on Grandma’s rug, peeing on the carpet at the library, and peeing in his car seat … I learned my lesson and didn’t even attempt the process until my second son turned 3. And it STILL took a year.

But guess what? Even Americans used to potty-train their infant babies! That’s right. According to Salon, this early training method is “close to being the historical and cross-cultural norm.” In fact, until the 1950s, most American kids were using the potty “in the first few months of life and completely trained by age 1.” Yes — really. But by the 1970s, the average age to start training had already been set back to around 18 months. Now? It’s somewhere in the 24 to 30 months range.

Salon muses that it’s partly as a result of more absorbent diapers and the invention of things like Pull-ups. Also, the mindset seemed to change in the 1960s when parents started buying into the notion that they should let their kids tell them when they were ready. This idea of letting the kid be in charge is clearly a foreign concept to countries around the world where 3-year olds are NOT running around in Pampers, playing on iPads.

But even American parents, who may train their kids later than other nations, have our pressures. Many day cares and preschools mandate that children are potty-trained before enrollment, forcing working parents to potty-train their kids ASAP. Even as a stay-at-home mom, I too found myself in a similar situation when placing our first child in a Mothers Day Out program.

Because I didn’t work outside the home, I didn’t have the pressures working moms do to ensure my child was potty-trained for full-time childcare. But I did need a break, and that’s what Mothers Day Out is usually for — allowing SAHMs a couple of hours per week to run an errand, cook, exercise, make a phone call, or stare at the wall and enjoy peace and quiet. I sure needed it, and when my son’s school said he would have to “take a break” if he didn’t “get the hang of” potty-training soon, I panicked, fearing I’d lose my coveted kid-free Wednesday afternoons.

Thankfully he did turn a corner, and all was well. But I cannot imagine the pressures working moms feel who have no choice but to rush into potty-training, even if they don’t think their kids are ready.

Because the truth is, there is no magical age for completing this task. Some kids get it in a weekend. Mine did not. That 3-day method you hear about?! Hahahaha. Mine preferred the 562-day method instead.

Bottom line: there is no one-size-fits-all method to potty training. Kudos to Beng mothers and Chinese mothers for doing what they need to do to get through the day. We all have momming to get done, right? And frankly, the thought of skipping over potty-training in the midst of the Terrible Twos and Threes sounds glorious. Amiright?

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