Most people, when they first hear of elimination communication, immediately assume that it’s too difficult for ordinary families to even try. The idea of babies without diapers sounds crazy; it’s something that superhuman enviro-hippie moms do. Way too extreme for normal people.
But the fact of the matter is that up until a few generations ago, everybody was doing elimination communication–or at least a version of it. Yes, some of the infant potty training methods practiced in the past were coercive and awful–and a world away from EC. But in many cultures, even today, EC isn’t some obscure fad; it’s what everybody does, because it’s what everybody has always done. Really, the trend of kids who aren’t potty trained till age three or older is more of a recent “fad” than infant pottying.
Can you try EC? Yes. Even if you’re working full-time and your daycare only allows disposables; even if you’re a busy mom with three other kids; even if you don’t care much about the environment and you would never use cloth diapers–you can still try EC. Should you? Well, if you think it might be a good idea to spend a few minutes a day helping your baby maintain his natural awareness of his body and help him be healthier and more hygenic, then why wouldn’t you? You’re going to potty train at some point; why not lay a little foundation for that now?
Here’s how you can get started in elimination communication without making your life revolve around potties:
1. Offer a potty opportunity once a day. Start this as early as possible–during the newborn stage is best, but definitely before your baby is six months old. Don’t let this intimidate or overwhelm you. With a newborn, you’re changing diapers about a million times a day anyway; for one of those changes, just offer the potty while the diaper is off. It will take about a minute more than just changing the diaper would have. The best time to offer is when your baby first wakes up–most newborns pee within a minute or two (or sometimes even seconds) after they wake. If your baby is in a crib in a separate room and you can’t possibly get to him within seconds after he wakes in the morning, then time your one potty opportunity after a nap instead. And keep in mind that a “potty opportunity” doesn’t have to include a potty. It could just involve holding your baby over his used diaper and cueing him to pee. The point is to communicate about the act of elimination (hopefully while he actually eliminates), not to get pee in the potty.
2. Start trying to catch poops after they consolidate. Newborns often poop multiple times a day, but after a few months, most babies start to go less frequently, usually once or twice a day. When you notice your baby is pooping more predictably, then you can focus on catching poops in the potty. With some babies, this is easy–they poop at approximately the same time every day, so by just putting the baby on the potty at around that time, you’ll probably catch a poop. If your baby’s poop is unpredictable, don’t worry so much about catching it, but do consider moving your baby to the potty (gently and without startling him!) if you happen to notice him pooping. This will help him get comfortable with pooping on the potty, which is a skill that’s easier to learn as an infant than an older toddler. Even if you just loosen his diaper and hold him over it when you see him pooping, you’ll still be helping him gain confidence with the feeling of letting poop fall away from his body. This is a very different sensation from pooping in a diaper, and helping him be comfortable with it early will make for a much easier transition to the potty. It’s also a lot easier to clean up.
3. Teach your baby to communicate about pottying. One easy way to do this with a preverbal baby is with sign language. You can try using the ASL sign for toilet every time you notice your baby eliminating (and at diaper changes as well), or you can make up your own sign or signal like patting the diaper or crawling to the potty. Anything that’s easy for your baby to do and that you’ll recognize will work. Even if your baby doesn’t start to signal before he goes, he might begin to signal after he goes to let you know his diaper is wet. If that happens, don’t be discouraged by the fact that he went in the diaper; the real purpose of EC is communication and awareness, both of which are accomplished if he tells you after the fact.
4. Wait till your baby is walking to start catching more pees. But don’t wait long after your baby starts walking. Between the ages of 12 and 18 months, most toddlers become independent and very interested in learning new skills, so this is a great time to start teaching him to take himself to the potty. Get little potties that your toddler can sit on without help, and consider switching to cloth trainers occasionally (maybe for an hour or so every morning, or just for a few hours on the weekends). Teach him how to pull his pants down by himself, and start to make sitting on the potty part of his daily routine at times that make sense, like after waking, before transitioning to new activities, and after eating. Or, if you can handle the mess, then just let him run around bare-bottomed for a few hours when you’re at home. Use plastic covers or baby gates to protect carpeted areas of the house, and scatter several little potties in the play area. When he pees on the floor, use your cue sound and talk about the fact that he’s peeing. Then tell him that pee goes in the potty and encourage him to sit on the potty. Invite him to help you clean up the mess if he wants to. Be calm and matter-of-fact about misses; think of them not as mistakes but as opportunities to communicate and teach. Watch him for body language and signals before he goes, and keep an eye on the clock as well to see if he pees at predictable times. Keep the focus on communication, and only do it when it’s fun for you. If you start to get frustrated, put a diaper back on and don’t worry about it until you feel like trying again.
5. Respond to your baby’s interest at every stage. Even babies who are EC’d full-time from birth go through periods when they lose interest in pottying, usually because they’re too busy learning a different skill that takes priority for the moment. Potty pauses don’t mean you’ve failed at EC. They also don’t mean your child hates the potty and wants to use a diaper. They might mean he wants a different location or more independence. They might just mean he can’t be bothered because he’s much too busy with something else (and “something else” could be anything from cutting a tooth to learning to jump to playing with his favorite truck). At every step along the way, respect what he’s telling you when he refuses the potty. Remember that EC is about communication–and his saying no is communication too. Respect that, but also look for creative solutions. And keep offering the potty occasionally so he knows it’ll be available as soon as he’s interested again.
6. Have fun. I mean this very seriously: it’s important. Parents often ask me if they’re doing something “wrong” with EC. I always answer that there’s only one way to make a mistake with EC, and that’s to not have fun with it. EC is supposed to be fun for both you and your baby. It’s supposed to help bonding and communication and connection. If either you or your baby gets frustrated or stressed, then it’s time for an EC break. As long as you’re both enjoying it, you really can’t make a mistake.