Believe it or not, babies have only been in diapers for 200 years! Andrea Olson, the mama behind Go Diaper Free is an expert in Elimination Communication (EC), and is passionate about helping families return to watching for their infant’s natural cues, sans diapers.
I first learned about EC from a fellow mother a few years ago. As I changed my son’s diaper at a festival, she took her infant to the woods for his potty break. Needless to say, I was quite intrigued! After washing cloth diapers on repeat with baby number two, this memory led me to learn more about EC.
Here’s my chat with Andrea Olson:
Q: What is Elimination Communication? What is its history and is EC used around the world?
A. Elimination Communication (EC) is the practice of tending to your baby’s instinct and request for hygiene from as early as birth. It is based on signals that baby gives, baby’s natural rhythms, and the rhythm of your day together. It is what people have done for all of human history, and it is no more difficult than changing endless diapers and potty training at a later age. Essentially, those who practice EC use the diaper as a “back-up,” not as a full-time “toilet,” and the child is taught from a very young age where his or her waste belongs. It is a way to deeply connect with baby while zooming out to meet another of baby’s inherent needs: just like the need for food, warmth, sleep, and love are met from birth…so can baby’s hygiene needs.
EC has been around since humans have! Think about it – do you believe cavemen and women allowed their babies to pee and poop all over the cave? No. That would have caused disease and a big mess. Instead, babies, as the mammals they are, have a strong instinct to not soil themselves, their bed, or their caregivers. They give off a distinct signal when carried in-arms, and when crawling and walking, they simply take care of business, themselves, learning from others.
EC is currently used in all regions of the world where there are either no diapers or access to diapers is limited (50% of babies in today’s world are toilet independent by 1 year old). EC was the only method used, including in the US, prior to commercial cloth diapers hitting the market around 200 years ago, and a modified version of EC has been used since then up until the invention of disposable diapers in 1961. Since then, the toilet training age has more than doubled from 92% being done by 18 months old in 1957 in the US, to our current average of 36-38 months to toilet trained. This stems directly from diaper companies’ marketing campaigns that have shifted what our medical industry believes babies and toddlers are capable of.
Q: When should you start Elimination Communication with your baby? When is it too late?
A. It is best to start EC from birth, as it is easiest to start then and more likely for parents to stick with it, but you can start anywhere from 0-18 months and get similar positive results! It can be practiced part-time and it is all about learning from and teaching your child, as a team, and handing off the baton toward completion once brain development hits a major milestone at 14-18 months of age. You can expect to wrap up EC by 18 months old.
After 18 months of age, it is best to toilet train, as toddlers desire quick mastery (and the training process becomes much, much more difficult after 18 months old). Quick and parent-led toilet training is actually gentler than making it child-led and drawn-out. We parents put them into diapers, and we are the ones who take them out of diapers. Child-led toilet training is a product of the diaper companies’ marketing…it simply delays the process and causes stress to both child and parents.
Q: What tips do you have for learning your baby’s elimination patterns?
A. I recommend starting EC with the easy catches: upon waking up, at every diaper change, at transitions times (like before putting into a high chair, or upon taking baby out of something), and getting the poops (with the usually-obvious signal that they’ve begun pooping!).
If you want to track baby’s patterns more specifically, to get a handle on how often they go, starting at waking or at feeding time, simply check and see how often baby pees or poos (at which intervals) from waking or feeding. Track it on a chart (you can get one here) over a few hours or days and see what patterns you observe.
Q: What is the hardest part about EC? What the benefits?
A. The hardest part about EC is handling other people’s criticisms of it. If you keep it private and have this relationship with your baby, in private, it is just the same as learning how to breastfeed or nap your baby. It takes some time up-front, like everything with your baby does, and likewise you have to filter people’s opinions and not let them get under your skin.
Another hard part is if baby has a “potty pause.” This is usually a sign that baby wants something to change – usually involving how much baby gets to do his/herself! Teaching independence and how to do each part of the potty process will usually help with potty refusal during months 8-14. Also, discontinuing diapers can end a potty pause.
Q: What are your tips for navigating EC part-time (if a child is in daycare for example)?
A. It is similar to if your child has a peanut allergy or a wheat intolerance: what would you tell the daycare about helping to handle these differences with your child? Likewise, if you work to have poop-trained your child at home, you would simply send your child in cotton training pants and a cover (which keeps the pants dry – like these here) with plenty of dry changes in these items, and extra pants, in a wet-dry bag…and teach the teacher what you do at home. Work together with the teacher to share tips and to solve any issues, day in and day, out. It’s not about how many wet ones you have at the end of the day…it’s about your commitment to the values of not diapering your child beyond his or her ability to be toilet independent.
Worst case, some of our ECing parents send their children in disposables and the child demands to be toileted at daycare, anyway! For any situation, taking the child in and pottying them upon arrival, and pottying upon pickup, helps keep things rolling when they’re out of your care. Parents in our community report that they have great success with part-time EC, and when they wrap it up at home, the daycare (surprisingly) goes along with it. Just ask them to potty your baby just like they’d potty a 2 or 3 year old – you see the peepee dance? Or the poop push face? Take her to the toilet!
Q: What resources do you recommend for parents interested in trying EC?
A. I have an Easy Start Guide available for free on my website which gives a great overview of the 4 main aspects of EC. That’s a wonderful place to begin. I also have a Youtube channel, podcast, and blog that covers just about everything, and my book, Go Diaper Free, is fantastic at filling in all the blanks – it comes with visual aids such as a private video library and set of downloads. It also comes with access to our online private support group for 24/7 help.
About the Expert:
Andrea Olson is an internationally-known Elimination Communication (EC) expert and a pioneer in helping mothers and fathers worldwide go “diaper-free” (free from full-time dependence on diapers), helping parents regain their “potty wisdom” with any age child or baby. She has worked with tens of thousands of parents worldwide as they begin, maintain, troubleshoot, and graduate EC with babies 0-18 months.
Andrea holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology and lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband and soon-to-be-5 children (all ECed from birth and all out of diapers around one year old).