The first time that I heard of EC — i.e., Elimination Communication, or Infant Potty Training — I was at a health seminar for parents at my chiropractor’s office in San Francisco. My son was in arms and three weeks old at the time, so I exchanged tired, knowing smiles with a woman behind me who was nursing her infant.
The baby she held was wearing a hand-crocheted dress, but she kept referring to the baby as a “he”. If that was not strange enough he had no diaper attached to his bottom. He had on socks, tights and what looked like a dress. She kept him bare bottom on what I came to learn was a pre-folded diaper, sitting on her hand and every few minutes she kept peeking at his boy parts and she would feel the diaper. Curiosity got the best of me so during the break I kindly asked her what she was doing.
The woman said, “Oh, I’m working on EC with my son.” She saw me eyeing the dress and she volunteered, “This makes it easier to access his bottom so I can know what is going on down there. We are in the first stages so I’m also learning to time it.”
I said, “Wow, I’ve never heard of anything like that before, that’s… cool. So, um does it really work?”
She replied, “Women in Africa and Asia have been doing it for millennia. Babies are born knowing how to control their elimination. We train them to go in diapers and to be comfortable feeling soiled. Then we wonder why we have so much trouble with potty training later on. Also, once you both get used to it, it’s pretty convenient.”
The set up that she was using looked anything but convenient. I have a pretty expressive face so she must have seen what I was thinking, and she continued: “I catch two or three pees per day and usually poop too. At home it’s easy, but since we are at this talk and we were making such good progress, I didn’t want him to get accustomed to a wet diaper. This way I know the moment he is wet and I can change him right away.” Then the announcer ended the break and the woman excused herself saying that she was taking him to the toilet to poop. I sat down to listen to the rest of the seminar.
At the end of the seminar I asked her how the poop worked out. She looked like a proud mama and said the words that stuck with me: “Great! We’ve been using this same diaper all day!” I looked and indeed the diaper was so clean it looked like it had never been used.
I asked her how she knew that her son had to poop. She said that the baby gives signs, and that she could tell by looking in his face. She also told me how she prompted her son with a pee sound: she would lock eyes with him and made a “psst” sound like she was calling a cat. For poop she would squint her eyes and make a grunting sound. But she also said that every baby is different, and in the beginning the easiest way to do it is by “timing”.
Speaking of timing, it was time to go. She asked me about a possible playdate and I let her know that we no longer lived in the area, and that I was just there to attend the talk since I signed up for it before we moved two hours away. She told me that there were websites and books on the subject of EC and that I should Google it if I wanted to learn more. I thanked her, and was on my way.
Hmm. I was intrigued.
I did Google it later on and read about the basics. It was so out of this world that I asked my mom if she had ever heard of EC. She said she hadn’t. When I explained what it was, she said, “Oh… I guess I did that with you when you were a baby.” So I asked her to explain. She said, ”You would always poop twenty minutes or so after you ate and you would cry with a dirty diaper as soon as I went to bathe. I started waiting for you go before I would take my bath. I used to wash your diapers by hand so after a few days I thought ‘Why dirty a diaper?’ and I put you on the toilet, and you went. After that I would just put you on twenty minutes or so after you ate and drank, and you would go.” I asked her how old I was when she started doing this. She didn’t remember, but she said that I was completely diaperless, day and night, at eighteen months old.
Now I was even more intrigued.
I thought the process sounded neat but looked cumbersome. I also thought that poop and diapers was the only area of infant care I felt I had “under control” as a new mother, and I didn’t want to make any changes.
Of course my son had other plans.
I had started cloth diapers a week or two after we got home from the hospital. My reasons were economic and environmental. At two months old, my son was sleeping eleven hours at night and nursed exclusively, so when he woke up in the morning he nursed a lot. I fed him three times before his first nap, and I changed a wet or poopy diaper three times before I put him down again.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I did notice that he was beginning to skip pees on his own sometimes. Also, somewhere around two months he stopped pooping in the middle of the night and instead he would wait to poop until I came to get him in the morning. But every single morning, when I went to get him from his first nap, he would be covered head to toe in pee. It was a lot more fluid than he expelled overnight! I didn’t know what was going on, but I started using the overnight inserts for naps (and ordered the toddler inserts, since I was concerned that my two-month-old was already a heavy-wetter).
That worked for about three weeks, but at three and a half months he began to overflow those too. I thought of that woman from the seminar who had her son in a dress, and I decided to find out “what is going on down there”. Instead of putting my son in a diaper during his last feeding, I held him as usual, but this time I had his bottom in a foot basin, and I left the snap undone on his onesie… it looked kind of like a dress…
I don’t know about you, but I thought that infants had a semi-constant flow of pee going on in those diapers. Not so! It actually took my son 45 minutes to pee after feeding. He stopped what he was doing, and got a certain look in his eyes like he was thinking of something far away… and there it was: ⅓ cup of pee in the basin and a big smile from the little guy!
Wouldn’t you know it, he did not overflow his nap diaper that day!
After a few days, he started to pee sooner after eating, about 15 minutes. I was impressed with the amount of awareness and control he had (but since then I’ve learned that this control is very common in young cloth-diapered babies, although I have read that some babies always pee during a feeding). I began nursing him with a prefold so I didn’t have to put on and take off a diaper. Also I invested in a biodegradable infant potty that I kept on his changing table.
Instead of changing him *after* he soiled his diaper, I would put him on the potty and he would eventually go! While we waited I would read him books or he would play with toys until he pooped. Here is a picture of him doing exactly this at six months old:
After he went potty I would let him sit bare-butt on a mattress protector on the carpet. He liked that, and so did I! In less than a week of experimenting with EC, I had become “that” (strange, sweet) lady from the seminar!
In retrospect, I have a good guess about why my son was skipping pees and overflowing those naptime diapers. I think that he was experimenting with holding it as long as he could, since cloth diapers allow the baby to feel wetness (which he didn’t like). By giving him an opportunity to eliminate before I put him down he could begin his holding again during his nap and the diaper still had enough room to hold the pee from when he woke up.
One of the coolest things about doing EC so young is that you have a captive audience! The very young babies stay put when you put them down; they don’t know how to say “no”; they don’t have to unlearn (much) “diaper training”; they usually think it’s fun; and they are mostly in your arms already. So it is about as low mess and low pressure as it gets!
Cleaning his bottom after a poop was also easier since the poop wasn’t smeared all over. I would pour the poop in the toilet and simply wash the potty with hand soap. This way I was able to go three days before I had to wash diapers, instead of every day…
Doing EC doesn’t necessarily mean giving up diapers altogether. When my son and I went out, I would have him in a diaper — but I was able to leave the house with only one extra insert and a collapsible potty seat. Many days he would come home hours later in the same diaper he left the house in. I would take him to the toilet when I thought he had to go, and put the same clean diaper back on him. Wherever we went, I never had to hand the host a poopy diaper to dispose of.
I got another potty seat that I kept in my trunk, and I would potty my son before putting him in his car seat. If he peed, I could simply empty the potty by a tree and clean it out with a spray bottle I kept in my car. I kept a couple of flat diapers and a wet bag in case I needed to deal with a poop, but this didn’t happen much, because he preferred to poop at home.
I even took the collapsible seat on airplanes. One time he used the same (disposable) diaper all the way from SFO to ATL, even with layovers! During his diapered life I think we bought a total of five packs of disposable diapers to use while traveling.
EC is totally possible, and counterintuitively enough it is not at all complicated once you get the hang of it. It will work even if you only do it “imperfectly”. For example, according to the books I’ve read, the best times to catch a pee is are in the morning and as soon as baby wakes up from a nap; but sad to say I *always* missed those… and EC still worked with my son. (This is referred to as being a “part-time EC’er”.)
In my opinion, the hardest part about doing EC is believing it works! In my case I was fortunate to run into that woman at the seminar so I could see EC in action, and I was very happy to have a potty trained baby!
People looking for a good book on EC (instead of hoping to run into a nice woman at a seminar) could start with this one: Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living by Laurie Boucke. I found it the best because it discussed everything from how to begin EC in the first days (which I would do if I have another child) to regressions (which my son experienced as he learned to crawl and walk). But do be aware that if your child is 12-15 months old before beginning any kind of potty training, traditional methods are likely to be more effective than EC.
Have any of you tried EC or Infant Potty Training? Why or why not?
Shaniqua is a stay-at-home mom living in a small Northern California town with her husband and three-year-old son. She is the chapter leader of the Morgan Hill Chapter of the Holistic Moms Network, through which she hosts playdates and holistic cook-ins. In her “kitchen-turned-laboratory”, Shaniqua explores the benefits of raw butter, raw cow milk and goat milk products, gluten-free and grain-free cooking, pastured meats, organ meats, and home-fermented foods. You may find her on her blog Kinky Grass Roots.