Intro to Elimination Communication Part 1: Philosophy

Elimination Communication (EC) is the practice of following an infant’s cues and/or getting to know their schedule to anticipate their need to eliminate. When an EC’ing caregiver knows the infant needs to “go,” they help them to do so – without a diaper. Some hold their baby over an adult toilet, others use a small potty like the Baby Bjorn Little Potty, and still others use a chamber pot or some improvised version of one of these. It’s all a matter of preference. Some families begin the practice at birth, while others choose to begin later – it can be started at any time, really.

The idea is fairly simple, and while it is certainly not new, it is important to note what EC is not. To call EC infant toilet training is simply incorrect.1 Many people dismiss the idea right off and wonder why we can’t let babies be babies anymore – they look at it as just another attempt to raise babies who are “advanced.” This makes sense in an era when so many parents feel their preschoolers need to be able to read, write, name all of planets in the solar system, list all 50 states and their capitals, and do simple mathematics. That attitude and the beliefs that drive EC, however, could hardly be more different. The former expects and drives children to do things that are not developmentally appropriate and that are of little or no value to the child in their current state. The same does not hold true of EC.

The elimination of waste is a not a skill, it is a need. Infants are intimately aware of their basic needs. When they are hungry, they know how to make us aware of that, and when the food source is nearby, they know how to use their hands and any other muscles necessary to bring food to mouth and begin eating. While somewhat limited in the early months, the infant has control over his or her head, neck, arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. Most of us fail to note, however, that they also have control over the muscles that control elimination. The fact that babies eliminate in diapers is less a developmental issue on the infant’s part than one on the adult’s part! Because babies learn to eliminate in diapers, which get fancier and fancier all the time and better at keeping babies from feeling that they are wet when they are, they are conditioned not to pay attention to their bodies. They stop paying attention to their need to eliminate, since they can do it anytime and anywhere. EC’ing babies are very aware of their need to eliminate, and they have the added benefit of never having to deal with the pain and discomfort of a diaper rash.

Elimination communication is about keeping babies in tune with their bodies and with all of their needs – even the stinky ones. It’s also about keeping caregivers in tune with the needs of the babies in their lives. This builds a huge amount of confidence for new parents, too. Many believe they won’t know when their baby has to go. This is reminiscent of the common new mama fear that we won’t know when our babies are hungry. With elimination, as with feeding — we figure it out. We are parents!

Elimination Communication is also not necessarily about being “diaper free.” For many, this is a huge part of it, and one of the goals of ECing is to eliminate the waste generated by the use of diapers. Being diaper free is not essential to elimination communication, however. Many EC’ing babies wear diapers (preferably cloth) as back-up all or part of the time, which we’ll talk more about in part two.

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Melissa Kemendo, Author of Vibrant Wanderings

Melissa has perfected the art of working from home without being gainfully employed. She is mom to two vibrant, curious children, with whom she and her husband live and adventure in the Washington, DC area. When she’s not baking, pushing swings, and attempting yet again to summit laundry mountain, she’s working on the Montessori community program for which she acts as teacher, to her own daughter and a handful of other children. She can also often be found writing about something Montessori-related, or just motherhood in general, on her blog, Vibrant Wanderings.

This article has been edited from a previous version posted at The New Mommy Files

  1. Some may disagree with this statement, but it is my opinion.

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5 Responses to Intro to Elimination Communication Part 1: Philosophy

  1. Emily @ Crunchy(ish) Mama  

    Great explanation. EC is one part of natural parenting I’ve never really understood. Mainly because I consider myself very in tune with my son, but I have no idea when he needs to go to the bathroom. Especially urination. Maybe you’ll talk about the cues more in Part 2? Thanks!

    • Melissa  

      Thanks for your comment, Emily! I do talk more about the cues in part 2, which will be up tomorrow. You’re definitely not the only person who can find it hard to tell when your child needs to go pee – even with ECers it can be a challenge. A big thing that can help is having a bit of diaper free “observation time” every day at a time when your attention is mostly focused on your babe, that way you can see exactly what he does just before going. Even if you can’t detect a cue early on, you can at least communicate with him about what’s happening (“Oh, you’re going pee!”) and help heighten his awareness so that he’ll start to signal more in the future.

  2. Lauren  

    We definitely used MORE diapers at first with EC, so I knew that couldn’t be the sole reason we were doing it. We did get to potty independence earlier than other kids I know, but that also wasn’t the point. It was respecting our son’s preferences not to have his elimination held against his body. I had trouble explaining this to relatives who questioned the “point” of ECing. Thanks for this post!

  3. Tiffany

    Very interesting article. I am intrigued!!

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