Adventures in Elimination Communication

Have you noticed that we’re kind of hippy-dippy parents?  We are.  (We do vaccinate on schedule… we’re hippy-dippy parents with PhDs.)

Anyhow, we started gentle potty training with DC1 around 15 months, even though we really should have started at 12 months when ze didn’t want to poo in hir diaper anymore.

It was so much fun, that we vowed to start with any future DC2s once the poo became more solid.  DC2’s poo is now more solid.

DC2 also hates wet diapers with a violent passion.

The first step of elimination communication is un-diaper-training your baby.  The baby has to realize that ze is peeing.  With DC1 this was easy– ze could stand so we let hir take showers and pointed out peeing when ze showered.  Ze had a hilarious expression the first time it happened, sort of a “what is this?”  DC2 isn’t stable enough to stand in the shower and probably won’t be any time soon.

So, for us, Step one was pulling out the incontinence pads we’d gotten for DC1’s night training and putting DC2 on top of them with shiny new-to-hir toys to keep hir occupied.  Then we kept watch for sudden wetness.  (This part was a little weird.)

When the wetness occurred, we would move on to Step 2:  cueing the baby.  Most folks cue the baby with a “pssss” or “tsss” or “peeeee” sound.  My family apparently has a song they sing to the tune of “Twinkle twinkle little star” (“Tinkle, tinkle…”) that I thought I made up with DC1, but it turns out is something my grandma used to sing to my mom and her siblings and my mom must have sung to me and my sister even though I don’t remember it.

We repeated this for 2 days whenever we thought of it, probably 20 min a try, a few tries a day.  Day 3 we decided to Step 3:  introduce the potty.  Sadly our tiny little potty got a crack in the bottom while stored in the attic which makes it useless as a potty.  (But it’s recyclable!)  And it has been discontinued.  Fortunately DC2 is bigger than DC1 was, so can use the next size up Baby Bjorn potties, of which we have two.

DC1 always peed after waking up, so we figured to try that with DC2 as well.  It worked.  We caught a pee almost immediately.  I tried later in the day with the cuing song and also caught a pee.  The next day I caught another one and thought, “There is no way this can be so easy.”

So of course the next time I tried, baby didn’t pee when cued, and the time after that ze stood up and peed all over me instead of in the potty.  (That has happened a couple times since then as well, but we stay upbeat about it.)  But we’ve been catching a lot of pees, especially right after sleeping in the morning and right after naps.  It’s pretty amazing.

One time half-naked DC2 even walked over to the potty hirself (with parental assistance), but then got distracted by the bathtub and peed on it instead.  Oops!

The true joy of this method has been the poos we’ve caught.  It is just so much less icky to dump poo in the toilet and then rinse out the potty than it is to deal with a poo covered rear end.  I understand that many folks who do EC are better at catching poos than pees because their babies give more signs they’re about to poo, but apparently DC2 is a stealth pooper.  (DC1 used to do an adorable wiggle-dance.  DC2 just explodes without warning, usually while on hir tummy.)

The end goal, of course, is to be able to figure out when the baby is about to pee and for the baby to start to hold pees for the opportunity to go.  DC2 does seem to have bigger pees the more we do this, but we’re still clueless about the communication part.  Maybe we’ll figure it out or maybe it’ll all work out when ze starts talking to us.

Also:  we’re only doing occasional elimination communication.  Ze’s still mostly in diapers and the mother’s helpers all use diapers.  (One of them thinks we’re weird beyond belief, another thinks we’re really cool, and the remaining two haven’t been around for a post-nap pee yet.)  The Diaper Free Baby swears that occasional and part-time (that’s a step up from what we’re doing) elimination communication are fine, so we’re trusting them on that.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  And so far, other than DC2 maybe fighting a little more about getting that diaper back on, there doesn’t seem to be any harm done.

So anyway, Elimination Communication:  messy but WAAAAAY easier than potty training later.  Surprisingly so.  And much easier than we ever thought it would be.  (Also, kind of fun!)

32 Responses to “Adventures in Elimination Communication”

  1. Thisbe Says:

    I forget how old this baby is, but this story makes me think of some time I spent in a central Asian developing nation, with a mom whose 4-month-old was basically potty trained (she occasionally would pee outside the potty; a couple of times maybe in a week). Her potty was a big plastic bowl. An adult would hold her in position suspended over the bowl, and she would go. This was not considered remarkable by any person; it is just what one does with a baby, there.

    I guess it is on some level More Work than waiting until later? Maybe? Certainly one has to pay a lot of attention. Incidentally I am right this moment housetraining a puppy by elimination communication and positive reinforcement methods. I guess it is kind of a pain in the butt to pay that much attention, but on the other hand I have had the puppy for two weeks and there have been Zero accidents in the house. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if there were never any accidents. Leaving aside potty training for kids, when I compare this puppy to either attempting to housetrain an older dog or to more “usual” housetraining methods (which in my experience involve quite a lot of peeing and pooping in the house), I cannot figure out why one wouldn’t put in the effort now to avoid effort later.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      So far it has been a lot less difficult than I thought it would be, though we’re only doing it occasionally/part-time. With the occasional use we’re not having to pay that much attention– we’re mainly putting hir on when ze wakes up, though we’ve been catching more throughout the day now too. This morning ze has been on the potty 3x and peed in the potty twice (with poo the first time) and wet 1 diaper. (There is a lot of pee in the mornings.)

      I like the way there’s much less stress now because nobody expects your kid to use the restroom– any potty usage is just a bonus to be celebrated.

      Ironically in terms of messes, diapered DC2 had a blowout in my lap on my dry-clean only dress pants yesterday.

  2. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:


  3. Revanche Says:

    Ok it feels weird saying this because that’s not why I was going to comment but …. I *remember* that from my child/babyhood! I remember what my mom used to cue me.
    And this was surprisingly funny.

  4. oilandgarlic Says:

    How do you figure out when they will pee?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have no idea!

      Right now we’re mainly doing “after nap” and “when waking up” because there’s almost always pee then. Recently ze’s been holding it in some and will pee when ze gets on the pot. And occasionally ze will walk over (assisted) to the potty.

      The books say that kids have different signals and you’ll be able to pick up on them. So far we’re not. But this is still amazingly easy. Much more so than we’d thought it would be, especially given that we started later with DC1. But I think DC2 hasn’t been as diaper-trained as DC1 was. I actually read the “early-training” chapter this time around, which I hadn’t done with DC2 since we started later, and they make it sound easier with the earlier training as well, so I don’t think it’s just that DC1 and DC2 are different.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Update: DH says ze makes a little grunt before any activity. I’d noticed the grunt before poos, but he says they also come before pees.

  5. gwinne Says:

    I’m always interested in folks talking about this, as it always has seemed to me from an outsider’s perspective that the baby isn’t being trained…the parent is. I let my first kid use the potty whenever she wanted but didn’t make it a project until just before 3. The result was a kid who could get her own clothes off and use the bathroom pretty much independently both day and night.

    I have a friend, on the other hand, who used EC and successfully managed to stop changing poopy diapers (a fellow cloth diaperer) early on. But her son still uses diapers at daycare because he’s not actually “potty trained” in any kind of biological way…

    That is, EC makes sense to me if the goal is simply not changing as many diapers. I didn’t really care about that. (Still don’t) But I wanted the potty to be the kid’s project, not mine…

    • gwinne Says:

      And I should add that my friend’s son is now over 3… she started EC before 1…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t know about your friend’s kid, but it definitely has not been the case for us of us being trained. And if it were, I don’t think that would be a bad thing.

      Nobody is saying this is something a person has to do. In general, the research (See previous potty training post– there’s a book called Diaper Free Before Three that summarizes the research) shows that kids who start earlier are trained younger but take longer to be trained. (And yes, it can take less than a week if you start around age 3.) There are many windows to potty training, and no right or wrong time to start.

      We’re finding this part-time EC to be much easier than we ever would have thought. Even given that we found starting at 15 months with DC1 (who, incidentally, was mostly trained at 22 months, though we took it slow and progress was pretty gradual) to be fun instead of frustrating like most of our friends did with older kids. Starting earlier is even easier.

      It is interesting that, “The parents are the ones being trained,” “I know a person who did this and her kid regressed/still wet the bed/etc.” are actually all covered in the book as comments that someone doing this is likely to get.

      • gwinne Says:

        Oh, I didn’t think you were suggesting in any way that this is something someone “has to do”–I get that you’re talking about your own experience, and I’m glad it’s going well! For myself, I’d rather change diapers longer and have potty training not actually be something I do any work at :) Just here’s the potty, here’s some underwear, done. I hope it goes that way with Tiny Boy, but who knows…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t usually talk about gender differences… but with potty training, it doesn’t generally go as easily with boys (according to the research in Diaper Free Before Three). But the research isn’t clear about whether that’s because mothers are the ones doing the training (and are somehow more comfortable with girls, or start earlier etc.) or if it’s something actually mechanical.

        OTOH, second and consecutive kids are more likely to train themselves because they see big sib doing it. So that’s working in your favor.

        Starting later with DC1 it was more effort than just changing diapers (though not as much effort as later training might have been after ze entered the defiant age, especially given the daycare ze was in at that time was potty trained kids only… stressful just thinking about it), because un-diaper training takes effort. With this little one, it’s been even a little less effort than not doing it because we save an enormous amount of time and yuckiness each time we catch a poo. And, like I noted in another comment, it seems to be decreasing the number of diaper changes through decreasing frequency of pees. (DC1 didn’t mind wet diapers, but DC2 hates them with a violent passion.)

  6. First Gen American Says:

    It’s interesting to me that this works despite being in daycare most of the day. (I am assuming this..not sure it is a fact). My daycare provider was not in a rush to potty train so it took a week off from daycare with vacation time before we could successfully make the transition.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ze is still at home, but yeah, the mother’s helpers use diapers (9am-5pm, though sometimes I potty hir after ze wakes up at 3:30 when I get home on my teaching days). Ze seems a little more fussy about diaper changes, but other than that it seems like there’s no harm done.

      I think hir bladder is getting bigger too… frequency of pees seems to be down, but amount per pee seems to be up.

      I kind of doubt we can get our (future) daycare on board with this until ze is out of the infant room. The next room up is right across from the potties, so they may be willing to take hir.

  7. NoTrustFund Says:

    This is fascinating. And I thought I was ahead of the game for letting my 16 month old sit in the toilet. It definitely seems like our second kid will be easier since she wants to do what her older sister does.

    Keep us posted on this one. Which reminds me of questions from previous posts. Are you still off gluten now that you are no longer pregnant? And how is the calorie regimented diet going (for I think the other one)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’re not sure with gluten. Right now I occasionally get a tingly red face that *might* be psychosomatic or might be real. It seems to be worse when I have an otherwise empty stomach. I really ought to go in for allergy testing to see if I can nail it down. We’re also not sure with DC2– ze may or may not have an allergy. Ze had an allergic reaction to *something* while we were on vacation/conference, and that may have been naan, but could have been any amount of other yummy ethnic foods.

      So basically we mostly avoid wheat foods, though I have zero problem with things like Worcester sauce and so on that made me throw up before.

      Ooh, I wonder about #2’s dietary stuff too… hopefully the act of asking won’t make her super grumpy. I do know she’s doing pretty well on any exercise involving horsies.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        calorie diet… sigh. I should get back on that, but I am working on trying to exercise these days. I sort of stopped over the holidays… (me and every other American….)

        I am riding horsies (well, just one horsie) twice a week, and doing barn chores and stuff an additional one day a week.

        Congratulate me, people, I am taking the death-stairs all the way UP to my office at work.

        That’s about it, though, for now. Sigh?

      • rented life Says:

        Congrats on climbing the death stairs. I climb them to my TR class and tell myself this is a good thing, but boy I hate it.

      • NoTrustFund Says:

        Thanks for the updates, and congrats on taking the stairs!

  8. MutantSupermodel Says:

    So glad I’m never ever doing this again. EVER.

  9. QueSera Says:

    I plan to try this a bit when the weather is warmer. It is too cold for mijito to be diaper free in the house for now. In the spring/summer both boys are likely to be diaper free in the yard.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If you want to start really part-time before it gets warmer, I recommend putting him on the potty in the morning right after he gets up. That’s been almost sure-fire for us (and is recommended in the book as well).

  10. (@frugalityhome) Says:

    Loved reading this – thanks for posting. I think we may have to try this as I’d much rather deal w/ messiness now instead of extreme difficulty later. What do you think about people who say “wait till the child is ready” even if that means waiting until the child is 3+?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      They’ve been brainwashed by Pampers. Children are ready from birth and actually have to be trained to use diapers. Diaper Free Before Three summarizes the research on the topic. There’s nothing wrong with waiting until after 3 (aside from environmental, monetary etc. concerns), but you don’t have to.

      One important thing though is always to be relaxed about potty training so it doesn’t stress the baby out or you out! That’s where all the problems come in.

  11. RBOToddler | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] EC update:  At almost 15 mo, if the potty is in visual distance, DC2 will take hirself to the potty, sit down (the sitting down is what took the most effort– but ze finally no longer gets hir leg stuck in the potty while trying to sit), and pee and/or poo.  If no potty is in sight, ze will just go wherever ze is.  If the diaper is still on, ze will use the diaper while sitting in the potty. […]

  12. 7 tips to save money on cloth diapers. | Surviving and Thriving Says:

    […] Try the “no-diaper” movement. Also known as “Elimination Communication,” this greatly reduces the number of diapers you use. Some parents say they don’t use any at […]

  13. What if you run low on toilet paper? A reminder about “family cloth” | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] poor DC2 was allergic to *everything* (this is also part of why DC2 responded really well to elimination communication).  And it was […]

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