Intro to Elimination Communication Part 2: Practice

Annabelle at 8 months on her Little Potty

Elimination Communication is practiced a little bit differently by every family.  There is no right or wrong way, and it’s not all or nothing. It can be started at any time from birth to potty independence, and can be used part time or full-time. EC’ing families may go sans diaper all the time or some of the time, and may use cloth diapers or training pants as back up. There’s no reason why disposable diapers can’t be used, but they’re generally discouraged since they hinder babies’ awareness of being wet. See Part 1 for an explanation of what EC is and the thinking behind the practice. In this article, we’ll talk more about the “how” than the “why.”

The Lingo

When an EC’ing caregiver correctly anticipates an infant’s need to eliminate and helps them do so in the infant’s designated place, she usually refers to it as having “caught” a pee (or a poop). When she doesn’t catch on to a need and the infant eliminates in his diaper, trainer, clothing, or anywhere not intended for elimination, the caregiver may say that she had a “miss.” The infant’s characteristic signs that he needs to ‘go’ are referred to as his cues.” Additionally, many caregivers give cues to the child to let them know that they’re ready for the infant to eliminate, should they need to do so. More on cues later.

Getting Started

Some families, like ours, begin EC at birth. Others opt to wait until the infant can sit on their own, making it possible to sit on the potty with minimal assistance. Still others start at some other time, either out of necessity (as in response to a need like severe rashes), or because they just decide they want to. There is no wrong time to start!

Annabelle in her EcaPants at 3 months

There isn’t really any specialized equipment needed for EC practice, but you may want to think  about a few things before you start, such as whether you’d like to use as a potty and whether you want any kind of “back-up” or plan to go diaper free altogether.

You may also want to choose a “cue.” At home, many families, including ours, use the Baby Bjorn Little Potty, but you can use something you happen to have around the house as well. The benefit of the Little Potty is that it allows for independence as infants grow. There are many great options for back-up from regular cloth diapers to split pants, to specialized EC trainers. Our favorite are EcaPants, but since they’re not easy on the budget, we use a prefold belt at home much of the time. Every family and every baby is different, so it’s wise to try a few different things before investing in a whole stash of diapers or trainers.

A prefold secured with a prefold belt makes great back up around the house

Cues

As you watch your infant and get to know her habits, you’ll start to see patterns – cues that she needs to “go.” For some, it’s timing. One baby may unlatch mid-nursing session, take a break for a wee, and then go back to it. Another may always need to go ten minutes or so after eating. For others, it’s certain behaviors – one babe may have a characteristic pre-poo wiggle, or another an unmistakable grimace. Any of these things will “cue” you to respond by taking your child to a comfortable and hygienic place to eliminate, whether that’s a chamber pot beside the sofa where you’re nursing, a little potty, or the bathroom sink.

Parents also use their own cue sounds to help facilitate communication. When first starting out their EC journey, caregivers may make a sound, such as “sssss” or any bathroom word, like “wee.” When they notice their infant going, whether it’s a catch or a miss, they make the cue sound to help draw baby’s attention to the fact that they’re going. One goal of EC is to allow children to grow up viewing elimination as the most normal, natural thing in the world – free from bathroom shame and embarrassment. For this reason, cues are great, because they acknowledge what is going on and help the infant to recognize it, without any fanfare over a catch or shame over a miss. Saying “sss” is like saying, “Oh, I see, you’re going pee.” Since the infant learns to associate the cue word or sound with elimination, it is also sometimes used when offering a potty-tunity, to let the infant know they’re in a place where they can go. Not everyone uses specific cue, however. It’s up to you! Using the ASL sign for bathroom or another sign can be helpful, since infants can use it to communicate with you as they get older.

Night Time EC

The most surprising thing to me in my own EC journey was that my daughter was perfectly capable of staying dry all night long. I didn’t intend to practice EC at night, since even toddlers and preschoolers sometimes wet the bed, right?  I used a cloth diaper with a waterproof cover at night until my daughter was about a month old and I started noticing that she would wake up dry. I decided to give it a try and, as it turns out – night time (and nap time) is even easier than daytime!  Once an infant gets used to being taken to the bathroom upon waking, it seems that they’re able to stay dry while sleeping.

To make nighttime EC easier, a waterproof pad or two for the infant to sleep on is a great investment. This way if there is a miss, you don’t have to bother with changing the sheets in the middle of the night. Many families use a lanolized wool “piddle pad,” but any waterproof pad works fine – just make sure it’s safe for sleeping and doesn’t present a suffocation hazard. Having a potty of some kind right near the family bed or baby’s crib will also help make nighttime EC much easier and minimize disruption of sleep. This way, the occasional nighttime wee doesn’t have to mean turning lights on or tromping across the house.

The "improvipotty" for outings in the car

Outings

ECing while out and about was, for us, the biggest challenge. It took a long time before I tried it at all. It was so much harder for me to recognize my daughter’s cues, and there wasn’t always a good place to go when I did. I have heard many great suggestions from other moms, and I have developed a system of my own.

I have heard from moms who save disposable coffee cups and hold them in place for their infant to wee before taking them out of the car seat. Others hold their baby over the ground just outside the car, with the door offering a bit of privacy. Out and about, some just find a bush. It’s all about what you’re comfortable with. I’m perhaps overly concerned with my daughter’s privacy and a bit timid myself, so I avoid EC’ing my daughter where strangers may be looking on. Personally, I keep a large plastic bowl with a lid in the car and use prefolds as liners for it. I place the bowl in my lap and hold my daughter over it. If she goes, I put the soiled prefold in a wetbag and replace it with a fresh one. This way I don’t have urine sloshing around in the backseat, but I’m still able to offer a semi-private potty-tunity when we’re out on errands. When public restrooms are available, they work just as well as the bathroom at home!

The Learning Curve

Early in my own EC journey, there were many misses. I also had trails of poo on the way to the bathroom. All of this had me thinking that, contrary to what I had read, EC may be even less hygienic than traditional diapering. I was wrong. Those who are particularly intuitive may have an easier time, but if you are having misses or trails of wee, take heart. It gets better. Not only did I learn to understand my daughter’s needs better, but she also learned that I would take her to the bathroom, and she began waiting until she was in position, on the potty, before she started to go. It may come easier for some than others, but EC is possible! Take it a day at a time, and do as much as you’re comfortable with. If you only go diaper free for an hour or two at a time to start with, that’s fine. The key is to be relaxed and in tune with your child. If it stresses you out – put a diaper on and try again later!

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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.

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12 Responses to Intro to Elimination Communication Part 2: Practice

  1. Juliette

    Thanks for this – we’ve been practicing part-time EC for about 6 months (my son is 10 months) and I’m amazed how well he responds even considering how part-time it really is.

    I’ve been lazy lately because it’s mid-winter, the house is cold, and it’s such a pain to dress and undress him. But he’s developing yet another nasty rash, so it’s time to break out the legwarmers, suck it up and start taking him to the toilet again. Your post was timely :)

    • Melissa  

      I’m so glad it was timely for you, Juliette! It truly is amazing how well infants respond to having their needs met in this way, even when we aren’t as consistent as we’d like to be.

      Happy communicating, and happy New Year – may it be a rash free 2011 ;)

  2. Julian  

    I have been practicin g EC with my 15 month old for about 6 months. I like what you have to say about ECing while out of the house.

    Normally, If my little guy signed for the potty or did his ‘pee shiver’ while we were out of the house I would simply cue him in his diaper and assure him that I would change him out of it as soon as I was able to.

    recently that hasn’t been good enough for Oliver and he gets really upset if I try to cue him in the diaper. (for some reason he is not nearly as worried about it at home, likely because he gets too busy with his toys and books to mind too much) So I took the plunge while we were out for lunch today and I held him over the toilet in the washroom of the cafe.

    I was so surprised when he went! Normally he sits on a potty insert or little potty, and every time I’ve tried one of the ECing ‘holds’ he’s wiggled out of them. But he calmly stayed in position and even cued himself to go!

    He was so proud of himself that when we got to the table be kept signing to his father about the potty and repeating ‘oh wow!’

    • Melissa  

      Go, Oliver! That is absolutely awesome! Thanks for sharing your success story!

      I like how you mention the “pee shiver.” My daughter does what I imagine must be the same thing, but I never could decide how to describe it. That’s the perfect description.

  3. Acacia

    Both articles were just what I needed to get started on ECing with my 8 month old. I’m nervous about it, I’m afraid I won’t notice his cues, but I’m going for it and figuring I feel this way because the concept is so brand new for me. I mean, I can tell when he wants to eat and sleep, so why not pee?

    Thanks so much!

  4. Maria D. @ Downright Domesticity  

    Love your idea about EC’n on the go! I’ve been EC’n part-time with my four-month old since he about 5 weeks old. I agree, the main thing is to be relaxed about it, because all the misses get extremely personal if you don’t! :-P I actually just wrote a post last week about falling off the EC wagon and getting back on: http://downrightdomesticity.blogspot.com/2011/01/time-for-ec-update.html

  5. Tiffany

    We were doing great. Going diaper free almost all the time at home but then my son started asking to wear the diaper and would get quite upset if I didn’t put one on him. He doesn’t mind being wet so I am at a loss…

    • Melissa  

      Tiffany, how old is your son? From my own experience with my daughter and everything I have read from other moms, regressions are completely and totally normal. When we leave choices surrounding pottying up to our children, we leave ourselves open to their making a choice we don’t expect (or like!).

      My own 18 month old had what felt like a bit of a regression this week and I often get frustrated, but when I refocus on communication as the goal, I realize we’re doing just fine

  6. Kacia  

    HI! Thank you for this post – We’ve been ECing with my daughter from about 3 months on. She rarely pooped in her diaper from 3-7 months….but during this 7-8 month time frame [crawling, cruising, i’m sure teeth, soon!] she’s regressed! :( pooping a lot more, even right after she may pee on the toilet. Did you find this happened? Any advice??? thanks!!

    • Melissa K.

      Hi, Kacia. I’m so glad this article was helpful for you! You are definitely not alone in the regression department. I have heard countless stories that are very similar, and have seen the same in my own daughter. When a baby is focused on some other developmental skill (crawling or cruising, for example!), or is dealing with some other discomfort (teething! or illness) or disruption in routine (travel, etc), it seems to be a very common thing for regressions to occur. I don’t have much advice, but can assure you it is definitely normal and things should go back to the way they were in due time. In times like those, I had to remind myself that the goal was not so much to catch every single pee or poop as it was to communicate, and give my daughter the confidence of knowing that I was there to meet her needs. It sounds like you’re doing great!

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