I’ve meant to write a blog post about elimination communication for years. This week, I gave a small presentation about EC to our local mother’s group and so, at last, here is an EC post!
Elimination communication is also known as “natural infant hygiene” or “infant potty training,” but I most prefer EC because the emphasis is in the right place—on the communication element. Potty training is not the “goal” of EC really, paying attention to and responding to baby’s innate pottying cues is the goal. I’ve seen it referred to essentially like this: potty training is no more the goal of elimination communication than weaning is the goal of breastfeeding. (Sorry, I didn’t bookmark the article in which I read this and am paraphrasing from memory!).
Elimination communication involves four main components (I will explain how each of these worked in my personal experience following these definitions):
Babies have fairly regular and predictable time for peeing and pooping. Timing is helpful for EC and really half the strategy in my opinion—if you know when baby is likely to pee, you hold them over the potty instead of leaving them in a diaper. Simple!
Also called “cues,” signals are the ways in which baby tells you that s/he needs to potty: “These signals vary widely from one infant to another, and include a certain facial expression, a particular cry, squirming, a sudden unexplained fussiness, as well as others. Babies who are nursing will often start delatching and relatching repeatedly when they need to eliminate. For defecation, many babies will grunt or pass gas as a signal. Older babies can learn a gesture or baby sign for ‘potty.'” (via Elimination communication – wikidoc)
This is the sound (cue) that the parent or caregiver makes to help let the baby know it is time to let go and pee/poop. The classic sound is a “psss psss” sound, which I don’t care for because it sounds like you’re saying, “piss” to your baby. So, I always used, “ssss” instead, which to me sounds like the pee hitting a receptacle. You start out making the sound as baby is peeing and then once the association is developed, you then make the sound to cue baby that it is time to go. (A grunting sound is also really helpful even though it is embarrassing and basically just sounds kind of awful!)
“Intuition refers to a caregiver’s unprompted thought that the baby may need to eliminate. Although much intuition may simply be subconscious awareness of timing or signals, many parents who practice EC find it an extremely reliable component.” (via Elimination communication – wikidoc). More about this soon!
What is it REALLY like to EC:
If you practice elimination communication, you may experience some or all of the following…
- Life will revolve around your child’s urination
- You will know more about another person’s bowel/bladder habits than anyone ever should.
- You may spill cold pee on your crotch in the night. More than once.
- Baby’s pants dry! You’re awesome! But…uh oh, mama has to change all own clothes including her underwear…
- No diaper to wash, FTW! Yes, but several wipe up rags, your whole outfit, and baby’s pants…
- You may find yourself musing that someone should invent something…it would wrap around the baby’s lower half and catch all of this pee and poop stuff and then you could just take it off after baby goes…and wash it…or, maybe throw it away…Gasp! I’m a genius! I should invent something like this…
- It will give you something else to feel guilty about. (This depends on what kind of mother you are. If you’re laidback, you’ll probably be cool here. If you’re semi-neurotic, you will slap yourself in the face every time you miss a cue or every time you were too busy to take baby to potty. You may berate yourself for not listening well enough to baby and that, “I KNEW I should have taken her to the potty, WHY didn’t I listen to myself/her?! BAD MOTHER!”)
- Many of your mothering stories will involve, “and then I got peed on…“
On the flip side:
- You will feel like rock star
- You will be amazed/exhilarated—it is unbelievable how thrilling pee/poop can be!
- Once you start, you can’t NOT do it. It works. Will look back and think, why didn’t I do this with my other babies?
Some mothers use a bowl or the bathroom sink for pottying. Many others use the regular toilet. I suggest the Baby Bjorn Little Potty (one piece molded plastic) or the K-Mart knock-off version—keep one in the car, one by/under bed (at night, just pull out from under the bed and hold on lap and then stick back under bed to clean out in morning. This is how the cold pee in the crotch experiences are born).
- We started EC full-time with Z about 7 weeks and with Alaina at 3 weeks, though kept diaper-free before that too (but rather than a potty, we kept a cloth diaper or blanket under them).
- My choice was to have them wear diapers while out, though it is possible to buy special clothes or have them go diaperless while in public also.
- Easy off clothes are a must.
- By six months, both of them would sleep all night (12-6) dry even while nursing multiple times at night. Alaina now sleeps from 12-8 without peeing, but while nursing probably four times. I don’t really understand how this works!
- We learned the secret of the Midnight Pee. Always take baby potty at midnight and you will sleep on dry sheets all night!
- With Z, we did EC full-time. With A–full-time at night/home, while out and with other people around mostly diapers.
- Doesn’t have to be all or nothing
- Not about your worth as a mother–self-esteem should not come into it!
- Take baby pee right after waking or even as baby is squirming around in sleep
- During nursing–milk lets down, pee too!
- When legs kick mysteriously and disruptively in night
- When acting weird at breast—popping on/off. My observation is that many issues described first as breastfeeding “problem” behaviors are really potty-related really.
- Baby is, “just training you”—yes, and why not? Good to be attentive!
***Respond to random potty thoughts!*** This is my most helpful tip. I read it in an article once. It is pretty much foolproof. If you are going about your day and suddenly, PEE!!! pops into your head, stop what you are doing and take baby to the potty. It is almost guaranteed. And, do it even if you, “just took him” otherwise you will be kicking yourself and saying, “I knew he needed to go. I should have listened to myself!”
Just like nursing—they tell you from birth that they need to go. Babies begin life not wishing to wet/dirty themselves. We train the communication response out of them and train them to go in their clothes. Later, when they’re around 3, we start trying to “train” them out of the going-in-the-clothes habit that we unknowingly worked pretty hard to get them to do.
Simply about listening to/paying attention to your baby—just like in other ways. Good foundation for your relationship with your baby.
Remember the goal of EC is communication, attention, and respect for your baby’s needs, not crunchy points, faster potty training, or smugness.
So, even though I just said it wasn’t about potty training or about smugness, eventually you may then feel some smugness benefits and in the end, I was delighted with our…
- Z began wearing undies full-time at 14 months. He had one ever outside-the-house “accident” (at the skating rink. I still remember!). Whoever says boys are harder to potty train or don’t develop “sphincter control” until later than girls is full of it! (and, FYI, if “sphincter control” was actually a response that needed to develop, babies would drip pee/poop out of their bodies constantly. They simply don’t, diapers or otherwise. I read a critical article about EC once in which the author asserted that babies who are EC’ed are really being trained to “hold it” and that that is damaging to their bodies. Babies “hold it” from BIRTH. It is parents that then train them to “let go” in their diapers rather than another receptacle.
- Alaina in undies full-time at 18 months, lots more accidents (we were less consistent/involved with EC with her though). Takes dolls to potty and says, ssssss.
- Zero poop diapers in ages—never a poop “accident.” Probably last time I had washed a poopy dipe with either kid was around 6-8 months old.
Overall, EC has been a mixed bag for me. In the end, it has been worth it. And, like I said, after doing it with one kid, it no longer felt optional. It works. They know. And, once you know they know, you can’t go back. Cold pee in the crotch and all.