Sunday, September 18, 2011

Adventures in Elimination Communication

My ECing baby at 7 months
  People ask me about how I got my baby to use the toilet so early. I have not written much about it here because I don’t feel like any kind of expert. However, I do have my own small experience. So due to popular demand, here’s my personal story with Elimination Communication (EC).

The bottom line is that I am lazy and cheap. Too lazy to wash so many cloth diapers, too cheap to buy so many disposables.

EC is not really toilet training, per se. It is a practice in which the caretakers learn to anticipate the baby’s need to poop or pee and help them do it somewhere beside a diaper. The baby also learns to respond to parent-led cues to try to eliminate. I read about it in Mothering, and there is also a website totally dedicated to it. It sounds mysterious and impossibly difficult- the idea of just knowing when she needs to go. People act like it's a parlor trick. It's hilarious. The magical peeing baby. But it's really something you just adjust to.

The basic idea is that when you see the baby peeing (so you do have to take the diaper off at some point) you make a “psss” water noise that the baby begins to associate with relaxing those muscles. I first read about it when Thacia was 3 months old. It made me curious, but I thought it would take my daughter much longer to pick up on the cue sound. All I did was try it for kicks one afternoon while we were outside. I left her diaper off and when she peed I made the “psss” sound. She had gone twice, and we were going to go back inside so I gave the cue sound one more time before I put her diaper on, and was shocked that she responded!

That’s the simple story. It really was that easy. Now to answer a few of the more common questions I get asked:

Q: At what age should you begin?
A: As far as I know you can start as young as you want. A lot of people in the US start around 3 months or so when the baby can support him or herself a bit better, but there's no rule about it. When my baby was really little she associated the noise with relaxing the whole GI tract, not just the bladder and bowels. Thacia usually spit up a little, peed, and at least gave a decent toot when she was cued. Later she developed more fine-tuned control. I have heard of people starting at 18 months too. I think that would actually be harder because the child is busier at that age.

Q: How much time does it take?   
A: It is a little more time intensive than traditional diapering. We enjoy the time it takes because we read and sing and cuddle, but if you are on a tight schedule it would probably be hard. I am guessing it also depends on your child’s temperament.

Q: If I begin will it take over my whole life? 

A: It seems like EC can be as much a part of your day or as little as you want to. There is no need to be legalistic about it. We have found it to be a flexible part of our baby-rearing lifestyle. Some people put their babies in training pants or underwear right away. Thacia stayed in diapers though she is more interested to make it to the potty when she wears training pants. We were also much more consistent with it when Thacia was younger and had less of an agenda of her own, but we still usually do some diaper free mornings and all BMs in her little potty. During the winter we slowed down with it because she didn't want her pants off in the cold! I am pretty low-key about the whole thing. If the BMs and a few of the wets end up in the potty instead of the diaper I call it success. It's something you can personalize to your needs and the amount of time you want to spend on it.

Q. Do I need any special equipment to start?
A. Check out diaper free baby for supplies and potty positions, but the short answer is no, not really. At first I tried making the “catch” in a little bowl, but had much better luck sitting backward with her on the toilet, or just letting her pee outside. I sat on the edge of a lawn chair with her in my lap between my knees and gave her the cue. I have heard of people starting inside with a trash bag under a towel or something like that.  As Thacia grew we got her a Baby Bjorn little potty, which is smaller than most on the toilet training aisle in the big box stores.

Q. Will early toilet training traumatize my little one and psychologically damage him/her?
A. I am entirely unqualified to answer this question, but I’ll tell you my gut instinct about it: It seems like the traumatic thing would be to put pressure on the child, or shame them about their natural functions. If you are competitively raising your child to have an edge over others his or her age, that pressure is going to tell on your relationship and their security. That sort of mentality has no place at all in the EC, or, I might add, the Christian mindset for raising children! Foundational to the philosophy of EC within the framework of attachment parenting is the desire to better communicate with your children, to deeply and intuitively know their needs and help them with them.
Thus you help the child enjoy the advantages of being dry rather than praising his or her efforts to please you.
Personally I haven't pushed pottying with Thacia because though she has awareness of her functions, I think she is too young to be tasked with entire responsibility for them yet. Her interest in it ebbs and flows. Still, she hates being wet, and usually lets us know when she needs to have a BM. She sometimes asks to go at very surprising times, often when we are out of the house or engrossed in other things, of course!  

I haven’t changed more than 15 dirty diapers since my daughter was 3 months old, and that’s a conservative estimate. For me, that’s so worth it!
We just sometimes end up with an accident when someone demonstrates “what a snake says!”

1 comment:

Nive B said...

Psss..sound is long tried in Indian culture for peeing...kids in India are potty trained way well before the thought of potty training occurs in US,in general...cost effective and the way culture is wired,it is necessary.

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