Elimination communication, natural infant hygiene or the art of non-diapering. Mm! Now that is a vast subject, and a post I've been wanting to write for a long time, ever since the first questions started coming up on my instagram account. Basically, Elimination Communication (EC) means being attentive and responsive to your baby's cues and natural timing to pee and poo. It's a non-coercive practice, without any type of rewarding or punishment. When you see the moment coming, you take tour baby to a potty (or basin, toilet, tupperware, grass, compost heap, whatever) so they can eliminate in the right place. Sometimes sounds or signs are associated with it, so the child will learn to communicate her needs. In fact, EC is just a fancy name to describe what some cultures have been doing since, well, always. A friend of mine travelled to China and saw a mama 'pottying' her child in a trash bin after getting out of the metro! In some countries, not using diapers is just the usual thing.
EC will help you establish a close bond with your baby and help build not only your confidence in him, but also his confidence in you! It will help you being independent from diapers and carry a lighter bag, and save your time and water if you use cloth diapers (and bling bling if you use disposables).
We started doing EC when Jade was eight weeks old. By seven months old she was diaper free during the day. We still have misses and we don't do it at night - because honestly, at night we just want to sleep! And sometimes, when we're really tired / focused on something / just not feeling it we put a diaper on. Ta-daa!
Before starting, I'd like you to keep three things in mind: EC isn't a philosophy or religion (do you know what I mean?), a competition or a bastion of our parenting. In our modern busy world, not all parents have the disposition to do it and, of course, diapers are really practical. Misses are normal - nobody's perfect! You don't have to EC full time. You can do it when you're back from work, you can do it when you're outside in the garden, you can do it only on weekends and you can skip the nights. You can start it, stop it and go back to it anytime.
How do I start?
Some people start EC from day one. You can start it anytime.
The beggining of your EC journey will require a couple days of patience. In these, you want to give your baby as much naked-bum time as possible in order to understand what signals she makes before 'going', as well as how often she needs to. Maybe she stretches out her legs (that's what Jade did), or squirms, or pulls that face. Depending on the age, she needs to pee every twenty minutes or once an hour.
You may want to start associating sounds when you notice her doing it (for example, for us pee is 'sssssss' and poop is 'mmmm'). She will soon get accustomed to this sign, which you'll later use as signals when you hold her over the potty (as if saying "you can pee here now")
At first you may be only getting poos, which are easier to understand. After eight weeks, Jade stopped pooping on her diaper, but I was really discouraged with pee - I just couldn't seem to feel them coming...
Keep on mind that, as your baby grows up and experiences different phases, the cues will change as well. Maybe he will even stop cueing - don't worry! You can always keep on following what I'm writing next.
Which moments can I do it?
Up there I wrote that EC is based on cues and natural timing. You may have got some cues already after the first couple days of observation, but there are other moments when you can potty (EC jargon calls these pottytunities. Super geeky, I know) These vary from baby to baby, but common moments are:
- After breastfeeding - maybe your baby needs to pee right after, or twenty minutes after;
- After getting out of the sling/ carrier - Jade always pees after getting out, but never pees while in it (OK, I confess, in our whole journey she peed twice on my back, but I was asking for it);
- After waking up - if she woke up in a bad mood, I potty her while breastfeeding;
- Before getting in the sling / car seat /etc - just in case;
- When you think it's time - nobody knows your baby better than you do. If you thinks she needs to go out of the blue, probably you're right. A lot of EC is plain intuition.
Sometimes, you'll hold your baby over the potty and be wrong. Babies can be very clear when they don't want to pee. Just put the pants back on and try again later. Occasionally, the baby will pee right after having refused the potty. That's fine. In these cases, we just point at the pee and say "you peed on the floor, the potty is there", and point at the potty, always with a smile.
Can I use diapers?
Once I was listening to a podcast with Andrea Olson and she said something that ringed a bell: parents practising EC use more diapers than parents who don't. Which is really accurate at first when you're still learning! You can EC and have a diaper on your baby. You just remove it and put it back after using the potty. But because you're being so attentive, you will end up using more diapers at the beginning, because you'll be changing them every time you notice a miss.
Andrea said something else in this episode, which was diapers are a backup, not a toilet. That pretty much sums it up :-)
How can I dress my baby?
This was one of my biggest questions! During the winter months dressing and undressing isn't easy. That's why we stopped dressing Jade in bodies, hard to unbutton under all those clothes, and put her in pants and t-shirts underneath. You can also try to stay away from snowman-like suits, which are just impossible to pull down and keep your baby comfortable at the same time.
As for the bottom, if Jade was not in a cloth diaper, I would want something elastic that could easily be undressed. Susana sewed some thin wool diaper covers for Jade, which turned out to be perfect first undies. They would absorb misses and I could even lay a prefold diaper in if I felt less confident. On top of this, the baby can just be dressed normally.
I know some people dress their babies in long wool skirt with nothing underneath at home, so they can be warm and don't wet their clothes in case there's a miss.
What if I'm not home?
I can only approach this subject from our perspective, which is living the countryside, where we don't do a lot of city trips or spend a long time in places where we can't pee next to a tree.
But since we've started EC, we carry our potty every where when we leave home. It's a family member, almost.
- If you're in the car, use the potty before leaving and every time you make a stop. Or, if the trip is long, every now and then you can pull the car over - depending on how often the baby needs to pee. Upon arrival it's another pottytunity!
- If you go out walking, before getting in the sling is a good moment. Based on your baby's cues or timings, you can pull her out when she needs to. When you arrive to the destination, look for a toilet!
Now that Jade is walking and going easily where she wants to, when we arrive to a new place I go with her to the toilet / potty and show her where it is. This works sometimes and she points at the spot or tries to go towards the it when she needs to pee.
A few things to keep in mind
- Don't be too hard on yourself - nor on your child. With time, EC will be something that naturally flows within your routine. And yes, misses will be part of it;
- Take a couple extra pants when you go out with your baby;
- Get in touch with other EC parents! It can be discouraging not to have others to learn from and to exchange ideas with. It helped us greatly to find other parents doing the same, both in real life and on social media;
- You don't have to EC full time, every day (and after you've started and know your baby well, it gives you a cool sense of confidence to know that you can go without them anytime);
- It really pays out. It can be weary at first, but yes, it really works! :-)
- Go Diaper Free - I got a copy of Andrea Olson's book and it helped me so much! She has some great information on the site and super handy podcasts if you're the busy type who likes to listen to stuff while doing something else.
- Diaper Free Baby - another website packed with valuable information - and look at that benefits list she wrote!
- Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene
I hope you find this post useful! Did you practice EC with your children? Do have advice for the nights? An idea to share? Questions? Just leave a comment below! :