Elimination Communication: What's it About?

Elimination Communication is a growing epidemic in the United States. Though it isn’t a new idea, it does seem to be “new” to a lot of people. The idea is based on the recognition that infants know when they are about to eliminate waste (poop or pee) beforehand, and are cueing us before the actual event. Given this idea it becomes another need, like feeding or nurturing, and we don’t have to wait until the baby has soiled a diaper, we can start to hold our little ones over receptacles, whether it be a toilet, a bowl, a bucket or sink. Though the cues come with a little more lead time as our babies grow, Ingrid Bauer, author of Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene, believes we don’t have to delay responding to our child’s needs. She says in the area of elimination, we can even start when they are newborn!

It may sound like a shock, but according to some oft-quoted data it’s thought that more than 50% of the world’s children are potty trained by the time they are 1-year old! Imagine the joy of communicating openly with your child from the very beginning, reducing or eliminating the need for your child sitting in a dirty diaper (or you changing hundreds of them)! Imagine the landfills that won’t have all our disposable diapers stinking up the earth, and imagine a two year old finding their independence at a time when you don’t have to worry about “potty training!”

To help us understand more about elimination communication, I talked with a mother, Jamie about her experience with raising her daughter Elea using this approach. Jamie says, she practiced some sort of communication around her elimination ever day. When she was pregnant and she first read Ingrid’s book, she thought, “Wow, this is it! This is what I want to do! I’m never going to have my baby in diapers, and I loved this idea of communicating!” But two days after birth, she said, she quickly called her mom and said, “Get me some disposable diapers!” When looking back, she said “there were so many other parts of being a mother for the first time that her elimination needs felt so secondary! You know, I had to get nursing down!”

Even though she quickly bought diapers, Jamie didn’t give up on elimination communication. In fact at 21 months, she’s still practicing it with her daughter. When I asked her why, Jamie replied, “the thrill of communicating with your baby, it’s a kind of bonding, looking in your child’s eyes, making eye contact and that first smile, and anytime you make a connection, or I made a connection with my daughter it’s a high, a thrill! It makes you feel so alive, so human.” Jamie says that it’s typical that those around her who peed her daughter also felt inspired by it. Her husband, who was a skeptic at first was wowed the first time he peed her at 2-3 weeks old, and her parents became supporters as well.

Though Elea isn’t completely “toilet independent”, she does show a lot of independence. She will go sit on her little potty, use it, say “pee pee” and take it to the toilet and flush it. Elea is still “navigating her path to toilet independence”, but Jamie says, it is something you learn, but then it just becomes part of the routine, a way of life. Besides the communication, Jamie says, “Practicing (elimination communication) taught me about letting go of what my expectations are and that’s been a huge lesson for all areas of parenting for me…I learned that sense of humor is absolutely the most important thing…it also taught me the lesson that I needed community.” She found a mentor and they created a group of parents through www.diaperfreebaby.org that meets locally to support one another. Jamie found this to be the most helpful part during the process as it allowed her to see the flexibility you can take with elimination communication. “That you can make it work for your family, doing what works for your family. There’s not a “way” to do it, and that was what…I think my impression was initially…I think the goal is to encourage your baby to eliminate in a receptacle so that they can stay dry and comfortable and that’s a part of it…teaching your baby about it and avoiding looks of disgust at poo, or elimination.” And she admits that approaching it with a relaxed attitude is important, as she said, “when I thought it was life or death, I caused myself a lot of misery about it!”

Ingrid’s 4 ways to approach elimination communication:1. Watch your baby’s body language and look for signals. Signs of needing to eliminate might be waking from sleep, a certain facial expression, going still just before, and even vocalization (i.e. grunting). 2. Watch your baby’s timing patterns and rhythms. Again, when waking from a nap or the night, a baby will often pee first thing, after nursing or during. 3. Intuition. Sometimes, we just “know” something and there is no explanation. The key is to listen to it and not explain it away! Trust yourself.4. Cueing baby. Jamie mentioned a lot of families start with this, any time you see your newborn peeing, gently “psss”. Soon they will link the two and you can start cueing them by making the sound, holding them over a receptacle and they will relax and pee.

Though you don’t have to start with a newborn, it is recommended to start elimination communication as young as you feel comfortable. The more that your baby gets used to going in a diaper, the more it will be a “retraining” instead of a natural release into a receptacle. Elimination communication isn’t about training your newborn to “hold it”, but to be able to relax and release when they need. So, one of the most important things is to approach elimination communication with an easy manner, baby will sense if he’s being judged “wrong or bad”. It’s not about getting it “right” and not having to use diapers, it’s about responding to baby’s needs in a nurturing and loving way. Enjoy Elimination Communication Top 10 Tips to get more practical ways to incorporate elimination communication into your everyday life.