Elimination Communication: My Experience

For years, the joke of the family was my grandma who insisted that her son was potty trained at 3 months old. She sometimes comes up with astounding ideas and she regularly reads the Star or the National Inquirer so we didn’t take a whole lot of what she said very seriously. I should probably apologise to my grandma for laughing behind her back at her “ridiculous” statement but since she never knew I was laughing, I won’t bother. Besides, now all my family members are laughing at me instead. Because I discovered she was probably right. It IS possible to train your baby to use the toilet at a young age, far younger than today’s North American standard of 2-3 years. I did it with 2 of our three children. And I’d do it in a flash if we ever had another.

Most people roll their eyes at the thought of potty training before the child is 18 months or so. I used to think that it was the mother who was being trained, not the baby. Certainly, the mother is trained to know when her child needs to go poop, but the baby is also trained to know that when she is placed on the toilet it is time to go.

I was at a mother-baby nursing seminar when my second child was tiny. A young Iranian mother was there with her baby and was telling everyone how her mother was training her baby to eliminate when she sang a certain song. I was struck by the idea but never seriously thought about doing it myself. I have since learned that it is normal to practise Elimination Communication (EC) in countries other than North American countries, especially poorer countries who use cloth diapers exclusively, and who don’t have the quality of sanitation or water supply that we are blessed with. Washing diapers is no trouble for us today with fantastic washing machines and dryers, but in other countries, and through the ages, washing diapers is not a fun, simple experience.

The society we live in today pretty much says that babies should be in diapers until they are old enough to potty train. The norm for that age is probably 2 to 3.5. Then they have developed enough to control it, and to express their need. What I now believe is that common practise (probably mainly since the invention of disposable diapers) has actually taught babies to eliminate in their diaper, and that they are capable of controlling and expressing their need a lot sooner than we believe.

The following is a description of my own experience. I did not research this topic beforehand, and I haven’t researched it now. There are methods that may be more appropriate for your baby and techniques that I haven’t used but this is how I became a believer in EC.

My 12 month old daughter was with me in the kitchen while I was baking. I noticed she was starting a bowel movement. Without really thinking (except that I would rather wipe a bum than wash a poopy diaper) I scooped her up and told her not to go poop yet and put her on the toilet. She finished going in the toilet. I praised her and called my friends and family and bragged about her. She had pooped in the toilet! I began to watch her carefully and realised that she pooped at fairly regular times: right after waking up, and while lying in bed waiting to go to sleep. So I started putting her on the toilet when I noticed her straining: right before bed, and right after she woke up. The key was to notice her pattern, and then give her an opportunity to go. It didn’t take long before my daughter was pooping regularly on the toilet, and by 18 months I never had to change another poopy diaper.

I wasn’t attempting to train her to pee in the toilet (wet cloth diapers are much easier to clean!) but that came as a natural progression. She often peed after she pooped, and so I gave her extra time to go pee when she was sitting on the toilet. I also put her on the toilet ever few hours. She was completely trained by the time she was 2. She trained through the night a month or so afterwards.

Now all this could just be luck of the draw. An easy trainer. And I knew this, but when my second daughter was a year old, I decided to give it a try. Like magic, I had the same results. Even better, actually. She quickly learned to go pee on the toilet as well. When she was 15 months old and in Emergency in the hospital for 8 days of diarrhoea, I had no trouble providing a urine sample. The nurses were shocked that I could put a 15 month old baby on the toilet and get a urine sample! (Try getting a clean urine sample from a baby who isn’t trained! Yikes!)

By 18 months of age my second daughter was completely dry during the day. When we went camping, since I am not hard core enough to camp in cloth, I brought disposables. The disposable diaper tabs and fabric were worn out from opening and closing to put her on the toilet. She held both pee and poop until she was on a toilet. She learned how to say pee and poop, and let me know when she had to go by the time she was 18 months old. I AM a believer! She was dry though the night regularly before she was 2.

There are several things that made this process successful in my opinion:

  1. Age. 2 year olds (and older) are old enough to have minds of their own which can include retention etc. 1 year olds do not. They still like to please. I think this, in a way, meant that my daughters were more ready to learn than most 2 year olds who have lost the need to please and are already into “I do it MY way”!
  2. Regularity. As with all things, it helps to have caregivers who are on the same page, or a caregiver who is almost exclusively taking care of the child. I think that it would be difficult for someone to do if their daycare provider didn’t accept it (and I don’t think many would!) Being at home with your child full time is probably the best situation. I was fortunate enough to be a SAHM. Also, it is important that you aren’t always on the run around town. A child needs to be comfortable with her surroundings for this to work, at least in the beginning.
  3. Schedule. Make sure you regularly put your baby on the toilet to give her the opportunity to go. If you know that your baby poops at a certain time make sure you give her the opportunity every time.
  4. Praise. Babies love praise! It doesn’t take long for her to figure out what makes you happy.
  5. Positioning. My babies were 12 months and well able to sit up by themselves. They could even get themselves to the toilet on their own. I had to hold them on though, since they weren’t old enough to get up themselves. A child toilet seat helps. If you are dealing with a small baby though, there are positions and techniques recommended while learning EC.
  6. Cloth Diapers. There may be something to the old wives’ tale that cloth diapered children potty train faster. Whether it is because they feel wet as soon as they pee, or because the mom hurries the process so she doesn’t have to do as much laundry, I don’t know. All I know is that my girls potty trained quickly from cloth.
  7. A cue. Some people run water, sing a song or tighten their stomach muscles while holding the baby against them etc. to use as reminder for the child that it is time to eliminate.
  8. No juice.  Juice is mainly sugar, even natural juice.  It is totally unnecessary and even detrimental to their health.  Kids drink it because they like the flavour (and sugar) not because they are thirsty.  If you give a child juice expect them to have to pee more.  And don’t bother trying EC. 

I learned from trial and error. If you are interested in trying EC techniques, consider googling it and learning more about it. It will save you a lot of time washing diapers, you will develop a new bond between you and baby, and it will potentially make complete potty training that much easier and quicker.

*This blog post has been shared on I Thought I Knew Mama Link Up Thursdays

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