SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to babies, there are certain essentials a new parent really can't live without. Followers of a new practice say diapers just don't make the cut.
It's a technique called elimination communication — or EC — in which parents ditch diapers entirely and instead rely on cues from their infant and good old-fashioned intuition to identify when it's time for the baby to do their business.
It's founded on the belief that babies are born knowing how to signal when they have to answer nature's call, and it's up to parents to learn and interpret those signs.
Cues include specific cries or whines and facial expressions. When the signal is made, parents will pick up their little bundle and rush them to the toilet, hopefully just in time for the main event. Many parents keep bowls, training potties and cloth diapers handy at all times.
Elimination communication is a parenting practice in which a caregiver uses timing, signals, cues and intuition to address an infant's need to eliminate waste, often taking their child to the toilet instead of putting them in diapers.
Parents are encouraged to make "sss" sounds and grunting noises while their babies relieve themselves. The idea is that over time, the child will begin to associate these sounds with the feeling of relief, Sarah Longwell-Stevens — an early childhood educator and postpartum doula — told DNAInfo.
EC can begin as early as birth. That's right — practitioners of this method claim it's never to young to start an open line of communication with your child where their bodily functions are concerned.
"The goal of EC is to have this tight communication and be in sync with your child," Dr. Alison Schonwald, medical director of developmental behavioral outreach at Boston Children's Hospital, told CBS News.
In fact, EC isn't really about letting your child wander around diaperless. Ultimately, it's about bringing parent and child closer together, Schonwald said.
Elimination communication, when practiced correctly, can produce superior results: babies can go completely without diapers as early as 6 months old, according to Andrea Olsen, author of "EC Simplified: Infant Potty Training Made Easy." The average age of a potty-trained toddler in the U.S. is around 3.
The practice is spreading like wildfire in New York City, where like-minded parents come together for "diaper-free meetups." There they exchange tips and offer information sessions about elimination communication, though everyone is encouraged to bring their own potties, according to The New York Times.
The elimination communication community is growing so fast, Olsen felt prompted to spearhead the very first "Go Diaper-Free! Week," which kicked off Monday. It's all about raising awareness about EC, Olsen told DNAInfo.
It should be noted that not all parents who practice EC go entirely without diapers. Many identify themselves as "part-timers," putting diapers on their child at night or when they're out and about — only letting them go without when it's more convenient.
DiaperFreeBaby — an international non-profit — provides a list of benefits to the EC practice. Some of the health perks include fewer diaper rashes, an increased knowledge of your baby's digestive system and potential food allergies, fewer urinary tract infections and reduced cases of constipation.
Enthusiasts also argue EC is environmentally friendly and keeps potentially thousands of disposable diapers and wipes out of landfills. Not to mention, it saves you a whole lot of cash.
But many critics said the costs outweigh the benefits.
Take chronic holding, for example. For a child's bladder to properly develop, kids need to be able to poop and pee whenever they feel the need. Diapers facilitate that action, so when you take away the diapers, you increase the risk of your child developing that bad holding habit, pediatric urologist Steve Hodges wrote in an article for the Huffington Post.
"In my experience, children trained early — especially before age 2 — are more prone to developing this habit than kids trained around age 3, though kids trained later are certainly not immune from holding, and early trainers are not destined to become holders," Hodges said.
Chronic holding is the root cause of most potty-training issues. Accidents, bedwetting and urinary tract infections can all be chalked up to holding, according to Hodges.
The goal of EC is to have this tight communication and be in sync with your child.
–Dr. Alison Schonwald
A 2012 study published in the journal Urology found that when a child learns to stop "holding it," they'll also have fewer accidents and infections.
Many pediatricians have their doubts that children under the age of one are even capable of controlling their bladders and bowels.
The World Health Organization reports an estimated 1.1 billion people in the world practice elimination communication. But it's often seen in poor countries like Africa, where parents can't afford to buy diapers.
As a result, the method has been blamed for widespread sanitation problems as well as causing over 3,000 child deaths a day globally, according to the Global Post.
And then there's the obvious: is this a sanitary practice? Parents who use the EC method often allow — even encourage — their child to go whenever, wherever. That means finding a tree at a park or a spot on the curb of a street.
"Really, the only infectious disease problem at hand has to do with hand washing. Otherwise, it's just a general sanitation issue," Jean Weinberg, spokeswoman for the New York City health department told the New York Times.
Despite the mixed feelings, diaperless parenting is capturing the country's attention.
"It goes back to the individual child," Schonwald told CBS. "For some kids, it might be just fine. For other kids, it may be very confusing. It's very individual to the child and the family."