A Brief History of Potty Training

This post is Part 1 of My Bloggy Discussion of Diaper-Free Before 3. Click HERE to read Part 2: The Benefits of Early Potty Training and HERE for Part 3: How to Potty Train a Baby
Recently I picked up Diaper-Free Before 3 by Jill M. Lekovic at the library.  The book advocates a positive, early start to toilet training (ideally between 6-12 months), so that your child can be out of diapers and finished with potty training as early as his or her 2nd birthday.

Perhaps the most interesting information in the book is about potty training throughout history.  According to the author, information about toilet training practices have been recorded since antiquity. Apparently humans have always been obsessed with where their kids pee and poop!  Here is a quick timeline for you (from the book):

Potty Training throughout History

Babies trained in first year of life

Dr. Spock recommends introduction of training "gradually" at a later age (at least 6 months of age)

77% of children began training before 14 months, more than 50% trained by 19 months

AAP introduces the concept of potty training readiness (walks, expresses needs/wishes, understands/follows 2-step commands, desire to control bladder and bowel function)

45% begin before 18 months, 37% began between 18-24, 82% by 24 months

Initiation between 26-29 months, training completed between 33-36 months

Lekovic, a board-certified pediatrician and mother of three, began researching potty training because her Serbian nanny insisted on putting her baby on the potty.  Lekovic initially argued with her about it, providing reasons based on her own pediatric training (it won't work, it will screw him up psychologically, it will lead to future setbacks, and so on).  However, it did work, and her baby really seemed to prefer using the potty! This led Lekovic to research the matter of potty training thoroughly in medical journals for herself.

Lekovic found that the AAP guidelines of "readiness" are based on a false set of assumptions and theories, many of which have subsequently been established in the medical community to be mistaken. The following myths about potty training have now been disproven: toilet training experiences have major psychological consequences; babies don't know when they are voiding; early training causes more frequent accidents (actually the opposite is true - children trained earlier have much more reliable and consistent control).

My own experience with potty training has also convinced me that the "readiness" signs are bunk. By 2.5 years of age, my first child still had not shown an independent interest in potty training, nor could he express his needs yet as he was a late talker.  We finally started anyway around 2.5 years because he was waking up completely dry in the morning.  He was completely trained by 3.  I am convinced that he may not have met the readiness signs even by the age of 4. 

The fact is that when you begin potty training and whether or not your child is constipated are the only factors that affect the age of completion.  This is what the research definitively shows. Things you may be surprised to learn that do not affect the average age of completion: divorce, language development, child's temperament, parental expectations, nor birth of sibling.  However, boys do have a later average than girls (although variation within each gender is larger than the difference between the average of the different genders).  Yes, ladies, boys are harder to potty train.

Lekovic believes that later potty training is a result of the lack of extended family nearby, working mothers, and the convenience of disposables. If you had to hand-wash diapers (as my mother-in-law did!), you would be more motivated to observe your baby and begin to predict when she was going to void or stool.  So true!  And maybe even more motivated (as I have been) if your baby got horrible rashes from sitting in her poop.

Lekovic points out that the disposable diaper industry has an enormous interest in keeping and reinforcing the "delayed training is better" message.  They incorporate it into their advertising campaigns and on the boxes themselves.  Disposable diapers are available in larger sizes than could be purchased just one generation ago. Ten years ago Lekovic remembers writing a prescription for disposable diapers for a (developmentally disabled) child over 35 lbs.  Today those diapers are readily available on Target and Safeway store shelves (see photo above of Huggies, size 6, for children over 35 lbs.).  No prescription necessary!

For more tips, tricks, and tales from early potty training, visit my Early Potty Training page.

When did you start and finish potty training your child?


  1. My son had some medical complications so he got a late start on potty training.I introduced him to his potty at 18 months but never pushed the issue. He's very independent so I knew he wouldn't do it until he was ready. He's now three and is 99% potty trained. I still have diapers on hand just in case but we've had the same pack on 20 for months now. We live over an hour from the nearest town so potty training while we're out is the biggest hurdle, no places to stop between town and home. We'll get there in when he's ready.

  2. I've been researching this stuff as well. It is no surprise to me that the diaper industry would push for later potty training even though that's completely counter-intuitive. I let my son watch me brush my teeth, we talk to him to develop language and otherwise just expose him to as much as possible that he will do and encounter when he's older... So why would a potty be any different? He is only 4 months old now and frequently wakes up dry from naps only to pee on the table when his diaper comes off. I'm on the hunt for a teeny potty for those times!

  3. Thank you for sharing your experiences! I agree that on-the-go is a big hurdle to potty training. Janine, we love the Baby Bjorn little potty (one single piece of plastic). I think it would work for a 4 month old, with your assistance, of course.

  4. I am about to start potty training my two and a half year old and, if you can believe it, I feel like that's starting pretty early! I'm obviously a product of our society's attitudes towards potty training.
    After reading so much on your blog about early potty training, I totally want to try diaper free or a combination of early potty training and cloth diapers if we have any more kids. It's too bad I didn't know about all this stuff when I started having kids!


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