Are you considering trying elimination communication (EC) with your baby?
Congratulations! You’ve already taken the hardest step – opening your mind and embracing an alternative to diapers. Modern parenthood has become synonymous with the burden of poopy diapers and babies’ bottoms with rashes and infections. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
EC offers a natural, gentle and logical approach to taking care of our babies’ needs. And it gives us an incredible opportunity to connect with our babies, honouring their instincts and letting them know their communication is understood and respected. From a global perspective EC is the standard, with most babies being potty independent at around 12 months. In most parts of the world, EC is so ingrained it doesn’t have a name – it’s just what parents do as part of caring for their babies.
But, chances are you don’t know anybody who’s practiced EC with their babies. And it can be daunting to try something so new. So revolutionary. So radical. The good news is, it’s not difficult at all.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO START?
There’s no right answer to this question. Babies communicate their potty needs from birth so you need to decide when the right time is for your family. You can begin at birth, wait a little while or start whenever you find out about EC. We started practicing EC when our son was 10 days old, which allowed me to recover from his birth, master breastfeeding and find my feet as a new mother. With a second baby, having EC experience already, I’d start on day one.
Some say there is a golden window of opportunity from 0-4 months in which it’s easiest to start EC. Young babies are very cooperative and less likely to be distracted. As they get older babies are more interested in crawling, exploring and walking rather than sitting on the potty, but it’s still possible to start EC any time.
Andrea Olsen, of Go Diaper Free, has written two age specific books which take this into consideration. I used her first book, Go Diaper Free, when our son was a baby. And I’ve also read The Tiny Potty Training Book which is for toddlers 18 months and older. Both are excellent and extremely practical.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO GET STARTED?
Here’s a short list of a few things you need to get started with EC:
- Baby Potty – most potties are designed for older toddlers so you’ll need to find a potty for small babies. We used (and still use) the Baby Bjorn Smart Potty. I like it because it has a removable bowl making it easy to tip pee and poop straight into the toilet. I also like the Beco Eco Friendly Potty. It’s made from bamboo husks and when you’re finished with it you can bury it in the garden and it biodegrades naturally. The only downside is it doesn’t have a removable bowl.
- Cloth Diapers – using cloth diapers when practicing EC means your baby will feel wet helping to maintain awareness of their elimination. We used G Diapers and loved them. They come in super cute patterns (we loved the Hawaiian print) and come with the option for a cloth insert or an eco “disposable” which can go straight into the compost.
- Disposable Diapers – when practicing EC with our baby we used disposable diapers as a back up, at night time (although we did do night time EC) and when we were on long journeys. My favourite are Seventh Generation as they are free from many of the nasty chemicals used in disposable diapers. As a result, they are less absorbent helping babies maintain a connection with their elimination needs.
- Baby Legs Leg Warmers – these leg warmers are adorable and perfect for EC. They allow easy access for a quick potty stop without needing to remove pants.
- Keekaroo Change Pad – this is the perfect change pad. It’s soft but impermeable to fluids and can go straight under a tap to be cleaned with water. And it comes in bright, fun colours.
- Tiny Undies – you’ll need some tiny undies for your baby’s tiny bottom for the day you ditch the diapers. For babies and toddlers 6 months – 3 years.
- The Diaper-Free Baby – I read a few books on EC before getting started. Andrea Olsen’s books are fantastic as is The Diaper-Free Baby by Christine Gross-Loh.
HOW DO YOU GET STARTED?
Babies express their needs constantly letting us know they’re hungry, cold, crave comfort or need to pee or poop. Like all communication with babies it takes time and patience to decipher exactly what they’re asking for. So, the best place to start is with keen observation.
Natural timing. Most babies eliminate at certain time points throughout the day. Learning your baby’s natural rhythm will help pinpoint a natural “potty-tunities”. Common potty times are upon waking, after a car journey, during or after feeding and after being in a baby carrier or stroller.
Diaper-free time. Nothing will heighten your senses or powers of observation more than diaper-free time. Liberate your baby’s bottom and give her some free time on a waterproof mat or outside on a sunny day.
Learning signals. Every baby has their own signals before they need the potty. Some babies become fidgety after being quiet. Others may grimace or grunt when they need to poop. And some may suddenly have a blank expression on their face. Most parents, even when using diapers, know when their babies are pooping. I’ve been with friends who have announced their baby is pooping, watched them do it and then changed and cleaned them. How much easier (and kinder) is it to just take babies to the potty and flush?
Introduce cues. When you observe your baby eliminating it can be useful to introduce a cue sound for pee (“pss”) and poop (“hmm” or a grunt). Your baby will start to associate these sounds with “letting go” which can be especially useful if you find yourself in a unique potty situation in the future.
Trust your instincts. Many parents, myself included, have felt as if we’re suddenly wet when our babies are sitting on us. More often than not, this is your intuition telling you your baby needs the potty.
Wear your baby. Baby wearing is a useful tool for learning your baby’s rhythms. Most babies won’t eliminate when held close. They’re usually quiet and alert when they don’t need to eliminate but will become restless and show signs they want to be taken out of the wrap when they need to go.
Start with an open diaper. Depending on the age you start EC with your baby, I’d suggest you start with peeing and pooping into an open diaper before moving to a baby potty. We started using an open diaper at 2 weeks and moved to the potty at 9 weeks when our son had strong neck control to sit on his own. If you’d like to start younger over a toilet or sink, Go Diaper Free outlines how to hold a young baby to do this.
START WITH BABY STEPS
Like all attachment parenting approaches, EC is about strengthening and deepening your connection with your baby. It’s about letting them know they’re understood, that you’re listening and their needs matter. It’s another way we can show our unconditional love.
Catching pees and poops in the potty is the objective but the most important and rewarding part of EC is communication. EC promises to strengthen your family bonds and have long-lasting positive effects on your child’s attitude towards elimination. You don’t need to catch every pee and poop. Don’t worry about the misses – they are not a sign of failure. What matters is that you tried to help your baby when you saw her communicating her needs.
I’d encourage you to try EC whatever age or stage your baby is at and I’d love to hear how you go in the comments below.
Let’s support each other as we liberate our baby’s bottoms two cheeks at a time.