Elimination communication is a term that most people aren’t familiar with. And once it’s explained, people usually look dumbfounded and express disbelief. Yes, my three month old baby “eliminates” (aka goes the bathroom) in his little potty. He has been doing this since he was 6 weeks old when we started a process called “elimination communication”.
Elimination communication (more commonly referred to as EC) is not potty training. I repeat again, it is NOT potty training. I do not expect my baby to go without diapers all the time. Rather, it’s the process of being able to communicate with your baby regarding a very important bodily function that makes up part of their day.
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Why Elimination Communication Disappeared
There isn’t a whole lot of information regarding elimination communication because it is no longer practiced in our society. Since the arrival of the disposable diaper in the 196os by Marion Donavan, parents became accustomed to the ease and convenience the disposable created. Babies didn’t need to be changed as frequently due to the absorbency of the diaper. It was no longer necessary to be so in-tuned to a baby’s elimination pattern and therefore, the necessity to change a wet/dirty diaper immediately.
Prior to disposables becoming the norm in our culture, cloth diapers were common place. It wasn’t even that long ago that babies were in prefolds held together by safety pins! The shift to using disposables almost happened overnight, and using cloth diapers became abnormal. Even today, if you use cloth diapers, you are considered to be “crunchy” – a term coined to representative the more environmentally-aware and health conscious mother.
What Exactly IS Elimination Communication?
Babies are born with the ability to communicate with us, their parents. More specifically, it’s usually the mother who learns how to read her baby’s cues and quickly begins to communicate with baby. A baby enters this world and expresses his basic needs through crying, body gestures, and facial expressions. As mothers we learn to recognize when our baby is hungry, sleepy, gassy, or happy. Elimination communication simply takes this process of communicating with our baby one step further. Just as we would recognize baby’s cues for being hungry (sucking on hands, arm nestling, irritability), elimination communication encourages us to recognize our baby’s cues before she eliminates. These can be recognized as early as their second day of life.
The thought of having to recognize bathroom cues can be quite daunting for the new parent. They’re worried about so many different facets of newborn life that adding one more thing to be aware of can be intimidating. That’s what I thought when I stumbled into the world of EC. What’s so wonderful about pursuing this type of communication with your baby is that you can practice as much or as little as you desire for that fits into your lifestyle (more on this later).
Another huge benefit to elimination communication is the bond it creates between you and your child. The communication that is created between you and your baby is astounding! When I began this journey with my 6 week old, I was shocked by the awareness in his eyes as they connected with mine. He was noticeably happier after he eliminated in his bowl. His immediate smiles brought tears to my eyes in the beginning as he seemingly “thanked” me for taking care of this basic need.
You will also inevitably save a LOT of diapers! We cloth diaper during the day and use disposables at night (attempting to get our little guy to sleep longer!) and my husband is thrilled with less wash! Every time our baby boy grunts his way through a bowel movement in his potty, my husband smiles and says, “One less diaper today!” When you count all the times he goes in his potty, we use less wipes and diapers. We also go through less outfit changes due to no blowouts! When I do miss one and his yellow-y poop goes up his back, it makes me that more determined to “catch” the next one!
So How Does It Work?
Many people ask me one very curious question: “How does this exactly work?” It’s actually quite simple. Leave any preconceived notion about what your baby should or should not be doing or what they are capable of behind. Understand that you as a parent have the ability to teach your baby to not WANT to eliminate in his diaper.
Babies are not born desiring to sit in their waste. We essentially train them to go the bathroom in their diaper and then when we consider them “ready” to use the toilet as toddlers, we have to untrain them. If you think about it, it can be quite confusing for a little mind. Elimination communication is the practice of communicating with your baby so they become accustomed to eliminating over a bowl with specific cues that you give them.
I started this with my last baby when he was about 5 weeks old. The idea intrigued me, and as we have cloth diapered all five of our babies, I didn’t think this was too much of a stretch. And if it didn’t work out, then no big deal. I worked first at catching his poo. I began to pay close attention to when he would need to go. He would always grunt right before he eliminated and it usually was during feeding time, either in between sides or right after we finished.
The EC Process In Real Life
To get a better idea of when he seemed to potty, I used a prefold like this one to put underneath his diaper-less bottom. This would catch any mishaps if he went while nursing. I began to see a pattern by simply observing him. I’ll be honest, I had many wet pants during this initial period as I figured out the best way to hold him and keep the prefold under him at the same time! but it was so incredible to see how happy my little guy was every time he eliminated in the bowl!
I didn’t have any special potty so I used the clear plastic container that the hospital sent me home with. I would hold him in the cradle position over the bowl and give him his cues. I settled on using the “psssssstttt” sound for potty and grunting “oof” for poop. It actually worked and I was giddy with excitement! I made a big deal every time he went, and he absolutely loved the time I spent focusing on him.
I continued his cues and schedule over the next few weeks. In addition to giving him “potty-tunities” (opportunities to potty in his bowl) during feedings, I would place him on his potty during diaper changes as well. I was doing this when it fit into MY schedule, as I had 4 other children to take care of – as well as homeschooling our eldest!
When Baby S was around 3 months old, I switched over to the Baby Bjorn Smart potty chair. I really liked this potty seat over any others we’ve tried because it’s narrow for little babies to sit on and has a good shield in the front. Our other potty seats were wider for toddler usage. I just fit the potty seat between my legs and prop the baby on top, with his back leaning against me.
How Long Does It Take?
It’s important to understand that elimination communication is not training your baby to hold his potty. You, as the parent, are learning to recognize your baby’s signs and give him the chance to eliminate in a sanitary way, rather than having him go in his diaper (and subsequently, sit in it for a period of time). Those that practice EC do so as it works for their daily schedule.
Some parents EC full-time, where the baby goes diaper-less much of the time as mom or dad carefully monitor her. Others, like myself, EC part-time with the more obvious eliminations (diaper changes, feedings, etc). And still others just try for 1 “catch” a day. There is no right or wrong way to EC; the process is what you make of it.
The goal of EC is not to have your baby potty trained by any specific time. The goal is to create a journey of deep communication with your child during this time of infancy. You will be present and responsive to your baby’s needs, and truly receptive to what your baby is communicating to you. It can be a wonderfully beautiful relationship with your baby throughout this journey to toilet independence.
A wonderful source to get you started that I found very helpful was the book “The Diaper Free Baby” by Christine Gross-Loh. This book helped explain elimination communication thoroughly, and provided me a broad scope to which I could confidently start down my own personal EC path. It gave great suggestions on how to make EC work for you, what materials are available to make this a simple process, and what amazing benefits can come from practicing EC.
Hopefully this has given you some “food for thought”, as the cliche goes! Is Elimination Communication right for you? I’d love to answer any questions you might have – just leave a comment or send me an email!