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!