By Carrie Pollak (Estimated reading time: 7 min)
The first time Heather had heard of infant potty training, also known as elimination communication (EC), was when her daughter, Eliana, was 6 months old. Could it really be possible for an infant to let her mother know that she needed to potty? The answer is yes.
“Babies’ cries mean different things, and as a parent, I was listening for the cry that said she was hungry and the cry that meant she was tired. I just hadn’t figured out yet that she also had a cry that said she had to go potty,” Heather says. “And yes, kids get fussy for all kinds of reasons, but it was nice to recognize that one of those reasons was something I could help her with.”
That was 4 years ago, and it sparked a passion for Heather, who is now an EC coach for families wanting to learn more and implement EC at home. At its core, EC is exactly as it sounds: a form of communication between caregiver and child about elimination. The caregiver takes the infant to a sink, potty, or other receptacle in response to the baby’s cues, enabling the baby to go without soiling themselves in a diaper.
“Back in the 1950s, babies were out of diapers by 18 months as the norm,” Heather explains. “But today, it’s normal for 3-year-olds to still be in diapers. We’ve gotten so far away from what we are capable of and are built into a society of convenience. We love convenience, but at what cost? We’re missing out on showing our children that they are capable of so much more. From 0 to 6 months, when you get the most out of EC, babies are learning everything—how to sit, how to eat, what the world is. If you introduce EC in that timeframe, it becomes another one of those fundamental things. Because if you’re not teaching them to go outside a diaper, you’re teaching them how to go in a diaper.”
Heather was the facilitator of the Elimination Communication Challenge, where six families learned and practiced responding to their babies’ pottying needs as part of the Ditch the Diapers Zero Waste Initiative hosted by Diaper Stork, a local mom-owned cloth diaper service. Heather wasn’t just facilitating the group; Heather was also a participant, thanks to her now 1-year-old son, Orion. She caught his first poop at 2.5 weeks!
The parents met monthly for a full year in 2020. For the first four months, the meetings were in person. After the pandemic hit in March, the meetings were moved to Zoom. Over the course of twelve months, the group was focused on families supporting each other in putting elimination communication into practice.
“We had a spectrum of families in the group,” Heather says. “Everyone varied in their level of commitment to EC, their ability, their child’s ability, and their expectations. One family had already been practicing EC, so they provided another voice and were able to share what worked for them.” All of the families had substantial success in making EC a regular part of their routine, and they appreciated being in a group of like-minded families. “I think it is great to have a group to discuss and share lessons learned, useful tips, and emotional support,” says Ashlee, one of the group participants. “The group also was a form of external accountability.”
As the facilitator, Heather provided guidance and shared the principles of EC—how to look for the cues and what the next steps are. Although it was called a “challenge,” Heather emphasized that EC is not an all-or-nothing practice and doesn’t need to be overwhelming.
Participant Ashlee was very receptive to that concept. “I went into the Challenge with an all-or-nothing mentality,” she says. “But reframing EC as another tool in our kit was very helpful. We focused on what we could do—putting baby on the potty every day when she wakes up and before bath at night—as opposed to all of the things we couldn’t do—have childcare practice EC during the day.”
Heather has both of her children in daycare and the teachers at school do not facilitate EC, so her family practices EC at home, in the evenings and on the weekends. “EC can absolutely be done part time,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be this daunting, never-in-diapers, always-watching-the-kid type of thing. Really, it’s just another form of communication to be able to listen to your child and get feedback from him or her.”
The communication part of EC is what Heather has found to be the most rewarding. “EC is an extra bond and communication between you, the caregiver, and your child that enables you to facilitate and meet his or her needs beyond feeding and sleeping,” she says. “It grows your relationship in another way. Eating and sleeping are so much of an infant’s life, but elimination is the other half of eating. I think you’re missing a big part of the equation if you aren’t taking that into account.”
Shanti, one of the group participants, couldn’t agree more. “I’m so glad that my family has chosen to do EC because it has shown me a side of my child that I don’t think I would have seen otherwise,” Shanti says. “Milo is capable of so many things and was from the day he was born! EC makes sense in a way that diapers don’t, and I’m grateful that the last poopy diaper I changed was probably 9 months ago—for my now 14-month-old. I think his skin is healthier, the planet is slightly less littered with disposable diapers, and my partner, baby, and I are all more confident in our ability to communicate with each other, in relation to pottying and everything else.”
Healthy skin and better communication are definitely some of the benefits of elimination communication. Diaper reduction, which creates less waste, is another. “On average, we save 1–2 diapers per day,” says Megan, another group participant. “That’s 30 to 40 diapers per month.” And for families using wash-at-home cloth diapers, laundry is decreased, thanks to EC.
Another benefit of elimination communication is earlier potty training. Participant Ashlee says, “We will definitely attempt potty training at a younger age. EC makes potty training less intimidating since we’re already going through the motions with EC. The next step isn’t as big of a step to take.”
With so many benefits, Heather encourages families to explore EC casually, without being intimidated. “Try it during transition times—in and out of the car seat, before and after a nap, when they wake up,” she suggests. “Just put them on the potty, and see if something happens. And if not, then don’t worry about it, and keep on with your day.”
Interested in learning more about elimination communication? Diaper Stork offers Intro to EC/Infant Potty Training classes at no cost as part of the Ditch the Diapers Zero Waste Initiative, sponsored by a Zero Waste Communities Matching Grant from Seattle Public Utilities. In addition, Heather is facilitating Diaper Stork’s next Elimination Communication Challenge, starting next quarter. Visit Diaper Stork for more information and to register.