I usually define an elimination communication signal as the baby doing something that the parent notices and offers the potty around, usually resulting in a catch.
Signals are one of the four roads to potty time based on what I teach, one of the frameworks in my book:
- baby's natural timing,
- baby signals,
- parent's intuition or generic timing (common times when babies need to go), and
- transition times like ins and outs.
Baby signals. Often people think, "Well, I can't do EC because my baby doesn't signal at all," but they could be showing signs that they need to go to the bathroom. I do consider signs to be signals. It can get really confusing.
Someone recently mentioned that some signals are actually signs and it got me thinking, so let's define both of those now and talk about whether it matters. I'm going to give you examples of both of them and, most importantly, we're going to talk about how they can help you potty your baby with more success today.
Signs that baby needs to potty - defined
First of all, signs. Your baby shows a sign that they need to go. This is body language, a mood shift, or something that indicates that it's time to potty.
Signals that baby needs to potty - defined
A signal is more looking to you directly and communicating that they need to go to the potty and need help, or looking to you directly while giving an obvious sign. That's a hybrid sign and signal.
Signals are direct communication and signs are things that you notice that are already happening.
As far as signs, here are some examples:
- shifting from moving a whole bunch to getting really still
- shifting from stillness to moving,
- pushing or bearing down - if they're not looking at you and doing it in their own world or swinging on the swing or laying on the ground, and they're just starting to push, that's a sign
- squatting when they're a little older
- hiding when there are a lot older
- moving to the bathroom - walking to the bathroom and going into the bathroom is a sign because they're not actually saying, "Hey, you come with me to the bathroom," which would be more of a signal
- touching the mini potty - if it's out in the living room in your play space (I highly recommend doing EC with the potty out in your space), and they go over and they touch it and start to play with it, that can be a sign. (But, if they grab that mini potty and they bring it to you, that's more of a signal. Hopefully that makes sense.)
- passing gas - something's going on down there, it's a sign, and if you're paying attention you'll notice it
- getting hyperactive, especially with an older toddler
- staring blankly into space - that's the opposite of hyperactivity, right? It's like moving to stillness.
- another sign can be a smell - "Gosh, I really smell poop” - but you look and there's nothing there. It's not necessarily like they made that smell to signal to you that they need to go; they're not using smell as a communication. I mean, maybe on another level. :)
- a phantom pee is also a sign. If you've got your baby in a baby carrier and you're wearing them and you feel like they've wet you or you're carrying them around and you feel like you got soaked but you didn't, it's their bladder warming up and your body feels that in their body. That could be a signal from their body to your body, but not in the direct face-to-face communication style that I'm talking about.
Signals are more like:
- looking to you and signing potty - the T shaking, or patting their chest if that's your signal
- pointing to the bathroom, or crawling to the bathroom, while looking at you
- pushing down and bearing down while looking at you like, "Hey, hello, you see what's happening here?
There's an attempt at directly communicating with signals.
A lot of parents will give up on EC before they really even start because they don't see any signals. They don't see their child looking directly at them and communicating about it. Usually, they're starting with a mobile baby or a toddler who is on to bigger and better things at this point.
I highly encourage you, if you think that you don't have a child who signals, to also expand your horizons to include the signs above. I have a download of the four roads to potty time*, which basically gives you a list of all the possible signals including signs.
So, is it signs or signals?
I consider all the signs and all the signals I just mentioned plus everything else that I've learned over my five babies and the hundreds of thousands of you as “signals.” I'm going to call them all signals and keep it really simple.
The takeaway is that any sign or signal counts. It's all communication whether it's direct or indirect. It doesn't matter what you call it - don't overthink it.
It's all communication whether it's direct to you, indirect and you're just picking up on it, subtle, intense, verbal, non-verbal - all of it counts as information, like, “I'm going to go potty my baby right now because they're definitely telling me something,”
Babies are always giving signs that they need to pee, sleep, or eat
Some people think their baby doesn't signal but babies are always giving signs. Babies are giving signs about things all the time if you can just learn how to read them, which I can definitely help you inside my book .
Babies will also start to signal directly to you once you pick up on their signs and you start to teach them how to signal.
You can look at episode 47 of this podcast, read it, listen to it, watch the video to teach your baby how to signal.
Episode 27 is about signals, stopping, starting, and changing - when they shift and what to do about it.
Then, episode 80 is “what do you do if you find no signals and no patterns during observation time?” what do you do then?
Doing EC with zero signals
By the way, you can totally do EC with the other three roads to potty time - natural timing, common transition times, and intuition - without any signals ever.
But, what I'm trying to tell you today is that your baby is always giving some sort of sign about their state and their energy and everything else.
The best way to connect to those is to put your baby in a Beco Gemini baby carrier. The Beco is amazing - you can use it with an absolute newborn with no insert or anything.
Walk around, be with your baby that close for several hours every day, and you will get a lot better in touch with signals and signs - first signs, probably.
Signs eventually turn into signals
Then those signs turn into signals, and then you're looking at each other and when they give you that sign and they pass gas and you look at them and you go, "Hey, do you need to go to the bathroom?"
And then this communication loop starts to form. It's a beautiful thing, I highly recommend it, don't give up. If this is you: "I see no signals!" - that's totally fine.
Hopefully today's episode has helped you a little bit. Definitely watch one of the other three podcast episodes (listed above) to learn even more about signals.
If anybody ever says, "Well, they're not actually signaling to you because that's just a sign," I say, “It's the same thing, I'll take it.”
Whatever it is - we're going to work with that.
It's good information, we offer the potty. If it works, great, we note that in our head. If it doesn't work, great, we note that in our head - constant learning. EC is a beautiful thing.
Now I want to know:
What is your baby's current sign or signal?
Just pop it really briefly, really quickly into those comments below and, well, maybe there's a new one that we haven't listed on that download above...who knows?
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)