Another interest of mine is Elimination Communication (EC) or ‘Nappy free’
EC and Babywearing are not unrelated. Read on and you will see. This information comes from an old parenting blog of mine.
Elimination Communication (EC)
Or Natural Infant Hygiene, Diaper/Nappy Free, Infant Potty Training…
Whatever you call it the concept is the same! It’s about meeting the toileting needs of our tiny babies just as we meet their need for food, warmth, sleep and love. It’s about acknowledging their ability to communicate and meeting their toileting needs in the present moment.
Half the world’s population still raise their babies without nappies and they don’t all get peed and pooed on constantly. Nappies have only been around for a hundred years or so and babies were successfully raised without them for thousands of years.
The basic idea is that babies do signal their need to go to the toilet and it is possible to pick up on their signal and meet their need to eliminate cleanly. It’s the most natural thing to do for the baby’s physical comfort, to avoid nappy rash and digestive problems that can result from nappy use, to support the baby’s body awareness, for environmental reasons, to prevent toilet training struggles and to reduce nappy use.
The greatest benefit is that parents feel they are responding to their baby’s needs in the present moment and this can enhance their bond and develop a deeper, closer communication and trust. The concept is the same as picking up on when your baby is hungry and feeding him/her, tired and helping them to sleep, windy and needing to burp.
So rather than inadvertently teach your baby to pee and poo in his/her clothing and then cleaning up after the fact you learn to listen, look and respond in the present moment to your babies needs and communication.
Nappies can be used as a ‘back up’ until you are confident. Your baby already knows how to ‘release’ (we know that!), but will learn to release on cue and then therefore learn to ‘hold on’ until it is appropriate to ‘release’, but for the first year or more it is about learning for all of you. Developing communication between you to meet your baby’s elimination needs is a better explanation, although Elimination Communication is a mouth full!
The best type of nappy to start off with is the big square traditional nappy with no outer, so you can see if your baby has gone and change them immediately. One technique is to always attempt to keep your baby dry. The benefit of this is that your baby never gets used to being in a wet nappy and therefore doesn’t like the feeling when it happens and acts to avoid it happening. So initially, until you pick up on the timing and signals of your baby’s toileting patterns you may go through more nappies.
Here’s a wee video clip of Eli going in the potty (and on the floor!) at 5 weeks old
Ways of communicating with your baby about their need to go:
Timing and elimination patterns – watching closely you learn when the baby usually goes and how this relates to other body functions such as nursing or feeding. E.g. most babies pee as soon as they awaken from sleep and at regular intervals after nursing.
Baby’s signals and body language – once you begin watching for it, many of you will be amazed to notice that your babies are actually signalling when they need to go. Although every baby is different, some common signals include: fussing, squirming, grunting and vocalising, pausing and becoming still, waking from sleep, a certain frown etc. Your baby’s signal maybe unique, but over time you will pick up on it.
Intuition – many parents find they simply ‘know’ when their babies need to relieve themselves, especially once they’ve been using Elimination Communication for a while. E.g. sometimes you just ‘feel’ that your baby needs to go even when you can’t actually see them.
Cueing your baby – EC is a two-way communication. Around the world many parents use a specific sound (such as ‘shhh’ or ‘ssss’) and a specific position to hold their baby when they eliminate. This serves as a kind of preliminary language that the baby comes to associate with the act, and a way for the parents to offer an opportunity to go. However, it is always the baby who decides whether they need to go or not. Sometimes the baby also begins to use this sound as a signal to the parent. The best position for a newborn baby is semi-reclined down your arm(s) with your hands supporting and lifting their thighs. As they grow you can lift them into a more upright position with their back against your stomach – so feel supported and don’t feel they’re being dangled out in space.
Elimination Communication is a gentle process. It is not about ‘training’ your baby or rushing them to grow up before they are ready. It’s about the baby communicating their need to go, relaxing and releasing at will with the parent supporting them over an appropriate receptacle. This could be a bucket, toilet, sink, the grass or a specialised infant potty. The baby’s ability to retain their pee and poo develops at the baby’s pace as a natural consequence of his or her awareness.
Millions of parents around the world can attest to the fact that babies clearly can voluntarily regulate their elimination without any coercion or negative effects whatsoever. Parents often feel an increased closeness and respect for their baby. Seeing your baby obviously signal their need to go and respond to your cue gives you such a feeling of pride and respect, it’s amazing.
A Different Kind of Work
A young baby can pee every 10-20 mins after nursing for 1-2 hrs. This seems like it lot of work! How do you get anything else done? When your baby is very young it is a lot of work, but so is changing, scrubbing and washing nappies. I discovered it was so much more enjoyable to help my baby toilet in a bowl or potty than it was to leave them while I scrubbed and rinsed his nappy. I found it was just a different use of my time.
Tuning into your baby in this way does require commitment and effort, as does being a responsive parent in general. Most parents in our society prefer to use nappies as a back up, at least part-time during the early learning phase, on outings and at night if they don’t awaken in time to respond to their baby’s need to go. I found that when my baby was in a full nappy I tended to get distracted or wait just a little too long and miss his pee. This then set me back for the next one as I wasn’t sure exactly when he had gone. At different stages of my sons’ infancy their signals were not strong and I relied a lot on timing.
Some children are reliably toilet independent with this method between about 10-20 months. Early toilet independence is often a natural consequence of raising a nappy free baby, but is not the ultimate goal. Reminding yourself of the ultimate goal of increased gentle communication, stronger bonding and meeting the needs of your baby in the present moment is important during times of potty strikes when your baby is communicating that something else is going on for them.
The real work of Elimination Communication is that of being in the present moment. There are days when it can seem like the most difficult thing in the world to do and there are days when you have glimpses of enlightenment and think it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. On those difficult days I would put a nappy on my baby, take a deep breath, relax and discover I was ready to help again sometimes even before the next pee.
When to start?
Having your first child comes with soooo much learning that contemplating ‘throwing away the nappies’ can be too much. Think about your priorities first. Establish breastfeeding first, settle into the idea of parenting (this can seemly take forever!), trust your parenting instincts – they can often be clouded by the information we are bombarded with from society so this can be a difficult task.
The best time to start Elimination Communication is before your baby is moving. With my first child we started somewhere between 4-6 weeks and with my second it was just days. Some parents have had success with their babies up to the age of one year. The longer you leave it the more likely it is that your baby has stopped signalling his/her need to go as he/she was not getting a response. At this point it is more likely your baby has learnt to pee and poo in his/her clothing. At this point conventional potty training is needed and your baby needs to be emotionally ready for this or it can be a traumatic and self esteem blowing event.
Accept that you will miss pees and poos – sometimes lots! Exclusively breastfeed babies pee and poo is very inoffensive. Pee is 97% water, a few minerals and some trace elements! Human poo is also not that bad. We put animal poo on gardens that produce food we eat, yet our society has created this fear of human faeces. Generally you know what has gone into creating your babies poo.
Have no expectations and be as gentle on yourself as you are on your baby!
If the methods you are using are not working try something different
Respect a ‘no’. Straightening up is a sure sign your baby does not want to be helped to go (this doesn’t always mean they don’t need to!) Try a different place; the bathtub, laundry sink, over the toilet or outside is often a winner. In the end if your baby won’t go but pees 2 minutes later they are probably trying to tell you something else is up. Teething, skill acquisition, growth spurt or something that has thrown them off for the time being. Accept the ‘no’, provide a back up, but don’t give up, they have not ‘lost it’ and will settle down again.
Invest in a wide bucket and/or infant potty
Use training undies for an older baby, rather than nappies as a back up. These are cheap, easier to wash than nappies and you can definitely tell when your baby has gone!
Purchase a few mattress protectors – cheap from the op shop or off Trade Me
Invest in (buy or make) a baby carrier – read more of this website for information on babywearing. Babies who are used to being worn, learn that they don’t want to pee/poo in their ‘nest’ and picking up on their need to go is very easy when they are attached to you.
Consider co-sleeping and learn how to do it safely and comfortably. Co-sleeping does not have to mean bedsharing though like babywearing, having your baby close at night will help you to pick up on their need to go. If you choose to practice EC at night.
Carry a potty or bowl/bucket in the car with you, but expect a few misses. Babies do not appreciate getting in and out of the car seat a lot. Better just to sit them on or in a nappy when you think they will need to go and you can’t stop for them.
Join a support group to share experiences with other parents practicing Elimination Communication
Read ‘The Diaper Free Baby’ by Christine Gross Loh or ‘Diaper Free’ by Ingrid Bauer
Purchase the big square traditional nappies and/or prefolds
If you are losing the plot put a cloth nappy on your baby! The beauty of our society is that we have the choice!
Bauer, Ingrid. (2001). Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom for Natural Infant Hygiene.
Boucke, Laurie. Infant Potty Training.
Liedloff, Jean. (1975). The Continuum Concept. “I don’t know whether the world can be saved by a book, but if it could be, this might just be the book.” John Holt, Author/educator.
NZ contacts for Nappy Free support:
Facebook page for NZ EC families https://www.facebook.com/groups/25215505488/
Ph (03) 926 8556
‘Go Commando’ Raise a Nappy Free baby!