Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reasons to get behind elimination communication

This is second in a series of guest posts for Hobo Mama by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Lisa from My World Edenwild. I've talked about elimination communication, or infant potty training, on Hobo Mama before in terms of our experiences with it, but Lisa is bringing a fresh perspective: the why behind practicing elimination communication.

Guest post by Lisa from My World Edenwild

I am rare in the fact that when I first heard of the term "diaper-free baby," I knew I wanted to do it. Most parents are fazed by the idea. Many won't even consider it, while some are intrigued but intimidated. But not me. I was more like, Well, of course a baby can do that — babies are amazing! But like I said, I am the exception. So if you are daunted by the idea, know that you are in good company. Also, believe me when I say that it is very doable, and you can do as much or as little of it as you like, and still reap tremendous benefits.

If you haven't heard of it yet, elimination communication (EC) is a form of communication between a baby and its caregiver about the baby's elimination needs. The basic idea is that a baby needs to pee or poo, and would rather not do it on itself (in a diaper), so the baby gives a signal to the caregiver, who then takes the baby to eliminate over an appropriate receptacle and cues the baby to go. It works, it really does.

But this post isn't on how to do EC, but why to do it. There are so, so many reasons. Most parents often start with just one or two reasons and then learn that there are many other benefits. I can't even remember my initial reason, other than knowing babies are amazing and that I should at least try it. But I found out I had many reasons for wanting to do it.

Good hygiene. This reason is very important to me. Many babies suffer from diaper rash quite regularly, and it doesn't have to be this way. Some cultures think we are pretty disgusting for letting our babies pee and poop in their pants. I'm with them. It's gross! I totally understand the use of diapers (we do use them as backup), and I think they are fine if you change the baby as soon as it pees or poops. But if you can get the baby to go in a potty, even better! It seems some sensitive tooshies react to wet diapers and will develop rash even if the diapers are changed right away. Our son has a sensitive toosh, but has only had very, very mild diaper rash (more like an irritation) about five times, and he is 16 months old. We barely put a dent in the small tube of diaper ointment we bought.

Communication. This may be the best reason for doing EC. When he was just a tiny thing, my son would tell me he had to go, and was obviously grateful when I took him to potty. The two-way communication of I need to go! and You can go right here is priceless. Most parents in our culture don't get to experience this. But trust me when I say you will develop a deeper bond with your little one by doing this. Learning when you baby has to go potty is like learning when she is tired, hungry, or wants to be held. If you listen for it, you can pick up on it. It does require greater listening.

A natural transition to potty learning. For an exclusively diapered baby, potty training in toddlerhood can be a difficult process. But babies who have been pottied since birth or even later in their first year will keep the elimination awareness that they are born with. They will also already be familiar with what to do on a potty, so when they are ready to "graduate" (become fully potty-trained), the process is very natural for them. When I learned that babies are born with the awareness of having to eliminate and the ability to hold it (to a certain extent) and eliminate purposely, I thought it would be such a waste to allow them to lose all that through conventional diapering.

Not being dependent on diapers. Doing EC will probably save you some diapers. ECing parents generally change diapers as soon as they are wet, instead of waiting for them to "fill up," so you may actually go through a lot of diapers if you have a lot of misses. But if both you are your baby are really good at communicating and do it full time, you will save on diapers. You won't need to use them all of the time. You can save money on disposables or do less laundry if you use cloth. When we were using disposables, I loved the fact that we could be down to just two diapers, and not run out to the store to buy more. And now that we use cloth, I'm not stressed if we are out of clean ones. I just let him run around bare bottomed until I can get the laundry done.

Diaper-free time/Comfort. Again, why would a baby want to hang out in a wet or dirty diaper? We wanted our baby to be as comfortable as possible, so we tried to reduce his exposure to wetness by taking him to the potty or changing him right away if he had a miss. When babies have just used the potty, it's usually pretty safe to let them air out for a bit. This is really good for their skin, and most babies love it. Not having a diaper between the legs is much more comfortable, and may even help the baby with mobility. It's also fun to see the expressions on other people's faces when you carry your baby around without a diaper on. They are certain the baby will pee on you, but you know better. I love allowing my son be in a natural, diaper-free state.

It makes you feel good. In the early weeks of my son's life, pottying him was a life-saver for me. I was overwhelmed by other aspects of being a new parent, but to be doing this one thing for my baby that seemed to be above and beyond the normal call of duty (at least in our culture) made me feel really good. Every "catch" felt like a success, and I would just get a high off of it. Now, almost a year and a half later, I can't imagine letting my baby eliminate in a diaper when I know he has to go. I most certainly couldn't imagine letting my baby sit around in his waste for hours. It's all been worth it, and I am happy to keep doing it until he becomes potty independent.

It makes you a better parent. At least, it's made me a better parent. Having to be so in tune with my child to pick up on his cues, and respecting him when he says "no" means that I really have to pay attention to him. This was especially so when he was very young. I held him constantly and I knew that every little grunt or sound he made meant something. If you are doing full-time EC, you have to be paying attention to your child. (No this doesn't mean sit around and stare at him all day, as some people think, but it does mean that you can't just ignore him when he is making his signals.) If you just listen to your child, and not worry about how many "catches" or "misses" you are getting, it can strengthen your bond with your child, deepen your respect for her, and help you feel really good about meeting your child's needs.

I know elimination communication isn't for everyone, but I would love it if more people would just consider it. Give it a try. You don't have to do it full-time. Maybe just after naps, or only during diaper changes. Or just in the mornings or on weekends. Whatever seems doable to you. It's fun, trust me. You may even find yourself loving it so much that you do it full-time. Who knows? Maybe you'll have the wonder child who is potty-trained by age one! (Don't count on that, though!)

What is your top reason for trying or wanting to try elimination communication?

For more information on elimination communication, please visit diaperfreebaby.org.

Lisa and MichaelLisa lives in Oregon with her husband, Phillip, and 16-month-old son, Michael. She spends her days with her child, and her free time writing and reading and doing practical crafts (making things her family needs or wants in order to save money). She dreams of being a successful photographer one day, and would love to have both her photography and her writing published in books. Things that are important to Lisa are her faith, her family, raising children in love, enjoying our beautiful planet and being mindful of it, sharing and making connections with others, trying to be healthy, and being true to oneself. She has a passion for learning and can be a little obsessive about it sometimes, and she is perhaps a little too aesthetically driven for her own good. Hiking, Celtic music, traveling, Tuscan-style decoration, getting lost in a good book, really good food and really good hot chocolate are some of the things she truly enjoys. Lisa blogs at My World Edenwild.


Anonymous said...

This is fascinating! I can't believe I've never heard of this before.

My mom says that in England people will hold a small toilet under their babies while they eat. I can't imagine trying to hold a potty while nursing... that doesn't seem worth it. It also makes me think you would be associating eating with the bathroom, basically.

But I definitely plan to look into this Elimination Communication! Do you have any book recommendations?

Olivia said...

I'm curious how people do EC part-time and if it is effective at all. I work full-time, and I know my husband isn't up for EC during the day.

I tried EC a couple of times when I knew she was ready to poop, but all the hustle to get her clothes and diaper off made it so she couldn't relax over the toilet.

Lisa C said...

jorjedatoy: I recommend "Diaper Free Baby" by Christine Gross-loh if you are just learning about EC. At the DiaperFreeBaby.org website, you can find links to more resources.

olivia: You CAN do EC part-time and still reap the benefits. Your baby will still be able to retain an awareness of her elimination needs and how to release. She will also be familiar with the concept of using a potty instead of a diaper when she's ready for potty-training (some children are SO diaper-trained by age 2 that it's really hard for them to grasp the concept of using a potty--but with EC they are already used to it). Part time EC can mean that you do it only in the morning, or only after naps, or only on the weekend, or only during diaper changes. The Diaper Free Baby talks a bit about it: part time EC

Also, I just saw on DiaperFreeBaby 75 Benefits of Elimination Communication and remembered some of the other reasons we've done EC!

Lauren Wayne said...

Thank you, Lisa, for your article! I can't believe you found a list of 75 benefits after writing this one. :)

Olivia: Just to add, we did EC part time. We work from home, but we just felt too exhausted sometimes to go whole-hog. I found it was still really beneficial, and his transition to potty learning has been more or less painless. I wrote more about our journey here, and included other EC resources and tools, if you're interested.

Just a thought on your husband's involvement -- Sam wasn't too keen on taking charge, which is one reason we were part time for so long. But as I relaxed into doing it more, and as Mikko got older and able to sit on the little potty himself, Sam got into it and becamse an equal partner in ECing. So things might change at your home, too, just to project a little. I think you and your daughter also would get used to it and unclench (!) the more you tried it. The undressing thing is one reason we always dressed Mikko in as little as possible down below! Shirt, diaper/cover, BabyLegs, and we were good to go, at home at least.

Also, can't resist linking to this thoughtful post: Arwyn at Raising My Boychick talks about how we use EC from a position of privilege -- that it's good, but it has some unspoken assumptions behind it, such as that (usually) the mother is free all day. So you'll have to decide what works for you and if it will help your family or stress you out. I found it easier as time went on, and I'm really glad now that we chose it, for all of the reasons Lisa listed and just for seeing its effect firsthand on our son.

Jorje: Usually you'd only do the bowl under the bum while eating thing with a newborn, because they can be kind of like birds, just going all day. :) I found it tricky to coordinate, especially since Mikko was so heavy. Some people use a cloth diaper just laid out underneath instead. But after a few months, it tends to be clear that they pee after nursing or during a break in the middle, so it can be possible to guide them to a bowl or potty then instead. Don't worry -- our 2-year-old doesn't still go while eating! :)

P.S. Lisa: Sorry to hijack your comment thread!

TheFeministBreeder said...

We have a really great video on this called "The Potty Whisperer." My mother-in-law found it for us.

I think it's a great concept, and I would love to be that type of parent, but the truth is the whole thing just stressed me out too much. I've thought briefly about possibly trying this with #3... but already having 2 kids around to look after makes me think I won't have the kind of time to commit to this that one would need.

And by the way, my 3 1/2 year old absolutely REFUSES to potty train. Don't I wish I had started this with him when he was a newborn! I'm certain I wouldn't be pulling my hair out over his pooping-in-the-pants now.

Lisa C said...

Thanks Lauren, you caught some points I missed in the comments.

I just want to point out that practicing EC is unique to every child and family situation. If it's too stressful, you can take a break and start again later. But I prefer to see it as a fun thing. You don't have to get it just right, you know? Reading one or more of the EC books is very helpful for getting an idea of the concept, but until you actually try it, you can't totally "get it."

feministbreeder: Don't rule out part time EC! Or "occasional EC"--yes, there is such a thing! Just helping them retain that awareness and being familiar with the potty can really help with later potty independence.

Anonymous said...

I'm with the "Daddy probably wouldn't do it" crowd, at least at first. So I'm thinking if I can get the hang of it, then he can join in the fun. I've requested the suggested book from my local library and have it soon. Thanks!

Lauren - I used to hold my baby naked and just have a lap pad under her. I want to do some of that with Sasha, too... but I need more lap pads.

Lisa C said...

I thought my husband wouldn't do it, but when he saw it in action, he was on board! I had to tell him what to do, since he didn't read the books and wasn't paying as close attention to our baby's cues, but he really tried. He realized it was a better way of doing things, and was so amazed by our baby that he couldn't help telling everyone that our baby uses the potty. And he was so suspicious of EC before we started it!

Anonymous said...

OMG OMG OMG! I just had my first catch! And I have YOU to thank, Lisa! Your post was the first time I'd heard of EC. I read through a LOT of sites, but put off starting until I could get a book from the library. They haven't come yet, but I started trying tonight... figured we were awake anyway, right?

We had our first catch!! It started out as a miss, but rather than a blowout of a diaper, Sasha pooped all in the sink! No one in the family will be thrilled, but I think I can manage the toilet next time.

Thank you for inspiring me!

Anonymous said...

3am here, btw. I forgot that I had a question. I had wondered about the position... it looked like it might encourage spit-up because Sasha tends to spit up if we bend her much in the middle (which happens a bit if she is sat up). She is 2½ months old.

So... any words of wisdom about avoiding this? I tell ya, the spit up was definitely the bigger mess. The poop was no big deal at all!

Lauren Wayne said...

Jorje: Hooray!! I'm so excited for you. I remember now those heady feelings at the first catches. It really is magical.

I'm hoping Lisa has more insight into the positioning question, but maybe if you leaned her back onto your chest a little more, so that she's a little straighter through the middle? Our guy was so chunky and sturdy that we mostly sat him on a little potty from the beginning (this one -- popular with the EC crowd b/c it's so small and portable). Of course, we had to support him till he could sit by himself, but maybe that would be more upright/unbent for Sasha, still leaning her back onto your chest a bit?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lauren! I worry that if I lean her back too far, she'll wind up peeing out of the target, kind of over it. I finally figured out that pic at the top, that it is a trash can to catch what doesn't go down. We did fine this morning, catching the morning pee in the toilet, but she hadn't eaten in several hours so nothing to spit up anyway.

I've already begun shopping for a BBLP based on the mention on all the EC sites. I don't think I can get it this week, but I think I probably will get one. Although... the idea of using a big toilet and not having to clean a potty every time sounds great.

Lisa C said...

Yikes, I don't know how I missed your comments, jorjedatoy! I was sure I checked for a while!

I'm so excited you decided to try! It is a rush, isn't it? Doing it when Michael was a newborn is what got me three those difficult first months of motherhood.

Anyway, I'm so late replying, so sorry! I hope you are still doing EC and that you figured out positioning! It changes as they get older, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'm still doing it, but definitely on a part time basis right now. I finally found diaper pins so I can use cloth sometimes. I just want to use them for watching her for signals.

Anyway, we're still using sinks and a hospital basin for potties right now. I am going to get a BBLP or two, but had to put them off to buy a new breast pump.

I keep wanting to confiscate a bowl out of the kitchen, but all the bowls that I think are perfect Sasha-bum sized also happen to be perfect cereal sized bowls and my husband doesn't want to lose them. lol

Lisa C said...

lol, that's funny about the bowls. I indulged in buying the bigger Baby Bjorn potty chair and taking out the insert and using it between my legs when we were out and about. Now he's big enough to sit on the potty chair and uses it for most of his eliminating, so it was worth the investment. But when he was little the BBLP was the best.

Lauren Wayne said...

Just fyi, Jorje, thrift stores are great repositories of bowls you won't mind getting pee in! :) We picked up some cheapies there.

We also found half-priced Baby Bjorn potties at the children's consignment shop, and they weren't even used. I think they were overstocks or something. But it's worth checking.

Charndra from Part Time Diaper Free! said...

Well, we love EC as it is such a THRILL to connect with your baby and catch their wee!

Even 5 years down the track, I still fondly remember catching that first wee of maven's in the hospital when he was a day old - WONDERFUL.

I love that EC REDUCES waste, enhances our bond in a different way, gives us the chance to communicate in another way as well.

- Charndra

ECing Mum to Maven and Jett!

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