I first came across elimination communication (EC) about seven years ago when I saw, on social media, a friend who was doing this with her newborn baby. I had two kids at the time: one was already diaper free and the other was about to start potty training, so I didn’t give it a lot of thought.
I’ve recently become a mother for the third time and this time I looked into the elimination communication method a few days after my baby was born.
Elimination communication is a kind of baby-led potty training that requires you to pay attention to your baby’s natural cues to learn when she’s about to do a poo. Applying the elimination communication method also requires time and patience from the parents and anyone else who’s involved.
Let’s look at what elimination communication is about.
How do you introduce elimination communication?
The introduction to the EC method is not as complicated as one might think. Starting EC is all about learning baby’s cues and it’s also based on a natural infant hygiene approach, as no animal sits on its own waste out of choice.
The practice of having babies wear diapers started as a convenience for parents and carers when clothes were introduced. Diapers were a way of keeping clothes clean for longer periods.
Many parents who start to practice EC do it when they’ve learned the signals their babies give just before they poo.
If you’re interested in practicing EC you can start by placing your baby on the toilet or potty when she gives you a cue sound.
If you’re not sure about your baby’s EC cues yet, it’s a good idea to do it when the baby wakes up, as the need for elimination is often what causes her to wake.
To do the elimination, you can hold your baby on the toilet directly, on a potty, or above the sink, over a disposable square adult diaper.
You can hold the baby just underneath the arms or you can also give support to her legs.
What has worked best for my baby and me is for me to sit on the toilet, as far back as possible, with my legs open, and have my baby on my legs with her bottom and vulva in the space between my legs. That way we’re both quite comfortable.
Don’t leave baby on the toilet for very long and pick her up if she becomes upset. If she’s happy and your arms are strong enough, you can do this for a couple of minutes and then wipe her and place a nappy or EC underwear on.
Whenever she wees or poos when you’re doing EC you must celebrate it with her so she begins to understand that’s what’s expected of her when placed in that particular position with a naked bottom.
The sign language for potty is also very useful when doing EC infant potty training. Just show your baby your fist and shake it sideways.
Start doing it yourself every time your baby voids, even if she’s not on the potty. That way, baby will start associating this sign with elimination.
Then, a few times later, you could shake baby’s fist when she voids so she’ll understand that’s how she can communicate her need to do a poo.
The reason sign language is used is to make EC more effective, as one of the biggest difficulties of infant EC pottying is babies’ inability to communicate verbally.
Elimination communication cues
Although every baby is unique and each one communicates and acts differently, most babies’ elimination cues tend to be quite similar.
#1 Facial expression
Most parents say their babies have a characteristic facial expression when they’re about to make a poopy diaper. You can tell they are pushing or sometimes they frown. By observing their own baby, most parents will be able to identify the baby’s facial expressions and what they mean.
#2 Cue sounds
Most babies make specific sounds when they’re pooping or about to. This sound is different in every baby although they tend to be strong, guttural sounds. Although it might sound quite simple it’s actually the kind of sound you would naturally expect to accompany the act of pooping.
Although babies can’t talk, the sounds they make are very appropriate to what they’re experiencing.
When babies are voiding they usually stop what they’re doing. They usually wake up if they’re asleep, and they move their arms and legs or seem to be distracted if they’re feeding. This is normal. When they need to poo it becomes the most important thing they need to do at that given time; therefore they’re giving all their attention to the action.
Elimination communication underwear
Many parents start EC with disposable diapers. Some parents will go for cloth diapers from the moment they begin practicing EC. Other parents will go directly for EC underwear from the very beginning.
Each one of these: disposable, cloth diapers, or tiny undies have their advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s look at EC pros and cons.
Elimination communication pros
Disposable diapers have proven advantages, as they’re the most widely used of all the diapering options. They’re relatively cheap, you can find them in almost any store and you dispose of them the moment they’re soiled.
They also absorb moisture almost immediately so the baby feels dry after weeing or pooing.
Cloth diapering also has many advantages. These diapers are environmentally friendly, as they’re washable, therefore minimizing waste. They’re a much cheaper option compared with the disposable ones although the initial investment is higher.
When doing baby EC a cloth diaper will help the baby move towards potty independence more effectively, as a cloth diaper doesn’t absorb moisture. Because no one likes wet diapers against their skin, infants will learn to void in the potty more quickly than they would with a disposable diaper.
Some parents go diaper free as soon as they begin EC and go directly to using EC underwear. That way the young baby learns much faster how to be dry and will be fully potty trained in a shorter period of time.
There are different types of underwear for infants or toddlers who practice EC. These training pants are specifically designed for the purpose, so the child can have easy access when they need to eliminate. From tiny undies to split pants, there’s a full range of EC training pants that will make your child the queen (or king) of toilet mastery with bowel and bladder control in no time.
At the same time, when babies don’t wear any kind of diapers, they’re much more comfortable. Their skin breathes much better and nappy rash is practically unheard of. You can take the concept of ‘soft as a baby’s bottom’ to a whole new level with elimination communication.
Diaper free sooner
For most parents, to have a diaper-free kid as soon as possible is very important. This can be achieved from a very young age with elimination communication. Once the baby understands the process, she will be toilet independent as soon as she can walk. It’s a great achievement to be toilet trained before being mobile.
Of course, we understand this will take a while and we’re not saying EC is super easy – because it isn’t. However, from the moment you start practicing elimination communication, you will realize you use fewer diapers, almost from the very beginning.
Natural infant hygiene
No mammal likes lying in its own dirt (well, with the exception of pigs and that’s probably why in most languages their name is used for grubby habits).
Tiny human beings are no exception.
In the history of humankind diapers were invented not so very long ago. Before that, when we lived totally connected to nature and clothes were not that important, infants voided when they had to, on the ground (weather permiting). They were helped by their main carers, usually their mothers, until they became mobile, but they always gave cues for their mothers to pick them up.
We can still see clothing-free or diaper-free babies in some communities around the world.
No need for potty training
Potty training usually happens after the child’s natural hygiene instincts have been ‘removed’ and before natural sphincter control takes place.
Research shows that children will gain sphincter control naturally between 3 and 5 years of age with no need to use the potty.
We tend to use toilet training in order to allow others to care for our babies. Early potty training is usually a requirement in nurseries and creches when the toddler reaches 3 years of age.
Daycare facilities ask that children be able to use the toilet independently before they can join, as they usually say they don’t have the staff to do this for the older children. Childcare is very expensive in most countries and it might prove difficult to have enough staff to provide diaper changes or to follow the elimination communication method with all the children under their care at an affordable rate.
If children are potty trained before natural sphincter control happens it might not be the best for their development but their integration into society becomes easier.
Helping your young baby practice EC will help with her natural sphincter development. It will also remove the stress that results from needing to potty train your little one in just a few weeks before he is ready to go diaper free, just so he can attend daycare.
If you want to learn more about potty training, you can read Potty Training – 5 Steps For Potty Training Success.
Elimination communication cons
Of course, there are disadvantages in practicing EC; otherwise, it would be something most parents would be doing, and that is not the case.
The vast majority of parents who have practiced EC agree that the biggest drawback is the amount of time and patience it takes at the beginning.
EC is extremely rewarding but it can be quite frustrating, as every learning process can be.
EC is attachment parenting taken to its highest level. Following baby’s natural cues until baby eliminates on the potty seat each time is no easy task, that’s for sure.
When they start EC, parents should understand that the baby needs to learn what the whole thing is about and it will take quite a few months – even with full time EC (no diapers) – before the infant achieves complete control.
Just as there are pros in using diapers, there are also cons, depending on which type you choose to use with your baby.
Disposable diapers are what most families in western societies use for their children, especially their first baby. The biggest disadvantage of disposables is the amount of waste produced in order to collect natural waste. The material used to make disposable nappies is not only non-biodegradable but the baby’s wee and poo would be extremely beneficial to the soil, especially if infants are breast fed and, when they grow, they eat mainly raw, uncooked fruits and veggies.
Imagine the number of diapers a child uses per day and then multiply that by the number of days she uses them until she’s completely toilet independent.
Cloth diapers are a much more environmentally friendly solution than disposables and compared with them they have very few disadvantages. The initial investment is more expensive, as you buy a large amount of them before the baby is born. You can, however, keep them for future babies, resell them or purchase them second hand (or should I say second bum?)
The ‘no diapers, just underwear’ option can be difficult. Depending on where you live, even in these times of online shopping, underwear for babies might prove difficult to find as there aren’t many babies who use them.
If you use just underwear, you also need to have lots of them. Babies were very frequently and accidents will always happen, especially at the beginning, no matter how aware of our babies cues we are and how fast we respond to them.
Wet underwear also means wet clothes, wet linen, and wet mattresses.
Loads of washing go hand in hand with elimination communication. Make sure you have plently of clothes to change your infant into. Also, buy covers for mattresses and baby chairs – covers that can be removed easily and put into the washing machine.
Buying cloth wipes is also a very good idea if you are trying EC with your baby. They can be used for your breasts, too, to avoid milk leakages soaking through your clothes. Cloth wipes will also help fill your washing machine.
Alternatively, you can make them from old towels. Just cut them into small squares and you’ll have enough for a couple of days.
Of course, elimination communication is going to take more time than diapering and potty training later on. Potty training is done when the child is mobile and communication with her is easier.
When you practice EC, your kid’s cooperation is not great and the vast majority of effort will come from you.
Even after giving their cues, babies don’t always poo straight away. Although sometimes your baby will eliminate as soon as she is placed on the potty seat, this won’t happen every time, especially not at the beginning, and this can get very frustrating.
Sometimes you might place baby on the potty for a few minutes without a positive result. Then you clean your baby’s bottom, put on a clean nappy and it remains clean for just a few seconds.
This is normal and can happen quite frequently when doing EC.
Some days you might feel as though it’s not worth the effort; it’s okay to feel that way.
Don’t be too hard on yourself or your baby. It’s definitely not always easy but it will be worth it in the end.
Elimination communication potty
It’s not always easy to find a potty for EC, especially for a baby who isn’t mobile or can’t sit on her own.
In some countries, there are EC potties specifically for babies from birth but any container will do the trick.
When you’re at home, you can use the toilet directly or you can hold your naked bottomed baby over the sink.
When you’re out, it will be much more difficult, as a toilet isn’t always available; even if it is, it might not be one you’d like to sit on. When you go out you can take a plastic container, such as a bowl or a measuring jug. As these containers are not designed for a baby to sit on it might be uncomfortable for your little one. You can try to place the container between your legs and sit your baby on your lap, so her weight is on you and not directly on the thin rim of the container.
Every time you help her eliminate, it will become easier for the baby to get used to the process. Doing the same thing each time makes it less confusing. Sitting on the toilet with the baby on your lap and a container between your legs is possibly not the most comfortable position for your baby. Whatever you do, you must feel comfortable with it, and understand it requires a bit of practice and some adjustments.
Be warned: you might get some of baby’s elimination products on your tights before you learn a position that works for both of you.
Why do people do elimination communication?
Attachment parenting follows baby’s needs and calls to her caregivers. It is more common to find those who do EC with their babies among parents who follow this natural philosophy.
Most people wrongly believe that you cannot communicate with a baby until she’s able to talk properly.
Communication starts way before birth takes place and the fact that we cannot talk for a couple of years doesn’t mean we can’t communicate.
EC is as much about communication as it is about elimination. It involves being able to communicate with your baby, to understand her cues and to teach her baby sign language. It’s a very rewarding practice that takes bonding and attachment parenting to a whole new level.
Parents who practice EC feel very rewarded when it starts to show results. Babies are happier and they sleep better. They also feel much more connected with their parents, as there is more communication between them.
After a few months, there are no more dirty diapers. Usually, diapers are kept for long trips or occasions when the routine is broken and an accident might be more likely.
Doing EC doesn’t mean going all the way from the very beginning.
You can introduce it slowly and there’s no need to do it every time. Some parents do it during the day and don’t introduce it during the night until the communication with their baby is well established.
Elimination communication – evidence
EC is a practice that has been on the rise in the last few years. If you look in Google Scholar you will see there’s quite a bit of research around EC practice, which means there’s plenty of interest in the subject.
Most of the articles are dated in the last 5 years, suggesting more and more people, in different countries, are exploring this practice as time goes by.