My daughter is 11 weeks old, and she pees in a potty. That’s right: my infant pees in a potty. And she poops in one, too. Not all the time, mind you; but these days we catch most of her daytime potty needs. Plus, in the last two weeks, I’ve changed 3 poopy diapers. The other 32 times she’s pooped, our little baby has waited until she had her diaper off and was in a “potty place” in order to go.
This is all thanks to something called “Elimination Communication.” Weird name, right? Yeah; the name sounds all stuffy and clinical, but what it boils down to is inherent right in the title: when Phoebe lets us know that she has to pee or poop, we take her to a potty spot to do it so that she doesn’t have to soil herself.
I know. I know. There is a lot to unpack with this idea. Few people in America are aware this is even possible. Or that babies are capable. But Elimination Communication, or “EC” for short, is a widely used practice of infant pottying all across the globe. Typically you find it in places that are less westernized or Americanized, the same places where disposable diapers are too expensive for the common person. But if you ask me, peeing your pants is a far more primitive way to grow up than learning to pee where the big boys and girls go.
EC presupposes the following:
- Babies are capable of bowel and bladder control from birth.
- Babies prefer to be clean; it is only through desensitization that they come to accept sitting in a dirty diaper.
- Babies give cues to let you know when they need to relieve themselves. These cues can be reinforced by parents so that they become a form of communication.
- Parents, in turn, can establish cues to let the baby know they understand the baby’s potty needs and that help is on the way.
There are all sorts of applications of EC. Some families do it from birth and never use diapers. Some start at 3 months or 6 months or one year of age. Some families do it at one time of day but not another. There is no magic formula for how EC should be incorporated; each family has to find what works for them. So, I’m going to share with you…
OUR ADVENTURES IN INFANT POTTYING!!!
The first place I heard about EC was when I was reading “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering” by Sarah J Buckley. You can read an excerpt that she wrote about her experiences with EC here: Mothering, Mindfulness and a Baby’s Bottom.
Before Phoebe was born, I read “Diaper Free” by Ingrid Bauer. Bauer is a total hippie, but a lot of the book was well researched, and it laid out EC in a clear and accessible manner. Mr. Wetzel also read excerpts from the book and we talked about it. A lot.
We gleaned a lot of encouragement from Emily’s blog post Elimination Communication / Infant Pottying–Our Start, showing a common sense way normal people could incorporate it into their lives without being total weirdos.
We concluded that EC sounded difficult and time consuming, but we were going to try it, for the following reasons:
- We liked the idea of establishing communication with Phoebe about one of her basic needs.
- We didn’t want her to become desensitized to discomfort in her “private area.”
- We wanted to help her develop her use of the muscles in her bladder and bowels, instead of losing control over them.
- We figured potty training must be just as hard, so if we put in the effort now instead of later, we could avoid years of dirty diapers.
(Other people also do EC because it’s more environmentally friendly, but that wasn’t a reason for us. I mean: I recycle and turn the lights off and carpool and stuff, but if I’m going to majorly change the way I help my baby potty, there’d better be more egging me on than a warm and fuzzy feeling about saving the rainforests, or whatever.)
To start, we decided we’d change Phoebe’s diapers as quickly as possible, to help her keep the preference for a dry bum.
We established cueing sounds that we would use with Phoebe anytime we observed her “eliminating.” If she peed, we went “psssss;” if she pooped we grunted (I don’t really know how to write out the characters for a grunt). At the beginning, all we did was make the cueing sound if we observed her in action. That meant we almost never cued her to pee, because we had her in diapers except for diaper changes.
As Phoebe got a little older and we got more confident about being parents in general, we’d give her more diaper free time on the changing pad while we dressed her or changed her diaper. This would give her the opportunity to have an open air “accident,” which we loved, because it was an opportunity to make the cueing sounds for her. Our changing pad has washable cloths on it to soak up pee and poo, so the accidents were not really messy; in fact, they were easier clean-up jobs that most dirty diaper changes!
Phoebe went through a period of really bad gas, so we’d often have her on the pad, diaper off, and we’d bicycle her legs to help the gas out. This was another great opportunity to let her relieve herself. She loved time on the changing pad, and eventually started to pump her arms and legs in excitement whenever she was lying there with her diaper off.
I took Phoebe into the bathroom a few times to hold her above the sink and see if she’d pee or poo there, but she cried and screamed, so I gave it a break. On June 6th, at 7.5 weeks old (and on her Papa’s birthday), we held her over the sink, made the cueing sounds to let her know she could go potty, and she peed and pooped on cue.
The next day we had success “catching” pees and poos again: she pooped once and peed 4 times in the sink, upon cueing. At this stage, we didn’t expect to catch most of her potty needs; we considered each “catch” a win; each time she peed or pooped in the sink, it was one dirty diaper we avoided.
Over the next week, we noticed trends: Phoebe didn’t pee in her sleep, but always needed to pee shortly after a nap. She tended to poop around the same times every day.
I started to realize that if she popped on and off a lot while nursing, it was because she either had to burp or pee…and most often it meant both.
As Phoebe’s vocalizations have developed this month, we’ve come to recognize the cry she gives when she needs to relieve herself. Unless she’s overtired, it’s the only time she’ll cry as if she’s upset or in pain.
Just this last week, I picked up on the fact that she often twitches she foot while nursing if she has to pee. And a friend pointed out that if I’m babywearing her in the ring sling, I can feel her stomach muscles flex when she’s gotta go.
Phoebe is happier when she doesn’t have to wear a big bulky diaper all the time. She loves moving her legs around. This week, we dug out the bloomers that came with her dress outfits, and we give her “underwear time” periodically throughout the day. She’s peed on a lot of things, but each time a blanket or outfit (or parent) gets soaked with pee, we take it as an opportunity to learn, to understand more what body language and cues from Phoebe precede a pee, and we grow from there.
Where does Phoebe pee and poop? Sometimes, she goes in her diaper. And that’s ok! This isn’t about shaming her or forcing her to go somewhere else. It’s about offering her the opportunity to not have to defecate on herself. She also pees in the sink, in a little baby bjorn potty in her bedroom and in the backyard. When we’re out running errands, if she has a dry diaper and I suspect she needs to go, I offer her an opportunity to pee. She has peed: in the bushes near Target, in woodchips at the Costco parking lot and even in the sink at the Chiropractor’s. (Are you thinking: “Ew! That’s gross!”? Well…relax. Pee is sterile. The cigarette butts on the ground are grosser. And I washed out the sink afterwards.)
The hardest thing about EC is the fact that it’s uncommon and countercultural. Thank goodness for twitter; using the hashtag #ecchat, I have found a community of other EC parents who offer encouragement, moral support and advice…as well as shared enthusiasm. Then, one day on twitter, my brother dropped me a line saying he and Eli (my sister-in-law) did this method with my niece. By 6 months, she was basically potty trained. I had no idea! Eli is from Bulgaria, and just about everyone in Bulgaria practices EC. It’s a cultural thing. It’s just the way infant pottying is done. I was so grateful to realize I had someone locally AND in my family that I could now talk to about it!
These days we do EC with Phoebe during the daytime. At night, we share our bed with her, and she has a specific way of hitting me with her arm to wake me up when she needs a diaper change. I give her a fresh diaper a few times a night, changing her right there on the bed, then we nurse back to sleep. She rarely wakes up during these sessions. Then in the morning, she awakens bright eyed and bushy tailed and giggles at us as we cuddle and yawn together in bed. We take her to the bathroom for her morning constitution, and she almost always poops. Sometimes she’ll poop up to 3 more times in the day. She almost always lets us know she has to go, and we almost always understand her in time to catch it.
Do you have questions about EC? I’d love to hear them!
Do you EC or have a fun EC anecdote? Join the conversation and share your experiences!