Our Elimination Communication Journey

Elimination communication (EC) looks different for every family. I am sharing our elimination communication journey which is a combination of EC practices and Western practices. With this post I look forward to sharing a couple things:

  • Elimination communication is not new, not a trend, and is a very acceptable form of caring for your child.
  • There is more to elimination communication than just pee and poop.
  • What our elimination communication journey looks like and how we implemented it.
  • You are not alone if you decide to care for your child using elimination communication.

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What is Elimination Communication

Wikipedia provides a very concise synopsis for elimination communication:

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. 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). Caregivers may use diapers (nappies) 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 diaperless baby care in less industrialized countries and hunter-gatherer cultures.[1] Some practitioners of EC begin soon after birth, the optimum window being zero to four months in terms of helping the baby get in tune with their elimination needs,[2] although it can be started with babies of any age. The practice can be done full-time, part-time, or just occasionally.”

Why We Chose Elimination Communication

I researched a lot of things since I had no idea what was going to happen; I mean my husband and I were going to become first time parents! Holy smokes! All my friends with kids said, “Don’t worry, you guys will figure it out. We [humans] have been doing this forever.” Or “It will come naturally just go with the flow.” Or something along those lines. My husband had this philosophy as well and I wanted to scream, “How are you so nonchalant?!”

While what they were saying is true and I will most likely tell you the same thing; there is something to researching then stumbling across something like elimination communication. EC is not highly practiced in Westernized societies and it definitely was not a topic of conversation I had with my family or any of my girlfriends. It was assumed our daughter would be in diapers until 2 – 3 years old; then we would start potty training by locking ourselves in a bathroom for a weekend. Then taking our punches until she was potty trained and diaper free.

That didn’t sit well with me and I craved for another way. My research first started with reusable diapers. I love being as sustainable as possible and without going on a complete tangent mainstream disposable diapers aren’t biodegradable. Disposable diapers sit in a landfill for 500+ years, emit all kinds of crap into our ozone, etc…

Check out these links for more information:

Enough with that tangent! While searching for reusable diapers I came across elimination communication. I couldn’t tell you where I read about it. I just remember the light bulb going off and thinking, “This is for me!”. Honestly I didn’t do tons of research on it; I mean… I have been going to the restroom my whole life. Shouldn’t I be able to consider myself an expert?!

The 4 Pillars of Elimination Communication

1. Signals

Babies will have their own way of signaling that they need to eliminate.

  • Grunting, fussy, wiggling, kicking, getting quiet.
  • As they get older include the above and pointing or looking at the potty or caregiver.
  • As time progresses your child may signal by pointing to their privates, walking over to the potty, or asking to be picked up while they were playing.
  • If you use sign language your child may start to use the sign for potty to communicate with you.

Our elimination communication journey started at about 3 – 4 months old. Actually, let me backup a bit. It started once we got home from the hospital because we right away were trying to understand her signals. Our daughter hates being in a dirty diaper so we would rush to get her out of them really quick. One day I put her on the potty, once she was a bit stronger and we started getting more comfortable being parents, and viola she used the potty! And thus our elimination communication journey commenced.

Some signals are difficult to understand or baby may not signal at all. This is where the next pillar comes into play.

2. Timing

Everyone has a natural rhythm and with time you may be able to understand your child’s.

  • Your child may eliminate like clockwork. For example, they consistently eliminate 10 minutes after eating. If that is the case, give them the opportunity to sit on the potty before the 10 minute mark. Notice these patterns and hone in on giving them potty opportunities.

I didn’t understand my daughter’s rhythm so we went another route.

  • When she was 3 – 12 months we took her to the potty every 40 – 60 minutes.
    • I read that an infant may urinate every 20 minutes. If you are able to make that happen, make it happen! But don’t beat yourself up if every 20 minutes is too much!
  • As she got older we use what I call opportune timing. We take her to the potty when there is a natural break/change in schedule.
    • For example, once she wakes up we take her to the potty. Before leaving the house we take her to the potty. Before nap time we take her to the potty. When she wakes up from nap time we take her to the potty. Before dinner we take her to the potty. At bath time we take her to the potty. Before bedtime take her to the potty.

3. Cues

Cues are a sound or gesture you use in association with your child’s elimination. Use this over time and your child will make the connection that you are asking them to eliminate.

We used three cues:

  1. “Psssss” for pee. As our daughter would pee we would make the “psssss” sound. In time she understood that “psssss” meant she had an opportunity to urinate.
  2. The poop face. We noticed that our daughter had a poop face (everyone has a poop face!) and we would mimic it to communicate to her that she had an opportunity to defecate.
  3. Sign language for toilet. Put your hand in a fist with your thumb between your index and middle finger; shake your fist from left to right and you are doing the sign for toilet. We would do this sign as she used the potty so she would understand it is time to go. Now she uses the sign to tell us she needs to use the restroom (how cool is that!).

4. Intuition

Intuition for me means you have that gut feeling that baby needs to go to the potty. Maybe you lost track of time, or it’s been awhile, or there wasn’t a natural break in the schedule, or baby never gave you a sign but it just feels right. Trust your intuition and give the potty a try!

How to Use the Potty

Alight, we got the triggers down but how do we use the potty?

Number 1: Get a Potty

When researching a potty I didn’t want a small, medium and large one. I didn’t want one for the house and one for the car. Nor did I want one for an infant and another for a toddler. We needed one potty that could do it all (less material waste!) and could be recycled at it’s end of life.

The Baby Bjorn Smart Potty is my choice.

Number 2: Using the Potty

  • The insert can be used for infants.
    • Place the insert between your legs in a seated position. Place baby on the insert with their back to your chest so you can support them.
    • Use your cues and give them time to eliminate.
    • Clean out insert by putting the waste in the toilet. Wipe down the insert so it is ready for next time.
  • Using the whole potty.
    • Articles I have read say to support baby from the back as mentioned above.
    • Use your best judgement. I personally didn’t like not having eye contact so I sat in front and supported my daughter’s head and back as needed with my hands. Note: our daughter was lifting her head really early and had good control this added to my level of comfort when deciding to sit in front of her.
    • Use your cues and give them time to eliminate.
    • Clean out insert by putting the waste in the toilet. Wipe down the insert so it is ready for next time.

We Opted Out Of

In our elimination communication journey we opted out of two aspects that should be mentioned for your consideration.

No Diaper Time

You can elect to do no diaper time which is when you lay down a blanket and or a couple cloth diapers and allow your child to do tummy time with no diaper. The idea behind this practice is to gain a better understanding of your child’s signals since you will see them eliminate on the blanket/towels/cloth diapers. Doing this while baby is not yet mobile is great. However, we elected not to practice this and still found elimination communication to work for us.

Doing Elimination Communication at Night

Sleeping through the night in our house is a number one priority. When our daughter would wake up in the middle of the night (99.5% of the time it was because of a dirty diaper) we did not put her on the potty. We would change her diaper and put her back to sleep. You can definitely put your child on the potty when they wake up to reinforce elimination communication at night. Do what works for your family!

Speaking of sleeping through the night; I am not going to venture off topic (maybe another in another post) but I highly suggest reading Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D. We followed this book for the most part and our daughter was sleeping through the night by 6 weeks old. We had to wake her up still for feedings in order to make weight until she was 10 weeks old. After we made weight we no longer had sleepless nights and have been sleeping for 10 – 12 hours ever since. Everyone says we have an easy baby but I like to think this book helped us tremendously!

Our Elimination Communication Journey Takeaways

Communication

The best part of this whole journey is that we are communicating not just about play time, sleeping or eating but another integral part of being human, potty time! We’ve learned sign language, cues and have another opportunity to understand and get to know one another. It is beautiful that our daughter can tell us when she has to go. We hope this gives her confidence in using her voice.

It’s Natural and All Good

Since the toilet has been a topic of conversation between caregiver and baby from the very beginning we look forward to minimizing “awkward” conversations around hygiene.

Transition to Potty Independence

We are looking forward to a more smooth transition to potty independence. Since the toilet won’t be a mystery for the first 2 – 3 years of her life it should be something she isn’t hesitant to use. The goal is to not be dependent on a diaper and (hopefully) she won’t fight to keep the diaper once the time comes.

Sustainability

While sustainability was my original goal it didn’t end up being the one I am most excited about. It is exciting though! While we did use disposable diapers we did use less which is a win in my book. We are transitioning to reusable diapers and I will save that topic for another blog post.

You Are Not Alone In This Journey

I never had a conversation with anyone besides my husband about elimination communication. Maybe it is taboo to talk about in Western culture. Never had I heard anyone in passing say they need to take their baby to the toilet. Even my husband was skeptical at first and thought I was bonkers for going down this less traveled path. I did feel a bit alone but it felt right so I stayed on course. Once my husband saw elimination communication in action and our daughter was happier not soiling herself he jumped on board really quick! And our elimination communication journey was full speed ahead.

It was a bit awkward when at the grandparent’s houses or at a friend’s house taking our daughter to the potty because we did get questions. Questions like, “You guys are already potty training?” “She uses the potty?” “I can’t believe she already uses the potty!” Rest assured none of the comments or questions were negative; they were more curious and excited.

Looking back I think my mindset was so fixated on what our culture puts out there that it was difficult for me to be comfortable in our decision to practice elimination communication. That is why I am here today; you are not alone, it is not weird, it is totally normal. Ask yourself what did humans do before diapers? Go with your intuition and you will be all good!

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