Signaling: My baby doesn’t signal / How can I get my baby to start signaling? / My baby has stopped signaling.

baby signals to big sister to pee

Q: My question is: I don’t think my baby (6 months old) gives cues when she needs to pee (although she does for poo). Is that common? Or am I just not paying enough attention? Or did we inadvertently diaper train her during the weeks we were traveling when she was a newborn? We just use timing to catch pees. ~Rebecca @PoemDiem

A: Hey there Rebecca! Thanks for the awesome question.

In a nutshell: Yes, this is very common, you are indeed paying “enough” attention (um, if you weren’t, you’d never have tried EC in the first place), and yes, you can do something about it (over time, of course).

She might not mind being wet (vs. soiled)

First off, let’s wrap our heads around why a baby might not mind wetness, but might indeed mind soiled (poopy) pants.

Okay…is your head wrapped?

Yep, it’s all about “If I were naked, this would evaporate. It’s not really that bad.” And with poop? “Eeh, gads, get that stuff OFF of me! Let me poop over THERE and then crawl back over HERE. Thank you.”

That said, many babies hate being wet with pee, too, even for a moment. Every baby is different. You and I, however, were blessed with children who don’t mind all that much.

We might not even notice that she is signaling

The second part is this: we are completely media- and tech-saturated these days.

There’s really not a moment’s quiet notice in our lives, and even then, our monkey minds are going at a rate of 100 miles per hour…thinking about a whole onslaught of god-knows-what useless crap. Worrying, planning, fretting, regretting, criticizing, and brainstorming.

Between that monkey mind AND Facebook…it makes sense that we can’t sense the more subtle signals our babies might be giving off.

In an indigenous tribal culture, yes, the signals might be faint, but the folks are super-tuned in.

Reminds me of being at the Burning Man festival years ago. No cell phones or computers or even directional signs for all the bicycling paths (I think that’s what they were?). You pretty much had to go off of intuition and telepathy, two things I wasn’t that great at until I went thru that week there…without distraction. Pure synchronicity.

Yep, had we been living in a commerce-free, gift-oriented, tech-free society all this time, we’d never miss a single peepee signal.

I don’t think you diaper-trained here (ie: don’t blame yourself)

During your travels, I seriously doubt that you diaper-trained your baby.

As a newborn, she’s pretty much rollin with your flow, and as a still-young infant, she continues to do so. You set the stage, and if you chose to do something different, at this point she’ll still follow suit.

A few weeks won’t break an EC practice. No matter the age.

But more importantly: don’t blame yourself.

That is seriously the last thing we need to put upon our trying little hearts and heads.

You are doing the best with what you’ve got, and I’m assuming you are blessed with more resources than lots of folks around the world.

Point is: I believe in you and I seriously do not think you are to blame for your child not signaling/not minding peeing her diaper (see above for description of “not minding being wet”).

You can do EC based on any combination of the following 4 tools, even if the 4th one isn’t there!

I call these the 4 Roads to Potty Time.

  • Baby’s Natural Timing – this is your baby’s built-in timing (which, naturally, changes over time). You can find this out by doing some exclusive (short term) naked observation after waking, after feeding, or a combo of both, noting the time intervals those events (waking + feeding) and the pee or poo. Babies can have extended periods of dryness at ages as early as 3-4 months…or pee every 15 minutes. All babies are different. But you can always learn their natural timing.
  • Generic Timing – these are common times that you might offer a “pottytunity” to your child, such as: right upon waking, before or after putting into or taking out of a carseat or high chair, during a diaper change, when you enter a grocery store, when you go, etc. You’d basically be ECing based on times that both worked for you and made sense to you. This is NOT the same as CLOCK TIMING (which I do NOT recommend – ie: pottytunities every 1/2 hour on the 1/2 hour).
  • Intuition – if you’re human, you’ve got it. Yep, might be buried. But it’s in there somewhere. If you sit for 5 minutes and breathe in and out, alone, then ask yourself for some guidance, you’ll get it. But you have to listen. Only then will your intuition speak to you. This can also equate to an urging voice inside you saying “Time to pee the baby!” Note that this is DIFFERENT from pee-noia (as some of my readers in Hawaii like to call it)…where you’re just plain paranoid about pottying. That, my friends, will backfire. Guaranteed.
  • Baby’s Signals – this is the one that you’re presently missing. While observing during some limited, responsible naked time (learn how to do that in my book), you can see if your baby makes any prior indication that she’s gonna pee or poo. That’s (one of) her signal(s). Some babies don’t signal while naked. Therefore, also pay attention while WEARING your baby in a carrier, on your body. When he starts to squirm, fuss, or cry, there’s your signal!

My point is this:

IF your baby doesn’t clearly signal…it’s not your fault. But you can STILL do EC effectively with the OTHER 4 Roads to Potty Time: natural timing, generic timing, and intuition.

Yay! This is great news.

Resource Recommendation

Potty Time Master - a MiniCourse that helps you get extremely good at detecting the 4 ways to know baby has to pee

Go Diaper Free - my popular EC book that simplifies EC, beginning to end

How to get your baby to begin signaling (again or for the first time)

Here’s an excerpt from my newly updated book which explains how to get your baby to begin signaling for the potty (again, or for the first time):

My Baby Wonʼt Signal (Or Suddenly Stopped Signaling)

Donʼt give up. It doesnʼt mean she doesnʼt get it or that EC wonʼt work for you (or that you are a failure). It just means that one of the 4 Roads to Pottying is not-so-dependable, and you, my dear parent, must utilize the other 3 Roads while providing repetition and consistency (without overdoing it). Itʼs all good.

Until your little darling starts signaling to you consistently, you’ll still need to prompt her by reminding her it’s time. If you stop prompting altogether, she wonʼt ever pick signaling back up. How to prompt?

Instead of asking if she needs to go, or expecting for her to Signal out of the blue (when you know she doesnʼt), youʼll just take her.

You will take over her (lack-of-)Signaling by Prompting her while you gently guide her back to health and self-sufficiency.

Also, youʼll want to teach her her future signal to her by prompting her with what you eventually want her to say to you.

So, hereʼs what this looks like:

Youʼre enjoying your day, keeping an ear out for her nonverbal signals (that “peepee dance”). Youʼre also loosely aware of her natural timing. And, youʼre incorporating the generic timing as a natural rhythm to the day. You know when itʼs time.

Then…you prompt by just taking her whilst saying what you want her to eventually start saying to you, such as “I need to peepee Mama/Papa” or simply “potty” (or signing…whatever communication ability your child has, match that as a goal of how you want her to start telling you she needs to go).

She’ll eventually pick it up and realize that this is what we say when we need to go pee…and she will begin signaling eventually!

Remember that this is age- and capability- specific…newborn babies pretty much all signal (because their primary signal is crying), and yet eventually this may dissipate as baby comes into being in the world.

At older ages, some babies are able to verbally signal from 9 months with words, others are better with signing, and still others are just late bloomers on the direct communication circuit and you’ll have to count on other factors to get you through the vast majority of toddlerhood.

Honor your baby’s different pace, and model the desired end result (the Signal) with consistency and patience. AND about the prompt: Be brief (one word is fine), don’t over-explain (or explain at all), don’t get stressed, and don’t expect her to EVER say it.

What!?!

Yes. Don’t expect her to EVER say it.

If she does, great. If she doesn’t, whatever.

Point is that she KNOWS in her tiny developing brain that this word means “it’s time to go.” This is her future signal. She gets that.

She will adapt it as she wishes and will begin to communicate it when her brain is capable of doing so (14-18 months is when the brain can do long-term repetitive memorized tasks *consistently*).

Usually, lack of signaling can cause an utter feeling of failure to arise, coupled by extreme potty-centeredness.

These are reflexes but they wonʼt help!

What will? Patience, consistency, and repetitive prompting without overdoing it or becoming potty-centered.

Itʼs all a balance.

I love this part of my book. We learned all this by working, world-wide, in my private support forum for the last several years. This stuff works!

Resource Recommendation

Potty Time Master - a MiniCourse that helps you get extremely good at detecting the 4 ways to know baby has to pee

Go Diaper Free - my popular EC book that simplifies EC, beginning to end

How to get your baby to communicate…at all.

Alright…so here’s a little non-EC advice on encouraging your child to communicate…at all…some way other than crying. Okay, so I also integrate some EC stuff into it as well.

1. Leave space for her to think…and to talk.

2. Talk less (ie: don’t over-explain). Act and listen more. Notice when you are the Unstoppable Motor Mouth, and, well, stop. (This complements #1.)

3. If you over-sign or over-talk, you are doing everything for her. If you do it all, why should she/would she even bother?

4. Notice where your child IS actually communicating…through a look, body language, or some other subtle energy shift. Trust in this. It’s all you’ve got, and you DO get through your day somehow, right? Now, it’s just about trusting your own senses.

5. Regarding EC, have a diffuse awareness of ALL of your baby’s needs, where pottying is just *one* of them. If you are loosely paying attention (what baby really lets you LOSE attention, though?), you’ll realize when each need appears. All else fails, do not hyperfocus. This clams babies up, and makes then revolt (in time) when they become more able to.

6. Talk to your baby by reading books, speaking to him with adult words, and letting him be near you while you have conversations with other adults. This is a great way to imbue language at an early age.

Okay…that’s all I’ve got on this one for now. Thanks for your question, Rebecca!

Please leave a comment sharing what your experience with signaling and EC have been…or where in the communication realm you might also be stuck.

Thanks! xx Andrea

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.)

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15 Comments

  1. Avatar Anja on December 14, 2018 at 7:03 am

    Great read, Andrea! Luckily my boy is out of diapers, but I remember how frustrated I was when he wasn’t signaling. We started EC at 13 months and I remember him signaling at the beginning and at one point he just stopped. We went commando at home two weeks before he started daycare and it was sooo frustrating. Without any clear signs, we had to heavily rely on other 4 tools. Although we had at least 4 or 5 wet pants I day I kept going, but was totally exhausted and felt defeated. Then one day I re-read your book and it got me thinking. I was totally hovering and not paying attention to what my boy needs. Then I transferred the potty to the living room because it was too far away for him to go to the bathroom. And most importantly I stopped caring too much about all of it. I was putting both my son and myself under pressure. After doing these changes it took 2 weeks before he again started signaling and went diaper free at daycare too. After a month he even started telling us before he needed to go even though he’s still non-verbal. It’s now been 2 months (he’s 20mo) and we don’t use daytime diapers ever. Hi signals are very clear, but most of the times he tells us anyway. I can even ask him and he’ll answer honestly most of the times. So my point is, I think my over-thinking the whole process was keeping him from being successful and it probably made me less able to see his signs. And I want to say thanks to you Andrea, your book and the support group helped us so much!!! And congrats for baby Twyla :)

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on December 20, 2018 at 7:41 pm

      Hey Anja! Thanks for the sweet comment…and for reflecting on your process and experience so that others may learn from it. I think we all get into some hovering at one point or another…and we learn from it! So glad to be with you on your journey to now. :) xx Andrea

  2. Avatar D on December 14, 2018 at 8:59 am

    My 18 month old boy will use sign language for things like “thirsty” or “eat” but still won’t sign “potty” unless I say it first. He isn’t resisting potty time, but without his signal I’m taking him every half hour-45 minutes (natural timing/ transition times) to try to catch everything and we have an average of 3 misses a day. I watched your wrapping up EC video and I am trying to have him do more of the process but he doesn’t seem interested. I’ve had him in trainers but I’m now trying undies with tiny ups over them. I’ve even tried no cover at all. He didn’t care he was wet. I am ready to be done “guessing” every time. Thoughts?

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on December 20, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      Hey D! Totally frustrating, I’m sure. Have you tried commando (pants only)? Have you tried naked bottom-down, at home only obviously? Then put the mini potty in the living area where you usually are. And allow him to try to self-dress with super stretchy pants-only…or have him naked and transport him to the potty every time he begins to go (if it’s on the floor)…without a word. :) Hang in there! xx Andrea

  3. Avatar Sol on December 14, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    My daughter is 16 months old almost 17 and I started ec when she was 13 months and it’s not working for us I have tried everything and she hates the toilet I soon as Take her to the bathroom and sit her on the toilet she starts screaming and crying I tried to entertain her and nothing It was frustrating so I stopped

  4. Avatar Julia feelgood-mama on December 14, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Thank you, Rebecca for asking this question and Thank You, Andrea for answering it here! This is totally what worries me at the moment. Did EC from birth, did some travelling since while in disposable diapers full-time and I can’t be aware of baby’s subtile signs while her 4y old sisters jealously pokes us… so now at 6 months I also miss these easy to read signals, my baby was showing at birth!! They’re gone and I totally blame myself for it. So thanks for also addressing the blame-game-issue ;)
    One strange observation I made: Night time EC is much easier for me than day-time EC! She wakes up in-between sleep cycles, cries a little, I put my hand on her belly to calm her (we co-sleep) and when she doesn’t fall asleep after a min. or so, I potty her. And in 90% of the cases, she pees! Also, I put her on the potty first time when she wakes up in the morning and a couple of minutes after the morning feeding. We have 99% dry nights (and mornings) for weeks now. It is so strange to me, because with my first child, night time dryness followed only months after daytime dryness. ALSO: I am much more sensitive to her subtile signs when she’s out of diapers – e.g. commando on a pad. I catch way more pees that way, as opposed to when I feel ‘safe’ having her in diapers. Dammit, it’s not about her! Again!!

    • Avatar Hanna on December 19, 2018 at 2:11 am

      Wauw your doing so good! Have lot‘s if respect you do EC at night. I just do it during the day. I feel so exhausted at night that I just want to feed quick and then go back to sleep. (We have 5 kids in the age betwen 4 mobths and 7)How do you motovated yourself to do EC at night. Does it take a lot of time? Does she sleeps in quick again? I also co-sleep with my daughter.

      • Avatar Julia on December 19, 2018 at 4:11 pm

        It’s actually not that hard and even less exhausting for me. Because with my elder daughter I used to feed her back to sleep every time she woke up,… resulting in even more uncomfortable pees and more waking. When I potty her upon night-waking she doesn’t really wake up – she’s still in lala-land and I can pad her back to sleep or just feed her a little. That way she sleeps much deeper and longer at night. For us, it worked fine and I think it’s worth trying it. If the sleep doesn’t improve for both of you, you can still go back to only daytime EC ;)
        – all the best!!!

  5. Avatar Hanna on December 15, 2018 at 3:41 am

    Thanks for this post! I have 5 kids as well the youngest is 4 months and our oldest just turned 7. I never heard of EC before so this is for me the first time 😊. I started when she was 2 weeks old and she signed very cleary. Someday we almost had no wet pants. But after the late time holiday and kids got back to school and playgroup. It turned around. Instead of not missing anything. I missed everything. Eventhough i feel she is stil signing when she needs to go, I just don‘t always have the time to drop everythibg and put her on the potty. My 3 year old son is finaly compleet potty trained he jad lots of trouble with pooping, peeing went good for a long time already. My 1,5 year old hated diapers but she
    would poop and pee just everywhere. I put her certain times on the potty. With all this buisyness also my two other kids 5 and 7 comming home from school wanna have
    attention. I just don‘t know how to do EC with my baby girl. I puther on the potty after feeding and when changing a diaper after a nap ect. But in between I miss everything. Mainly I guess because I am not quick enough when she signs or I do not get her signs. How do you do it Andrea?? 😊 Big respect for you also being a mom of 5 plus encouriging wonen like us.
    Wish you and ypur family all the best
    Love Hanna

    • Avatar Julia on December 19, 2018 at 4:06 pm

      Since my daughter is 4m, I also miss most pees during the day and only catch the ones you mentioned: after waking and feeding. I do 20-30 min. super attentive, no distractions-naked time in the early mornings when my elder one still sleeps – that’s when I also catch them all. But ,mostly I enjoy being so fully present with her during that time :)
      I think you’re doing great – 5 kids, that’s amazing!!

  6. Avatar Kristan on December 17, 2018 at 1:26 am

    We are just starting EC. Our daughter is 16 weeks old and we started at around 13 weeks. It’s so challenging to know when she will pee so most of the times we miss the pees. I usually put her potty under her while breastfeeding or after and say “sssssss” or push or pee and she usually pees and poos. At night, we are just stuck though as she sleeps without a diaper and just on a towel. The mornings are a challenge because she poos sooo much (at least 4 times) in the morning when she’s in the bed still just playing with us and we don’t have her in a diaper (we use cloth diapers). When we go out we put her cloth diapers on but not usually at home. It’s a challenge but it’ll be worth it!

  7. Avatar Tina on December 19, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    I initially wanted to start EC after our second baby was born, but the transition to a family of four has been rough. Now my younger is 11 months old and I finally came round, because he often starts to pee when I undo his diaper. I notice no other signs, but could this be a sign I should start EC with him? I’m a little discouraged because I have to go back to work in 2 months’ time…

  8. Avatar Nicole on January 2, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    Shortly after you sent the email linked to this post, my almost 9-month-old (first-time mom) started signaling again. Out of nowhere, even at night. We’d been catching all the poops for months but very frequently (read: almost always) would miss the pees. Nevertheless, we still offered the toilet throughout the day, mostly at those generic timings you mention, and when we (in retrospect: instinctively) thought he’d want a fresh diaper. And then, when we’d remove the diaper, we’d see that he was dry more and more often. And now, he lets us know more explicitly (or, most likely, it’s that we’re seeing the signals more clearly…). We’d been very casual about the whole EC thing, which I thought might be our demise, but these babies of ours are incredible little beings. I’m taking it as a sign to up our parent game and really tune in more intentionally. More of the story: EC is so cool.

    • Avatar Nicole on January 2, 2019 at 12:22 pm

      MORAL of the story. ;)

  9. Avatar Julia Gulia on January 11, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks Andrea for your post(s). I’m a big fan, and grateful for your help, even though I don’t have the chance to write often.

    I’m doing EC with my first. He’s 11 months old now. I started a week after he was born (needed time to recover from C-section – grr – another story for another time).

    Most of the time, he’s wonderful at it. I think I’ve changed maybe 20 poopy diapers total since we started. And I’d say we catch about half the pees. Some days he goes the whole day with a dry diaper. Other days, not so much.

    The phases are what fill me with awe and confuse me at the same time. When he was an infant, the signals were clear. I did nighttime EC, too, and for a good 3 or 4 months, between his age 2-6 months, I caught almost every nighttime pee. Even though I had to get up and take him to the bathroom (no potty in our bedroom, not with a carpeted floor that we’re RENTING.) Anyway, for those few months, I was tired but I felt like a rock star.

    Then he started sleeping through the night, and he’s a sound sleeper, so I rarely had to wake. So began the age of nighttime wetness.

    Now he’s starting to walk, and explore, and the world is way more interesting to him than it used to be. And he HATES it when I take him to the bathroom. Rebels almost every time. Then pees his diaper. (I guess that speaks to his control!) But the last couple days, I was playing WITH him, and I missed his signals for a poo! If there were any. Cuz I wasn’t even distracted. I was looking at him and playing with him, and then suddenly, he turns around red-faced and I know it’s too late. Super frustrating.

    I get frustrated and disappointed and confused! I know I shouldn’t. I think I’m the one that needs to chillax (chill + relax = chillax). When my husband takes him, he sings him a potty song and gets much better cooperation. But Junior knows all my tricks and sometimes is having none of it. He’s smart, too, so he can read my emotions, as much as I try to keep my frustration to myself.

    I guess I’m just writing this so others potentially experiencing bumps similar to mine don’t feel alone. There are lots of swings on this journey! The downs can stink (sometimes literally), but look at it this way, at least there’s a conversation going! And I don’t think he’ll be in diapers much longer. Hopefully.

    Anything else I should try? I’m willing. Though also hesitant to dare commando/naked baby, because we’re renting these wall-to-wall carpets and there are certain stains I don’t want to explain to our landlord.

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