to diaper, or not to diaper?

My Journey with Elimination Communication

Once upon a time, ten years ago, I was pregnant with my first child. I knew that I would be using cloth diapers for my little peanut, even though I don’t remember that ever being a decision that I needed to weigh the pros and cons for. Cloth diapering just seemed to suit our family’s needs at that time. And it was all fine and dandy, too. But hand washing cloth diapers (this was in our non-electric period) was pretty good motivation for me to “train” Ira on the potty. So we embarked on that journey when he was just a year and a half old. What I didn’t know then was that if I hadn’t “trained” him to pee and poop in his diaper, I wouldn’t have to deal with the struggle of un-training one habit just to re-train another. But the light bulb didn’t go on for me yet. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with Opal (and we were in the throws of installing a solar system to accommodate an energy-efficient washing machine to ease the diaper washing burden) that I happened across an article on Natural Infant Hygiene, also know as Elimination Communication. The basic premise of EC is responding to a baby’s body language to interpret their need to eliminate (pee or poop). Very similar to “knowing” when a baby is hungry, but with different signals. This article inspired me to do a little more research, and I eventually bought a book on the topic. (Unfortunately, I don’t even remember the title of the book, and long ago passed it on to another mama. But this was 8 years ago, I’m sure there are many more titles on this subject now.) Overall, the book that I read wasn’t overly profound, just incredibly logical to my sensibilities. It was as if in my heart I knew all of this stuff, but no one that I knew was using EC, so I didn’t have a role model. I just had to trust my instincts and not be deterred by all of the eye rolls that I received! So after Opal was born and after a few weeks of adjusting to so many other facets of our mama-baby relationship, I began my journey with Elimination Communication. I started very simply at first and I didn’t try to “catch” every single elimination. I was mostly focused on establishing a relationship with my dear little one.IMG0970One of the most useful bits that I gleaned from the book that I had read was that babies do not usually “go to the bathroom” when they are in deep sleep. Therefore, as soon as a baby wakes up from a sleep, it’s the perfect time to attempt potty-ing. So when Opal (and eventually Olivia, too) would wake up from a long nap or first thing in the morning, I would set her on a little container and make a “cue” noise in her ear…pspspsssss. I always held her under her legs with her back firmly against my belly so that she would still be close and comforted and not isolated from me on some cold hard plastic thing. The process needs to be comforting and natural. Not stressful and forceful. The entire objective is to foster communication between care-giver and baby. I think we, as a culture, tend to under-estimate our babies. Just because they can’t talk doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s going on! And when it so happened that a diaper or pair of pants got soiled, I would always change the wet clothes right away so that baby would not get accustomed to wetness and would instead prefer the comfort of dryness. In my opinion, one of the problems with the new fangled “ultra-absorbant” diapers available on the market today is that a baby never feels the discomfort of wetness. The diaper is engineered to remove that sensation altogether… one less thing to think about, right? A child can literally go all day without ever paying heed to one of life’s most necessary processes. And I think this interferes with a child making that link between needing to go to the bathroom, recognizing that need, and then taking care of it.


Diaper free Olivia… notice the discarded diaper and chamber pot in the background, and blissful smile on baby!

An incredibly important facet to the success of EC with your baby, is to carry or “wear” your baby in a sling or pack as much as possible. Not only does baby get to be safe and secure next to mama (or papa, or grandma) and to feel the movements of life and to learn from that, mama gets to feel a little squirm or other indicator… I often would feel the subtle sensation of warmth (and not the warmth of pee!) as a cue that Opal (or Olivia) needed a potty-break. As with most things in life, we had good days and we had not-so-good days. But as time passed, I “missed” less and less frequently. And babies grow and develop so quickly! And before my very eyes, my newly crawling babies could get themselves to the potty on their own! While they would still need mama’s help getting up on the pot, and with wiping and such, I can’t think of a bigger indicator than that! IMG_1474Most importantly, enjoy the process with your baby! It doesn’t have to be a burden. Catching that first pee can be just as big of a milestone as catching that first word. Even if you aren’t in a position to practice EC with your baby all day long, do it when you can. You will both benefit from a deeper connection with one another. IMG_1475

9 thoughts on “to diaper, or not to diaper?

  1. I so love this idea, and I’m glad you took the time to write about it. Though I’m well past the need for this method, there will eventually be grandchildren, and I hope to help their parents understand how valuable a process this can be!

    • Thank you, Hannah dear. Now if I could only learn your amazing knack for communicating with your children in such a calm way!!! Love you, cher

  2. I have a friend that has been trying this method with her little one. So smart…in fact her daughter is about 17 mons. and has started signing to go to the bathroom.

    • That’s one thing that I failed to mention in this post is the fact that we did use signing as well. As soon as language developed, though, most signing fell away. We would still use our “potty” sign as a secret code when in a more public setting. Sign language with children is a fabulous way to communicate pre-verbally, as children have the coordination to do a simple sign before they have the ability to speak their need.

  3. Hey what agreat logical way of doin things. Like you i never thought of it an now im waaaaay past it but will surely pass it onto my grand daughters. YOU should re write that book xx

  4. Oh Cher! I have so many things to thank you for and this is a big one. Even though I never had the chance to spend a lot of time with you and your family, there were still some great take home lessons, like seeing you and Opal together practicing EC! Hazel is 6 months now and we’ve been doing EC for the past two months with what I would call success. Most of our misses are because I’m not living in the moment enough, this is a great reason to work on that! You’re the only people that I’ve seen doing EC and your comfort/confidence with it made it a no brainer for us to try. And thank you for sharing your experiences so beautifully, I’ll be sharing this post with our family 🙂

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