Ever heard of Elimination Communication? No, it’s not a directive for a CIA operative to take out a nefarious political leader in another country. And it isn’t the Terminator’s program name either — though I do like to imagine Arnold Schwartzenegger saying it: “E-limination Communication, Baby…”
Elimination Communication is the new (ancient) way to handle what we in the West call Potty Training. We call it Potty Training because we have to (re)train our toddlers to unlearn what we’ve taught them as babies — that is, not to pee and poop in their clothes. Elimination Communication is what humans have done for 99.9% of our development, and what the majority of the world’s parents still use with their infants. It simply means, they don’t use diapers, and don’t teach their babies to relieve themselves on themselves.
Sounds made up doesn’t it? If you’ve never heard of such a thing, you may be thinking, “EW!” or worse, but it isn’t nearly as strange (or as gross) as you might think. Let me add a little more perspective to the discussion by way of an anecdote.
The midwife for my youngest daughter’s birth related this lovely tale of E.C. she witnessed in Nepal. She was on a bus between two towns, and befriended a little swaddled baby traveling on the bus as well. The mother handed the infant over (yes, to the stranger on the bus) and our midwife held the baby and cooed to her as they rode along. Then, at one point, the mother took the baby back, unwrapped her, held her suspended over the bus floor where she pooped a little infant milk-poop, then swiped the baby’s butt with her finger, swaddled her back up and handed her back to our wide-eyed midwife.
I want to call attention to a couple of things that happened in the story above. First, the mother was so in tune with her baby that she intuited or recognized when the baby needed to go. (Have you ever done that?) Secondly, she actually wiped her baby’s bum with her own finger! You may want to say that is barbarous, but it strikes me as remarkably and ingeniously unfazed by the natural conditions of the mother’s existence. Both underscore the kind of normalcy we humans have had (and in many other parts of the world continue to have) with our humanness. Somewhere along the way, we Westerners have forgotten this. As is typical of our kind, we have continued to seek technological advancement, and distance from our humanness, in order to live “cleaner”, “healthier” lives of greater “ease”. And in the process we have continued to create problems both environmental and social with our relentless advancements. And as is often the case, we have favored advancement without actually making things even one iota easier for ourselves.
Elimination Communication means we regularly check in with our babies, learn their rhythms, translate their signals, and allow them to do most of their peeing and pooping outside of a diaper. It means we carry them several times each day to the toilet, or sink, or grass, and cue them to relieve themselves by making a little “Psssssss Psssssss” sound. It means we don’t train them to do what we will later wish they would forget so that we might train them to do the opposite. It also means we are connecting and bonding with our babies in a way and on a level that is utterly forgotten in Western countries.
Natalie and I used E.C. with little Echo. Though, to be more precise, I should say that after a few months of diapering, we gave it a shot, then let it go a bit while on a vacation to visit family, and restarted shortly before Echo turned a year old. By the time she was 18 months, she was using the toilet (or the grass) exclusively. And I just have to say, after living through toddler and little kid diaper changing with Bella and Xi, it was soooo nice that Echo was done with diapers before they got too — well, serious.
For a little more perspective, check out this interview I conducted with a stellar Elimination Communication Coach, Romy McGahan Daniel:
So why do you use E.C.? I use it because I don’t want to waste diapers. That started out as my main reason. Once I learned more about it, I liked the idea that babies do have more control over their bodies than we usually think they do, and that they don’t have to sit in their own waste. I didn’t know at first that it would be a result, but I now really appreciate the connection it affords me and my baby. I also am glad to be able to avoid the task of potty training a toddler. Now when I have to change some other toddler’s diaper, dealing with basically an adult-sized poop, I am so thankful that “it’s just this one time”.
How would you say E.C. compares with diapering and later potty-training in terms of the labor involved? Just wrapping your mind around using it is the biggest part. Once you get past the idea, then it just becomes part of your normal day. And by the time the baby is one, you’re basically done with diapers. To sum up, though, I’d say it’s a lot easier using E.C..
What is the basic process? You can start from the day of birth — my first was 4 weeks, and my second was 3 days when I started. Begin by holding a bowl under her when she is awake, nursing, or just hanging out. Then you wait. When she goes, you make a cueing sound (“Psssss, Psssss” or the like). Then there are several weeks of that, strengthening the association between the cue and the act. During this time, you make sure that the baby never sits in a dirty diaper — cloth diapers are great for this because it is so easy for both mom and baby to tell when the diaper is wet or dirty. After a good couple months (or sooner in some cases), you start recognizing her patterns (like peeing after waking, or pooping after nursing) then you can anticipate when she is going to need to go, and use the same cueing sound to initiate her — elimination. After that, you can leave her diaperless at home. Then you just stay tuned into her patterns, or physical cues she may show when she has to go, and pay attention to your intuitions about her needs.
What’s the most difficult part of E.C. for you? Now it’s beating myself up if I do use a lot of diapers. Like if I have a full day, and we aren’t as in sync, and she winds up going more in a diaper than I’d prefer. With my first baby, I was in uncharted territory, and had no precedents or role-models for how to do it. So just figuring it out by myself (with just a book) was challenging. And if something out of the ordinary happened (like if we got out of sync) then I just had to figure out how to deal with it on my own.
What is your secret? You have to be a little laid back about it, because you will get baby pee and poop on you more than if you just used diapers. I feel like baby pee and baby poop is pretty innocuous — it’s not like adults’, it doesn’t have the same kind of germs, and isn’t as gross to me — but you do have to be willing to deal with that part. It helps to have a washer and drier in the house. I should also say, I do use some diapers — if we are going out, or to a friend’s house, or something — some people think they can never use diapers if they’re doing E.C..
You can contact Romy at email@example.com if you have more questions or would like to hire her (at her ridiculously low rate) to help your family achieve diaper-freedom.