Many parents wouldn’t dream of letting their babies go nappy-free … not for very long anyway.
But did you know that half the world’s babies don’t wear nappies? They’re not toilet trained – not the way we think of it anyway – but their parents just know when they need to go.
It is a practice called elimination communication (EC), and it can start as early as birth. And often if results in children being properly toilet trained by the time they’re about a year old.
Elimination communication is also known by the terms ‘natural infant hygiene’, ‘infant pottying’, or ‘infant potty training’ but what exactly is it, why do people do it and what are the steps to follow if you’d like to?
What is Elimination Communication?
It is a process where you (the parents) learn to communicate with your baby and help them eliminate (wee or poo) into a potty instead of a nappy. You would learn to look for the signs that your baby gives before eliminating, and get them to a potty in time to catch any wee or poo. The aim is to have you and baby communicating well enough that baby never needs to be in nappies or ever soil themselves. They learn very quickly how to feed and fall asleep sleep (in comparison to how long it normally takes to learn to eliminate in a toilet) – so why not start this early too? Babies learn so many things all the time, so they are not going to have any trouble adding one more thing to the list.
This process aims to teach that one way of toileting throughout your baby’s whole life, rather than first teaching them to eliminate into a nappy, then signal to you to be changed, and later on flip that whole way of thinking so that they learn to go to a toilet or potty instead of a nappy. Elimination communication can help teach babies to realise when they are eliminating, and eventually realise the signs within their own bodies telling them they need to poo or wee. This is simply making that connection earlier in life rather than later, and saving on all those nappies you wouldn’t have to use!
What is the process of EC?
You can start at any age, though many parents who would like to start from birth do wait a few weeks to settle into parenting first. You can start by having your baby in nappies – though some parents go without and just clean up the messes – and watch your baby for signs that they need to eliminate. These signs can be as simple as a pattern of weeing when they wake up from a sleep, or pooing straight after a feed. These will be different for every baby, so comparing yourself and your baby to others won’t help.
Once you can get into a bit of a routine with wake-up wees or feeding poos – whatever your baby’s regular movements are – you can try to watch for other signs like facial expressions, sounds, or movements they make when they need to eliminate. Unfortunately, a lot of these signs can mean other things like being hungry, needing to burp, or just being uncomfortable as well, especially at an early age. It does take time and patience to be able to communicate effectively with your bub.
One Bub Hub mum noticed her bub would push her legs out against mum while she was being held, and that would signify that she needed to wee. Others have noted that certain cries or groans mean that something needs to be eliminated, and quick!
How do you do EC?
Here are some simple tips that can help with the process:
- Either put your baby in a nappy, just in clothes, or nappy-free – depending on whether you want them to be in a soiled nappy for any period of time at all, or you’re happy to clean up any mess that might occur.
- Communicate with your baby and keep a close eye on what baby is doing when they need to eliminate.
- Before you “catch” very many wees or poos, you will miss a lot, even when you are watching for them. Don’t worry about your “misses” – the point of EC is to communicate openly and not get stressed or hung up on the misses – your bub is attuned to you, so will notice is you stress or get cranky about the misses, and that can set you back in your communication.
- When you realised you’ve missed one – if they are still in the act of eliminating, make noises that sound like weeing (sssssss, wees) or pooing (farting sounds, poos) that help your baby make the connection between eliminating and hearing the noise. It is all about communicating with them to help them learn the behaviour – and these noises are called cues. Cues can also be non-verbal like hand signals or simply a specific place that they are taken to to eliminate.
- When you think they need to go, strip off their bottom layer of clothes/nappy and hold them over a potty, toilet, or other area you want to teach them to eliminate in. Use your cues to help them understand that they should eliminate now.
- When you’re done cleaning up any mess that occurred during (wiping bottom and emptying potty), go about your day while keeping that communication open so you can “catch” the next poo or wee. Sometimes the next one is quite soon after the first, so don’t let your guard down thinking that they’ve finished already!
- Keep a diary of signals so you can learn what signs mean what exactly – is your baby squirming because she needs to wee, or something else? You might find yourself thinking every face they pull means they need to eliminate, but sometimes a face is just a face, and a squirm is just uncomfortableness. Learning which faces and squirms mean elimination comes with time and patience.
- Your intuition comes in handy with EC too. After a little while, you just get the feeling that your bub will need to eliminate before they even give any signals. It becomes a finely tuned process where you think they’ll need to go, they’ll show one or more of their signals, and you’ll “catch” their wees or poos with ease.
What EC is NOT
There is some debate and confusion as to the reasons some parents practise EC and how you should go about it.
Here are a few things that EC is not:
- Coercive – you aren’t forcing your bub to eliminate when you want them to, you are waiting for them to need to go, and help them do so without needing a nappy or having any time spent sitting in a dirty nappy – which no baby likes to do.
- Toilet training your baby – if anything, you are training yourself to recognise your baby’s signals and thus enhancing the communication between you and your baby. You are teaching them that they should eliminate in this way from as early as birth, so conventional toilet training is not needed later.
- A minority practise – half the world actually practises EC as the norm! While you may not have heard of EC very often or in a detailed way, the majority of Asian and African countries practise EC as the normal way of life – along with many other countries. The Western world of countries like Australia and America are only just recently starting to use EC – even though Indigenous cultures have used EC for centuries.
- A quick fad – if you decide to go down the EC route, it will become your lifestyle. It is not a quick thing that will seamlessly slot into your normal life before baby, or before starting EC, so don’t go into it thinking that it will.
- Only possible at home – you can definitely watch for signals and practise EC when out and about with your bub. A public toilet is a fine place to take your baby to the toilet – using your cues will help them eliminate without worries. If there are no toilets around – there are many mums who have and will use nature strips or other places to let their baby eliminate – keeping a portable potty or container with you when out is definitely doable.
The core belief of the majority of EC families is that babies shouldn’t have to wait to have their nappies changed – they want and need to be clean and dry. Even if you do change your baby’s nappy as soon as they soil it, there is still that short amount of time between realising they’re wet/soiled, finding somewhere to change, and actually changing the nappy.
Teaching a baby (whether outright or inadvertent) that they are supposed to eliminate in their nappy then wait, wet or soiled, to be changed, and then changing that whole idea when they are a toddler so they learn NOT to eliminate in their nappy or clothes is what EC families are trying to avoid. If this sounds like a thought pattern you can identify with, maybe you should try EC!
Image credit: moswyn/123RF Stock Photo