One of the best decisions I’ve made in my journey of “natural mothering” was trying out the concept of “elimination communication.”
Elimination Communication (EC, and also known as “natural infant hygiene”) is the term given to the concept of helping your child learn to use the potty in a gentle, natural way. This idea might sound “new” to us because EC isn’t very common in the U.S. But it’s standard practice in most other parts of the world.
I first heard of EC when I was pregnant with my first child and thought it was a cool idea, but pretty “out there.” It was certainly not something I had ever seen in real life. Babies used diapers, and changing diapers was just part of parenthood, right? Actually, it doesn’t have to be, even though the diaper industry, which makes billions of dollars annually, may try to convince you otherwise.
Think of it this way: people don’t teach their pets to pee and poop in diapers — they are perfectly capable of learning the appropriate places to eliminate. There’s a level of communication and after some practice, cats know where to find their litter box and dogs know to go to the door to make it known that they need to go outside.
Humans are obviously intelligent creatures and, as I’ve seen firsthand, can learn the same — as early as infancy. It seems counterproductive (and against the grain of biology) to teach babies to eliminate in a diaper, then to teach them to use a toilet a few years later.
Babies are born instinctively knowing when they need to pee and poop and just as we can read their hunger signals, we can learn to understand their pottying needs. Tuning into your child in this way creates a really beautiful bond of communication and trust. EC can really enhance your relationship with your child.
Some benefits of EC:
- It’s normal
- Avoids diaper rash
- Makes life easier
- Better for the environment
- A lot less expensive than buying diapers
Some things to keep in mind:
- The “no” signs are just as important as the “yes” signs (I noticed that my baby would arch his back when I held him over the sink, and he didn’t need to potty).
- EC isn’t a linear progression- there will be up’s and down’s!
- Pottying doesn’t always happen on “our time.” Patience is key.
- A relaxed attitude is hugely helpful- some days will be easier than others.
- Children typically wake at night when they need to pee. I always potty’d my sons when I heard them stir or cry out in their sleep and sure enough, they peed, nursed and went back to sleep.
- There will be times when your child pees on the floor! It’s okay, and you can clean it up.
- Babywearing makes EC easier, as your child is close and you can easily read their cues. They tend to “fuss” and not want to be held when they need to potty.
- In the beginning, you’ll want to put something on your baby for backup, but not necessarily a disposable diaper (but there are some eco-friendly brands out there as better options). I used cloth diapers and the smallest undies I could find — the simple, basic cotton “training pants” and size 2T undies from Target.
- Keep a potty in the car.
- Babies tend to need to potty immediately upon waking and sometimes after and during nursing.
- Instead of calling it an “accident”, which is a negative term, call it a “miss”.
- Make a sound when your child eliminates. By doing this, they will soon catch on and be able to “go” when you “cue” them. I always used a “pssssssss” sound for peeing and a grunting sound for pooping. You can implement whatever cues you’d like. The key is consistency. Babies are smart and they really do learn and understand!
- Asking them is important too. Let your intuition guide you, and when you think your child might need to potty, try it. I know for me, when I’d get that “feeling” that my child needed to potty, it was usually right.
- A baby certainly can’t sit on a potty, so you have to hold them over the sink, potty, toilet or even a bowl. Many of the books and websites about EC have great pictures to show you. When they’re able to sit, have a few potty’s around the house and in the car (my favorites are by Baby Bjorn and Ikea).
Have fun and take lots of pictures!
I introduced the potty to my first son when he was 10 months old. I didn’t know anyone who had done this before and researched as much as I could. I found that it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of learning and patience. But he and I figured it out and he was toilet independent at about a year old. My husband thought I was crazy at first, but when he saw how awesome it was that our son was able to tell us when he needed to use the potty, he loved it and was impressed.
I kept a little basket of books and a couple special toys in the bathroom, and when I read his cues of needing to poop (or he told me), we would sit there and hang out while he let his body do its thing. Soon enough, he was going into the bathroom on his own, taking the lead of his bodily functions. We’ve definitely had some pottying adventures — I’ll never forget being in a dressing room when he was about two-years-old and he told me he needed to pee. I was undressing and very far from a bathroom.
I did what I had to — he peed in an empty snack container I had in my purse! Thankfully, I had the lid. I started pottying my second son a couple weeks after birth. It was helpful to stay home a lot during those early days and once we hit our stride of communicating, I really found it to be easy!
I find that many moms are intimidated by the thought of EC. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” The point is, you’re helping your child to understand that pee and poop go into the potty. It’s just normal and natural.
It isn’t about rewards or punishments, and it doesn’t have to be a stressful struggle. Like learning anything, it takes a little time to get the hang of it. Whether you start at infancy or toddlerhood, the keys are practice and patience. It can be as simple as offering your child the potty a few times a day (I refer to it as a “pottytunity”). The “communication” aspect of this process is all about watching and observing your child’s cues and signals.
It’s never too late to implement this concept — toilet learning is just another life skill you’re helping your child to master, and when you approach it in this way, it’s less stressful, more enjoyable and gives your child the confidence to listen to their body.
I highly recommend reading and researching: there are a lot of excellent books and websites that can help you as you learn and gain confidence. Soon enough, your child will be toilet independent and you’ll be feeling proud and happy that you took a chance on an unconventional (but totally normal!) idea!
Some of my favorite resources:
Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene, by Ingrid Bauer
Infant Potty Training, by Laurie Boucke
The Diaper Free Baby by Christine Gross-Loh
The Kind Mama by Alicia Silverstone
Beyond the Sling by Mayim Bialik
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff