Tuesday, July 27, 2010

EC: Overcoming First Impressions

When I first heard about the practice of Elimination Communication (an alternative practice to diapering in which the caregiver anticipates the infant or child's elimination needs and takes appropriate action to 'catch' the elimination.) I have to admit that my first reaction was far from open minded and accepting.

I am pretty crunchy, I thought to myself but I am not THAT crunchy.

Much of my first impressions were uninformed and admittedly motivated by my own natural aversion feelings towards elimination. The words ‘unsanitary’, ‘impossible’, and even ‘uncivilized’ (much to my embarrassment as I’d like to think I don’t make judgments like that) all came to mind and I immediately dismissed the idea as being far outside the realm of what was right for our family.

Fast forward to July 10, 2010; My 10 month old son, Oliver, has the worst diaper rash he has ever had; it is a big chapped festering rash that no frequency of diaper changes and no amount of Zinc Oxide or antibacterial/anti-fungal creams seem to be clearing. Oliver is fussy and irritable, and many of our favorite baby wearing and holding positions are uncomfortable for him, so in desperation I take a walk to my local pharmacist who tells me that air can sometimes help more than any over the counter diaper cream. For the next two days Oliver spends as much time as possible bare bottomed.

Not only did Oliver love ‘running free’ and his rash clear with amazing speed, but over those two days I began to notice two things.

1) Behaviors that I used to think were just funny run of the mill 10 month old idiosyncrasies were actually signs that he had to or was in the process of 'eliminating'.

2) That my son didn’t 'pee all the time’ or very frequently as I had imagined and come to believe, but rather a larger amount at a time with less frequency. In fact, somewhere around lunch of the second day I realized that Oliver’s elimination rhythms were eerily in time with my own.

I would come to find further encouragement, on websites like DiaperFreeBaby.org and TribalBaby.org, that I wasn’t imagining things. They confirmed my sudden suspicion that contrary to what our diaper culture would have me believe babies do have bladder and sphincter control and predictable elimination rhythms.

Both websites also assured me that it was possible to implement elimination communication (EC) on a part time or even casual basis; I did not have to make a full-time round the clock commitment to EC. This was awesome to hear, because committing to such a giant undertaking as being hyper-vigilant to my son’s excrement 24/7 sounded unpleasant and exhausting.

After two days nearly diaper free and the reading that I was doing, the prospect of implementing EC was beginning to sound a lot less ‘unsanitary’, ‘impossible’, and ‘uncivilized’. In fact, the thought of my son sitting around in his own excrement waiting to be changed was starting to sound a lot less sanitary and a lot less civilized, and the price of diapers and diapering supplies certainly feels impossible some months with our family living on only one income.

My EC research was also leading me towards the answers to future parenting problems that I had been nervous about. “Potty training” is a term, and idea that I am not entirely comfortable with as a) I despise the use of words like ‘training’ in relation to raising children, and b) it seems to me that much of the modern day potty training dogma relies heavily on coercion and reward systems that I feel are not entirely beneficial or effective. In short, I was having trouble finding a potty training program that would fit my “gentle parenting” style.¹ EC respects children and, as quoted from DiaperFreeBaby.org’s “75 Benefits of EC”:

“Reduces confusion about rules and creates consistency: rather than preventing a baby from entering a bathroom and then later requiring a toddler to use the bathroom, the bathroom is made a welcome and safe place from the very beginning.”

Where I had once dismissed EC as an unsanitary, impossible, uncivilized practice in which only the most radical of the crunchy moms partook (funny how my long ago definition of radical is sounding more like me every day), I was now starting to think that the practice (or at least a modified form of it) may just be perfect for my family.

So it was decided that Thursday July 15, 2010 would be our first day of EC. Our game plan was relatively simple; I would ‘offer the potty’ upon waking in the morning and from naps, as well as immediately following long nursing sessions. The rest of the day I would watch Oliver for signs that he needed to eliminate then ‘offer the potty’, and I would create an association sound (I chose to go with the traditional ‘Pssst’ sound) by making said sound every time I noticed him eliminating.

I also chose to keep an ‘elimination journal’ for the first few days or so. On none of the sites I researched did I find the suggestion to keep such a journal, but I found a journal to be a useful tool in the past. A journal helps me to recognize patterns that I may have otherwise missed.

Our first days were interesting to say the least. The awkwardness and small moments of frustration remind me very much of the early breastfeeding days when Oliver and I were both learning with and from each other. It is essentially the same thing (though perhaps in reverse). Oliver and I are learning a skill; while this new skill does not yet come naturally to us learning this skill is far from ‘unpleasant and exhausting’ as I once thought it would be. In fact, I feel like becoming even more in tune with Oliver’s moment to moment needs is having positive effects on our day to day activities, and our relationship over all.

In little over 10 days since implementing EC practices I was not expecting measurable results. We are late starters, and even if we had started EC in the early days of infancy it is still a gradual process. My aim is not to loose the diapers full time, or to be able to brag that my child ‘potty trained’ early, but to become more in tune with my child’s elimination needs so that our future full time transition from diaper to toilet is a smooth, natural, and gentle one.

¹ I have since learned that Elizabeth Pantley, author of “The No-Cry Sleep Solution”, which helped us very much in improving the amount and quality of our family’s sleep in a gentle way, has written a No-Cry potty training book.

Why do you (or do you not), practice elimination communication in your family? Do you have any tips for beginners or late starters to share? Is there anything you do with your children that you had originally dismissed in your pre-parenting days?


Jenn said... [Reply to comment]

love this! I really hadn't considered EC, because it sounded so time-consuming and messy.

Can I ask what it was like in terms of "accidents" and what not the first few days? Do you just try to catch them in time and note the signs for next time?

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Great article! I have heard of this but thought it was pretty extreme. You make it sound pretty reasonable and sensible, and DOABLE! Thanks for sharing your experience.

Julian@connectedmom said... [Reply to comment]


We've had a few accidents but nothing big, all pee. To be honest my husband only let me try when I allowed him to by a chemical spot cleaner "non of that all natural non toxic hippie stuff! I don't want fecal matter in my carpet".

when we do have accidents I simply take note of the signs, make the association sound, and (if I am not in the middle of something else) take him to the potty to further the association.

It honestly doesn't happen often because i am starting to suspect that he's holding his elimination and waiting to be diapered. He can stay clean and dry for hours and will then soak a diaper within minutes.

I have read that this is totally normal for a late starter.


Thank you for your comment, I really tried to bring the practice of EC out from behind all the stigma attached to it. I think the reason it seams to impossible to us is because we do not see it done in our culture very often.

Good luck to you if you choose to give it a try!

Imperfect Supermom said... [Reply to comment]

You sound just like us! "I am pretty crunchy, I thought to myself but I am not THAT crunchy." Except my husband and I both felt that way. Then our son started Montessori, and we started toileting at 22 months. Everyone said, "you're having a difficult time because you're starting too early." And we said, "no, it's because we started too late." He was an independent toileter by 27.5 months. With our second, we have been sitting her on the toilet since she was 3 or 4 months old. She is now 7 months old and pees pretty successfully and has bowel movements on the toilet frequently. This came in super handy when we were out with no diapers left (oops) and she was about to start pooping into her last one. We ran back into the restaurant where she successfully used the toilet. I try to tell all my friends who still have younger babes and toddlers to start early! It would have saved us a lot with our son and is going really well with our daughter. :)

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Hi, I have put my story on facebook but you can email me at eliminationcommunication@yahoo.com for my "cues, signals, tips, etc" that I learned. Perhaps you will find it interesting?

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Your story sounds a lot like ours. We had made the switch to cloth diapers when our youngest was 14 months old, and he is one of the rare ones that gets very rashy from cloth. I had already invested hundreds of dollars in cloth diapers and did NOT want to switch back to disposables. My only alternative was to let baby "air out" as much as possible. Starting when baby was around 15 months old, I began to let baby go diaper free at home during the day. I watched him like a hawk looking for cues and misssed them every single time. After several days of mopping up puddles of urine, I had the brilliant idea of just sitting baby on the toilet (with a seat adapter) and trying to catch pees randomly. I was still on maternity leave at that point, so the time commitment was not a problem. For the first few days I would sit him on the toilet every 15-20 minutes and let him spend a few minutes there. I would make the pshhh sound and encourage him to go pee. With each success I would clap my hands and praise his efforts. Over the next few weeks, baby would go longer and longer stretches between pees. He is now 19 months old, and has gone up to 3 hours between pees. Our usual routine is to offer potty breaks every hour or so. If I forget, and he needs to go, he will come up to me and whimper or stomp his feet. He wears regular underwear during the day and is in cloth diapers for naptime and at bedtime. Since he wears diapers so infrequently, we no longer have problems with diaper rash.

The poop catching was a whole other story. It took at least two months of EC before I caught one of his poops in the toilet. He always seemed to have a bowel movement shortly after waking up from his nap or first thing in the morning. It finally clicked that I should offer a potty break after lunch (just before nursing him to sleep for his nap). So simple, yet brilliant! (At least I think so.) Now we offer potty breaks after each meal and let him sit for up to five minutes so he has ample time to "finish". Also, for some reason, he seems to need privacy when he makes a bowel movement. If I stand there and watch, he will not "go", but if I stand in the hallway, just out of site, I hear him grunting and then the telltale plop plops into the toilet.

I have to say that I agree with EC being similar to learning breastfeeding. The first few weeks (or months, in my case)are very challenging and time consuming, but then it gets easier and you can't imagine doing things any other way.

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