Saturday, May 9, 2009

Elimination communication and potty training: the toddler months

We've been doing elimination communication with Mikko since he was nine days old, but we've been somewhat lackadaisical about it, using cloth diapers as backups and not sweating the misses. This was particularly helpful in those early days of pees every five minutes and constant runny breastmilk poo.

If you're unfamiliar with elimination communication, basically it's the traditional practice of offering your baby opportunities to pee or poop other than in their pants.

Here are some good sites:
     • Free to EC
     • Infant Potty Training
     • Part Time EC!
     • Happy Pottying!

and some good books:
     • Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene, by Ingrid Bauer
     • The Diaper-Free Baby: The Natural Toilet Training Alternative, by Christine Gross-Loh
     • Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living, by Laurie Boucke

and a DVD:
     • Potty Whispering: The Gentle Art of Infant Potty Training, by Colin White & Laurie Boucke (I haven't seen this, but Laurie Boucke is one of the authors above)

and a couple forums:
     •'s Elimination Communication Forum
     • Elimination Communication Yahoo! Group

and fun places to buy EC swag:
     • The EC Store
     • EC Wear
     • Nekkie Blankie

Now that Mikko's 23 months old and on a little more regulated schedule of elimination, pottying him has become easier, and I'm so glad we did EC so that it's not a big leap to potty learning at this age.

Mikko can be so resistant to new things that I'm thankful that the potty is now normal to him. We did have months in there of having him buck and cry when I'd try to potty him (called a "potty strike" or "potty pause" in ECville), so I backed off at those times and hoped that he would come back around to letting us use it. Fortunately, that seemed to be the right approach, because he's matter of fact about it most of the time now, and for our dramatic little guy, that's saying something!

Baby Björn Little PottyBefore Mikko was even born, we bought a couple BabyBjörn Little Potties (you'll see this product abbreviated BBLP on forums like, which are a nice, compact choice. They're all one piece of molded plastic, so they're easy to clean, and they can fit on your lap or between your legs on the bed or floor. They do have a sharpish bottom edge, so it's not exactly comfortable to have them on your lap, but you can manage, and you can turn them sideways to nurse and EC at the same time. This was the only choice for when Mikko was a newborn and always eliminated while feeding. I heartily recommend the fleece potty turtlenecks you can get at The EC Store to buffer the cold plastic meeting baby buns and to help pad the underside of the potty a little.

But what works for us best at this age is for me to put the BBLP between my legs facing away from me, then pick Mikko up in the classic, under-the-thighs ECing pose to place him facing away from me on the potty. That seems to situate him well to avoid soaking us and the bed, though I still point the stream down into the pot to be on the safe side. He doesn't know how to aim himself still, so I'm just trying to talk about what I'm doing in hopes that he'll eventually handle it himself.

Baby Björn Potty ChairThe BBLP is for when we're on the bed. When we're out in the living room, I use the bigger BabyBjörn Potty Chair. Mikko lets me lead him to it, then help him back up to it (I imagine a beeping sound like a large truck) and situate himself on it. I usually sit down beside him and we read or nurse or play until he's done. His favorite thing, then, is to empty whatever potty he's used into the big toilet.

We do have a toilet seat reducer on the regular toilet, which we use infrequently. I don't like that Mikko has nowhere to rest his feet (our attempts to find a stool of just the right height have been for naught), and it's harder to know if he's peed or not. (The padded seat reducer we got was so cheap and basic I can't even find something similar online, but here's the well-liked BabyBjörn Toilet Trainer as an example.)

We've tried other brands of potties and other receptacles (sink, bucket, bowl, etc.), but this is what we've found works the best for us right now, though nothing is ideal. Oh, how I wish they made a potty for big-size boys with a splashguard that really works! Sam and I have dreamed of designing our own and becoming bazillionaires...and then we remember the EC market isn't big enough to make us bazillionaires. Oh, well!

As far as timing goes, I pee Mikko at regular cues: coming home from somewhere, going out somewhere, going to sleep, waking up. Beyond that, I offer a pee if it seems like it's been awhile. When we're home, he wears no pants and no diaper. Admittedly, this makes visitors nervous, but it has worked surprisingly well, with only a few misses here and there (recently in a box of inventory — whoops!). If Mikko seems unwilling to go but I think he needs to, usually a cuddle and breastfeeding calm him and soon he wants to try.

Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid BauerAt nighttime, in our family bed, we sleep on a nice soft, lanolized wool blanket on top of the fitted sheet, and there's another wool pad underneath the fitted sheet, both of which serve to help protect the mattress. (This is our lovely SnugFleece mattress pad, which I highly recommend, but we got ours much, much cheaper slightly used on eBay!) Mostly Mikko sleeps with a diaper on, but recently I've been getting braver and will often let him nap nakey-butt. Our bed's stayed mostly dry, as long as I get there right when he wakes up.

I definitely think using cloth diapers as a backup instead of disposables has been helpful, in keeping him aware of the sensation of wetness. I have trouble telling whether a disposable diaper is wet, so I'm sure he must, too!

We do still have our challenges, though.

The first relates to the pantsless-at-home vs. diaper-when-out experience. As soon as we put anything on his bottom half, he knows he can go in it (or thinks he can). This goes for underpants and training pants as well, which we've tried out with not so great results. We're trying to put undies on him for short periods right after he's peed so that he can get used to having them on and practice taking them on and off. He doesn't yet have the dexterity to do it himself, though. We tried buying some disposable pull-ups for his preschool days, but they're actually really tight and hard for us to get up and down. We've just bought him some looser boxer-style pants to see if those will be easier to manage. I'm also trying to model the underpants wearing on his stuffed animals. His bear is wearing some nice dino-themed tighty-whities right now.

Infant Potty Training by Laurie BouckeAnother challenge is that he hates public restrooms. He's terrified of them, whether it's the noise of the flushes or the echoing off the walls or the odd decor or the strange smells — or all of it! I've been trying to increase his comfort level by taking him in just to wash his hands, so that he can get used to it without pressure. I'm also looking for other places to potty him that are unusual but not as frightening, like the bathroom at a friend's house or a single-stall public restroom.

One big problem with other restrooms is that he doesn't like being held or perched on that big hole of an adult toilet, even though I sit backwards with him and hold him securely and he hasn't fallen in (yet). To that end, I'm trying to get him used to the idea that he could pee standing up instead. This isn't something I can model on my own (ha ha), so I'm trying to get Sam involved, reminding him to talk about peeing standing up whenever Mikko's watching him go. Mikko will pee standing up only by accident so far!

My newest resolve is to always have a BBLP in the car so he has somewhere he can go comfortably, even if it's the trunk! And I also want to have an empty bottle handy to see if he'll consent to using one as a urinal again. He would when he was younger and didn't know any better, but now he's squirmier.

The other big hurdle I see now is that Mikko is inconsistent about signaling and signing to us that he needs to go. We mostly rely on my timing, but every once in awhile he'll sign "POTTY" (shaken T hand) before he has to go, which is so gratifying. He poops much less often, but it's very clear that he needs to. Funny enough, he thinks the "POOP" sign (thumb poops out your other fist) is wonderful and will helpfully sign it for me every time I'm on the pot. After he's finished on the potty, he eagerly signs "ALL DONE" (flapping hands) to let me know to take him off so he can have some more nummies!

The Diaper-Free Baby by Christine Gross-LohSo that's where we are in our EC journey. I don't know if it helps anyone to know what it's like for particular people, but I know a popular thread at MDC is similar to this. I have had times of feeling very discouraged and wondering why on earth we ever tried this crazy EC idea, particularly when my mother-in-law and pediatrician (otherwise positive people) both scoffed at us and told us we were just making more work for ourselves, but at this point I'm grateful and feeling very relaxed about it. I know other people have early EC grads and have six-month-olds in training pants, and while I admire that, I'm content with our part-time EC with diaper backup. I think it's worked for us, our floors and furniture, and my peace of mind. I didn't want to become perfectionistic about it, and this has all felt very natural lately and like we're just respecting Mikko's choice to pee in an appropriate receptacle. We need to call the diaper service to cut back on our weekly number of diapers again. Some days we use none, which is such a fun feeling.

I have all sorts of faith and hope that Mikko will achieve all the next steps I outlined above in his own good time. I anticipate that someday I will look back and laugh that he ever had a time that putting underpants on would immediately make him pee, or that public restrooms made him wail and cling. I don't have any sort of timetable in mind for when he'll get to full potty-trained competence, but I'm realizing there's no rush.

Potty Whispering: The Gentle Art of Infant Potty TrainingIt seems like a lot of the proponents of EC who speak out online are the superstars, the ones doing full-time, full-on naked pottying from that first meconium poo. I have all sorts of respect for these women (it's usually women) and come to them gratefully to learn from their experience and wisdom — but I am not in their league. So I hope our story of part-time, partly committed ECing gives some perspective and hope to other parents out there who want to give EC a try!

If you're an EC-ing parent and have good resources to add to my link list above, let me know! And feel free to share your own stories and advice. (Any tips on getting a toddler over fear of public pottying?)

Pottying baby photo at top courtesy squiddles on flickr (cc)


Charndra said...


A great post.

May I suggest my own site as a resource?

It's new; I'd like to invite you over to join!


P.S Oh yes, pottying in public - perhaps, when you go out, take a quick detour past the toilet when you first arrive - that helped with Maven; he then knew where it was and it was more familia, you know?

Charndra said...

'familiar' that should say!

I'd love to share your story on my site, too!

Lauren Wayne said...

Perfect addition — thank you! I like that your site mentions baby sign language options, too, including alternative signs that might be easier for some parents.

Feel free to share what you'd like on your site!

Thanks for the tip about doing a quick visit to the public restroom. I'll try that tonight when we go out.

P.S. Seriously, when I first read "familia," I just took it as a Boston accent. That's where my family lives. :)

Lauren Wayne said...

To my other readers: You might like to check out her related site as well (breastfeeding, baby-led solids, hypnosis for birth, etc.).

Liz said...

It's too late for you guys, but I'd like to suggest a folding potty seat reducer to people looking at this for ideas on ECing supplies for a toddler. Fits easily into an out and about bag (along with a change of undies and pants :D)

Jenay @ Naturally Diaper Free said...

I would like to add my site as well: There you will find EC products for sale such as diaper belts, potty cozies, potties, clothing and more. I list the benefits of EC and even an EC group page to help you locate an active EC meeting in your area.

Jenay Burke
Owner, Naturally Diaper Free

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