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No signals, no patterns: What to do when observation time yields nothing

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Today, we're going to talk about what to do when you get no signals, no patterns, no natural timing...no nothing...no rhythm, no intervals...from observation time when doing Elimination Communication.

Whether you are just starting EC, or you are trying to get an update on your baby’s current signals and natural timing because things simply aren't working out lately, doing observation with no results is super frustrating you guys!!

I have some helpful tips for you today that will hopefully both lift your spirits and get you feeling confident about doing EC again.

Don’t give up

First thing I want to say is: don't give up!

Your baby not signaling does not mean that

       (a) you're a bad parent

       (b) your baby is broken, or

       (c) EC is not working.

I want you to know that this is totally normal and it does not mean that you need to stop doing EC.

Work with reality, not against it

The next thing I want you to do is to work with reality, not against it.

The reality is, your kid doesn't signal right now. So what? No big deal. It's actually totally 100% normal and it's part of most people's EC process. 

The reality is, you're not seeing signals because if we lived in an intact community, in an indigenous culture, these babies wouldn't need us to help them with potty time anymore.

For example, when we're wearing them in a sling they would fuss, we would pull them out, point and shoot, put them back in the sling.

But then after they're crawling and walking, they're off! Why would they need us to help them?

The reason you lose signals and you lose the ability to find any kind of pattern during these heavy developmental periods of crawling and walking is because our babies have no biological need to do that anymore. 

They don't need your help any more - great!

However, in our modern society it would be great if they did signal - because then we’d receive validation that we're a good parent.

Everybody we're telling won't think we're crazy anymore because they'll see the baby signal (and it'll also be a lot less messy). 

I want you to know right now that all of this is 100% normal, and it is your current reality. Don't work against reality.

If you try to fight reality, you are going to lose, and you will also prevent reality from changing by not accepting it.

This is a very zen concept...stick with me!

Use the two other roads to potty time

The other thing I suggest is that you use the two other “roads to potty time” during these phases.

The four roads to potty time, as delineated in my book, are:

  1. baby’s signals
  2. baby’s natural timing, rhythm, and pattern
  3. generic timing, or transition times - those times when most babies need to go, like before and after going into something, maybe when waking up, maybe during a diaper change, etc.
  4. your intuition.

Since you're not finding signals and you're not finding a clear natural timing pattern, then I want you to use the other two roads to potty time: transition times and intuition.

And specifically within this category of transition times, because you're probably like, "Andrea, I don't even have intuition right now, I have no confidence about this. How could I possibly figure this out?"

...I want you to...

Rely on the 4 Easy Catches

Rely on the four easy catches during this time of no signals and not knowing baby’s patterns.

By the time your child's two or three, they're going to start signaling - and probably well before that. But let's not count on it because that would introduce pressure into our scene, and we don't want pressure in the scene. 

So like I said, the two other roads to potty time are transition times and intuition. Part of the category of transition times is, very simply, what I call the four easy catches:

  1. When you see a poop start you gently say, "Wait". Transfer them to the potty and have them finish there.
  2. When the baby wakes up, you offer.
  3. During a diaper change, offer, even if the backup or diaper is already wet.
  4. Before putting them in something, we offer just so they're comfortable. And when taking them out, we offer. Usually they have to go at these times...and then they'll be more comfortable and play longer independently after having gone potty.

So, during these times we don't want to fight reality and we want to use what works:

the 4 Easy Catches work.

Would you give up if…?

Would you give up feeding if your baby did not signal when they were hungry? If they were just crying about everything and you couldn't figure out which one's for feeding, would you just stop feeding them?

No. 

Would you give up if your baby doesn't signal to sleep, and doesn't say very clearly, "I am tired and I want to nap?" Would you just give up sleep, give up offering them naps?

No, you wouldn't. 

I'm being a little bit facetious because I want you to get the big picture here. It's just like feeding and sleeping. If your baby doesn't signal for pottying, would you give up offering?

No.

And maybe you have no idea what you're doing, but that's okay. Rely on what I've already told you today.

(If you're totally lost, get my book right now if you don't have it, and read it. Or, listen to it.)

What’s going wrong?

Why are you not getting any signals or patterns? What’s going wrong here?

Well first of all, you might be misinterpreting what you're seeing. Maybe somebody else would see it and you wouldn't, which is fine because you've never done this before.

It may be “ALL CRY” with your baby - every single signal for every single need is a cry. How do you discern all that crying?

I would recommend that you look into Dunstan Baby Language. The specific sound for “discomfort” is the one I think most closely relates to the “I need to pee” signal - especially for a baby who's just “all cry.” 

Next...maybe the signal is so subtle that you aren't picking up on it, which is fine. We live in a distraction-full society. We want to limit our distractions - and maybe then we’ll be able to see signals and patterns.

Maybe you're sleep deprived like me. I haven't slept a full night in 10 years (and I'm not proud of it). But, I don't sleep well when I'm pregnant, and then I don't really do a lot of sleep training, unfortunately. We kind of roll with it, and I would probably do some things differently in retrospect if it meant I could have gotten me more sleep!

But if you're in the same boat as me, and you're sleep deprived, I guarantee you it's going to be really hard to pick up on much of anything. Definitely important to try to get some sleep.

Stay the course

No matter what, I want you to stay the course. Even if you have no idea why things are going wrong, you can't figure it out, you can't troubleshoot it...just relax. It's okay. 

A lot of developmental change is happening right now in the background for your baby. They're rolling, they're crawling, they're sitting, they're creeping, they're standing, they're walking. There's a lot going on there.

Some babies really need to focus on all of that, yet some are super-easy, like, "Cool, things are changing and I'm going to be with you on this potty process.

Your baby’s level of distraction or cooperation depends on their temperament and how much is going on in the background - but it doesn't mean just to stop EC because you aren't finding any signals or patterns.

I want you to lead this process for the time being, and if that means to be parent-led for quite a while until they start to communicate back, that's fine.

Create a routine

What rhythm would work for you? Pretend for a second that you have five kids like me. I thrive on rhythms.

Pretend like you have twins. I've heard twin moms say that they thrive on rhythms and routines. Everything has a schedule and a routine, otherwise they would get completely lost.

I'm the same way with so many kids. 

If you only have one or two kids, it's still hard - I feel you, I've been there. Find a routine and rhythm that works for you throughout your day, and then insert feeding, insert sleeping, and insert potty time into that rhythm that you create.

Babies, and mamas, and families, and daddies - we all thrive on rhythms and routines.

[Btw, we're not talking about newborns in this part...breastfeeding on demand with a newborn? I totally agree with that. The baby sets that rhythm and I like to follow their lead in the beginning. But with mobile babies and young toddlers, I think the parent should set the routine for everyone’s sake.

I totally agree with heavy attachment parenting in the beginning months, because newborn babies need everything right now.

Newborns signal more clearly. With them, using the four easy catches is super important. This gets you into a rhythm and routine: when this newborn baby wakes up I'm going to take him.

So not to confuse you, I'm not saying to hyper-schedule a newborn’s day.]

However, if you've got an 8 month old, or a 13 month old, and you're drowning in, "I have no idea what I'm doing with pretty much anything" (again, I've been there.)...the best thing I can tell you is to create a routine or a rhythm that works for you.

Create it, write it out, pretend like you have a billion kids and you HAVE TO be organized...and you will rise to the occasion.

Your baby doesn’t need to signal to do EC

I repeat, your baby does NOT need to signal for you to do EC. You can be 100% successful with EC with no signals, no patterns, no knowledge of natural timing,

  • just by doing the four easy catches, transition times, and by following your own intuition
  • just by creating rhythm and routine, and inserting potty time in places where it makes sense
  • just by getting feedback from your baby of what's working and what's not working, troubleshooting, and doing what works for you. 

I know that's kind of like a cop-out answer but I'm telling you, everybody's experience is different. I can't just give you a cookie cutter, "This is what your journey's going to look like."

But...I can tell you that I have seen thousands, and thousands, and thousands of parents do EC fine with no signals...and in ALL cases, the child eventually starts signaling, sometimes a while after they've wrapped up EC.

Finally it starts to happen and everyone says, "Oh, this is so much easier." But I want you to know that EC still works out in the meanwhile leading up to that day! 

Again, if we were living something like 300,000 years ago in a community setting, our babies wouldn't need us to help them go potty anymore. Why would they signal, why would they try to stick to a pattern? They're just going to do what they do, and take themselves.

Find the range

Now for what else you can do.

If you aren't finding signals or patterns, I want you to use observation time to find the range.

So, we want to find the window; the range between all the occurrences. If your baby pees after 20 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 70, then 40, that means your range is “15 to 70 minutes.” This is great information. Now you know your baby’s capability

My baby held it for 70 minutes the other day. I declared out loud, "Oh my gosh, you're 13 months old, this is crazy." So, 70 minutes is her max capability of holding it if she so chooses. 15 minutes is just about her minimum, so now I know a range.

I don’t offer every 20 minutes because that wouldn't work for my baby - she doesn't do that. But, I do know that between 15 and 70 minutes is her overall range. I know her max capability.

It's good information...it's just bonus points. During observation time you can find the range, and that's always a good thing to know.

Try again in a few months

The other thing I want you to do is to do observation time again in a few months. Be super lower pressure about it.

There may never be signals or patterns in a few months, and that's okay, too. But, if you try again in a month or two you might learn something new.

And you'll probably learn that the upper limit capability has changed...that it's gotten bigger. And, the lower minimum may have gotten bigger as well. I guarantee you will learn something.

Continue what works for you - and relax!

The last thing I want you to do is just please, mama, daddy, etcetera - please continue. Continue on, continue forward. Continue to do what works for you and relax. 

Remember that your baby not signaling does not mean that you're a bad parent, it does not mean that your baby is broken, and it does not mean that EC is not working.

It just means you're human, your baby is human, and you guys just need to sync up in whatever way is working, and move forward with that.

If that means creating this artificial-feeling routine and rhythm to your day, great. That's your job as a parent - to provide that for your child. It's going to give you both so many gifts.

And please stop saying, "Oh, I really wished EC would look like this." Let go of that. Stop fighting reality. Accept the reality that is.

It's like Byron Katie says: "Love what is."

Because this is your reality, we're going to go with it, move with it, and know that in a month it's going to change anyway.

Are you in the “no signals, no patterns” crowd? What are you going to do TODAY to work with that reality? Please mingle with us in the comments below.

 

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

Andrea Olson

About Andrea Olson

I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my husband and 5 children (newborn to 8 years old) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)

18 Comments

  1. Avatar Lynnzi B. on February 4, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    Thank you for this :) What is the age range of a “newborn” when is a baby no longer considered a newborn? My little has not been signaling either so I have been following the 4 steps to easy catches and it works. Sometimes we have great days and sometimes we have lots of misses. But saving any number of diapers is great!

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on February 4, 2020 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Lynnzi! In EC we consider birth to 6 months old a newborn. It’s great you are using the easy catches! Keep an eye out for a signal, things are constantly changing with babies. xx Andrea

  2. Avatar Halliday on February 4, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    Hi Andrea! We have always struggled to catch poops, which is usually an easy one for most families. Our baby doesn’t have any patterns (or they change all the time) and she doesn’t signal. It usually happens so fast that as soon as I hear it, it’s over. Any advice?

    • Avatar Kathryn on February 4, 2020 at 8:53 pm

      My guy, too. We’ve actually potty trained with your method (yay!) starting at 16.5 mos. and at 19 mos. getting the poo in the potty rarely happens. Same reasons as Halliday (with you there!) Any thoughts?

      • Avatar Andrea Olson on February 5, 2020 at 1:18 pm

        Hi Kathryn! Yay for potty training! Way to go. It can be trickier with poop because there are fewer learning opportunities. Just keep an eye out for changes in timing. You can do some naked observation/learning days here and there to try to catch those poops. It will happen, it may just take a little while with irregular poops. xx Andrea

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on February 5, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      Hi Halliday! Sometimes poops are tricky, you’re not alone in that. My advice is don’t stress and just keep an eye out for changes. She will eventually get more predictable, often when solids are introduced and they settle into the new foods, things regulate. xx Andrea

  3. Avatar Erin on February 4, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you Andrea for discussing this topic. My son signaled and signed potty for a long time. I understand progression is not linear so we go through bouts of no signals or signing and I try intuition. Right now we are in a land of resistance; resistance to wearing undies or diapers, clothes at all, and using the potty for pee even for the easy catches, he now will pee while I am holding him(?). I know this too will pass but I am at a loss and tired of the constant struggle and chase to get clothes and underwear on him.
    We have ditched diapers while home and I am keeping tack of the range of intervals between pees. This with the hope that once he is ready again to use the potty I will have a routine. He is almost 18 months. Any other ideas? Oh and he loves your books, thank you.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on February 5, 2020 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Erin! It sounds like you have seriously independent little man. Work on teaching him skills, that will help so much. Giving him the ability to take over parts of the routine, pushing down pants, dumping his potty, etc, will really help his resistance. If he isn’t liking undies, try commando in loose elastic waist pants. That is ideal for teaching dressing skills anyway. Keep working at it, he’ll get there. Once you ditch diapers completely you’ll see a lot of progress. xx Andrea

      • Avatar Erin Springer on February 9, 2020 at 3:41 pm

        Thank you for responding to all of the comments Andrea. Due to my partner living 2.5 hours away I often feel isolated and as a single mom without support as I know few people where I live. Your responses to all my questions have been very appreciated and help alleviate this “isolation anxiety”.
        We started EC at 4 weeks and I have relied on the private FB group and your book, podcast and other tool recommendations to get us through everything.
        We are ditching the diapers completely.. I am reading the PT book right now and will keep the process consistent.
        Do you recommend keeping my son home from the care providers to get through the first 10 days? I am on leave from work for another month but to Keep consistency for him he spends a couple of hours a couple days a week at her house. I can keep him home, but he does seem to get sick of me fast.

        Thanks again. I am so grateful for all you do.

        • Avatar Andrea Olson on February 11, 2020 at 3:53 pm

          It’s my pleasure Erin! I now how isolating it can be to be a mom, we have to help each other out! If you can keep your son home to do a week of potty training that is ideal for sure. If he catches on in a few days you can send him back to daycare. Just dive in and work through the steps, see how it goes. Best of luck! xx Andrea

  4. Avatar Judith on February 4, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    We’ve ditched diapers completely since 1 week and a halve. Our 15 months old son is now only wearing training pants and trousers, and it’s a huge difference for him. He had been resisting the potty most of the time during the last 2 or 3 months, but since he’s in training pants all the time (except for the nights) that has changed. Now I can see when he’s peeing, because he feels it and he looks at me with big eyes when he feels the pee on his legs. Before he was wearing cloth diapers, but then he didn’t seem to notice that he was peeing.

    Luckily we don’t miss too many pees anymore: I’ve noticed a change in his pattern, I was apparently over-offering before. Now I offer him every 85 minutes, and mostly that works (although sometimes that’s too late).

    3 months ago, he was signalling very well, but now he never does it on time. He signals after he has peed, as if to tell me ” Hey, change my pants! They’re wet”. So for the moment we rely on transition times, his natural pattern and some of the easy catches. The problem is that he is so focused on running (not walking, running!) and discovering the house, that he sometimes resists the potty because he doesn’t want to stop his activity, and then he pees just a few minutes later. But well, then we just put some dry pants and trousers on and that’s it…

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on February 5, 2020 at 1:13 pm

      Hi Judith! I am so glad ditching diapers did the trick!! It sounds like wrapping up is going very well, congrats! If he’s enjoying running, try racing to the potty. You can also have him “potty” a toy, it helps transition from activity to potty. xx Andrea

  5. Avatar Barbara on February 4, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    I can’t figure out how to get my 13 month old to pee in the potty. I give her plenty of pottitunities. And several times now she’ll get off the potty, not having gone, and then a minute later pee in her undies and on the floor. I put her on the pot in case there’s more and she does nothing. I managed to catch a poop once, because she was already in the process. But no luck with pee. She just doesn’t know why I put her on. And I don’t know how to explain to her what peeing is. She’s 13 months. I’m so mad I didn’t learn about ec sooner.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on February 5, 2020 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Barbara! Don’t stress, this is still new for both of you. Right now she doesn’t understand that you want pee in the potty, it will come. You might consider doing the hybrid plan that comes with my book. It is perfect for her age and helps build the connection between pee and potty. xx Andrea

  6. Avatar Brandi on February 5, 2020 at 4:28 am

    Hahaha my baby is broken! 😅 Little thoughts that enter our mind. Thanks for the podcast Andrea I look forward to them and remind myself to stay casual and see how the processes work. Oh and good thing for hard wood floors 😉

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on February 5, 2020 at 1:19 pm

      Hi Brandi! It’s a great idea to remind yourself to take a relaxed approach, you’ll appreciate EC more that way. And yes, hard wood floors are wonderful!! xx Andrea

  7. Avatar Rose on February 23, 2020 at 2:12 am

    Is it too early to try wrapping up at 11 months? I’ve noticed my baby recently started associating movements with words (like swaying and bouncing) so she can “bounce on request” for example, so I’m assuming it’s not too much to ask her to be more consistent with peeing in the potty?

    I started EC with her around 3 months. She never signalled too strongly but relying on timing, transition and intuition, she will usually hold it until I offer so until this year we were catching 1/2-2/3 of the pees and all the poops. But everything changed when we went for a 4-week international trip over Christmas. I did EC full time throughout the trip and the 16 hour flight (!) and she was great for the first two weeks of the trip then all of sudden it was all misses. The flight made her very insecure, being in a confined space with so many strangers, so when we got home she became very clingy, and when I tried doing more naked time after the trip she ended up peeing more and more often, first every 20 mins, then 15, then 10, then often 5-7 mins. I think she noticed when she pees I will go change her, whereas if she just plays quietly by herself I don’t attend to her as much so she started squeezing out pee as often as possible just to get my attention!

    So for the past month I decided to give it (and myself) a break and stick to the easy catches, and leave her in cloth diaper during the day to break her pee-as-often-as-I-can habit. On most days all I can get is one wake up pee after her nap. There were times I wondered if I would start EC in the early months again if I have a third child, if a trip will set it back so much. But I tell myself at least I’m still catching most of the poop so no messy diapers to clean, and also when I remind myself of the fact that when I had my first child I didn’t know about EC so at 11 months and starting early potty training I wasn’t catching anything at all so starting EC anytime is definitely worth it:)

    Oh and the magical thing is throughout all these months of ups and downs she’s still staying dry during most nights, and signally stronger than a month ago when she does need to pee at night. How funny that every baby is so different, that for me night time has turned out to be the easy one.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on February 25, 2020 at 2:31 pm

      Hi Rose! If you are ready to try ditching diapers you absolutely can. You can just ease in with bumping back up to full time EC and increasing diaper free time if you like. Gradually increase time in undies/trainers, see how it goes. xx Andrea

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