Monday, May 6, 2013

A Foray into Elimination Communication

Kate Pittman, pictured her with husband Jason,
happened upon EC with her 5 month old daughter.

Guest Blog by Kate Pittman

Elimination Communication or EC, often colloquially referred to as "potty training your baby" is a potty training method which has been used for centuries and is still commonly practiced in countries throughout the world today.  This blog will take a moment to explain, observe and comment on the practices and practicality of using EC to potty train our babies here in the 21st century  in America.

The Concept

First, let's dive into the concept.  The idea with Elimination Communication is that you can teach a human being to be potty trained from birth.  Some theories state that, in fact, humans are born potty trained, and by the use of diapers we teach our infants to go against their instincts and to eliminate waste on themselves.  By putting a diaper on a child and waiting for him to pee or poop before changing him, in essence his parents are rewiring his brain to do something unsanitary.  Once you succeed in teaching your baby to defecate in a diaper you will then have to go back 2-3 years later and unteach him in a process we call "potty training". So why not start out on the potty from day 1?  

There are varying degrees to which you commit to EC.  The most hard core version goes something like this.  No diapers!  It sounds phenomenal right?  Why would we not all be doing this from the start?  Well, the fact is, there is a lot of work to be done.  If you want start potty training from birth at the hospital, you will need to communicate your plans with your care staff (just like we communicate our desire for breastfeeding vs bottle feeding). Explain to them that you are practicing elimination communication and would prefer for them not to diaper your baby while he is outside of your room.  

If your baby isn't going to be diapered then you will need to be prepared for messes at first.  Every time you give the baby a bottle or nurse him, be prepared with some extra cloth diaper inserts or waterproof bed pads or something to shield you and the baby. It will take some extra work to be prepared.  We will lay out the pros and cons in just a little bit, but if you are still with me here let's look at the logistics of this next.

The Logistics

Photo from
Now that you have a bare back newborn, what's next?  For a while it is going to be a lot of listening and learning and getting pooped on, but hey, how is that different from what we already do with a baby?  From the moment they are born our babies are learning how to rid their bodies of waste materials.  It is no easy task for them to get both urine and solid matter out of their little bodies.  We have all seen the classic "poop face" as it is known around my house.  But what you may not have noticed before is that your baby will also make "pee face" often accompanied by their signature noises.  

It is now your job to learn your babies cues.  Most often they will start these signaling noises or posturings before they get anything out.  If you are paying attention, you will notice what this looks like and how it sounds.  This is where we use our skills as parents to communicate with our babies.  They may not be using words to tell us they need to sit on the potty, but they are communicating with us through crying, gurgling, squirming etc.  

Photo from
Once we learn their language it is rather easy to understand when they tell us they are ready to go to the bathroom. A lot of a newborn's eliminations will revolve around feeding or nursing.  Noticing when your baby is pooping isn't too hard as you can smell and see it.  However, a newborn will pee so very little that it often goes unnoticed in a diaper without that handy color changing streak (if you use disposables) which is why it is recommended that you leave the diaper off.  Let me set an expectation for you.  It will take time to find the pattern and learn your babies language.  They will be pooping and peeing and making messes for a while before they make it to the potty.  Diapering your baby can seem a very easy way to avoid the messes, but know that you will often miss when it was exactly that he peed.  By leaving the diaper off you will be able to immediately tell when he emptied his bladder.  Yes, you will be cleaning up a lot of messes, but you will be able to learn your baby's signals quickly and accurately this way as opposed to guessing and missing a lot of signals when he wears a diaper.  You will want to invest in some water proof pads, and while nursing protect yourself with extra cloth diaper inserts or whatever you are comfortable with.

Photo from
As you start to notice a pee/poo pattern and can better anticipate your child, put him on the potty as soon as he starts giving you the signals, or when you know it is time. This will preempt them from going on you or the floor or wherever.  I would suggest getting a little potty and leaving it in a main room or where you nurse or feed your baby most often.  It will seem strange at first to put a little bitty on the potty, but it won't hurt them.  You are there with them and the potty won't eat them alive. I didn't put my little lady on the potty until she was holding her head up nicely; it just made me feel more comfortable, but you don't have to wait that long.  There are a couple of options as to how to take your baby to the bathroom.  I like the little potty in a common room for the ease of it.  Some prefer using a potty seat on an adult potty and others would suggest using no special apparatus and just holding onto your baby while they "sit" on the large toilet as this is another moment that can be used to bond with the baby and build trust with them.  That particular method is used more in attachment parenting.  You can also modify these rules as you see fit according to whatever works best for you.  I did put diapers on my baby when we would go out and when she was being babysat or something like that.  Some people start from birth, some start at an age that they feel more comfortable with.  My rule of thumb has always been you know best for your baby, and you will know exactly what they need, so just go with your gut.

That is pretty much it!  It may take some time to get into the routine, but after a while of practicing this you will find that you have learned your baby's patterns and schedule so well that it will start to become just a routine part of the day.  Just like feeding the baby begins to be habitual so will taking them to the restroom.  After some time has past, the method suggests that your baby will start becoming familiar with this routine as well.  And if the theory is right your infant/baby will learn to hold his pee and poo until his regularly scheduled time to go in the toilet.

My Story

Kate's children are potty training together!
 Let me take a moment and tell you my story.  My children are 20 months apart.  My son is 2 years, 4 months, and we are just now working on potty training.  We tried to use cloth with him for a hot second and it went really poorly for us.  I know it can be a great thing, and we have lots of friends who use cloth diapers; it just wasn't working for us.  But, I really hate spending money on diapers! Who doesn't, right? So we started trying to potty train him when he was about 15 months old.  We sign with him, and he started to sign "potty" when he would pee in his diaper.  So we thought we were golden!  Long story short there, I don't know what we did wrong, but over a year later he still isn't potty trained!  We have taught him many things about the potty though, and one of his favorite things is to say "yuck" about a poopy diaper.  

When our daughter was about five months old he caught her going poo poo in her diaper and told her "yuck" and proceeded to scold her about pooing in her diaper and how she is suppose to go in the potty.  Instead of trying to explain to him how it was okay for her but not okay for him etc etc etc i told him, "you know what you are right buddy! She is suppose to go in the potty just like you!"  Later that night he was in the bath and Maggie and I were playing on the floor when she started to make the face again.  Thomas, my son, saw this and said "Quick! Potty." His potty seat was right there, so I stripped her down really quickly and sat her on the potty.  She was 5 months old.  She pooped and peed and Thomas and I cheered for her.  I felt brilliant!  

Little did I know at the time that I hadn't forged some sort of new potty training frontier.  The concept of EC has been around forever and is still actively practiced in many cultures around the world.  But that is how I first stumbled across the concept of putting a baby on the potty.  I started learning her signals, and it wasn't too long at all before she was going exclusively on the toilet, except for nap times and bed time.  For a while my 5-6 month old was better about using the potty than my 2 year old!  We have, however, fallen off the wagon.  I went back to work for a few months, and we couldn't keep up with it when I wasn't at home with her all the time.  I am not sure if we will try and pick it back up or if that window of opportunity has closed.  It is said that potty training your baby is most effective if started before 6 months of age, but there is not any harm in trying at any point.

Pros and Cons

Now, let us talk about the pros and cons.   


We are going to start out with the cons and get that out of the way.  First, let's talk about the culture of acceptance of this practice.   This is America, and we do not practice Elimination Communication as a society.  I am not commenting on whether this is a good or bad thing, just the fact that it is not a cultural norm.  In my experience, I got some push back.  Some people thought is was kind of cool, but when I did it all the time they looked at me like I might be somehow hurting my child.  It is something that is neither widely understood nor easily accepted in my experience.  Also, to succeed at this you pretty much have to be the sole caregiver of your child, or those who care for your child during the day (relatives, day care workers, etc) must be willing to practice this.  I do not see how EC could be properly practiced at a day care facility for sanity reasons. Furthermore, it is a very one-on-one process as every child is going to have slightly different cues.  Also, it is a huge investment up front in time and supplies.  You will be doing a lot of laundry, more so than just the typical boat load you do with a newborn.  There will be more messes than what is usual with a newborn while you are learning signals and schedules.

Photo from
Keep in mind, too, this is not something you teach your child and they keep up with.  This is a process that will continue until they can use the potty all by themselves.  You will have to keep up with the schedule and notice the signals.  You will be the one taking your baby to the potty and undressing him, and for a while holding him on the potty.  And you will have to clean and redress them when they are done.  That means if you get sick, or go to work, or leave your child with the in-laws for a weekend get away or anything changes with your regularly scheduled routine, it will be rather easy for baby to get out of sync and take steps backwards in the potty department.  This is a commitment.  

Some doctors worry that it can cause urinary tract infections and constipation.  This fear comes from the fact that if a baby starts to hold his urine or poop for an extended period of time --  and for a little baby that can be a matter of 10-20 minutes -- that his bowels may slow down and become impacted if this process is repeated every day for days on end.  There has been the concern expressed by some doctors that with tiny bladders and such close proximity within their tiny bodies that holding urine can cause inflammation and infection.  From my research it seems these concerns are easily addressed by taking your child frequently to the potty and making sure you keep him and his surroundings clean. 

Now you might be thinking that this sounds like a lot of time and work.  You are right.  I would ask that you also remember how much time, effort and money you put into buying diapers, changing diapers, cleaning up a poopy baby and inevitable accidents they will still have and weigh that against the effort of practicing EC.


Photo from
Okay, now that we have the negative out of the way let's look at the positive stuff.  One of the greatest positives is you don't have to buy diapers!  Whether you buy cloth or disposable diapers there is no question it is expensive!  And for what?  Diapers are made to be pooped in, thrown away, and abused.  the average American household spends anywhere from $600
-2600 on diapers alone (cloth and disposable respectively).  Potty training your baby is free!  You will only have to train your baby once, and you won't have to change a thing as he gets older and all his little friends are starting to go through potty training.  Anyone who has ever potty trained a toddler knows it can be a nightmare. They are opinionated; they will fight you verbally and physically at some point or another, and you have no clue how long it will take for them to completely potty train.  We, for example, have been working on it for a whole year now!

"My Carry Potty," available at A Nurturing Moment,
provides a very convenient way to have a
potty available everywhere you go!
The good news with EC is, if your newborn has an older sibling you won't have to worry about the big kids "regressing." I have had so many friends tell me that their pediatricians said not even to bother potty training their toddlers if they had another baby on the way.  They say it would be pointless to potty train the soon-to-be big brother or big sister because they would inevitably start going in their diaper again when they see baby do it.  With a potty trained baby this is never an issue, and it is actually a pretty good example.  For a while we were all in a routine together.  If one of us went, we would all have a turn on the potty.  Plus, by and large, a baby will not fight you about where they go, so it actually is easier to potty train a baby.  The last good reason I can think of might not be universally applicable, but it was for me and one of my best girl friends.  For whatever reason, both of our daughters, born 5 days apart and both breast fed, struggled with pooping.  We are not sure why, but their stools would be more compact and hard.  They both would kick their legs, tighten up and cry when it came time to go.  I found as soon as I started putting ours on the potty, pooping was a lot easier for her.  I don't know if it was the sitting position or the fact that she had open space under her rather than sitting in a chair and having the poop squish right back on her, or what it was exactly, but pooping in the potty eliminated her struggles and her crying. Out of all the reasons previously listed that one was enough for me.

I hope this has been educational and helpful for anyone who was curious about it.  I would be more than happy to continue a one-on-one conversation for anyone who has questions or wants to talk further about Elimination Communication.  I am no expert, but I am a Mom with experience, and often  that is more than enough qualification!

Kate Pittman is the mother of two children, a two year old boy and a nine month old girl.  She encourages moms to follow their instincts in parenting.


  1. I like the idea of the traveling potty! That could help us EC on the go. Thanks!

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