When I was pregnant with Beatrice, a friend loaned me a copy of Diaper Free! by Ingrid Bauer and a copy of Sign With Your Baby by Dr. Joseph Garcia. I sat down with my big pregnant belly and a cup of tea, and flipped through both books. I liked the idea of baby signing, but couldn’t imagine myself holding my baby over a bowl like the very earthy and serene looking mamas in Diaper Free! Yet the longer I looked at the book and read about the details, origins and practice of Elimination Communication, the more I started thinking that maybe I’d give it a try.
What is EC?
Elimination Communication, or EC, is a natural parenting practice that involves responding to a baby or toddler’s need to eliminate in a similar way as breastfeeding on demand meets a baby’s need for food. Whenever the caregiver notices a cue that the baby needs to eliminate he or she removes the diaper (if baby is wearing one) and holds the baby over a suitable place for her to eliminate. That’s it! It’s very simple in theory, yet I found I had a lot of questions when I actually got started practicing EC.
What do I need to do EC with my baby?
One of the beauties of EC is that it really doesn’t require any fancy stuff. A little potty is nice, but it’s perfectly fine to hold your baby over a bowl or the toilet instead. Cute legwarmers let you get to the diaper without fussing with pants, but again, they fall into the category of “nice to have”. What you really need to do EC with your baby is patience, awareness and presence. You’ll need patience because it takes a little while for yourself and your baby to figure out the idea of eliminating into a potty/bowl/whatever, and a little patience while baby figures out the association between your cue (a sss noise for pee and a grunting noise for poo) and her elimination. An ECing caregiver needs to become aware of the sometimes subtle cues that babies give before they eliminate. Presence is required because, well, you need to be there in order to practice EC. It is possible to do EC part time if baby is with another caregiver while you’re working, but it’s pretty tough to convince daycare staff to do EC with your baby.
How do I learn how to do EC?
Ingrid Bauer’s book Diaper Free! is a great resource that gives parents lots of information about how to do EC and all the various ways to hold a baby who needs to pee, but the basic concept is straightforward. When you notice your baby making a “poo face” or grunting, wisk him to the potty and sit him down there. If you’re lucky, he hasn’t pooped yet and when he does, you make a grunting noise yourself. Baby then associates the noise with the act of eliminating and you can then cue him the next time he sits down on the potty. If he’s already pooped, you can then make the cue noise and say, “oh look, you pooped!” At this point, it’s no different than the regular old poopy diaper routine that you’re used to.
OMG EC is taking over my life!
Once you start catching poos and pees, Elimination Communication can be quite rewarding. Even addictive, or compulsive, if you’re prone to that sort of thing. If you catch yourself taking your baby to the potty 2,465 times a day and most of the time she really didn’t need to pee, remember to stay relaxed. Catching pees is mostly about timing, catching poos is about noticing cues and responding quickly. A good way to learn how often your baby pees is to leave her on a change mat or in a easily cleaned space and leave her diaper off. You’ll both notice when she pees and once you know if she usually pees every 1/2hr, every hour or every two hours, you won’t have to sweat taking her to the potty more often than that. It’s also important to make sure you don’t get too emotionally involved. Consider backing off EC if you start to feel that your own sense of achievement hangs on your “catch rate”. Not only can that put pressure on your baby to perform in order to make you happy, but it can also lead to resentment and frustration when your sweet, easy baby turns into a willful toddler on a potty strike.
EC-ing in public
EC is gaining in popularity, but it’s still not seen much in North American culture. When ECing your baby in public, be polite. Getting to a bathroom is best, but crouching down beside the car or a tree is not the end of the world. As a general rule, if you’d let your 2yr old pee there, it’s probably ok. If not, wait for a better spot. And if that pee turns into a surprise poo, always be armed with a plastic doggy bag to bring it to the garbage!
Practicing EC with my two daughters wove itself very naturally into our breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping lifestyle. Sitting my first baby, Beatrice, on the potty when she was three months old felt strange and exciting, but when Claire came along I started ECing almost right from the start without much fuss. These days we may catch only one or two pees and she’s always in diapers full time, but being able to catch poos in the potty reliably is the biggest benefit of ECing, and the main reason I do it. Poo in the pot means I don’t have to scrape it off a cloth diaper (yuck!) or chuck it out in a disposable (eee-yuck!) It also means that when it comes time to toilet in earnest during toddlerhood it will be less of a life-changing adjustment.