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10 Golden Rules for Observation Time…and how important this is during self-isolation AND regular daily life for EC

self isolating do observation time with baby

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:

observation time!

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.

Observation Time baby wearing 12M tiny trainers
6 month old baby wearing 12M Tiny Trainers. They fit very well and absorb enough.
Observation Time diaper free time
2 week old baby doing diaper-free time. This is a simple onesie I cut and sewed.
Observation Time flat diaper
A flat diaper with a Snappi is an excellent option for parents who can't leave their baby naked. This is a La Laiteuse flat.
Observation Time prefolds and bandie band
I also like prefolds and Bandie Band. This prefold is from Bummis (now discontinued).

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.

wool split pants
This is a wool split pants I made by upcycling an old wool dress.

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.

xox Ariane


PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)

Ariane Blais-Lacombe

About Ariane Blais-Lacombe

Ariane is a French-speaking Go Diaper Free Coach. Born and raised in Québec City, she currently lives in Boston with her husband and their four children. Ariane discovered Elimination Communication when her first baby was 3 months old. She started right away and was amazed by the results. Since then, continued to potty her babies (even from birth!) and started to teach infant and toddler potty training, both in French and English.


  1. Avatar Leslie on May 6, 2020 at 12:42 am

    Would love to invest the time to fill up a few observation logs. So brilliant a suggestion to zero in on the pattern although he is getting better at recognizing the feeling of needing to pee before going

    and… Am floored. Absolutely shocked. Never remotely imagined a nonverbal child could choose, and signal, to utilize the toilet, to be so clear without literally saying anything. Thank you for pioneering this method.

    .. looking for ideas on ways to make it through the day with a one year old newly diaper free and a 3 year old who longs to be given way more focus and time :(…. how to ensure the older child still feels loved and wanted, whilst doing meaningful observing/naked time with the younger one is the newest battle.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on May 6, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      Hi Leslie! Yes, babies are so amazing!! See if you can get your 3 year old involved in baby’s potty routine. For observation setting them up with a solo activity, or if you can do it at nap time works. You don’t have to observe for hours on end, 30-60 minutes is plenty. xx Andrea

  2. Avatar Aziel on November 7, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Just began with my very mobile 11 month old 🥴. I feel like I’m a very long ways from being diaper free! This was very helpfuf. Once I do my 2-5 observation times, do I go ahead and give putting him on the potty during the right times and giving him cues a shot? Thank you for all you do!

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on November 10, 2020 at 10:51 pm

      Hi Aziel! Yes, once you have the info you need from observation start offering the potty and cueing. Don’t worry, you’ll have him diaper free before you know it! xx Andrea

  3. Avatar Whit Rini on December 29, 2020 at 11:31 am

    I’m guilty to have skipped this step!! My son is 4.5 mos. we started at 2 months with peeing after nap. We catch 6-10 pees a day and most poops now… even some random times when I guess I use intuition or he gives me a signal. But I’m aiming to learn more about my son & really do a better job of reading him & learning his natural timing. So rather than checking his diaper all the time I know this is an essential step… I guess it’s time to dive in. When he wakes up from this nap we will potty & then begin observation time! Thank you for the encouragement.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on January 6, 2021 at 2:56 am

      Happy to help! 💕

  4. Avatar Valerie on April 23, 2021 at 4:21 pm

    I started EC at 2 weeks old and unfortunately completely skipped this step. Started off with offering potty after every nap & following intuition/timing – mornings were always a win – but as he’s 5-6 weeks old now and sleeping bit longer, he seems to wake up way too hungry & has no patience for a potty or even a quick diaper change (even though he eats better after relieving himself). Basically he wants to do all of it at once from the moment he wakes, signalling both hunger and grunting & squirming for bowel movement. He’s struggled with passing gas & bowel movements since around the same time we started EC (2 weeks) so both feeding and potty time can be quite exhausting for us both.
    Any recommendations or advice? Is it maybe just a phase until he figures out how to use his bowels better? Do I stop the routine of offering potty first and offer after feed instead (although pressure on his stomach sometimes causes spit up), or do I stop altogether for a week and do observation time only?
    Sorry for all the questions. First time mum feeling sometimes like she’s trying to do too much at once but I’d really like to get this going properly as part of our routine.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on April 26, 2021 at 2:32 am

      Hey there!

      Great to see your success so far! I suggest placing him on the tiny potty while you feed him. It may take a bit of practice to manage in the beginning, but eventually you will get the hang of it. Until you become a pro at that you can have your little one, feed a little, offer the potty, then feed some more. ❤️

  5. Avatar Elaine on October 27, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    Hi Andrea,
    I’m planning on starting EC with my 3 month old soon.
    I’ve been observing with diapers on and know her signs when she’s about to go. Can I build sound association with diapers on? And potentially skip the observation time?
    Her poos are explosive so I am nervous about doing it in the hope of seeing a poo.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on November 8, 2021 at 6:10 pm

      Absolutely. In fact there is a great article that one of my coaches wrote about this topic particularly. Here is the link if you want to give it a read.

      • Avatar Elaine on November 8, 2021 at 7:45 pm

        Thanks Andrea.
        Since my post, I decided to use natural timing (Bub always goes after a feed) and she’s seems to understand why she sits on the potty with me.
        We have been catching poos and wees since .. and no accidents on the way to potty (I think she already knows how to hold it).
        She seems to genuinely enjoy going… :)

        • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on November 19, 2021 at 12:26 pm

          Yay! So exciting… keep it up you two!!

  6. Avatar Elaine on October 27, 2021 at 5:34 pm

    Hi there,
    I want to begin EC with my 3 month old shortly (poos only)
    I’ve been doing observation with diapers on and know her signals before she needs to go.
    Can I build sound association with diapers on? And potentially skip observation time?
    Her poos are explosive and I am nervous about doing observation time in the hope of seeing a poo.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on November 8, 2021 at 6:13 pm

      Yes, that is a way. I linked a podcast/article one of my coaches wrote about how she skipped observation time. Here it is again in case you didn’t see it in the other post you made.

  7. Avatar Chameleon on November 26, 2022 at 11:20 am

    We have a seven month old who we’ve been offering the potty to since he was about four weeks old and using cloth as backup. Although he rarely ever pees in his diaper and never poops in one, when he does it’s miserable. As long as we have the ability to change his diaper, it’s not an issue. But if I try to take him for a walk in the stroller for longer than about 45 minutes, he will get very vocal that he has a wet diaper and is extremely displeased about it. How do you manage these longer trips? Do I bring a potty chair with me and stop half way through? Bring extra diapers?

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on November 28, 2022 at 8:09 pm

      A fully stocked diaper / potty bag is a must for longer trips! Keeping backups in stock at hand as well as a top hat potty in the stroller will definitely help!

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