What is Elimination Communication...and why you should try it with your baby
Eco warrior and CaliWoods founder, Shay Lawrence shares the lost knowledge of using the potty from birth, otherwise known as Elimination Communication.
Anyone who has spent time around babies knows their magic. They draw people in like a fairy well, you can be entranced in their scent and joy for hours for no good reason other than just being. From the start of time, babies right out of the womb have had the ability to communicate with their caregivers – if we know how to listen. Theory goes that babies can and, dare I say it, want to be on the potty, from birth. An arching back, kicking legs, red face and grunts can be their way of letting us know it’s poop time. Popping off the breast could mean it’s time to wee and, after they have had their potty opportunity, they will get right back into that delicious milk, uninterrupted.
Listening and responding to these cues is called Elimination Communication, or EC for short. It’s an option for families where caregivers help the baby to go on the potty instead of in a nappy. Used a few generations back, and still in practise in many places around the world, the knowledge of EC was lost to our culture when disposable nappies and busier lifestyles took hold. So what does this journey look like and why are a small group of parents (growing in number by the day) opting for EC instead of grabbing from the nappy pile?
THE EC JOURNEY
Your baby is nearly here and you are getting those essentials ready. On the list are those cute booties, impossibly small onesies (that make you melt at their cuteness), lots of nappies, wet wipes, nappy rash cream, a changing table, and changing pads. In your baby research, you come across whispers of parents helping their babies potty train from birth and decide to investigate further. Sounds weird, but interesting, so why not? This was me, I was lucky enough to stumble upon EC while looking at reusable nappies in online forums. I’d never heard of it before and my circle of friends and family had no knowledge to offer up whatsoever! From what I read, I wouldn’t need to wash that many nappies, the nappy rash cream wouldn’t be needed and wet wipes would be obsolete. Sounded like a good deal. The sustainable mama side of me was jumping with glee but the lack of social evidence made my partner and I sceptical – we planned on doing it from day one but weren't banking on it actually working.
What happened next was pretty special. Our little guy did his first poops over an ice cream container in his daddy's arms. As I said, we were sceptical so we didn’t prepare with the special EC top hat potty or the easy-off clothing but it was definitely working. The experience of seeing our new baby signal that he needed to go, us reacting, and then successfully ‘capturing’ his wees and poop was deeply primal, special and satisfying for us. I felt in tune with my baby and my EC responses were akin to me responding to his cute yelps for milk. Listening to my intuitive thoughts ‘My baby needs to go’ and then being blown away by the fact that he really did need to go was pretty cool. Although it might sound like a glorification of baby poop and wees, it truly has been a game changer for our family and we couldn’t imagine our life without it.
REASONS TO TRY
Other than the relief we feel when there’s a huge poop in the potty instead of his nappy, we have noticed so many benefits. During certain ages there was more settled sleep and less grizzles. From a hygiene perspective, I like that he doesn’t sit in soiled nappies and we generally don’t touch his bodily excretions - it gets flushed or he waters a tree. There is less waste (if you are using disposables), less nappy washing (if you are using reusables) – a win for water use and landfill. Since it is a new concept for many, wrapping your head around it can seem daunting but the daily ins and outs are pretty simple in practise. Lack of time is a perceived barrier but I can hand on heart say I spend less time pottying than I would cleaning a dirty bottom. We have successfully done a year of EC with both of us working as well as day care in the mix. You make it work for you and part-time EC is totally a thing!
HOW TO GET STARTED
EC is for babies from 0 to 18months and you can start at any time during this age. Starting from birth will serve you well as it’s part of your routine and relationship from the get go, but absolutely not essential if you already have your little one in tow and want to start. It’s very easy and simple once you learn the techniques and you and your baby start practising. Everyone in our family, even day care, picked it up and they know how to help our baby go.
You start by observing your baby. Have some naked time on a safe surface and then see how their body moves before they go, what sounds they make, etc. Write this down and share it with your partner or other caregivers. Then take into consideration their natural rhythms such as when you arrive somewhere new, after a nap and before/after a feed. These are the easy ones to ‘capture’ as, generally, a baby needs to go during these times. We use the bathroom after a long sleep and your baby will need to as well! If you have an instinctual thought that it’s time, then it likely is. Your connection to your baby is very strong, and you may sometimes ‘just know’, in a similar way to how you know your baby is hungry.
You then physically respond to these signals, natural rhythms and your intuition. This will be a little different at each age but let’s take a small baby, say six months or under as an example. When it’s time to offer the potty, hold your baby with their back to your tummy and your hands under their hamstrings and make a ‘sshhhh’ sound. This position is optimal for releasing a poop and makes them feel safe and relaxed. The cue word can be ‘sshhh’, ‘grrrr’, ‘ready’ or whatever works for you – just keep it consistent. These can help because they are association sounds. We used sounds such as grunts, 'sshhh', and ‘okay’, and our little boy, when under six months, waited for those cues to know it was the right time. There are other holds you can do, such as using a ‘top hat potty’ while feeding if your bub is a feed-and-poop type, or holding them on it when it is placed between your legs. Older babies are likely to do well just sitting on a regular potty themselves or with some support.
One year on in our journey with EC and life without it would be a lot more messy! There have been so many benefits for our family, I often wonder why it isn’t more commonplace. I guess sometimes we go down paths in a culture and rediscover old gems from a few generations before. This lost knowledge was buried by convenience and social norms (and good nappy marketing!), but can be a treasure trove for those who seek EC as an option. It will now be knowledge passed through my family once again.
This option isn’t for everyone and that’s okay, parenting is different for everyone. For me this has been part of my return to instinctive roots and it has satisfied some of my cravings for an intuitive and natural parenting journey.
Shay is the founder of CaliWoods, an eco-products social enterprise with the purpose of helping kiwis live more sustainably. She loves the ocean and is Mama to one-year-old Jasper. If you want more detailed info about EC you can find it at caliwoods.co.nz or Instagram @caliwoods_eco.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 58 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW