Before disposable diapers were introduced in the ’50s, 95 percent of children were potty trained by 18 months. So why do most parents today focus their potty training efforts between the ages of 2 and 4 years old? Recent research shows delaying potty training can come with health problems. And even if you’ve found a cloth diaper that works for you and your child and you’ve made the commitment to stay away from disposables, diapers still have a heavy impact on the planet due to the water and energy required to wash them — the Real Diaper Association estimates each baby requires roughly 6,000 diaper changes in the first two years. So naturally, the sooner you can get your child out of diapers, the better! Here’s why some parents delay potty training and how you can get it done earlier.

The Trouble With Waiting

Beyond the environmental costs of keeping kids in diapers, pediatricians sometimes find that kids who ditch diapers later are more likely to have issues with incomplete voiding, which can lead to urinary tract infections. Constipation and refusing to go number two are also more common when potty training older children.

Why Parents Delay

When having a kid in diapers costs about $66 a month, why are parents dragging their feet? Currently, the average age of potty training in the US is 37 months, which is a an all-time high and double the average toilet training age of kids in nearly 50 countries. And as we’re getting ready to send our four-year-olds off to preschool for the first time, some parents struggle to meet the potty training deadline of the first day of school.

Experts say the disposable diaper industry plays a big part in the shift of average potty training times. Parents can buy disposable diapers and pull ups in sizes as big as 6, making later potty training socially acceptable. Plenty of parenting books and even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend waiting until kids are physically and emotionally ready for toilet training, which includes being able to verbally communicate their wants and needs. Many parents say this lack of communication ability is frustrating to them and their kids in the potty training process. And parents who wait until their children are talking, often after age 2, have moved into the tricky development stage of saying, “no” to everything.

How to Conquer Early Potty Training

Elimination Communication has been growing in popularity across the country over the last few years. Moms using this technique start potty training their babies from birth, forgoing diapers. The idea was based on moms in India who carry diaperless babies around, seemingly without any accidents. Instead of relying on diapers, with Elimination Communication moms count on their intuition and mother-child relationship to determine when to hold their child over over the toilet. Subtle changes in behavior can indicate that it’s time to go and verbal cues — “Shh”-ing for urination and grunting for poop — can help babies make the connection.

If Elimination Communication sounds intimidating, sign language is another way you can communicate with your baby before he learns to talk — the baby pictured above is signing “potty.” Babies are able to grasp sign language earlier than they’re able to form words. “Children as young as 9 months can communicate through signing,” says Dr. Linda Acredolo, a child development expert and co-founder of the Baby Signs Institute at the University of California. “And we’re finding that parents can even use sign language with a child as young as 12 months to make him an active and excited participant in the potty training process.”

You can teach your child the five basic sign language signs for potty training on your own — potty, more, all done, wash and good job — or you can do it with the help of the Baby Signs Potty Training System. A kit designed for babies 12 months and up, which includes a DVD, reward stickers, a board book and a parent instruction book. By using the signs, or a combination of the signs and verbal cues, along with a potty chair, you should be able to have your tot out of diapers before age two.