Thursday, 29 December 2011

Elimination Communication

It's probably the most left-of-centre thing I do as a mother, weirder to all than breastfeeding a 3.5 year old, than sleeping with our two babies in our bed, than using homeopathy in lieu of conventional medicines, Ladies and Gentlemen, it's ELIMINATION COMMUNICATION!

Thank you, thank you,
I'd like to begin by introducing myself, I'm elimination communication, or EC to my friends. I am widely practised among cultures in Asia and Africa where babies are carried un-diapered in a sling for most of the day, being lifted out to relieve themselves as they need to. Nappies are not needed, as the mother / caregiver knows when the baby needs to relieve themselves through a complex but simple set of signs:
Body-language signals from the baby
Vocal signs (sounds or words) from the baby

This is NOT your Victorian "early toilet training" that screwed up so many thousands of people and caused elimination phobias and fetishes in our western society. This, like breastfeeding, is a practice that has been used since the dawn of time; listening to our babies needs and responding, but has been forgotten about in our society. Much like the advent of formula feeding replacing breastfeeding, nappies/diapers have replaced elimination communication. What we now teach our children is to soil themselves for about 2 years, and then use a potty / toilet when we suggest it.

How did I discover it?
I came across it when looking into natural parenting online when Charlie was an infant, and then "borrowed" (still have it) a book on it from a parenting support group, book is called "Diaper-free; The gentle wisdom of natural infant hygiene" by Ingrid Bauer. It is the perfect book about elimination communication, putting across the biological facts about elimination (wee and poo are not evil!), the instinctive side as a parent, reading the cues the baby gives, with plenty of photos and practical examples. I tried it with Charlie, but he was 9 months old, and apart from a few wees and poos in a toilet, I didn't commit to it, so let it go.

How does it work?
Much like how your child learns a word, eg. when Charlie was one he'd say "boo-wee" for Toy Story, as in Buzz-Woody, this evolved in a few months to "doy doy" - his attempt to say "Toy Story", and then "doy-doy-doo" for Toy Story 2. So language goes through an evolution. Anyone who has taught baby signs to their child sees how their attempt starts out as an approximation of the sign, evolving as you respond to it, and may even evolve into another sign completely, but as long as you both understand it, you're communicating.
This is the same with EC. When Noah was newborn (as in the first week of his life) I started opening his nappy (him lying on his back on the bed) and holding his little feet in one hand as he pooed. I'd let him push against my hand with his feet, and say "poo-poo". This continued for the next couple of months, him getting used to pooing with the nappy open, and I'd occasionally wipe his bum once or twice during the poo, this stimulates the anus, (like a mother cat licking her kitten's bum) and I'd say "more poo-poo?" and he'd poo until he was finished.

When he reached about four months of age I started reaching for a potty, holding him upright, facing away from me, slightly leaning back, and supporting him under his thighs as he poos into a potty or toilet. There's no mess, one wipe and he's clean, and he's not going around with poo against his skin, breeding bacteria and getting nappy rash. He quickly learned the word "poo-poo", responding to it after a couple of weeks.
If we're lying on the sofa / in bed and he needs to wee or poo he'll now raise his legs, and place one or both feet into my hand if my hand is near. He has also started putting his own foot into his own hand, catching his toes with his fingers if he's sitting up. He'll also start a high pitched squealing, one that he only does when needing to "go". As soon as I respond by saying "Ok, let's go pee-pee", or opening his nappy / carrying him to the potty, he lets out excited laughs / pants / squeaks and kicks his legs in excitement. Once he has weed / pooed / both, I will happily let him go bare-bummed (is that a word?!) for the next hour or so. If I feed him earlier I'll put a nappy on him as he will sometimes wee during a feed with no warning.

Wees are harder to catch. At least with a poo you get a grunt / a fart / watery red eyes, so you know one's coming, also he only poos every third day or so, so I'll know if one's due or not. But wees are constant, silent, and harder to scrub out of the sofa. So what I did was check him constantly for wees, i.e, after a feed, after a nap, after half an hour of not checking etc. and I changed him instantly. Some wees are big, with lots of urine (funny how I've got this far and this is the first time I've used "urine") for example after a feed and nap, he'll do a big wee. Other wees are only a tablespoon of liquid. I changed them all, into a brand new disposable nappy. He'd shout the minute the hot wee entered the nappy, as I never let him get used to the feeling of wearing a wet nappy.

Some days I catch them all, and we only use a nappy or two from dawn to dusk. Other days like today, if I'm tired, not feeling it, or just plain lazy, I'll catch none of them and we'll use nappies for each new wee. It works at home and out of the home too, I've "pee"ed him in toilets in shopping centres, Mc Donald's, other peoples houses, wherever we are.

This really blows my mind, and although I've been doing it with him for 25 weeks (his age), it's only actually the last month or so I've really let myself believe we are having a two-way communication. I never believed babies were able to communicate so clearly, waiting like most people for Charlie to repeat baby signs, or use words. Well, that's not strictly true, I was aware of Charlie's signs for "boob" from the beginning, but I assumed that food was such a basic need, of course he'd signal for it. It makes sense that eliminating is as basic a need, yet we are for the most part blind or unresponsive to our babie's signals. What usually happens is that the baby learns to go in the nappy, so they stop signalling. Well, with the knowledge I now have, I feel it would be doing a disservice to Noah not to continue with EC, although I'm a lazyass. I draw the line at doing it when we're all asleep. For a week or so I was waking up and lifting him over a potty in the bed, but there were kicks, and overturnings, and I was having to wake Barry to put the potty down on the floor, and it was all too much. So I will change his nappy during the night, usually once between midnight and about 8am, and when he wakes me by kicking his legs and squirming, I tell him to pee-pee in the nappy, and he does. We're in a good place with it, we're saving on nappies and I feel like we have a bond, much like the breastfeeding bond we've developed.

I would recommend anyone thinking about this to read up on it during pregnancy, as I believe you should start it as soon as possible after the birth. Don't tell your family or friends, unless they are like-minded, they'll think you're nuts. Family who have seen me do it (hold Noah over a potty, or bring him back from the toilet in the same dry nappy) are curious, and relieved to hear it's not "toilet training" as we know it. I don't think the goal is to be "diaper-free" in the first year, although I've heard about babies crawling to the toilet/potty when they need to go. I'll keep you posted. I'll be really interested to hear your thoughts on it, if you're doing it, or if you get it, but don't want to practise it. If you hate the idea of it, that's fine, it's not for everyone, and you certainly aren't a bad parent for not giving it a go. On the flip side I've still got a 3.5 yr old insisting on nappies night and day, so I can't talk!
Thanks if you made it this far!
Niamh x


  1. that is so cool that you've managed to keep it going this long and seem to be so relaxed with it... i always thought that it was an all or nothing kind of thing- but i only know one other mama who has tried EC, and she didn't continue for very long, so the idea always put me off- thinking that it'd be a pain in the ass to do.
    i'm kind of wishing that i would have started something like that long ago with claire- her poor chubby thighs are too big for the biggest size nappies, so uncomfortable

  2. Hi Erin, the key as outlined in Bauer's book is to be totally detached from it emotionally. No "I caught a wee so I'm a great mom" feelings, and no "I missed a wee so I'm a bad mom" either. You catch or you don't, no biggie, and you just try to get better at it as time goes on. It really frees you up from having to "succeed" at it.
    Charlie had a stage for about 6 months where nappies gave him awful red marks where he was too chubby too, up at the tabs. It's yuck, I just kept the nappy as loose as possible, and moved him up to the number 6s whenever I could find them/afford them. Gotta love them chubby thighs though! x

  3. so glad you blogged about this so im not the only crazy in dublin lol..i started with my little girl about 3 weeks ago she is now just 5 months..she responded straight away! its very cool after i read about it i was like duh thats what the rest of the world does lightbulb moment!
    i catch nearly all of the poos but still miss lots of wees..finding it hard to work out the signs for wees..ive had a few dry days but thats when i take her to the sink and potty all the you think i should get the book or will i gradually as she gets older learn her wee signs? i dont do it at night either but her dad brings her first thing in the morning and she allways does her 1s and 2s and is delighted with herself :)

  4. Hi Gab!
    Good on you doing so well after only three weeks! She may be used to the feeling of wee in the nappy, so probably isn't giving you any signals, just going ahead and doing it. I rely a lot on timing for the wees, i.e. on waking after a nap / during or after a feed, on arriving somewhere and getting out of the car seat. I'd say for every wee I catch, I also bring him to the potty and he doesn't need to go. I'm assuming if we keep offering the potty, they'll gradually cue us better i.e. language / baby signs. Fantastic her dad is involved too, it's a real thrill for us all too when it works! And the look of delight on his face is fab too! Good on you! Where did you hear about it? I wouldn't get the book if you don't already have it, it spends a lot of time validating the case for EC, which you obviously don't need. You'll probably get great advice on EC forums.

  5. I liked peaceful parenting on facebook ( thought it might help me shout less at my 8 yr old not the baby..and husband ha ha) and in my news feed a link to an article on it came up so i read it and was curious so whipped the babs nappy of and cued her and she did it straight away so from that moment i was hooked! Yea im doing the wee's on timing cant work out the signs at all but i feel like sometimes i just know but cant describe how..i find often now that her nappy is dry after a nap and last night she went to bed at 6 and at 12 when i was going asleep i took her nappy off and she was dry so i held her asleep over the potty and did the sound and she did a massive pee so i think she is holding on to them in her sleep so weird as my older one still wet the bed at 5 and 6!

  6. Ok So I started the day before yesterday removing Ruben's nappy and trying to learn the signals, He is 19 months old and for 6 months he has always told me when he was weeing and poohing by touching his willy or bum and saying,,,, huuuuuhhhm. But I knew nothing about EC untill a few weeks ago... So today I had nappy off most of the afternoon and he did about 6 wees in the toilet and 2 poohs... amazing... he is loving it... However we had one wee, hiding behind the curtain... I wonder was this because I was praising the toilet ones and now he feels that if not in the toilet its not a good thing... Oh god... maybe I shouldn't praise at all? Advice?

  7. Hi! That's brilliant that you are so in tune with Reuben, with him using sound cues whenever he needs to "go". And fantastic that you caught so many wees and poos in the first day! Obviously he is at a great stage for starting EC and I bet you'll progress very fast.
    Re: the praising question, Ingrid Bauer's book says to completely detach from praise, removing the "success" element also removes the "failure" element, and his wee behind the curtain may have been an attention-seeking/control issue. It all depends how you react to it. I'd suggest saying something like "Oh, there's a wee", and cleaning it up very matter-of-factly. If he sees any reaction from you he's likely to use it again to get a reaction. If you feel he'd like a bit of control over it, how about setting a potty in the corner (maybe near that curtain!) and saying "whenever you need to wee, you can go here", so it's giving him that bit of independence to decide when and where he does it. If you are whisking him off to the toilet and interrupting his play, he may resent it a little. Here's a link to an article about EC that may help.


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