Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Elimination Communication Day 1: An Experimental Trial

"Steve is potty training his baby!" Daryl told me days after we had brought Jonah home from the hospital. Steve is a friend who's baby at the time was only around seven months old. "That's not right." I said "Either you're mistaken, or Steve is off his nut." Potty training at seven months? How could that be when infants do not have the control or mental capacity to acknowledge when they are eliminating?

Like the vast majority of western culture, I believed that children are not capable of controlling their elimination until nearly two years of age, one year was the earliest a child would ever begin showing signs of potty training. I believed this despite my experience with infants and witnessing infants controlling their eliminations. It is a child-rearing "fact" that is bore into us from culture. After Daryl mentioned his friends' endeavors, I came across something on the internet that talked about "elimination communication." The process in which mother and child actually communicate about elimination, and mothers tune into cues given by their infant that signal when they have to go. Is this what our friends were under taking? It still seemed bizarre. Babies without diapers was just a mess waiting to happen. But, my curiosity caught up with me as usual and I had to read more about where people would get such an idea. What I found inspired me. Mothers in several cultures such as India and African cultures, never use diapers. From the day her infant is born, the mother can sense via cues given by the infant, that her child needs to go to the bathroom. She takes her child to the appropriate place, and in turn gives her child a cue to eliminate. The child does, and the two continue life without a diaper completely clean. After reading about such cultures, I began thinking doesn't it make sense? Who would want to have a soggy, slimy, smelly bulk of diaper between their legs. Isn't using a diaper kind of laziness, so that parents can simply attend to their child's waste at a time convenient to them, as their child sits in wetness? I decided we would try. Afterall, the only ill effects that could come out of trying would be pee everywhere, and that is easily cleaned.

At the time, we were moving from Cleveland to Toledo, and it was not an opportune time to break through cultural barriers with a diaperless baby. Now that we are settled into our new home, and the hectic holidays are behind us, it is time to give it a try. I was re-inspired upon receiving a gift from our friends, which was a book outlining Elimination Communication. Despite hesitations, I decided the only way to do this was to jump right in.

To tune into the cues that Jonah gives before he eliminates, and to find a pattern in his elimination schedule, we spread our cloth diapers over the floor and lay him naked on top of them, and observed. What I found was actually very interesting to me. While I expected a show similar to that of Buckingham Fountain, the entire two hours that he lay naked he did not urinate. It was not until I pinned a diaper onto him, coverless so that I could know immediately when he urinated, that he went. Later in the day, I had him in the sling to put laundry in the dryer, and I just had a feeling that he had to urinate. I felt his coverless diaper, and sure enough after a second or two, I felt a spot of warm wetness growing over the front of the daiper. As he urinated, I made the "sssss" sound as prescribed in the books and websites that I have read.

The purpose of the "ssss" sound is to give your child an associative cue for eliminating. The hope is that once I am able to better predict his need to eliminate, I can take him to the appropriate place (a potty) and give him a cue by making the "ssss" sound, and he will go. The same method is used for bowel movements, only a different cue is chosen.

I am choosing to venture down this path for several reasons. Although it is more work now, if our goal is reached it will be far less work than potty training Jonah at the age of 24 months. The reason western cultures must potty train is because our infants are trained to eliminate in their diapers. When the child begins to develope the desire to be diaper free around 24 months, we must "un-train" them from going potty in their pants. By responding to Jonah's cues and needs now, we are eliminating confusion and frustration for the future. Another reason is pure curiosity. I want to know if it works, and how it works. I want to see my child learn, and discover how we can learn together. Finally, it is just one more way in which mother and child bond and communicate their needs. I am whole-heartedly meeting all of the other needs in my child's life, why not strive to meet his elimination needs as well, rather than putting them off until I am ready to deal with them by changing a diaper.

Jonah is also enjoying our experiment. He was so pleased today to be naked, and not constricted by his clothes or diaper. I have never seen him so happy to be on the floor playing, and he was more mobile than he is when we have "floor play" that includes clothing. In this case, we are following the old addage "if it feels so good, it must be right!"


  1. it's Shelley (Twhylite21) from JM. I've looked into EC as well, but haven't made up my mind yet. DH was trained this way (born in Korea) and also my Korean grandparents did this to my mom/aunts/uncle. By the time they were all 6 months they only went when held over the potty! My mom didn't use it with my sister and me, but we were completly potty trained by 18 months. Good luck!

  2. The more I talk to people about it, the more I find it is actually very common! Thanks Shelley!