Elimination Communication or How to Potty-train a Baby
Even in cozy North America, exposing a baby to the idea of eliminating on a potty can be easier than a parent might think, and it can save a lot of dirty diapers, which is good for the environment as well as your pocketbook. Many parents are simply using some of the ideas of EC — regularly putting a baby over a toilet or on a potty, teaching her to make sounds to communicate the need to pee or poop, and starting the whole process earlier — along with cloth diapering to make the process of potty training proceed more smoothly and finish sooner.
Five steps to get your baby started
1. It’s never too early to start. You can start at day one or at two years (but don’t). It’s harder to do everything with a toddler, including potty train.
2. It couples really well with cloth diapers. Babies who use cloth diapers tend to potty train faster (up to a year faster in most cases). And if you didn’t cloth diaper and you already have a toddler, changing to cloth can still help speed up the potty training.
3. Baby potty training can take many forms. I did it on schedule. Alexis did it on cue. Brandon did it part-time when his son wasn’t in daycare. The key is to not get in the way of your child’s natural abilities to develop sphincter control.
4. Think like your Grandma. In my grandmother’s generation children were potty trained, on average, by 18 months. Now, it’s closer to four years. Potty training your child is a hassle at any age, but it’s easier before they’ve un-learned what naturally begins to develop at just a few months of age (read more about sphincter control below). Just like you persevere when your child enters that phase where they run away instead of lie down for a diaper change, persevere even when they are disinterested in using the potty. In Guatemala or olden days, there weren’t any other options.
5. Get help. Join a forum, ask the green mama a question, or get one of the recommended books below to further inspire your process.
The Green Mama’s EC Story
After my initial reluctance, it didn’t take long before my first baby was peeing regularly in the toilet, and by the time she was six months old she almost never pooped in her diaper. It didn’t feel easy to read her signals, so I made a schedule: on the potty first thing in the morning and every time I changed her diaper after that.
The down side? My baby hated to be in a dirty diaper. Other babies would sleep through a wet diaper or sit comfortably in a dirty one, but not my daughter. In the end, it seemed like it was affecting her sleep, and I took to using one of the brands of “greener” disposable diapers at night and cloth diapers and EC during the day. It worked for me, and I felt it was a workable compromise: fewer diapers overall, and just an occasional disposable.
Lest you think I am too smug, my second baby was not the EC miracle of my first. She pooped in her diaper a full year after the age at which her sister stopped. However, just as I was about to lose hope, she potty trained herself around two years of age — the same as her sister had.
What Is EC?
EC is a process of learning to read your baby’s cues to determine when he needs to go pee or poo and then putting him over some sort of potty. It also involves teaching the child to learn to communicate that “need” more effectively. This can be done by teaching the child to make pssst or grunting sounds, or to make a particular sign when she needs to do her business.
Most people I know who practice EC leave their child in cloth diapers and then put them on the potty either when the child makes a cue or when the parent thinks it is time (such as after waking up from a nap or every time her diaper is changed).
Most animals, including humans, instinctively don’t want to eliminate near where they sleep, eat, and live. Putting babies in diapers, especially disposables, involves getting babies somewhat comfortable with this “unnatural” act. EC practitioners see themselves as simply skipping this step.
Is It Natural?
In 1957, cloth diapers were the only option available to parents, and 92 percent of children were toilet-trained by the time they were 18 months old. Today, 90 to 95 percent of babies wear disposable diapers and the average age of potty training in North America is three. Just 4 percent of two-year-olds today are fully potty trained and out of diapers.
This trend of later and later potty training might not just be bad for the envi- ronment. Research suggests that delayed potty training might lead to constipation, more frequent bladder infections, daytime incontinence in later childhood, and more difficulty potty training when the time comes.
Confused? Of course you are. For years, “progressive” doctors like Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. T. Berry Brazelton popularized the idea of child-centred potty training. They claimed that pushing a child to potty train could cause problems such as stool withholding, regression, or bedwetting. There are, however, no studies to back up these claims. In fact, there is research that shows the opposite.
Sphincters Have Rules Too!
In most of the studies I have read, researchers comment on how little is known about potty training and the development of urinary and rectal control. In order to pee and to poop, a child’s sphincters must relax. At least one study suggests that babies have some control over these sphincters from infancy, as their bladders don’t “leak” easily. This suggests that from a young age a baby is “holding” her pee and then releasing it at some point.
Urinary and bowel control usually develop following a pattern. First, bowel movements become less frequent and more regular. Next, bowel control develops, followed by bladder control by day, and finally bladder control by night. Children do not often poop while in deep sleep and most parents celebrate when, at around three months after birth, they no longer have to change baby’s poopy diapers at night.
Most studies indicate that a child cannot be fully potty trained (day and night and getting on and off the potty alone) until nearly two years of age. But an understanding of sphincters suggests, and those who practise EC corroborate, that babies as young as six months can begin to hold poop and pee long enough to be put on a potty and can then learn to release their sphincters once there. Among EC users, six-month-old babies commonly poop exclusively on the potty rather than in their diapers. Similarly, by the time the babies are six months of age, parents commonly “catch” many of their pees. Children who practise EC are often completely potty-trained by the time they’re 24 months old, a full year earlier than their non-EC peers.
If a baby has some sphincter control by six months, but she doesn’t start potty “training” until two years later, that kid has had a lot of time to learn to be comfortable pooping in her pants. While your child is not likely to be going to the potty entirely on her own before the age of two, earlier exposure to some EC can result in cost savings, time savings, and natural resource savings.
Resources to help in baby potty training (or whenever you start)
Laurie Boucke, Infant Potty Training
(This one is my favourite of these.) Jill Lekovic, Diaper Free Before 3: The Healthier Way to Toilet-Train and Help Your Child Out of Diapers Sooner