Imagine what it would feel like to wear a diaper every day of your life! With your only reprieve during a bath. As a woman i find wearing a pad for even a day to be unbearable. For this reason alone i was instantly drawn to Elimination communication (or Gentle Infant Hygiene) when i first stumbled upon it. Wikipedia has a perfectly succinct definition here:
EC is a practice in which a caregiver uses timing, signals, cues, and intuition to address an infant’s need to eliminate waste. Caregivers try to recognize and respond to babies’ bodily needs and enable them to urinate and defecate in an appropriate place (e.g. a toilet or sink to start). Caregivers may use diapers as a back-up in case of misses some or all of the time, or not at all. EC emphasizes communication between the caregiver and child, helping them both become more attuned to the child’s innate rhythms and control of urination and defecation. The term “elimination communication” was inspired by traditional practices of diaper-less baby care in less industrialized countries and hunter-gatherer cultures. Some practitioners of EC begin soon after birth, the optimum window being zero to four months, although it can be started with babies of any age. The practice can be done full-time, part-time, or just occasionally.
Did you know that babies know how to control their bladder from the time they are born? It’s remarkable! And true. Why don’t we collectively know this? Babies are very much in touch with their need to pee and poop from birth and if we pay attention to their cues, just as we do for hunger cues and otherwise, we could cultivate a clear path of communication with them about their elimination needs. Before we begin, let me just clarify that this is not a trend. This isn’t “new age”. This is old world, old fashioned! This is how it was done before anyone knew what a diaper was, and how it’s still done in many parts of the world.
Our family began to practice this when Veda was about 10 months old. I wished i had started it earlier, but i wasn’t ready to take it on until later in her infancy. If you think this is something that you have no interest in, just think about it this way. Your baby will one day have to pee and poop in a toilet, and at some point within their first few years of life you will have to teach them how. You can begin to teach them one day out of the blue when they are a willful toddler who is designed to almost exclusively do things their own way, or you can begin to slowly start making the connection for them as soon as possible. I definitely plan to EC my second child from birth, but even beginning at 10 months has been tremendously enlightening and educational for us all. It’s felt to me like we are simply getting a gentle and laid back start to the potty independence which all children must achieve at some point anyways.
What i love about EC is that it isn’t about diapers versus no diapers. There is no rush to the finish line, or “potty independence” as many call it. We haven’t abandoned diapers and don’t plan to until the time is right. We are just having a conversation about what the potty is and how our body works. And while Veda almost always wears a diaper, these days she knows that she doesn’t always have to use it as a toilet. And that is what’s so nice for her!
By 10 months old i was ready to give EC a whirl! Only problem was that Veda had bigger fishes to fry at that time. She was busy mastering so many new things from walking to babbling to climbing… pottying was not really a priority to her. With all that she had going on, going to the bathroom was the last thing on her radar. After all, i had trained her to go in a diaper from the time she was born, so she was contentedly trained to pee, poop and play all at once without any interruption.
As a way to open the lines of communication, i began giving her a lot of diaper free time around the house. This served as a way to enlighten us both about what exactly is going on in that neatly concealed diaper of hers! If you have a diapered baby too then you can relate to the fact that you have no clue how often they pee! You just know that there is a wet diaper about hourly. Diaper-free time helped me to get a sense of how often and when she peed, which helped me know how and when to offer her potty breaks. *Potty breaks are great for small children, especially ones not readily in touch with their potty needs, as it reminds them that they might have to go. Diaper-free time also helped Veda to get in touch with her own bodily functions. A baby trained for diapers loses connection to their elimination needs because they have a toilet strapped to their bum. They never have had to think about it, hold it or communicate it.
By giving Veda diaper-free time i could see the surprise on her face when a wet feeling trickled down her leg and she was suddenly standing in a puddle of her own creation. She didn’t expect it, and in that moment she was learning something very important about herself and her body. I also began to say the peeing cue “psssss….” when i could tell she was peeing in her diaper. This serves to create an association to peeing with that sound. After you embark on this potty journey, you become much more aware of what a peeing face even looks like because you are now paying so much more attention. Within a couple of weeks i could hold her over a sink or toilet (with her back to my belly, my hands under her knees propping her in a squatted position) and cue her by saying “psssss”, and she would pee, or poop. For a good while she would pee or poop if she needed to, all by using the “pssss” cue. Now i do a little grunt or pushing sound when i think she might also need to poop, and she seems to appreciate the insight into how to encourage movement down there, if ya know what i mean.
Its been about 6 months since we’ve been practicing this. Some days she welcomes every opportunity i offer her to go in a toilet/sink. Some days she resists every opportunity. Resistance is always met with immediate acceptance. Have no agenda. Agendas would not bode well here. I am not trying to get her out of diapers nor am i training her to use the toilet, though it may seem that way on the surface. I am merely giving her another option, introducing the potty, creating a new relationship for her. She knows the potty is there. Sometimes she welcomes it and other times she resists. It’s all okay. She has a relationship with the potty now and when she is ready she will take that relationship to the next level. Similar to new foods, you would never force feed your baby something they didn’t want. You try it, they say no, you back off and try again another time. Pushing anything creates power struggles and this practice is really about the opposite of power and struggles. It’s about communication and natural development.
We have a Baby Bjorn potty that hangs out in our living room but she almost never uses it for real. She likes to play with it, put things in it, take them out, sometimes sit on it, but actual potty-action usually happens over a bathroom sink. However recently, i have caught her sitting on it fully clothed and with her diaper on, peeing or pooping. Interesting, right? Then the other day, she was playing around the house without a diaper on while my husband was nearby. All of a sudden he saw her plop down on the potty and pee. Then she just got up and kept playing! That is the beauty of giving your child the space to come to something on their own. She clearly has her own relationship to the potty. She toys with it, tests it out, reviews it from all angles in her own funny way.
Shortly after we began to experiment with this EC stuff, i noticed that her night time diapers were much less soggy in the morning. This let me know that she was re-learning how to hold her bladder to some degree. While her diaper was a little wet as clearly she had peed throughout the night, i could tell that she was definitely exercising her ability to hold out at times too. This really affirmed for me that she preferred not to be in a soggy diaper all night, that she was reconnecting with her bodily functions and applying that natural ability.
Today she still has days or weeks of peeing and pooping in the “potty” consistently, and days or weeks marked by total resistance and disinterest, but the point is not to rush her out of diapers. The purpose of this is to offer her another option, to introduce her to a way of eliminating which can eventually free her from ever having to sit in her own excrement ever again. Not to mention, getting out of diapers is amazing for the environment. We use biodegradable disposables, but let’s face it- it’s not good for the planet!
Up until recently the “communication” part of this process was mostly intuitive because she never really let me know when she had to go. Babies who have been practicing this since early infanthood will often have signals to work off of, but Veda never really developed that at all. I usually would just get a *feeling* that she needed to pee or poop and if i was tuned in enough to act on that little voice in my head, i’d usually “catch” something. It was/is a learning process for me too because all of a sudden i had another layer of subtle cueing to pay attention to. I would get a potty related hunch, but because i wasn’t used to paying attention to her potty needs i wouldn’t always act on it. Then a few moments later she’d be peeing or pooping in her diaper and i’d think to myself, “Oops! I totally knew that was coming!” Eventually i learned to listen to the faint potty whispers in my mind and act of those knowings. It’s just the same as knowing or sensing when she is tired, hungry, overstimulated, cold, hot, or whatever else.
Sometimes i’m honestly just too lazy or tied up to follow through and take her to the potty even when i’ve got an inkling, but i try my best to honor her need to go as much as to honor the fact that sometimes i just need to stay in bed and it’s okay to simply let her know that if she has to go its okay to go in her diaper and that i will change her straight away. This way, at least we are communicating about it. Because communication is really the hallmark and beauty of this practice.
Now at almost 16 months old she is beginning to subtly communicate her need a little more and its not just all intuition and timing on my end. She will sometimes look at me a certain funny way or touch her lower belly which lets me know that she is feeling an urge. EC definitely requires you to be very in tune with your child, but that is part of the beauty of it. It’s this whole other form of language that you share with even a pre-verbal baby.
There can be setbacks during times of teething or illness, or big developmental stuff, but things often come back on track once a rhythm is reestablished. And so far i have found that this process isn’t linear anyways. It’s another natural part of their multidimensional journey towards independence, and that alone is a winding and unique road. Your job is simply to trust the process and check your agenda at the bathroom door. Independence with all things comes in its own good time.
*Update: Veda became potty independent at 21 months.