Since I’m neck-deep in the mother-baby cocoon these days I thought I’d share my EC’ing experiences in hopes of helping any curious mamas or papas to give it a try! The process of being attuned to your child’s elimination rhythms is something mothers do everywhere although it is less common in western cultures where disposable diapers are so popular. Infant toilet learning goes by many names, the least fortunate of which, in my opinion, is “Elimination Communication.” I can’t really say it with a straight face, so I’ll refer to it here as ‘EC’ing.’
I started EC’ing my first born about three weeks after his birth. One day I held him over the toilet, and he started to pee. Boys can be hilarious to EC if you have a sense of humor. Their pee can shoot unpredictably in just about any direction. This makes night-time EC’ing trickier in the winter time, but for us it was still worth the added effort. My son did not poop in a diaper after he was three months old, and by eighteen months he was wearing underwear full-time and independently taking himself to the toilet.
The books tell you people do it for the “communication” aspect; that babies indicate wen they need to go, parents respond, and there is an ongoing ‘dialogue’ around the baby’s cues. As a tiny baby, my son would get show a little fuss before peeing, but as he grew out of the newborn phase, he never really “cued” when he had to pee, at least not in any way I recognized. With him it was all about timing. If it had been 15 minutes since his last pee, I’d take him to go. I’d take him to go after waking up from naps, and more frequently after nursing. Easy.
I remember one day in particular when he was maybe five or six moths old. An hour had gone by and I realized hadn’t taken him to pee and he hadn’t peed on his own. It was a milestone! All the work of the first few months paid off. From then on EC’ing required far less of my attention. It was around this time that he began staying dry at night, which made the initial work doubly worth it.
My daughter is now six months, and our EC’ing experience has felt even more second-nature. We started at birth, and her patterns are more predictable than my son’s. Her only poopy diapers have occurred on a boat and on an airplane. Both times I knew she had to go but I could not easily get us to a toilet. That’s not to say I’ve caught all her pees! Puddles on the tile floor are still a regular occurrence when I am not entirely attuned to her, but they all part of the process and i don’t sweat the “misses.” I much prefer to quickly wipe up a pee puddle than undress, change a diaper, re-dress, etc.
I am home mothering my kids so I am physically around to do this. If you have work besides raising your kids, EC’ing poses additional challenges, but it is not an all-or-none process. You can EC part-time, or whenever it works for you. It is a lot of work at first, but the payoff comes quickly and beautifully: less diaper changing, less money spent on diapers, less laundry, no drama (or virtually none) over “potty training” when they are older.
While not meant to be a how-to list, here are a few bits I’ve learned from my experiences thus far:
Let them go naked when you can. Going diaper-free at home is the quickest way to get in tune with your child’s elimination patterns. It is exponentially easier if you simply don’t put a diaper on them. Without even being aware of it, you will begin to make associations between their behavior, i.e., their “cues” if they make any, and when they have to go. When babies are wearing a diaper you don’t have to pay the same amount of attention; you subconscious awareness of their patterns is not as dialed in because a diaper is there to catch the pee or poop. Keep them naked. This is my #1 piece of advice.
Don’t be afraid to be peed on! Seriously, it’s only pee. (And it’s sterile). If you are using cloth diapers you would have to wash a wet diaper, and washing wet pants is not any different. If you are using disposables, you’ve saved yourself (and the landfill) a diaper. Most babies will give some warning before they poop, particularly if they do not have any food sensitivities contributing to explosive bowel movements. (Did you see in the movie “Babies” the Namibian mother effortlessly scrape her baby’s poop off her knee?)
Keep prefolds and pee buckets handy. It’s a lot easier to “catch” a pee if you have something right there to catch it in. Our house is small so I just get up and walk into the bathroom. My son was an explosive pooper though and if I didn’t have a bucket handy I would have never made it to the bathroom.
Food sensitivities can make them pee more frequently and affect their bowel movements. Early detection of food sensitivities and allergies is benefit of EC’ing. You’ll notice if your baby begins to urinate much more frequently than normal, or if her poops are strained or otherwise abnormal.
Babies have preferences too. You know how sometimes you can be so engrossed in a project, or your thoughts, that you will endure the urge to pee until you really have to go? Or, maybe you have multiple bathrooms in your house but for some reason you prefer one over the others? Babies too have little quirks around eliminating that can change periodically. Both my babies got to a point when they needed something to focus on while they were on the toilet. They had to have a little something to hold or munch on before they could relax and pee. My daughter also prefers the toilet, while my son preferred the sink. My daughter will refuse to be held “in position” if she has to burp. If she arches her back and tries to wiggle out of it I know she has a burp stuck in there and there’s no way she’ll pee until she gets it out.
It will teach them about their digestion. When toddlers poop on a toilet they have the opportunity to observe it and learn about their digestive health. Because my son has always pooped in the toilet, he is accustomed to looking at his bowel movements before he flushes them. He understands the connection between what he eats and what his stool look like.
Girls are easier to EC than boys (generally). I have observed this in others children and have found it to be true for my own kids. Part of this is anatomical — boy pees are harder to catch as babies. With girls, everything more or less just dribbles downward. Diaper-free overnights are also easier with girls because you don’t have to worry about the sheets and blankets above getting wet in addition to the sheets underneath. If you have a baby boy, know that it only gets easier should you have a girl in the future.
People will be suspicious. Or think you are weird. They might not say it to you, but many will think it. I was talking to my grandmother recently about EC’ing my daughter and she said “Remember when we all [the entire extended family] laughed and thought it was ridiculous when you took him to the toilet as a baby, well I can see now that it was a sensible thing to do… ” referring to my son being toilet independent at age two.
TRUST YOUR INTUITION. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve known my daughter needed to pee, but I turned my attention elsewhere, or second-guessed myself, and got peed on thirty seconds later. In a way EC’ing is an exercise in developing your instincts as well as your baby’s. If you have the sense that they have to go, they probably do.Resources: Diaper Free Baby ~ http://www.diaperfreebaby.org/ Clothing and supplies for EC’ing ~ http://www.ecwear.com/cart.html EC forum ~ http://www.diaperswappers.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=128