Q: I have been on this EC journey since the birth of our daughter. All was going peachy until around 9 months. Since then she has pretty much flat out refused to go and has stopped signaling. We did the re-set per what we read on your forum. And we have done the reintroduction to the letter and all very compassionately and easy-going.
The problem we are having, beyond her refusing the potty and not signaling anymore, is constipation! We did the reintroduction about one month ago and ever since we have been dealing with the constipation.
It seems there is so much apprehension around the potty that she will hold it for days, then it is hard and painful, which is setting up its own cycle of avoidance of bowel movements. The few times I could tell she had to poo and I ignored her and allowed her to go in her underwear she went just fine.
Help, Andrea! I am about to give up for the sake of my daughter's bowel health. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to turn things around, or is it better for some babies to (cloth) diaper them up and wait until they are older for potty training? ~R.C., San Diego, CA, USA
A: R.C....thank you so much for sending in your question. This can't be easy and I really feel for what you and your family are going through right now.
Let's first look at a few things that affect constipation. But my overwhelming feeling is that she is withholding poop due to some emotion-based reason.
What constipates babies?
Let's go through the list, shall we? From my top pick to the least likely.
1. Emotions + Hyperfocus on pottying - The anus is a sphincter muscle, and just as the cervix opens or closes quite readily during labor, depending upon your level of privacy and the presence other bothersome things in the laboring room, it can shut due to purely emotional reasons...and stay shut for uncomfortably long periods of time.
Potty pauses are (90% of the time) caused by potty-centeredness. We all do it at one point or another. Don't sweat it, but do shift it.
If you are, in any way, shape or form, hyperfocusing on pottying (ie: does it come up the entire day long, and more than other things?), or are excessively worried about it (which it seems you might be), she'll detect this and might begin withholding poop.
This is actually what I think is going on. Although some level of constipation is normal for all toddlers who are potty training, it looks like your 9 month old is responding in the same way.
Your focus should immediately shift to:
- relaxing yourself
- laying off the EC by stopping offering so often, stepping back a bit, focusing outward to see the whole baby
- addressing the potty pause, and
- helping your baby relax again.
Most of us ECing parents are so invested in EC "working" (or continuing to work after it has worked well for so long) that we (if even internally) freak out when it goes awry. After the long potty pause you've been through and then the re-set, it must feel utterly disappointing that potty business is not returning to normal.
Again, 90% of potty pauses are caused by over-focusing on the whole pottying (or resistance) process, and possibly overall hovering in every parent-baby arena. You are not the only one, if this is indeed what's happening!
Truly look at yourself and your potty attitude and patterns throughout the day and see if this pressure (unseen, unheard, unintended, but definitely felt) is the culprit of the constipation.
Again, ask yourself: does it seem like pottying is on your mind all day, every day?
2. Food + Drink - I've got a question for ya...when did you start your daughter on solids? IF it was very recently, then this might be the source of the constipation (especially if combined with #1 above).
If not, then make sure that your daughter is not dehydrated. Is she getting enough liquids throughout the day?
Additionally, look at any recent changes in her diet. Has she begun eating (or increased her intake of) any of the following foods? Bananas, rice, a lot more dairy than usual, low-fiber foods, applesauce, cereals, breads, pasta, and/or white potatoes.
You can reverse the constipating effects of the above list of food (besides just stopping the feeding of those foods, one by one, til you find the culprit) by adding any of the following to the diet: strained or juiced apricots, prunes, peaches, plums, pears, peas, and spinach.
(NOTE: Always consult your doctor before attempting anything suggested in this post....I am not a doctor.)
3. Medical Issues - I'm obviously no expert on this one, but here's what I found on BabyCenter:
Though it's uncommon, constipation can be caused by an underlying medical condition such as hypothyroidism, some metabolic disorders, some food allergies and botulism. If your baby passes hard, painful stools, you'll want her doctor to check her out, just to make sure. -Babycenter.com, 2012
Baby Constipation Remedies
You can use infant massage techniques, diet change, warm baths, bicycle leg exercises, and rehydration to battle baby constipation...but in your situation I truly do think it's emotional and caused by unintentional potty-centeredness.
What does EC have to do with your baby's constipation?
Well, based on your recollection and telling of the story, it sounds like the constipation began after you did the re-set with her. It might've been an emotional experience for her, whether you were super-gentle and compassionate or not (though I see that you were).
EC, when done without hovering, is just one of a handful of ways we meet our babies' basic needs. It will not cause constipation.
If it did, over 1/2 the world's babies would be constipated (and, frankly, no one would be pottying their babies!).
Over-emphasis or potty-centeredness will cause constipation.
Excessive emotion and nerves around pottying will cause constipation.
Too much investment in her own, private processes (and the outcomes of those, and oh my, what will people think!) will cause constipation.
Again, this is my guess...and I may be wrong...so if you honestly assess your situation and find this to not be the case, forgive my harping on this note. (But, maybe it'll help someone else with the same problem!)
So, should you stop ECing?
If you have been spending your whole day thinking about pottying, and you can't find a way to back off without giving up the whole shebang, then you should quit ECing and non-coercively potty train her at 18 months.
If you are able to back off from EC, address the potty pause (because I know how much that has sucked for you), and adjust your focus to include the whole child and her whole set of needs, then you should absolutely continue ECing her.
Whether you choose to go back to full-time diapering and potty train at 18 months, or you choose to continue ECing and patiently resolve the potty pause and constipation, you will NOT damage your child if you:
- choose one clear path (EC or potty training)
- commit to that path (do NOT go back and forth...no ambivalence please)
- remain consistent with that decision (match your actions with your words and plans)
- do all of this with confidence and without excessive emotion (this might take some practice)
...no matter whether you choose EC or potty training.
Lastly, don't share that you EC with other people. It is something that can make any child stop in her tracks.
Lastly, I see that you already have my book and private support group. Feel free to post your further questions on the private support forum for even more help, should this blog post not resolve your full array of questions. That's what I'm here for.
Thanks for your question, R.C.!
Please post any of your tips, advice, stories, or experiences with potty pauses or baby constipation in the comments below.