This is a guest post from Ariane Blais-Lacombe, our certified coach in Chicago/Quebec. Enjoy her very own tips for doing observation time like a pro! xx Andrea
You just found out about Elimination Communication (EC). You are skeptical, yet curious. You want to give it a try. You are eager to start NOW.
I get it. This was me too, three years ago, when I first heard about EC.
You have seen a couple of YouTube videos, read some blog posts. You’re thinking: ‘’Let’s do it!’’
But please, don’t. Just wait a minute. Let me explain why you shouldn’t skip the important first step of the Go Diaper Free method:
Naked observation time is crucial to beginning your EC journey. Letting your baby be naked and watching him without pottying him yet will provide you tons of useful information to know your baby better and potty him or her more accurately.
Before I tell you my 10 Golden Rules for Observation Time, let's first talk about WHY we do observation time - we'll learn when to potty baby and how to read your baby with the information learned during observation time.
(This is part of the Part 1 of the Go Diaper Free method: When to go potty. Part 1 is explained in detail in the Go Diaper Free book, along with Part 2: How to go potty, and tons of other useful information.)
First: Learn when we should take baby to the potty
As a Go Diaper Free Certified Coach, I can tell you that the main question people ask is, "when do I potty my baby?"
Luckily for us, there are four answers to that question, four tools we use to practice EC and to determine when to offer the potty.
The 4 roads to potty time are:
1) Your baby’s signals
2) Generic timing (transition times)
3) Your baby’s natural timing
4) Your intuition
To learn more about the four roads to potty time, grab Andrea’s Easy Start Guide.
The most intriguing of these tools is certainly the baby’s signals.
As our society doesn’t encourage us to look for these signs, we think our baby simply doesn’t send them. We learn to identify when our baby is hungry and tired, when she is too hot or cold, and when her diaper is full.
But her need to eliminate? Nope. We are told that babies have no awareness of their elimination, no control over their bladder and sphincter. Consequently, it would be impossible for a baby under 18 months – and even 2-3 years old according to some pediatricians – to signal his or her need to go potty.
EC is based on a radically different premise. We think babies have awareness of their elimination.
In fact, we know these things. Our own experiences prove it. We think babies have the ability to control and communicate that need. Of course, their abilities in that matter are limited by their age and development.
I often get told by mothers that their baby never signals. To that I reply:
Seek, and you will find (with observation time).
I’m not saying it’s easy! Some babies have signals so subtle, almost imperceivable, especially for the busy modern parents we are.
African mothers who wear their naked babies all day long are far better disposed than we are to learn their babies’ elimination signals. They also have more incentive to respond to these signals (or they will get wet). In the West, we have to sit down and learn our babies.
Second: Learn to read your baby with observation time.
Luckily for us, there is an easy and accessible way to discover our baby’s signals: observation time. I recommend doing a couple of observation sessions before starting infant potty training.
Observation time allows us to have a better knowledge of our baby’s signals, but also of his or her natural timing. During sessions of naked observation time we also start to build the sound associations we want to use in our EC practice. All of these things will directly contribute to our success in pottying our babies.
Also, if you are going through a potty pause, having another session of observation can help you a lot. Potty pauses are common after external changes in your baby’s life, such as traveling, moving, or starting daycare. Internal changes such as teething or developing new skills (sitting up, crawling, walking) can also cause a potty pause.
Since baby’s signals and natural timing evolve with their age and development, we will continually benefit from occasional observation time.
Now that we have a foundation of when to potty baby and how to read our babies better, here are my:
The 10 Golden Rules for Observation Time
Although observation is not very difficult in itself, I’ve put together 10 simple tips to get the most out of your observation sessions.
1) Give your baby all your attention
The most common error, that I've made myself, is to do all kinds of other things while you do observation time. During observation, you observe. That’s all. It’s not the time to cook, fold laundry, or clean the house. You really have to give all your attention to your baby. I know, it’s hard. That’s why I suggest to do 2 to 5 observation sessions. These sessions can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on your schedule.
2) Don’t bring your baby to the potty
It is best to have a good knowledge of your baby’s signal and personal timing before starting to potty her. You will avoid unnecessary visits to the potty. Mis-guesses, as we say in EC lingo/slang, usually confuse and bother babies. We don’t want that. Of course you are excited to start EC, just wait a little more...unless you are 100% sure (like knowing your baby has to poop - in this case, take him).
3) Leave your baby completely naked
Ideally, it’s best you have your baby's bottom naked during observation. As the goal of observation is to identify your child’s signals and natural timing, and build sound association, you have to be able to detect easily and quickly when he/she goes potty. If you leave your baby naked, you will have more precision.
During naked observation time, you can protect baby's surroundings with a waterproof pad. A yoga mat with an old towel works very well. Little boys can be placed on their tummy to avoid the infamous pee fountain. I must say it is easier to limit the mess when your baby is not mobile yet/does not crawl, or at least does not walk. (So if your baby is pre-mobile, start observing now! If your baby is mobile, try the below.)
If leaving your baby naked is not an option, either because they are moving around EVERYWHERE, or for any other reason, you can use absorbent underwear such as Tiny Trainers or a minimalist diaper (sumo-style diaper) made with a flat diaper and a diaper belt. Those light protections will allow you to notice a pee or a poo just by looking or by touching your baby. Avoid absorbent or plastic diapers or trainers, for they will make it impossible for you to notice easily when your baby goes potty.
4) Start after waking or feeding (not out of the blue)
It can be tempting to say: Ok I have time NOW, let’s do observation! However, it is better to start from either a waking or a feeding. Since cycles of sleeping and feeding punctuate our days, it is best to use them as a point of reference for our observation sessions. At some point, visits to the potty will be incorporated into that sequence of events. Using waking or feeding as a starting point will also give you a better idea of your child’s natural timing, which is another important road to potty time.
5) Fill out your observation log
If you haven’t already requested Andrea’s Easy Start Guide, do it now! She will also send you her observation log that will make observation time much easier. Note the time of your starting point: either a feeding or a waking.
When your baby pees or poops, look for her signals. The Go Diaper Free book has a very complete list of potential signals among many explanations on what to expect. If you are not sure what to look for, the book can be very helpful.
Did she started moving her legs? Did she cry? Did she get very still? Note all that in your head, then on your observation log, along with the time it was when she went pee or poo.
6) Build sound associations
Observation sessions are a good moment establish the basis of communication with your baby. When you see your baby is starting to do his business, make the sound association or the signal you want him to learn. You can use sounds like “psss,” grunting, tongue clicking, or a soft whistle. These noises are ideal for younger babies that won’t talk for a while.
You can also use words like “pee” and “poop,” “potty” and “toilet”. You can use sentences like “Mommy/Daddy, peepee” or “Potty, please”. Think about want you would like your child to say in the future when they want to go potty. They will learn by your repetition of this phrase.
Many parents have success using baby sign language. It is recommended to introduce it around 6 months, although babies usually start to sign back to you later, typically around 8 months and up.
7) Quickly change your child
Observation time is the moment to build the foundations of your EC practice. It is the starting point of many learnings. One thing we want to teach our baby is to know the difference between being dry and wet, clean and soiled, and what causes that change of state (that is, elimination).
You may be thinking, "Do I really have to teach my child what is clean and dirty? He knows it, he cries when he is wet!’’ Notice, though, how many older children don’t seem to care that they pee and poop in their diaper and at some point don’t even want to pee and poop outside of the diaper. That makes potty training hard.
But what makes it even harder is when children have no clue that they are peeing (it is extremely rare with poop, but pretty common with pee). They have been used to wearing diapers that are so efficient at staying dry that kids don’t even know the difference between before and after peeing.
Elimination Communication is a great way to keep your child connected with his or her body functions, to learn to recognize and control them from a young age.
This awareness makes potty training easier, if it is even needed.
In order to make your baby understand where wetness comes from, change her diaper or back-up right away. Just after she pees, change her undies or her pad. You baby will also get used to being dry and clean and want to preserve that state (therefore hold better and signal better).
8) Do it even if it’s cold
If you are starting EC in the Fall or Winter, you may wonder if it is wise to do naked observation time during cold weather. They are many ways to keep your baby warm, even if his bottom is naked and your house is cold.
The first tip is warm up the room you are in with a space heater. However, it is not always possible. Sheepskin and wool puddle pads can also help keep a naked baby warm.
Dress your baby in warm clothes: long sleeve shirt, fleece slippers, and even a little hat. Long socks and leg warmers are helpful.
Some clothes are even specially made for Elimination Communication. Split-pants come in a variety of shapes and styles. Open-crotch pants (also called baby chaps or kaidangus) have a large opening at the crotch area. They allow easy access to the potty and usually don’t get wet when a miss happens.
Another kind of split pants have a more discreet opening with overlapping panels. With this kind, parents usually have to help a little bit to open the pants during visits to the potty, but it remains easier than pulling pants up and down.
Split pants are really useful to practice Elimination Communication and even Potty Training. They allow for comfortable observation time and diaper-free time during the cold season, as well as easy use of the potty (during the night, for example). Split pants can also be worn with different kinds of back-ups over them, such as cloth diapers or training pants.
9) Have fun!
This point echoes the first: do nothing else during observation time. Resist the temptation to do something "useful" and enjoy the time spent with your baby to have fun with him. Depending on his age, make him smile, read a story, make funny faces, follow him in his adventures. EC should be fun, so there is no reason that observation wouldn’t be too!
I will always remember my daughter’s first smile at 2 weeks old…on the top hat potty after a poop!
10) Analyze your log.
Finally, once you have done a few observation sessions and you have filled a few log sheets, take time to analyze them.
Try to find patterns. What signals come back often?
What is the interval between the starting point (waking or feeding) and the first pee? What is the interval between the following pee? Does your child poop every day? At what moment?
Is the frequency of pees different in the morning and afternoon? Does it change with seasons? Has it changed since your last observation session?
There is so much to know about your child’s elimination process that you will not be able to know everything. But don’t worry: many parents practice EC with very little information and it still works.
However, if you manage to answer a couple of these questions, you will have a better knowledge of your baby’s signals and natural timing. This will make your EC practice much smoother and successful! Your visits to the potty will be more conclusive, which will be encouraging for you and less confusing for your baby.
(Side note: if you do all the above and observation time is yielding "nothing," read or listen to this article.)
Have I convinced you to do observation time? When will you do it?
If you've already done observation sessions, tell us how it went!
We look forward to seeing you in the comments, below.
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)