Use elimination communication (EC) to help your baby stay clean and dry. Human babies are as smart as animal babies - they know when they need to go!
EC is also called infant potty training, natural infant hygiene, and diaper free. It's about listening to your baby's cues for elimination needs - with or without diapers.
The Benefits of Elimination Communication
At first glance, elimination communication seems, well, weird. And at second glance it seems impossible! It's definitely not impossible - people throughout the ages and all over the world have successfully used elimination communication, or "EC" - and it actually makes a lot of sense:
Fewer Diapers - even if you only do EC part-time, you'll end up using fewer diapers than you would if you fully diapered your baby. This is good for your budget, your washing machine, and the environment. The only downside is that you'll use fewer adorable cloth diapers 😉
Your baby's silky-smooth bottom - there's no way around it, any kind of diaper is hard on your baby's bottom. Being exposed to constant moisture, feces, and/or the super-absorbent gels from disposable diapers is damaging to skin. Our skin was designed to breathe and to stay relatively free from harsh chemicals or biological substances (like urine or chemicals used in diaper-manufacturing). Many babies get diaper rashes or struggle with yeast. Time without diapers on, or staying in a dry diaper, is a gift to your baby's skin!
Continued awareness - contrary to popular belief, babies are not born stupid. They know when they need to eliminate. Most of us know that baby birds, puppies, and kittens quickly learn not to "soil the nest" but we doubt that human babies are able to learn the same lesson - but they can. Babies are born with an awareness of elimination and many instinctively protest "soiling the nest." Using elimination communication keeps your baby aware of these signals.
Less Cleanup - Again, even if you're using diapers part-time, you're likely to find that you have less bottom cleanup. Of course if there's a "miss" you can just as lovingly wipe that little tush as any other parent does - but having wiped up the most poopy bottoms isn't some kind of parenting trophy, and it's much easier to flush it than to clean it! I quickly found that we were able to "catch" almost all baby poops, saving lots of cleanup time for me - and converting my husband completely over to the EC-side 😉
Tuning in to your little one - Dr. Sarah Buckley describes elimination communication as enhancing her mindfulness in mothering and I love this thought - I want to be intentional and aware as a parent. Like breastfeeding, elimination communication keeps you listening to your baby's cues and tuning in with him or her. Sometimes breastfeeding feels awkward at first, and you feel unsure about reading your baby's hunger cues. ECing is similar - you may wonder if you're making the right call at first, but it quickly becomes second nature. Timing helps, too - just as you know to feed your baby shortly before bedtime, you know to potty your baby upon waking, for example 😉
Earlier potty training - it's not always true that EC'd kids will potty trainer sooner, but it often happens that way. EC'ing parents are often much less afraid of potty training, too, because you're not really worried about "pressuring your kid" or "developmental readiness." "Readiness" was invented by the diaper industry - as I already mentioned, your baby was born ready. Potty training can be simple, matter-of-fact, and totally non-coercive.
Honoring your child's dignity - we touched on this above when we talked about tuning into your baby and realizing that he/she is aware of elimination. When most of us think about getting older, one of the hardest things to imagine is needing help with toileting because it is a dignity issue. It's no different for our children. Honoring their ability to tell us about elimination needs, honoring their ability to "potty train" well before they ever see a Size 6 diaper, is honoring their innate dignity and desire to be in charge of their own body.
Getting Started with Elimination Communication - Observation
Okay - you're convinced you need to give elimination communication a try (at least part time!). Where do you start? I like what Andrea Olson of Go Diaper Free says:
"The first step to starting Infant Potty Training with your baby is observation"
If your baby isn't walking or crawling yet, this is pretty easy to do - you just arrange a little time with a bare bum 😉 This isn't a continuous thing - Andrea says (and I agree) that you want your baby to be used to having a covered bottom because that's just the way we live in our society. But when you're just getting started, bare-bum observation can help you watch for patterns, cues, and signals that your baby may give.
Warm up the room and put your baby on a waterproof mat where you can watch him or her. Look for things that happen right before or after your baby pees or poos. For example, some babies will give a little shiver just before they pee, or just as they're peeing. And you may be familiar with grunting when your baby needs to poop. Cassidy, my first baby, always got red-rimmed eyes when she needed to go. These are the kinds of things you pick up when you watch 😉
It can be harder to observe a mobile baby because they are just so busy, but it can be worth the effort for a few hours. Camp out with baby in the kitchen, or cover the play area with towels or light blankets (thin fleece can work well). Then watch your little one run around bare-bummed.
With both young babies and mobile babies you can start to add "cue sounds" in when you notice they go potty.
"Shh, shh" is a common sound, or "pss, pss." Some families use a different sound (like a grunt) for a poop - we have always used the same sound. With mobile babies I usually also like to say "time to go pee" or "time for a poop" because I want them to learn the word.
Other families use sign language for pee and poop - you use what works for you.
I would also set up a small potty in the room with an older baby - if he or she starts to go, *calmly lift him/her (mid-pee/poop) and transport to the potty. This immediately starts to form the association that we go in the potty.
My Infant Potty Training Journals
I first discovered infant potty training when I found Laurie Boucke's book Infant Potty Training at my local library when my first baby, Cassidy, was 6 months old. That was all I needed to try it for myself. I didn't keep many records with Cassidy or with Asher (whom I ultimately decided not to EC and still regret that choice) - but I have kept them with Brennan, Galen, Honor, Corwin, and Sadie.
These journals are good to read through as you're getting started, when you're trying to figure out signals, or when you feel discouraged! Click here to read the elimination communication journals!
You can also check out this video we made of Galen when he was 5 days old!
Signals & Timing for Elimination Communication
Even though I have read about Elimination Communication, and I have done a good bit of research online, I still don't seem to be starting out well trying to EC with my baby.
So far all I've really done is make the SSSS sound when I hear him poop. It's been cold and we heat with a wood stove, so I haven't done much diaper free time to actually watch when he is peeing to see his cues. I was able to do it one day when the stove got too hot and it was over 80 degrees in the family room! But I still didn't make much of a connection.
What should my next step be?
Now that you've watched your little one and read about some other experiences, it's time to start offering the potty to your little one when you notice signals - and when it's a natural time to go potty.
Here are some signs to watch for:
- Sudden fussiness
- Getting very still all of a sudden
- A shiver going up and down baby
- Squirming, shaking head from side-to-side
- Grunting and/or bearing down
- Passing gas
Older babies may also:
- Crawl or come to you suddenly
- Bang on the toilet or grab little potty
- Pat the diaper area (front or back)
- Get a red-rimmed eye look, or a "far away" look
Elimination communication has been an adventure for us with six babies - some have been really good about signals and some, well, not so much. With all of my babies, and especially the ones who didn't signal much, I used timing.
Hello! My daughter is 5 weeks old. EC at night goes very well, but I often can't seem to catch things in time during the day. Have you any suggestions?
Timing is taking advantage of natural times when your little is likely to need to pee or poop - and when you want them to get in the habit of going. Here are some examples:
- After waking in the morning
- After waking from a nap
- A short time after nursing
- Just before you put him or her into a baby carrier
- Just after you take him or her out of a baby carrier
- Just before you go out
- Just after arriving at your destination
There will be other times that your little one needs to go. It's also likely that your baby may develop a predictable pattern for bowel movements, and you can count on that pattern to help you "catch" poops in the potty. Paying attention to timing will really pay off.
Positions used in Infant Potty Training
If you study baby care traditions around the world, you see infant potty training again and again. Each culture has slight variations for the practice, and many cultures have different ways to hold the baby.
I've used many different positions with my babies, but I have found that a secure "cradling hold" has been the favorite with my little ones until they're ready to sit on the little potty by themselves. Here's a picture of that:
What Do You Need to Go Diaper Free?
When it comes time to have a baby everybody gets really excited about what you need to buy - and well, I'll admit that I love baby stuff too 😉 But really, elimination communication is more about what you don't need - constant dependence on diapers. And you don't need diapers until your kids is 3 or 4!
Having said that, there are a few things that might help with elimination communication:
Go Diaper Free
This go-to guide for elimination communication is absolutely invaluable. Andrea's practical, down-to-earth handbook takes you through everything you need to know - and everything you need to do. Out of every EC resource out there, this one is a must-have
Take a Look!
Believe it or not, with a little newborn I like to hold baby over a small mixing bowl in my lap. Being cuddled close to you makes baby feel much more secure.. The grippy bottoms on these are nice, too.
Take a Look!
A Little Potty
The iconic little potty of the diaper free movement 😉 Once your baby is sitting on his or her own, it's nice to transition to a small potty.
Take a Look!
Toilet Seat Reducer
Some parents like to go right to the seat reducer when baby can sit (staying close by of course!), and you might want to move to this when your tot can climb up - it makes cleanup a breeze!
Take a Look!
Typical baby clothes make EC'ing harder - cute side-snap tees look fashionable and make potty visits much easier. Pair with soft, stretchy pants, leg warmers, or split pants.
Take a Look!
Baby gowns are my absolute favorite thing to dress baby in at home from the newborn period until 3 months old or so. They make elimination communication very easy and they keep baby nice and warm!
Take a Look!
A Waterproof Mat
Waterproof mats are nice for observation and if you want to put baby down for a nap diaper free. I like larger sizes because they accommodate a rolling baby. They can also be useful when co-sleeping to protect against leaking milk.
Take a Look!
Adorable EC'd Baby
Supply Your Own!
Some parents get scared away from going diaper free because they believe it means going, well...
But you can mix elimination communication and diapers in a way that works for your family. I like how Stefanie Tellex describes it in her EC for Hackers post - it's not so much about staying dry, it's about creating an association.
You're helping your baby to discover that there are times and places when we go potty.
I also think that changing your baby frequently is important because you want your little one to learn that dry is "normal" - so if there's a miss change it right away. And like Stefanie also points out, you should try to potty your baby at diaper changes too - because you'll often get another pee!
I talk more about going part-time in this article on part-time diaper use!
Answering the Critics
Because elimination communication is seen as a "fringe" movement it attracts attention - including lots of people who may think you're weird for even considering it 😉
But it's more worrisome when you hear doctors discourage elimination communication. The problem with listening to, say, a pediatric urologist slam elimination communication is that these doctors are literally living and breathing pathology. They only deal with kids who have problems. Taking something like elimination communication and saying that it will cause all the problems a doctor sees in his practice is a stretch.
Elimination communication is not about coercing a baby or forcing him or her to hold urine or stool for too long - it's about listening to and knowing when your baby needs to go (and offering at logical times). Just as we talked about with part-time diaper use above, you may always find a wet diaper and still use elimination communication.
We've used these methods with 6 of our kids and apart from a few hard stools here and there (usually as our babies were transitioning to solids making up the larger part of their nutrition), they have had very healthy, regular bowel movements. We have never had a child with a bladder infection.
I know this is anecdotal, but in all honestly, it's also anecdotal to take what's happening to kids in a given medical practice and say that any baby whose family uses elimination communication is going to suffer from these problems. These kids are kids who are having issues at daycare, school, etc. They're not kids being EC'd. While I think that the advice to make sure your child pees frequently (every 2 hours) and that you should keep track of your kid's poops is good advice, I also think it's something any EC parent is probably already doing (after all, babies pee like every 20 minutes and are pooping a lot, too).
Don't worry about infant potty training if it's going to stress you out - and if you feel like you're getting upset with your kid, go back to diapers and be at peace. Don't stress much about the speed of finally ditching the diapers. It will happen.
But don't choose not to EC your baby just because a doctor makes dire predictions when a parent wants to step outside of the general trend of diapers through preschool. You can honor your child's dignity and keep him or her healthy while you use elimination communication.
As an interesting aside, research does show that gentle elimination communication is beneficial for babies.
This study demonstrated that babies with colic often find relief when a parent cradles them in an EC position because it lines up their bowels in a way that facilitates passing of gas and stooling (having a bowel movement). That's quite the opposite of the the claim that EC'ing kids causes constipation.