Potty training the infant – Elimination Communication in North America

When my mother first told me that my sister and I were potty-trained by the age of 6 months, I stared at her in disbelief, wondering what part she was exaggerating. She wasn’t. Turns out that elimination communication (EC) is a real thing – and is done in many third-world nations. In North America, it is difficult to practice elimination-communication full time due to the mother often returning to work within months of the baby being born. Typically, you want to start EC before 6 months of age. As a Canadian who enjoys 1-year long maternity leaves, I decided to give EC a try with my kids.

Elimination communication revolves around the idea that babies are born with the desire to pee outside – not in their diapers. In this diaper-run nation, we first train them to pee in diapers, and then re-train them to stop using diapers. This can explain why newborns tend to pee during a diaper change. Evidently, nobody, not even an infant, want to sit in their poo or pee. Based on that premise, you put them on the potty based on cues they give you. It’s pretty close to “attachment parenting.”

With our eldest child, we started at around 6 months of age – late, yes, but I  wasn’t comfortable even holding my child, let alone hold her over the sink or the potty before then. We were successful catching most of her pees – she would even wake up with dry diapers and go in the morning, in the sink (we held her over the sink to go pee). We had no successes with her poo – possibly because she wasn’t aware of how to control that muscle by then. We had a good run for 3 months or so, until I decided to go back to work early and we stopped taking her to pee entirely. Now, at 19 months of age, she has absolutely no muscle control and is a typical toddler that resists toilet training.

I decided to try again with our second daughter, Emma – starting at roughly 3 months of age. A month later, it’s fantastic. I miss maybe 1 pee a day. She poos and pees outside. Instead of the sink, we got a portable potty and that’s what I put her on. It’s incredibly convenient – no one has to hold the baby over the sink (can be tiring). She wakes up with a dry diaper and goes right when I put her on the potty. She normally squirms or makes a distinctive noise/cry when she wants to use the potty. We’ve been going for a whole month so far, and it’s been a rewarding experience. We were hoping that our toddler would possibly start using the potty too, but she normally doesn’t make it to the potty until she is done her business….

Training Emma was a fair bit of work in the beginning – I (or my husband/mother/sister – whoever was in the house and able to help) would put her on the potty whenever I think she might go. I’d try before a feeding; if she didn’t go, try immediately after a feeding. If she still didn’t go, try in a few minutes. She’d normally go by then, but if she didn’t, then I’d be trying every 15 minutes until she did. It took me a little while to be tuned into her schedule – i.e. figuring out when she pees (before she wakes up or after?), when she poos (i.e. 10 or so minutes after her waking up), etc. At the same time, she was also getting used to my schedule. She learned that I put her on the potty first thing in the morning, so she’d try to poo after her pee (before she’d wait 10 minutes or so). I have no idea how, but she knows what a potty is – I can put her over a normal toilet, and she’ll go. She doesn’t go anywhere else (i.e. just stares at me if I hold her over the sink). So there is a lot going on in that little brain!

I intend to continue doing this with Emma until hopefully, she can walk to her potty and sit her bum on it. I have my fingers crossed that both my daughters would be potty-trained at the same time!

Some suggestions for those who are wanting to try EC…

  • Use cloth diapers. Cloth diapers don’t hold a whole lot pee in them – the child pees twice, and you must change. Where with disposables, people normally wait till it’s “pretty full” or has poo in it. This combined with the fact that disposable diapers normally have a “stay dry” feature, the child “forgets” that there is anything going on (cannot recognize cause & effect). Let your child feel wet when he has peed, and let yourself know right away when the child has peed. This will help you understand their schedule better. I recommend Bummies Prefolds (you’ll need about 2 dozen) with Snappi Cloth Fasteners (1 pack will suffice) and Aristocrats Wool Diapers (you’ll need 3-4). I highly recommend the wool diaper covers over the plastic/vinyl stuff that comes in the Bummies Starter Kit.
  • Get a used portable potty. We got ours from a thrift store for about $5. Sitting with a child on the potty for 5-10 minutes, and doing so repeatedly can be frustrating. If you have the potty near the living room or a common area, anyone can be convinced to help you out. It’s far less boring and doesn’t seem like a whole lot of work.
  • Be consistent. I make it a point to get up right when my daughter wakes up, because I know she is holding her pee in and waiting for me to take her to the potty. None of the “5 more minutes!” By the time she is up in the morning, she has been waiting for a while, so I get up right away. I make it a point to take her regularly on the potty – just as I take myself – to make sure that she doesn’t have to go in her diaper. I also take her to the potty when we are visiting someone’s house or other people are over – there is a toilet everywhere, so there should be no excuse.
  • Be persistent. It is really hard the first few weeks. It’s a pain to keep taking her clothes on and off to put her on the potty, but it is well worth the rewards. Trust me, you don’t want to keep washing your toddler’s poop for the next 2-3 years of your life.
  • Involve others. Get everyone involved – this is not something that you (as a mother) should have to do. Have Dad take her to the potty in the evenings. Have family over? Ask them to just hold your daughter over the potty. Most people are surprised that the kid goes, but once they see that the kid did go, they believe in the success and will be less reluctant to help in the future.
  • Every pee matters! Every pee you catch is a sign that she is learning muscle control – so congratulate yourself each time you catch her pee! And don’t worry, if you missed one, there will always be another 🙂 Try your best!

I recommend Diaper Free Baby for reading on this subject matter. There is also a wealth of information at their website.