Elimination communication (EC) is a practice in which a caregiver uses timing, signals, cues, and intuition to address an infant’s need to eliminate waste.
This isn’t magic, it just means paying close attention to your baby’s signals and using your intuition to guide them when they need to go to the toilet. Over time, your baby learns to hold it and signal to you when they need to go. It isn’t something that is widely practiced in Western cultures and in fact, we potty train our children relatively late compared to other cultures. But are we missing a vital chance at communicating with our babies and supporting them in expelling their waste? Here I share my experiences of practicing EC with my babies and how to go about giving it a go yourself.
I practiced EC with both of my girls. This wasn’t something that took huge amounts of planning, it was something that the women in my family had done through generations so, in fact, it felt completely natural to me.
Having three younger siblings (the youngest of which is 16 years younger than me) I had witnessed first hand how babies give us cues when they need to go to the toilet. It wasn’t until I had my own children, that I asked my mum when it was that I should start placing my daughter on the potty or toilet. My mum simply told me what she had been told by her own mum when she had asked the same question when I was a baby, “as soon as she can sit up”. In fact, during a conversation with my grandmother later on, she told me how she used to hold my mum on the potty before she could sit up unaided.
The whole thing felt like the most natural way to respond to my baby’s needs. We always had lots off nappy-off time in those early days and weeks anyway, so I was quickly able to pick up on my daughters’ individual cues. I started simply by placing each of my daughters’ on the potty at every single nappy change so they started to associate that time with eliminating waste. Each time they would go, we would be really encouraging and offer lots of praise. Yay for potty parties!
All babies and toddlers are different, so their cues will be too, and the length of time it takes for each child will vary. My eldest was dry by 13 months during the day, 20 months at night and my youngest daughter was dry at 14 months during the day, 15 months at night. Throughout both of my journey’s I didn’t ever put too much pressure on night time toileting. I was already waking to breastfeed regularly and just didn’t want to throw another thing into the mix. I also didn’t want to stress about night time because as such little babies they don’t have the ability to wake themselves to expel waste. So I always put a nappy on my girls through the night, until they consistently had dry nights, then I removed the nappy completely.
HOW TO PRACTICE EC WITH YOUR BABY
You’ll quickly notice that your baby has a routine and will eliminate waste at similar times of the day, usually first thing in the morning or after waking from a nap. These are great times to offer the toilet or the potty instead of letting them go in their nappy and then changing them afterwards. It’s really great practice to remove the nappy completely as early as possible, but ensure they are wearing a pair of pants or trousers, so that they can become familiar with the feeling of wearing something, but still recognising when they want to go to the toilet. I started by just doing this whilst we were at home to avoid too many accidents happening outside the house. Cues to look out for include:
- Sudden change of expression
- Stillness – indicating concentration
- Kicking/tapping leg
When you are ready to take the plunge and go nappy-less outside of the house (again the sooner the better to avoid too much confusion for the child), I’d recommend:
- Packing a few extra clothes just in case you miss a cue or don’t make it to a toilet in time.
- Carrying a potty with you at all times. Click here for my favourite travel potty, which is discreet and easy to transport.
- Don’t stress! There are more distractions when you leave the house, which could lead to the odd accident here and there.
- Be prepared to have accidents. It’s not a step backwards, it’s all part of learning.
I think the important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to practice elimination communication. Ultimately it comes down to what works for you and your family. You can do it full time or part time, from birth or a couple of months old. Click here to check out the Go Diaper Free website, which is full of information and tips on how to get started.
WHY PRACTICE EC?
There are many pros to practicing elimination communication with your baby. Firstly, your environmental impact is reduced drastically. An estimated three billion nappies end up in landfill every year in the UK (8 million a day) accounting for 3-4% of household waste. By removing nappies earlier, you are reducing the amount of waste produced. Nappies take approx 500 years to decompose! Every catch is a huge win if it keeps even one nappy out of landfill.
Additionally, it saves you money because you aren’t purchasing anywhere near as many nappies. Even if you chose to use cloth nappies, you still have the cost (and energy usage) of additional washing and replacing as your baby grows.
Finally, for me the biggest pro of practicing elimination communication was that early connection with my babies. From those early days you build a close connection and are able to communicate on a different level, responding to their cues and learning together. As with everything else I have done whilst raising them, it was completely baby-led. I think the difference in waiting until a child is 2 or 3 years old is that you may face a lot of resistance and frustration, as they have been taught to ignore toileting signals, go in a nappy and wait to be cleaned afterwards. Being potty trained as a toddler they are having the relearn a toileting habit they have known since birth.
Sharing questions submitted through instagram when I spoke LIVE with fellow Doula and Birth Keeper, Saima (@livewildbirthfree). If you have any further questions, please submit them via the comments section at the bottom of the post.
Do you have any tips for boys?
I don’t personally have any experience practicing EC with boys, but I have spoken with those that have and they haven’t mentioned anything specifically different to an EC journey with a girl. The only thing that may effect it slightly is that boys develop slightly slower in certain areas than girls do, so it may take them slightly longer to crack it. That being said, it is all about noticing those early cues, which boys will signal too. So as long as you are noticing those cues, it really shouldn’t be all that different.
I think the important thing to remember is the all EC journeys are different regardless of gender.
How do I deal with frustrated family members that are trying to help?
Patience is a huge part of EC, but I think it is important to remember that you as the parent are going to be the only one that is fully in tune with your baby as you spend the most time learning their cues. I would start by talking to your frustrated family members and express your gratitude for their support with your choice to toilet train your baby early, share with them the cues you have noticed and when/how often to offer the potty/toilet. Finally, explain how accidents are part of the process and to not worry too much about it.
How do you tackle the night time?
I didn’t ever put too much pressure on potty training at night time, as a baby doesn’t have the ability to recognise it needs to go whilst asleep. I always made sure my babies went to the toilet before bed and I also adopted the dream wee method! This simply meant, at some point during the night (usually as I went up to bed for the night) I’d lift them out of their bed, place them on the toilet and allow them to empty their bladder (or bowel sometimes!) whilst they were still asleep. It would help them to stay dry through the night as they learnt to hold it for longer periods.
I plan to return to work after a year, how do I get the support from a nursery?
Whatever stage you choose to send your child to a childcare setting, they are usually very supportive when it comes to your potty training wants and needs. I think for many nursery’s they would prefer children out of nappies as soon as possible, some settings don’t actually take children before they are potty trained anyway. But equally, it could be that the nursery don’t have the ability to respond to one child’s EC needs as they have many children at a time. I would recommend discussing it with the nursery of your choosing, providing them with the equipment they’ll need (potty, wipes, spare clothes) and inform them the cues to look out for. Usually children have cracked their EC journey between 9-18 months, so it could be that your child will be confident in their toileting habits by the time nursery comes around.
Getting support with your EC journey
As part of my postnatal care package I offer support with elimination communication. This includes but is not limited to:
- How to hold baby over the toilet/potty
- Best positions to ensure comfort for both you and your baby
- Preparing equipment for your journey
- What cues to look out for and how to notice them
- Listening to your frustrations
- Providing you with evidenced-based information