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Elimination Communication FAQs

Diaper Free Baby EC

My name is Rachel. I became a mom to a beautiful little girl on 2011-11-11. I am a trained Speech Language Pathologist therefore, I am very interested in anything that has to do with communication. I think that’s why Elimination Communication appealed to me from the first time I heard about it. I read ‘The Diaper Free Baby‘ by Christine Gross-Loh and decided that this approach would fit perfectly with the way we want to raise our daughter. I’ve been ECing her since she was born.

First of all, let me say that I’m really happy to share my knowledge of EC (Elimination Communication). I don’t claim to be an expert but I can share what we do, what works and doesn’t work for us.  Before I share my personal experience (in a future post), I’ll start by answering the top 10 questions people ask me all the time. If there are other ECers reading this, feel free to add to the discussion :)

{Click to jump to a specific topic}

1. What’s the idea behind EC?

2. Why should I consider EC with my baby?

3. I don’t have a lot of time. Is EC a full time commitment?

4. My child is older. Is it too late to start ECing?

5. Okay, I might give it a try but… How do I start ECing? What should I look for?

6. My baby is too small to sit on a toilet or potty. How do I hold my baby?

7. How long do I keep my baby on the toilet/potty for?

8. How do I cue?

9. What do I do when my baby eliminates in the toilet/potty?

10. What about nighttime EC?

1. What’s the idea behind EC?
All babies, from birth, have the instinct not to soil themselves. Obviously, they don’t have the physical control of hold it in but they are aware of their bodily functions and will try to communicate their needs with you. Most parents will report that their baby will pee or poop as soon as they remove the diaper or just after they put a clean one on. That’s one of the ways babies attempt to stay clean. I’m not saying that they are planning the whole thing, but they do have the instinct to try and stay clean.

In countries where diapers are not readily available, children tend to be toilet trained at an early age because their parents are tuning-in to their elimination needs from the beginning and are responding to them. When a baby’s communication attempts are repeatedly missed or ignored, she learns to go in her diaper and to tolerate being wet or soiled. This is what usually happens in Western cultures and it might be part of the reason why many parents struggle to toilet train their toddlers (it’s difficult to re-learn to become aware of the need to go and to react to the feeling of being wet or soiled when a child is accustomed to ignoring it).

Basically, the main goal of EC is to respond to your baby when she’s telling you that she needs to go. Your baby is already doing her part, all you need to do is focus on her signals and respond promptly. If you already understand when your baby communicates her hunger, her fatigue, her discomfort, you’ve already learned to look for and decipher her signals. EC follows similar principles and patterns. One of the positive consequences of EC is that babies are toilet-trained without going through the traditional toilet training procedure (EC itself is not viewed as a toilet training method though).

Remember that it’s a very gentle method: no punishment, no sticker charts, no bribes to keep your baby on the potty. Also, we don’t talk about ‘accidents’ but about ‘misses’. A ‘miss’ is simply a missed communication opportunity between your baby and you, nothing to stress about or get frustrated over.

2. Why should I consider EC with my baby?
There is a list of 75 benefits of EC on the Diaper Free Baby website. There are health benefits, attachment benefits, environmental benefits, and even financial benefits! For me, it just seemed like a very natural way to interact with my baby. I don’t see her elimination needs differently from her other needs (hunger, fatigue, etc) and I try my best to respond to them. I also like the fact that EC makes traditional potty training unnecessary.

3. I don’t have a lot of time. Is EC a full time commitment?
Let me reassure you, EC does not need to be done full time to be successful. In fact, many parents can only EC part time because they work full time, they have other young children to care for, etc. It’s definitely not an all-or-nothing approach. Some people do it as little as a couple times a day and others do it all day and all night. It’s flexible enough to fit any lifestyle. All you want is for your baby to retain her awareness of the need to eliminate and her ability to communicate it.

4. My child is older. Is it too late to start ECing?
Nope! It’s never too early or too late to start ECing. My experience is based on ECing a baby from birth but many parents begin to EC when their child is older and are still successful. Your child may not be as aware of her need to go anymore and her signals may be different but the same principles apply. Christine Gross-Loh’s book has a whole section devoted to ECing with older children.

5. Okay, I might give it a try but… How do I start ECing? What should I look for?
The good thing about EC is that you don’t need fancy equipment or training to start. If you have a baby and a toilet, a potty, or container of some sort, you’re all set!

At first you have to try and learn your baby’s elimination habits. This involves a lot of observation with your baby either without a diaper, or laying/sitting on an open diaper, or with a loosely attached diaper on. (Again, I want to remind you that you don’t have to do this all day. Even a couple hours a day will give you a lot of information.) You want to look for a few things:

  • How often does your baby pee/poop?
  • How long does it take after each feeding for your baby to eliminate?
  • What was your baby doing right before she eliminated?

The first 2 questions refer to the timing of elimination, the 3rd question, which may be a little more tricky to answer at first, refers to the signals that your baby sends before she eliminates.

A lot of people start ECing using a timing approach. There are certain times when your baby is almost guaranteed to eliminate: first thing in the morning, after a nap, and shortly after or during a feeding (the delay between the feeding and the elimination can vary from baby to baby, and is also influenced by how much the baby drank). In my experience, these are the easiest catches, as long as you can bring your baby quickly enough to the toilet/potty.

As you’re using a timing approach, you will continue to look for your baby’s signals. You should look for changes in behavior, such as whining or crying, grunting, vocalizing, kicking of the legs, going still, going quiet, etc. There are probably as many signals as there are babies but you will soon learn which ones your baby sends. Personally, I found it was helpful initially to treat any change in behavior as an EC attempt when I knew that my baby was not hungry. Eventually, I learned to narrow it down to a few signals: whining and going quiet/still. As an aside, many moms, myself included, have noticed that their baby will stop drinking and unlatch in the middle of a feeding to eliminate but will resume feeding after they eliminate.

As you provide elimination opportunities, you will also begin to learn about your baby’s behavior on the toilet/potty: how long do you have to hold her before she eliminates? Does she grunt? Do she whines? Does she turn quiet? Does she kick her legs?

My daughter, for example, whines before she pees or goes quiet and still if she’s playing. When I see either behavior happening, I put her on her potty immediately and cue her (I’ll talk more about cueing in a minute). When she has to go, she will stop to cry almost immediately when I hold her over the potty. If she doesn’t have to go, she’ll usually kick her legs. Obviously, there are times when I hold her on the potty and nothing happens but that’s okay: my baby still learns that I respond to her and she’s given the opportunity to eliminate regularly.

6. My baby is too small to sit on a toilet or potty. How do I hold my baby?
Often times, babies are too small to sit on the toilet or potty, or sit anywhere at all! So what do you do? There is a way to hold your baby so she feels comfortable and that promotes her elimination. Basically what you do is you put her back against your stomach and wrap your hands under her thighs. This way, you can safely hold her over the toilet/potty, the sink, or any container. If you choose to use the toilet, you can sit on it backwards (you and your baby will face the seat cover) or forward. Many people will choose to use a small container or potty and will hold it between their legs. This position works best for us. Here are a few photos from the Diaper Free Baby website showing how to hold your baby in different positions.

7. How long do I keep my baby on the toilet/potty for?
Most ECers I know don’t hold their baby on the toilet/potty for very long unless they see signs their baby needs more time such as grunting or whining. I usually wait 10-20 seconds for her to pee, and around 30-45 seconds for her to start to poop. You have to keep in mind that it can take quite a long time for a baby to poop but from my experience, you should see signs that your baby needs more time. I personally prefer to hold her on the potty a short time and if nothing happens, try again in few minutes later, rather than keeping her over the potty for a long time.

You may find it difficult at first to know if your baby is whining or crying because she doesn’t want to be held over the potty or because she’s trying to eliminate, especially if she has to poop. I would recommend waiting a little longer even if she whines (not if she’s distressed and crying a lot) because often times babies will cry until they eliminate and stop immediately after. If your baby cries a lot when held over the potty, you might have to troubleshoot (use a different potty, change position, etc) and/or take a step back for a little while.

8. How do I cue?
Cueing is important because that’s how you can let your baby know that she is in position to eliminate (without soiling herself). By consistently pairing you cue and her elimination, she will learn to associate them. As you observe your baby for cues, you will see your baby eliminate many times and might not have time to react quickly enough to catch them. Don’t worry about these misses, see them as perfect opportunities for you to cue. Each time you offer an elimination opportunity, use your cue to tell your baby it’s okay to go.

You can really use any cue that makes sense to you. Most people use a ‘pssssss’ sound (as if peeing) and use it for both peeing and pooping. It’s not necessary to have a separate sound for each because your baby probably does not make a clear distinction between both types of elimination but you can if you want.

9. What do I do when my baby eliminates in the toilet/potty?
Not much actually… ECers do not use punishments for misses nor rewards for catches. The inherent reward for your baby is that she is in charge of her elimination and she’s clean and comfortable. I personally verbalize to my daughter what she did in a matter of fact tone of voice (ie. ‘Oh, you peed’). I admit that I’ll give her a kiss too – whether she eliminated or not – but she gets dozens of kisses a day anyways so it’s not really a reward in my mind.

10. What about nighttime EC?
Nighttime EC is not a requirement. Lots of parents don’t venture into it until later, or choose not to do it at all. Those who do will provide opportunities to eliminate when their baby wakes up to feed or if they notice their baby’s signals. You can leave your baby diaper free all night or part of the night or keep her in diaper until you feel more confident. Again, it’s not an all-or-nothing commitment. You can do it occasionally and build on your successes. If you co-sleep or observe your baby at night, you will notice that your baby sends similar signals as she does during the day: squirming, kicking her legs, crying, etc.

baby

If you choose to EC at night and go diaper free, you may want to leave your baby naked on a folded towel or another absorbent piece of fabric (flannel, fleece, etc) and put a waterproof layer underneath to protect the mattress. I’d suggest keeping a few extra towels by the bed just in case.

I hope that you found this information helpful. Should you want to give it a try, I’ll leave you with a few tips to make your EC journey successful:

  • Be relaxed and patient
  • Dress your baby lightly because clothing may interfere with your ability to observe her and may take too long to take off. I strongly recommend just a t-shirt and legwarmers (babylegs).
  • Remember that there will be a lot of variation from day to day and you may experience some temporary setbacks (for example if you child is sick or if she’s learning a new skill).
  • Misses are not failures, don’t put too much emphasis on them. Focus on catches!  :)
  • Share your experience and the bumps you encounter along the way with other ECers.

If you have more questions, I recommend reading Christine Gross-Loh’s book ‘The Diaper Free Baby‘ and visiting her website at http://www.thediaperfreebaby.com. There is a really helpful FAQ section.

You can also visit the Diaper Free Baby Organization‘s website.  Look for support groups in your area or for online ones on Big Tent and Facebook. It’s always nice to share and troubleshoot with other people who are going through the same process. I would also be happy to answer more questions and share our journey.

Comments

  1. Hi Rachel and Lindsey! Thanks so much for putting up this very informative post. As an EC Mentor myself, and author of EC Simplified (endorsed by DiaperFreeBaby.org), I think you’ve covered everything pretty well to introduce the topic.

    One thing I’d add that is coming up a lot for my readers is that “diaper-free” is often interpreted as “naked.” Since we adults have to wear clothing (in most situations!), I encourage folks who are starting EC, especially with an older baby, to not over-do naked time (to only use it to get your info out of observation: signals and natural timing). After observation is complete, I’d suggest that parents put their baby in undies or pants with no undies, training pants if you wish (but they are one-wet usually and can feel quite like a diaper). Some sort of easy-on, easy-off clothing (even a diaper, used as a TOOL, is a great backup for most parents!!) is a better method that will help your baby not learn that peeing on the floor is socially okay.

    Oftentimes ECers over-do naked time so much that their babies end up needing to be untrained from peeing on the floor! And a naked baby is not a potty trained baby…but one who signals in time for you to take said clothing of…IS. Not that we’re potty training here…but you know what I mean! :)

    The paperback books available on the topic of EC are awesome (Boucke, Gross-Loh, Bauer) and yet none of them mention this very important distinction and how to deal with it (I make it clear in my book, because I don’t want parents to have that very annoying problem). So, there’s my 2 cents! Hope it helps add to what wonderful information you’ve already shared here!

    Again, I really enjoyed reading this post!! Looking forward to reading your post on your personal journey with EC!
    Blessings, Andrea
    Andrea recently posted…How to Know When Your Baby Needs to PeeMy Profile

    • The Blue Wren says:

      Andrea! That is what I am going through! My son uses the potty only when he is naked butt now, and thinks his pants are a toilet when he wears them. I’m just starting now to try and untrain the potty pants dilemma! At least I now know not to make this mistake with my baby :-) Ahh, hindsight.

    • Thanks Andrea! This is a very good point and you’re right, it’s not emphasized enough in EC books and resources.

  2. Tag Darling… you’re it! xoxo
    Caffeinated OC Mommy recently posted…What Do You Wanna Know Darling? An Interview…My Profile

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