Why EC works
Elimination Communication often puzzles new parents because it doesn’t fit in with what we have heard or seen about parenting. In our culture, babies wear diapers. They wear diapers all day long, all night long. Babies have a diaper on their butt practically from the moment they are born until they are “ready” to potty train, usually around age 3.
(Learn here why “readiness” is a myth.)
To reinforce this diapering habit and delay potty training, we are told things like:
- babies have no awareness of their elimination
- young toddlers can’t use a potty
- kids under two don’t have bladder and sphincter control.
These messages come from family and friends, caregivers and pediatricians, books and parenting blogs. When people we trust say such things, we tend to believe them. Therefore, we wait and wait and wait before we introduce our children to the potty.
Elimination Communication is based on a different vision of the child than the one we usually have in contemporary Western cultures. EC parents firmly believe that their babies can feel, control, and communicate their elimination needs. We try to answer their basic hygienic need by offering the potty to them.
EC can start as early as birth. It can be practiced full-time or part-time, in combination with diapers or not.
What parents love most about Elimination Communication is that it helps them understand their child and strengthen their relationship with them.
To understand why EC works, we need to forget everything we heard about full-time diapering and delayed potty training for a second. If we change our paradigm for a moment, we can see that EC actually makes a lot of sense. Let’s look at 4 reasons this is true.
The four basic principles of natural infant hygiene
Natural infant hygiene (another term for elimination communication) is based on four basic principles that explain why EC works. (Maybe learning these four principles will inspire you to start pottying your baby sooner than you thought.)
1. Babies can feel they need to go
When babies are born, everything is new for them. The cold air, the bright light, the loud sounds. The world is a scary place for tiny humans. That’s why it’s so important to cuddle them and carry them skin-to-skin. By submerging ourselves and our newborns in a dark and calm environment, we re-create the sensations of the womb.
We know babies can become upset when their diaper is wet or dirty, but few of us know that babies can feel the need to eliminate BEFORE it happens. This feeling is especially strong for newborns, since defecating is a totally new sensation for them (babies don’t poop in their mother’s womb).
Just like digestion and gassiness can make newborns uncomfortable, the feeling of elimination can also cause a strong reaction. Young babies will express this sensation in a particularly vocal way in their first few weeks and months of life. They might scream or cry not before they are wet or dirty but because they NEED to go NOW.
Of course, it’s not a clear sensation for them. Babies don’t have the full cognitive capacity to understand what is happening in their body. Nonetheless, they do feel it. Newborns do feel their need to pee or poop.
Want to start EC with your new baby? Get the minicourse Baby Meets Potty. It is specially made for babies 0-3 months old!
However, this sensation can be lost if it is not encouraged by frequent or occasional potty visits. We have created disposable diapers with such an efficient stay-dry effect that babies completely lose the sensation of eliminating. Then they become toddlers, and after that preschoolers, who have no clue when they pee or poo.
The ongoing habit of constantly wearing highly efficient diapers for 2-3-4 years leads kids to disconnect themselves from their bodily functions, namely elimination. That’s why potty training can be so hard with older kids. They just have no clue what’s going on.
Starting early with even occasional visits to the potty (upon waking, after meals, before bath) will keep your baby connected and conscious of the feeling of his own elimination.
Yes, you CAN start EC even if your baby is older than 6 months! It’s never too late to start infant potty training. You just have to adapt the method to the age and development of your baby.
Learn how to potty train at different ages in this blog post.
2. Babies can express they need to go
We used to believe babies were simple. Feed them, change them. What else could they need?
Fortunately, we now know babies are highly complex individuals, with both physical and emotional needs. This ancient wisdom has made a comeback under the name attachment parenting. This parenting approach encourages parents to be fully aware of their babies’ needs and to try to satisfy them as soon as they arise, or, even better, before.
Whether or not you practice attachment parenting, it’s good to recognize the variety of babies’ needs and the ways they can express them. We know babies try to communicate with us when they are hungry, tired, cold, wet, etc.
Well, it happens they also express signals before they need to go potty. These signals are often confused with other primal needs because their communication capacities are not as refined as ours. Indeed, a baby may be crying for various reasons.
However, many EC parents report that their babies have specific ways to communicate about their elimination. Yes, babies DO tell their parents about this very specific need.
Their capacity to communicate will get better as our babies grow in age and in developmental stages. Newborns may just scream or cry when they need to poop. But older babies can grab their crotch, crawl towards the bathroom, or point the potty. When they get better at communication in verbal and non-verbal ways, they may use baby sign language or simply say the words “peepee, poopoo, or potty.”
If you want to learn more about baby signals and other pottytunities, I strongly recommend Andrea’s Easy Start Guide. Read it, print it, put it on your fridge. It’s a great tool all EC families should have. (And it’s free!)
3. Babies can control their need to go
Watch out. We are about to explore the most counter-cultural EC premise.
“Babies get uncomfortable when they have to go. Ok, I can get on board with that. Babies may cry because of it. Sure, that still makes sense. But come on, there is no way they can control it!”
Yes. Babies can control their elimination.
Any EC parent will tell you that their baby can control his sphincter and bladder. Even if your doctor tells you babies can’t hold it, when you witness it every day, how can you doubt it? Natural infant hygiene is the norm throughout cultures and history. Babies across all of human history have been born with the ability to control their sphincters.
If you are interested in the cultural variations of EC practice, listen to Andrea’s podcast series “How people potty their babies in countries without diapers”. It is fascinating!
Now, I’m not saying a newborn can hold his pee for hours. Far from that. Babies’ capacity to control their elimination is very limited at first. Chances are you will have some misses.
As your baby gets older, and especially when a baby is given regular opportunities to use the toilet, he or she will get better and better at it. Just like their sensation and their communication skills get better with practice and habit, so will their control over their bladder and sphincter muscles...and how long they can wait before releasing.
4. Babies want to remain clean and dry
No matter how sophisticated the human species is, we remain mammals with primal needs and instincts. This is especially important when we try to understand babies. Because they are so new in the world, they are much more influenced by nature than by culture.
Babies don’t like being wet or soiled. That’s why they cry when their diaper is full. But that’s not the only thing. As mammals, human babies have the instinct to not soil themselves and the people who care for them. Aren’t they well-made?
So to recap, we saw that babies can feel their elimination, they can communicate about it, and they can control it.
Now I’m telling you that not only can they do all these things, but they will do them because they want to.
Still skeptical? Tell me if this scenario is familiar. Your baby cries, but her diaper is dry. The second you remove the diaper, your baby pees on the changing table. That is their instinct at work. They want to remain clean and dry, so they wait for you to remove their diaper to do their thing.
As we put all the above 4 reasons together, we start seeing that EC makes a lot of sense. If we can decode our baby and offer the potty at the right moment, our baby will take this opportunity to relieve himself in an appropriate place. This will allow him to remain dry and clean more often and for longer periods of time.
As weeks and months go by, our baby will get better at communicating and holding it. We parents will also begin to know our babies better, and we will get better at EC, too.
If you have a hard time pottying your baby at the “right” moment, the Potty Time Master Minicourse is just for you. It will help you find the right moment to offer the potty, even if your baby doesn’t signal his or her need to go!
I often hear parents say they don’t want to pressure their baby to use the potty. And I totally understand that. But the thing is…we don’t have to pressure them. Infant potty learning is the most normal, natural, and satisfying way to respond to our babies’ hygienic needs, no pressure necessary.
These premises may not make lots of sense in our culture right now, but they do when we examine them alongside the experience of all the EC parents around the world and across time. It is our mission at Go Diaper Free to bring back this knowledge and to integrate it into mainstream parenting...for the good of all parents and babies!
Now I’d love to hear from you:
Why do you think EC works? Anything I’ve missed?
Please comment below!
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)