Here’s something I have learned from personal experience and coaching families who practice EC: two aspects of the EC practice - observation and intuition - are very supportive and informative when used in conjunction. I’ve found that individuals tend to rely upon and believe in the value of one of the two aspects, either observation or intuition, rather than using them together as bookends to support the practice and give it cohesion.
Observation is a routine that provides very concrete and clear information, such as baby almost always poops within minutes of feeding or baby pees two to three times in 30 minutes after waking. When you practice observation consistently, as Go Diaper Free recommends, you will see patterns in baby’s elimination. Like any science-based study, you need to have some consistency in your observation: do observation for two weeks every day, do observation at the same time every day, record notes and eliminate distractions.
Observation is a must at the start of your EC practice. It is time set aside from the busyness of your day when baby can communicate/show you what he does right before and during elimination. Then, during the rest of the day, you will see the same behavior or sounds and know that pee or poop time is near. During observation, you will see how pee and poop are synced with the rhythms of the day, such as feeding or waking. You will be able to take the evidence gathered during observation and use it to decide when it makes sense to offer pottytunities. Observation allows you to be responsive to your baby’s communication, even when it’s subtle and without words.
Observation is a must when things change. And things are always changing. That’s about the only reliable thing in the first 18 months of your baby’s life. So you do observation when baby hits a developmental milestone or his sleeping or eating habits change or when something shifts in your or your family’s life, like work, sleep, living space, relationships, etc. Everything in our world and lives are connected, so when one thing shifts, it sets in motion many other shifts, which likely includes your EC practice. EC’s philosophy honors a baby’s desire to be clean and his ability to communicate this desire. If this philosophy resonates with you, then it makes sense that baby is going to change his elimination patterns, positions and rhythms when there’s change present in his world. What to do? How to stay connected with your baby’s ever-evolving world? Do observation.
Families rarely challenge the importance of observation. Without it, an EC practice is unstructured, consequently messy and typically frustrating. You, as a parent, really don’t have anything concrete to rely upon or structure the practice around. Without structure, the baby isn’t going to be able to communicate his needs effectively. Communication is a two-way street. You set the structure by knowing what to look and listen for.
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But what about intuition? Wooo-eeey. The topic of intuition makes a lot of families squirm. Unlike the information that comes forth through observation, which feels concrete or black and white, intuitive knowing is very fluid and in the gray zone. I didn’t tap into intuition as much when I practiced EC with my first child. But when I practiced EC with my second child, intuition was a cornerstone of the practice. I knew about intuition the first go around, as it is one of the four roads to potty time, but since it was the last of the four roads described, I considered it bonus material. Yet, I know Andrea has said again and again that an EC practice can be informed by any combination of the four roads. You can rely solely on one road or utilize all four. In my practice, however, I want to share that relying upon intuition made EC more relaxed AND I caught a lot more pees and poops. Intuition is real.
In our western cultures, we are taught to see black and white. The majority of our learning is institutionalized. Science trumps all. Therefore, for most of us, it is likely easier to start with observation and trust the black and white evidence it provides. However, for half of the world, who trusts that babies have body awareness, the ability to communicate and the ability to control their bladder and sphincter and consequently have babies who are toilet independent by one year of age, practicing EC is culturally-typical and second nature. It’s the norm. Parents feel supported in the process. Everyone’s doing it. You know it works. You know how to see baby’s signals, cues and squirms without ever doing formal observation. Baby’s elimination rhythms become clear because you intuitively know what to look for. No record log required!
For me, having done EC with one child, feeling that the process was positive and having a child out of diapers by the age of two provided me with the experience and cultivated the confidence that the second time around EC was just going to happen. Yes, I was going to put in the time. I was going to catch some pees and miss many more. There were going to months of seeming progress to be followed by a month of resistance. Yet my confidence and trust in the process never waned. I knew it worked. I knew EC was beneficial for my sons, the environment, our bank account and our family. It was simply what we did. Ultimately, I was more relaxed and graceful. It is that attitude that allows intuition to shine.
What did intuition look like for me? Just as Andrea describes, I would feel the wet spot while wearing my son, only to remove him from my back and learn that my shirt was in fact dry. I’d offer a pottytunity and voila, he’d go. Interestingly, I have experienced that in recent years while wearing, holding and caring for friends’ children, who do not practice EC. I’d say that about half of the time, the baby would eliminate when given the opportunity, despite not practicing EC. Routinely, I also experienced the flash, out-of-blue thought, “baby needs to go!” Intuition is truly just a feeling.
Granted, I knew my baby’s signals and rhythms through observation when the intuition rang loudly. Observation and intuition worked together, as bookends, to make EC solid. For me, it was reassuring to have both the science (observation) and the trust (intuition).
I can tell you exactly how to do observation. It’s in the book Go Diaper Free. Follow the instructions. I can’t tell you exactly how to be intuitive. For me, it was slowing down, being present, engaging with my babies and repeating, “It’s all going to be okay,” as a mantra of sorts. (I repeat that mantra during the rest of the day, as well!) I trust that amidst all the change and chaos that is present in our world, I can care well for my babies and listen to what they are “saying.”
I’m curious how other EC’ing families have cultivated intuition. What does it look/feel like? Did it come easily? How does it work in conjunction with (or without) observation? Do you believe that intuition correlates with confidence and trust in the EC philosophy and practice? Please share in the comments below!
(And if you’re interested in bringing EC to you town like Kate has, check out our coach program.)
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)