Monday, July 12, 2010

Elimination Communication, or, Antarctica Reconsiders the Embrace of Diapers

Spoiler Alert: this post contains frank talk about urination, defecation, and bodily function in general. As in, I'm gonna tell you all about poop and pee and who does what where.Ok, now that THAT is out of the way, I'd like to start by saying I like to defecate in the place of my choosing. I feel better when I do and, I find, it is much less messy than cleaning it out of my underwear and pants. Further more, I prefer that my dogs poop where I would like for them to poop. They hold their urges to go so long as I help them get to where they need to go before they give up and have to go where I'd prefer they not go.

I have found that the above paragraph also applies pretty well to my baby. He seems to feel better when he voluntarily empties his bladder and/or bowels. He seems more comfortable and we both find it to be less messy than my having to wipe smeared poo from the amazing amount of surface area it seems to occupy when I don't get him to the potty in time and he defecates in his diaper. He can hold his need to eliminate for longer and longer periods of time.

OK you say, this makes sense, sort of... except that your son is not even six months old! That is also true, but we have been practicing Elimination Communication, EC for short, since he was four weeks old, so, most of his short life. The practice goes by plenty of other names like Infant Potty Training, Natural Hygiene, and Diaper Free Babies to name a few. The basic idea boils down to this:

1. Babies can and do signal their needs for elimination much like their other needs, such as being hungry or hot.
2. Diapers are a fairly new invention and used mostly in Western cultures or for very young infants.
3. You can work with your child to develop an understanding to facilitate meeting their elimination needs.

Before you freak out and tell me I'm really messing up my child by forcing them to potty train before he is ready and that I'll permanently damage him etc. Let me share a few things that EC is not. It is not attempting to force a child to eliminate, or, to reward or shame a child for his elimination behaviors. It is also not an all or nothing endeavor. Jax wears a diaper almost all the time (although I know several children his age *and younger* who don't wear diapers at all in my monthly local group, Diaper Free Baby of GA/SC).

My Discovery

I stumbled across EC while pregnant and remember thinking "crazy hippies!" I mean, seriously, who tries to potty train a kid who can't get to the toilet? You're going to have to hold over the potty every time he needs to go?! I skimmed a few sites and forgot about it. I was pretty much too busy puking into my toilet to care about whether my son eliminate into it. I had found the cloth diaper world, why would I want anything more?

Then Jax was born, and I noticed he seemed to have a little bowel movement every time he nursed. Because I'm an info-holic, I was reading about this predictability *which is totally normal* and I came across a few references to EC. I spent an hour or two reading, mostly on the Diaper Free Baby website, and thought it sort of made sense. I was dealing with my son's elimination all day anyway, why should it matter if I held him over a toilet or spent twenty more seconds wiping his bum? Of course, I was totally sleep deprived and almost anything "sort of made sense."

Jax was sleeping, as four week old babies are want to do. I thought to myself, this site says babies usually go when they wake up... I'm home alone with the baby... I could try it and, if it didn't work, no one would ever have to know! So, Jax woke up, I took off his diaper and held him over the toilet and made the cue "Psssss sssss" sound. He urinated and then defecated. I almost did too. I literally stood their laughing like an idiot. What the crap? *literally* I could not believe it. He did it again when my husband got home and I was hooked!

My theory is this: any pee or poo that doesn't go into a diaper is poo and pee with which Jax and I don't have to deal. I'm not really worried about potty training, although it seems like it would be much easier with a child who knows when he's going and just has to learn the when and where; rather than working with children to learn when to go and all the places and times not to. The big benefit to me is knowing Jax is more comfortable, and that the two of us are more in sync.

What We Do

In the grand world of EC we're considered "Part Time ECers." Basically it means we don't go without diapers all the time, but we do it more than occasionally, in our case, every day. I'll do a basic break down for you. But do remember, this is just us, just what we, personally do.

When Jax wakes up in the morning, I take off his diaper and hold him over the potty. I cue him by talking about what we are doing "I'm taking off your diaper, it's time to go to the bathroom" and hold him over the toilet with my hands under his thighs and sing the potty song I modified... it goes to the tune of "This is the Way We Wash our Hands...."

"Where do we go to urinate,
defecate, urinate?
Where do we go to urinate?
We do it in the toilet!"

This makes me giggle pretty much every time. I borrowed it from someone who suggested "Where do we go to poop and pee..." but the nerd in me totally loves using the correct word for things. Now, he usually starts to urinate about mid song, if not, I'll further cue by making a "Psssss sssss sss" sound. When we first started he would wait for the cue sound. On a side note, he is often flatulent first thing in the morning, and, lately, will also have a bowel movement every other day or so.

Because I narrate almost everything Jax and I do together, I will then continue "you urinated here in the toilet. Does that feel better? I feel better when I urinate in the toilet." We then will put on a diaper and nurse or do a morning activity.

He usually takes the opportunity to urinate at any given diaper change and I will offer more often if he is kicking or seems fussy for no other obvious reason or just have the gut feeling that he needs to go. He pretty consistently will urinate the most upon waking up from sleeping. If we're going to be home, I'll use a BumGenius 3.0 with no insert or soaker so he can feel as soon as he is wet and get changed immediately. If I am consistent, and offer opportunities *or Pottitunities* at least once an hour, he will generally stay dry for a whole morning or afternoon.

I also try to give him some "naked time" when he is not wearing any bottoms, but is sitting on a towel or something "just in case" so we can both notice as soon as he starts to urinate. In the beginning he would just release and empty his bladder; now, he will just barely start and if I pick him up, he'll stop and wait 'till I get him to the toilet or his little Ikea LÄTTSAM Potty.

Take Away

Long story short, EC would be way easier if I could just hold Jax out any time he needed to go and it would fall somewhere, like the grass, where it wouldn't matter. Because we have carpeting, and generally wherever is not an acceptable location, we use a back up system. My Mom shared with me all about split pants being used with toddlers in China this way, and I have since read more anthropological information about how other cultures deal with children and infants eliminating. It's actually quite interesting.

I know EC isn't for everyone, and, I know it sounds weird and crazy to lots of folks. On the other hand, it works for us. When Jax makes a great big bowel movement in the toilet and grins at me, I grin back. He feels better and one swipe is better than five wipes. I also know I'm not hard core enough to just suck it up and deal with the misses of going 100% diaper free. I think that's the great thing about EC... it's not really about potty training, it's about communicating better with your child.

P.S. I just discovered this awesome blog today, Do-it-yourself EC, with posts on how to make some home-made EC stuff and I thought this would be the perfect place to link to it! It not only talks about EC, it's all crafty and sewy and stuff!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Christine, you are a completely fabulous writer! I don't even have kids (in case you hadn't noticed), and I LOVE reading this articles. They're so educational, but also completely accepting of the many different styles of child-rearing. Keep it up!

  3. Enjoyed reading your EC blog. Not that EC is in my future - I'm 58, have no kids. But it was very interesting and well-written, Christine.

    Ann (your mom and dad's high school English teacher)

  4. Anne and Ann, thanks for your feedback. It's encouraging to hear back from those who might not be my target audience, but still enjoy my writing.