Elimination communication, or EC, is a gentle, non-coercive way of introducing the toilet to your baby at any age–even as early as birth. As the name implies, EC focuses not on accomplishing potty training nor learning rewards and punishments, but rather on simply communicating with your baby. Although the practice sounds difficult or intimidating to many parents, EC can be adjusted to meet the needs and desires of any family. You can do it part-time or full-time, with or without diapers, and you can spend as much or as little time on it as you want to.
Benefits of Elimination Communication
The main benefit of elimination communication is the increased opportunity it gives you to communicate with your infant. It’s often difficult to interpret why a young baby is fussing; he might be hungry, tired, bored, or wet. In the early days of your child’s life, EC is just one of many tools you can use to soothe him. As your baby grows and you learn to interpret his signals better, he will begin to communicate more specifically his need to use the toilet, just as he communicates his need to eat or sleep.
EC is also a hygienic way of dealing with infant waste. Disposable diapers take up space in landfills, and cloth diapers use water and energy for washing. EC enables you to put your infant’s waste directly into the toilet, where it will be processed and treated in an environmentally appropriate way. Although most families who practice EC use diapers some or all of the time as back up, every diaper you avoid using is one less diaper to dispose of or wash, saving you both money and time. In addition, cleaning up after your infant uses the toilet is much easier than cleaning up after a dirty diaper.
How to Get Started with Elimination Communication
The easiest way to get started with EC is to observe your baby to learn his elimination signals. Most newborns and young infants will signal their need to eliminate just as they signal all of their needs. Take your baby’s diaper off, and place a cloth diaper, towel, or disposable diaper under your baby while you hold him on your lap. (With a boy, you might also want to lay a washcloth over his penis to prevent spray.) Then spend some time observing when he eliminates. Pay attention to his body language just before he urinates : he may become suddenly still, or he may kick and fuss. He might look at you or get tense. You can also pay attention to timing; most newborns urinate frequently (usually every 15 to 30 minutes), while older babies urinate less often but still at predictable intervals.
When you notice your baby urinating, give him a cue that he can learn to associate with releasing those muscles. In cultures where EC is traditionally practiced, the most common cue is a nonverbal “pss” sound that approximates the sound of running water. However, you can use any cue you want, such as a sound, a phrase like “pee-pee!” or even a short song. Preverbal babies will have an easier time recognizing a sound or very short phrases that you always say with the same inflection.
As you begin to recognize your baby’s signals and your baby begins to recognize your cue sound, you can start to offer “pottytunities” by holding your baby over a potty or toilet. When you think he needs to go, based on his signals and timing, sit him on the potty (if he’s old enough to sit) or hold him over it and make your cue sound. Most babies will go within a few seconds or a minute; if he doesn’t go, take him off and try again later. If he doesn’t go immediately, but seems content to sit over the toilet, you can wait a little longer, especially if he seems to be concentrating or straining. He might just need a minute to go. However, never keep your baby on the potty if he arches his back or protests–respect his communication that he doesn’t want to eliminate right now.
Continuing Your EC Journey
Practicing EC is rarely a linear process. Most babies will experience regressions and “potty pauses” along the way as they journey toward toilet independence. Although many EC babies will finish with diapers at a younger age than their conventionally diapered counterparts, every baby is different, and EC is no guarantee that your child will be out of diapers sooner. The goal of EC is not to get your child toilet independent at a young age, but rather to help him maintain his natural awareness of his body from birth through toddlerhood and to communicate with him about his bodily processes throughout the early stages of life.
Because EC is such an unfamiliar practice in modern American culture, many families find it helpful to connect with other EC’ing families for support and advice. DiaperFreeBaby, a nonprofit organization that offers an international network of local support groups for EC families, has a thriving group in Atlanta. Contact me (Lisa Baker) to learn more about EC or to attend an Atlanta DiaperFreeBaby meeting. Be sure to read TV actress (known from “Blossom” and “The Big Bang Theory”) and natural parenting advocate Mayim Bialik’s blog post where she shares her experience with elimination communication here.