Welcome to the Go Diaper Free Podcast, where we're all about helping you potty your baby as early as birth with elimination communication. I'm your host, Andrea Olson, author and mom of five adorable ECed babies. This is Episode 27, Baby Signals.
Today, we're going to talk about the thing that I get probably the most questions about overall with anything to do with EC, and that's baby signals. How do I know when my baby needs to pee, what if my baby doesn't signal, and how do I teach them to signal? So, we're going to cover all that today very briefly, first with what are the easiest signals to pick up on?
Well, the first one is any kind of shifting from being very active to not being active at all, or being very inactive then switching to agitation and activity. So, we see this a lot. With the various age ranges, I'll sort of go over what signals can look like for each of them. The easiest time to start EC is definitely at birth, so with a new baby ... I definitely demystify this because it sounds kind of overwhelming. I've just had a new baby, how could I possibly potty them?, et cetera. So, I get it. But I'm telling you, babies don't pee or poop that much during the first few days, and they're very, very vocal with their signals within the first three months of being born, during what we call the “4th trimester.” So, it's a really good time to get in tune with baby and to take advantage of when they do actually signal.
Usually, they'll stop signaling during the mobility phases, around four months, starting to roll over, and about five or six months, starting to want to sit up more and beginning to crawl. The signals just frankly go out the window at this moment. It's pretty normal, and it makes sense. If you think about it, if we were an intact culture where we have people living together in little villages, possibly in huts with mud floors, maybe the baby starts to crawl after being held and carried in a sling most of the time. Starts to crawl. Pee-pees on the floor. Mommy shoos the baby out of the hut, says, "No, no, no. Go outside where everybody else goes," and the baby begins to crawl and go and take themselves to where everybody else go to the bathroom.
It's like this cultural thing, that for hundreds of thousands of years, I am pretty certain human beings have done, and I've read accounts of it in various books like the Continuum Concept and Laurie Boucke's Infant Potty Training. There is a lot of evidence that this is the way things happened. So, it makes sense, you guys. If you think about it, at crawling, why would your baby tell you they need to go if they could just crawl outside and take themselves? Oftentimes, babies will crawl to the bathroom door, crawl to the potty, point or look at it, crawl to the door to outside and bang on it. I've seen all of this happen.
So, signals can definitely change when they start to get mobile, but oftentimes, they go away or they become pretty undetectable. The other reason is because babies are developmentally totally preoccupied with so many things and so much rapid development, that signaling to go to the bathroom kind of goes out the window, especially during learning how to crawl and stuff like that. This is all-consuming. We know when a baby's working a task, it is all-consuming. So, signals become less apparent at that time.
So, if you've lost signals, it doesn't mean that your EC stinks. It actually means that this is totally normal, and they will come back.
The most common signals at birth are going to be crying. Within the first three months, you're going to see ... A baby will cry out and look really uncomfortable and get really squirmy and wriggly and shift from being pretty content to being pretty not content. That usually happens pretty shortly after waking up or after nursing.
Usually, a surefire catch with a newborn is going to be when they wake up. Before you nurse, you potty them. They wake, you potty them. You nurse them, or you feed them if you're not able to nurse. And the first uncomfortable sort of shift after nursing is 100% of the time a signal that they need to go to the bathroom. Usually, you will catch something at that time. So, that's a really good signal for a newborn.
For a mobile baby, you've got, like I just said, moving towards the potty space or the potty. You've got shifting from one way of being to another, so active to really inactive. Staring off into space. Things like that. Something shifts, and you couple this with your knowledge of your baby's particular unique rhythms. “That looks like a signal."
There's also something during the mobile baby phases of 6 to 12 months where you've got signs replacing signals. So, the sign...How many of you know when your baby is pooping? I thought so. Whether you're doing EC or not, you're typically aware of when they're pooping, right? So, at that beginning sign of bearing down and grimacing, which is a very common signal or sign that they need to go, you can gently say, "Wait," take them off to the potty and have them finish there, if they have started at all. Sometimes, you'll see that sign before they've even really started to get it out, and you have plenty of time, and then they'll start to expect that you're going to take them.
Then we've got the young toddler stage, where they are beginning to walk. Oftentimes during that walking task, learning how to do that is all-consuming. So, after walking is a really good time to ditch diapers, and I'll go into that more in another episode...how and when to do that. But basically, you've got a child who has entered the Montessori sensitive period for toilet learning, and this is from 12 to 18 months. It's a great time to start EC and to wrap up EC, and if you've already been doing EC, it's a great time to wrap it up. Definitely veer on the earlier part of this timeframe, for sure.
So, with this period, the signal becomes the pee-pee dance that we see with two and three-year-olds who are potty training. You see that they will grab their crotch, grab their diaper, grab their underwear, grab their pants, grab their bottom, and maybe even start to undress, try to pull off their pants. That is a signal, definitely, and you’ll want to take them at that time.
During this time, you can teach them how to signal. You do this by consistency. When you prompt them to go, “it's time to go pee.” You can use sign language, which is your thumb in-between your first and second fingers, making a little fist with your thumb sticking out, and you shake it side to side. It's basically the letter “T” in American Sign Language - shaking it side to side means “toilet.” You can show them that, and you can say, "Pee-pee time," or "Pee-pee," or something very simple. If you use the same words and gestures or just moving to the toilet saying something that you want to become their signal eventually, and with this way of prompting consistently, they will eventually signal with whatever you teach them to signal.
So, it's just like when a child starts to throw a fit instead of saying "Help, please." I would say to the child, "Help, please," to give them a language for what they're experiencing. Well, when they show a pee-pee dance, and you think it's pretty clear that they need to go, then you want to give them the language for that. That becomes their signal so they can replace the whining with, "Help, please," or they can replace the crying with, "Up, please." - they want to be picked up. They can replace going in their pants with, "Potty," or "Pee-pee," or "Poo-poo," or whatever you choose to be their signal.
So, we can definitely teach them during the months of 12 to 18 months - it's a really good time to teach them to signal, and generally, you guys, signaling does come back into the picture at those ages. So, don't give up. Just because your baby doesn't signal doesn't mean that EC will not work.
I always teach, in my book and my website and everywhere I teach, The 4 Roads to Potty Time. They include:
- baby signals, if any
- natural timing - so, how often they go after waking or feeding
- your own intuition as the parent - so it crosses your mind, it occurs to you. Maybe you have a dream in the middle of the night that they need to go to the bathroom. That's intuition.
- and the fourth way is transition time. So, common times most babies need to go to the bathroom - when being taken out of the baby carrier, or you typically will want them to go before you go on a long road trip. Things like that. So, transition times are also a good way to do EC.
Baby signals is only one of four. If it doesn't work out, don't worry. Be committed to prompting consistently, teaching them their future signal word, and get to know the most commons signals. I do have the most popular ones listed out on my Easy Start Guide, which you can get at godiaperfree.com/start. It's a super low commitment, one-pager download that will teach you the basics so you can kind of wrap your head around what are the four most important parts of EC, how does this look, how does this work, how do I hold my baby. It's pretty awesome. Hope you'll go over there and grab it.
That's all I have to say about baby signals. All babies signal really well when they're born. Most babies stop signaling for a while, or it really drastically changes, and then when you've got a young toddler who you're wrapping things up with, you could totally teach them to signal in a way that you guys both understand the communication.
So, hopefully, that helps you to understand signals. I encourage you to do EC with or without them. Definitely join me next week, where we'll talk about another topic about elimination communication.
If you have any ideas of things that you want me to talk about, just shoot me an email at email@example.com. I would love to hear what you want to hear on this podcast. Please subscribe on iTunes at godiaperfree.com/itunes. Definitely leave me a review, let me know how things are going, and if you have any ideas for future episodes, you could leave them there too. I check out all that regularly.
The show notes for this particular session will be found at godiaperfree.com/27, so anything I've mentioned as far as freebies and downloads and stuff during this podcast, you can go over to the website and check them out there. Leave a comment if you have a question. I love hearing from you.
That's it. This is the Go Diaper Free Podcast with Andra Olson, and I'll see you next week!
Great episode, Andrea. I really appreciate this clear and concise format as it is easy to fit in to a busy day!
Thanks for your feedback, Emma! So glad you like the format!! xox Andrea
Great episode! Thanks for all of the useful information.
My baby is 4.5 months and we’ve been doing EC for around 2 months. She doesn’t really signal when she has to pee, it just comes out. But I know when she has to poo. After waking up, after breastfeeding, usually before we start to put her to sleep. Usually with pees I just guess and try and it usually works.
Never give up!
You are so welcome, Kristan!! <3 You gals are doing great!
Love this episode! Perfect length. Your info is very helpful for me! I’ve learned a lot from you! My baby girl is 6 1/2 months. So close to crawling! EC is going really well, I’m not sure if she’s signaling a lot right now, but something’s working. We seem to be communicating well! We catch a lot of the pees, and mostly all the poos since starting solids a few short weeks ago.
I wouldn’t mind a little more on EC while out and about. Any little tips on making it work best. :)
Hey Bethany! Awesome! Yeah, EC is about the two-way communication, that doesn’t necessarily include a clear signal. It still works. :) For EC on outings, I have a lot of info in my book – https://godiaperfree.com/thebook – and also an add-on minicourse – https://godiaperfree.com/minicourses/outandabout – lots of resources to hopefully make it easier for ya!! xx Andrea
From month 4 to 6, baby would often signal with a “crrrr” sound (especially while breastfeeding and looking straight into my eyes). Now, she’s started scratching her diaper when she needs to go. It’s much more subtle since her little hands are always busy wiggling around!
That is soooo cute!!! Thanks for sharing Jessica <3
My LO is now 14 months, but we’re still not having great success. Don’t get me wrong I’m super glad when we do catch, but it’s only about 60% of the time. I know we should be looking at wrapping up at this age, but I think I need to do more research on it. She’s also currently getting three teeth!! (Wow) so EC as well as sleeping through the whole night is a bit of a struggle right now along with solid foods and pretty much everything but playing and nursing. BUT when she does tell me she has to go, it’s still grunts for botb. I’m considering moving the potty into our living room as we have a baby gate up as mom works while watching the little and the potty is in her room…. Any thoughts appreciated!! Thanks Andrea. I have found your content helpful during our EC journey!!
That must be a lot for you to handle right now! Sometimes teething can really interrupt life:( but 60% of the time is majority so that means you’re getting closer to 100!
My daughter grunted for pee and poop until like 20 months. Keep honoring her cues and taking her when she does signals. Try your idea of moving the potty to the room, it may work!
Thank you!! That’s good to know. I think I’ll give it a shot!
I totally agree with Diana (she is one of our Certified Coaches – do reach out to her if you need more personalized help and she and you can get on the phone!)….60% is the majority! Stop counting, for now, and start CONNECTING. She is going thru a lot and you can best support her thru transition times right now…and going with what signals ARE there (vs. hoping for some other signal that is not there, to appear). You might consider doing a potty training experience by 15 months to wrap it all up. I think you’ll be successful! Get my PT book and read up in the meanwhile – https://godiaperfree.com/potty-training-book :) xx Andrea
Great episode! Exactly what I needed to hear. My lo is almost 4 months and I’m currently struggling recognizing any signals for pee. She seems to be holding her bladder longer; my timing will be way off with when she actually needs to go. Poop is much easier. She really doesn’t like to have a poopy diaper so she tries harder to let me know and I normally catch 100% of poos.
I love hearing about how your EC is going with Twyla. Have you experienced any regression from your other kids following her birth? I am currently trying to bounce back from a regression from my 2 1/2 year old boy. Any tips there appreciated.
I am looking forward to more podcasts from you. You have excellent advice and always encourage me to keep at it! Thank you!
Hey Tiffany! So glad this has helped you. 100% poops at 4 months old is AWESOME. Seriously. You are still learning each other. It seems completely normal. :)
No, no regression from her birth, but definitely some more accidents because MY attention is divided. So, I enlist help from my older ones and we often potty together, all at the same time. Baby first, then 2 yo, then the next, me, etc. You get the picture. For your 2 1/2 year old…involve him in a meaningful way, in all the baby care, as you are able, and you may see things turn around. Also getting him a new potty of some sort can add incentive. :) Thanks for your feedback – I’ll keep at it so you feel continually encouraged! xx Andrea
My boy is almost 4 months. Some times I know certain signals is poppping off the breast when nursing. He’s aslo very predictable in the morning. 7:00 on the dot starts crying and wiggling in his sleep— he just needs to poo. So I potty him then. And he goes back to sleep; it’s been like that since birth. Sometimes he randomly whines or cries during playtime as a cue for pee as well. Starting for birth definitely paid off— his signals were SO clear as a newborn it was amazing.
Agreed, hands-down! Congrats on your new baby, btw!!! <3 You've got this nailed...and I'm sure you'll continue to enjoy the ebbs and flows as he grows up. xx Andrea
At 6M old, Katherine is crawling and boogying and loves to play. She will get either super still or super squirmy as her main signal. Otherwise we are relying on natural timing (1 hour unless she has recently woken up) and transition times. Hoping she will start crawling better soon and realize she can crawl towards the potty as a cue.
Oh it most definitely will happen! Glad you’re aware of that signal…crawling to the potty is such a good one. :) Congrats on your progress and deep knowing of one another! <3 Andrea
Congratulations on your new addition. I love listening to your podcasts and all the fantastic information. I’m always aware of my son looking towards me if he wants a feed and he looks away from me or at the door if he’s wanting the potty. As you talked about in one of the podcasts – he had a potty pause around 6 months and although he’s back to using the potty again – he sometimes doesn’t want to sit down anymore or he’ll sit on the toilet but not the potty. I’m not sure why. Congratulations with your new potty too. Thanks.
Thank you, Heather! Congrats to you too for LO getting thru the potty pause. I think they often want to sit where the big people (you) sit…this is a pretty normal preference change as they get older. <3 Andrea
Thank you for this episode, Andrea. I loved that the format is short and straight to the point. It’s so simple and obvious to look for a uncomfortable sign but I didn’t before listening to this! I was just looking for specific signs and was not looking at the whole picture. This episode made all the difference for us. She’s 3 months old and we started 2 weeks ago. I went from 1 catch a day for 9 catches just after listening to your tips! Thank you!
You are so welcome, Laissa! Yeah, I think the point is, the baby is getting uncomfortable and that can come across in a variety of forms. The big picture. Thanks for further clarifying for me, too. :) Wow on the success jump already! Congrats on starting and stick with it! xx Andrea
Hi! Thank you for the episode.
I’m having a really hard time now with EC it was going really well until he turned 10 months and began crawling and now trying to walk at 12 months. We used to catch 100% now maybe 40% :( I was feeling like I was doing something wrong or there was something wrong with him. I feel desperate at some points I hope it all works in the end. But it’s hard to understand why it would suddenly stop.
Happy to help! ❤️
Thanks for sharing this :) My second is 5 months and we want to start EC but we never had any signals at all when he was smaller – I found your website and podcast before he was born and it said we would see really obvious signals from birth but we did not. We aren’t first timers either. Is it possible that our baby doesn’t show signals? What could we do if there are none?
That is so hard sometimes! In my book Go Diaper Free I go over what signals can sometimes look like. There are so many and many times it’s so subtle it’s incredibly easy to miss. At 5 months he is still super young and going through many milestones that can affect his EC journey. You are doing great and you got this momma!!!