Years ago, my two small children and I were at a playdate with several other moms and their kids. We had just joined a local playgroup in the hopes of finding camaraderie and grownup conversation for me. While my toddler played and the baby cooed happily on my lap I chatted up another woman holding her infant, who was just a couple months older than my own. When her baby began to fuss, she calmly, but quickly excused herself saying, "I'll be right back. She has to go potty."
Surely I misheard her, but before I could ask, she was up and moving, taking her baby with her and leaving me looking like the surprise-face emoji.
I later learned that she practiced Elimination Communication, which she described to me as watching for signs that her baby has to go potty and then getting her there in time, so she doesn't need to change so many diapers. Not wanting to bombard my new friend with questions, I waited until I got home to search good ol' trusty Google. Turns out Elimination Communication was really a thing done by lots of moms around the world.
Today, more and more parents are giving Elimination Communication a go, thanks to plenty of available resources and support (along with plenty of benefits). At the top of that list of resources is Andrea Olson, Elimination Communication expert and owner of Go Diaper Free, a one-stop website for everything you need (and need to know) to successfully ditch diapers at any age.
I recently caught up with Andrea to talk Elimination Communication. Read on to see if infant potty training might be right for you and your family.
Let's start with the question we know every mom is wondering about: What is Elimination Communication?
Elimination Communication, or "EC" for short, is basically what all humans have done with their babies for almost all of human history — pottying your baby (from as early as birth) instead of depending 100 percent on a diaper as their toilet.
Basically, we know that mammals have very strong instincts to not soil themselves, their sleep space, or you, and they will usually try to squirm away or come to you for help in getting that diaper off so they can go hygienically. Think of a puppy you're crate training — right when you let them out, they usually pee immediately. Well, babies are no different. Right when they wake up, or you take the diaper off, or set them down after holding them, they usually need to go. But, we parents live in a diapering culture and usually don't know what baby is crying about — you're fed, you've napped, what could it be?!? — until they see the baby is wet or dirty. If they rewound just a few moments, they'd see that baby was trying to get them to remove the diaper and help them go hygienically. Strong. Instincts. It's what's kept humans disease-free for so many millennia!
Lastly, when babies don't signal (which is common after around 4 months old), we go off of timing and "easy catches" and help them till they're walking, at which time most parents ditch the diapers and teach how to push pants down and wrap it all up ... without toilet training!
I have 5 kiddos (an 8-year spread) and I never had to potty train any of them, they were all out of diapers by walking, and they all pooped in the toilet from birth. Magical!
How is EC different from potty training?
EC is more of an "exposure technique." So instead of teaching a child to go into a diaper (against their innate instincts) for 2-3 years then teach them out of that to go on this weird potty thing, you're helping them put their waste into the proper receptacle from the beginning.
It's not all or nothing. About 50 percent of parents do EC part-time and it still totally works! It exposes the baby to the potty and, honestly, we've seen that babies prefer the potty to soiling themselves... who wouldn't?
Potty training is stressful, gives mixed messages, and happens at an age when I, personally, wouldn't want to teach a child anything — hello, "no!" ages of 2 and 3! EC wraps up around 12-18 months of age and is relatively tear-free if parents have support and permission to wrap it up during that "sensitive period" of potty learning desire.
Does it take a lot of time to learn baby's cues?
Just about as much time as it takes to figure out when your baby is hungry or tired! Usually, about 30-60 minutes of observation time will tell you if your baby signals or not ... many stop signaling when they're mobile because, hey, why would they need your help if they can just crawl outside and go where everyone else goes?
But we don't live in an indigenous culture where our instincts can reign. We have carpet, etc., so we compensate for the disappearance of signals (that do, typically, reappear not too long later) by taking our babies to go potty at certain transition times during the day (like wake-ups, during diaper changes, and before getting into or after getting out of something they're in for a while).
We also ALL know when our babies are pooping, right?! Why wait for the diaper to fill up and clean it off of them after? Just gently say "wait" and hold them over or set them on a receptacle instead. Baby will be SO happy you're catching on!
Do parents who practice EC tend to ditch diapers sooner than parents who do not practice EC?
Yes, absolutely. We've found that most parents stop using diapers in the awake hours somewhere between 12-18 months of age. Parents who don't do EC take their children out of diapers at 36-38 months, as an average. The crazy thing is that in 1957, 92 percent of toddlers were out of diapers in the U.S. by 18 months of age. Ahem ... disposable diapers were invented 4 years later.
So you're shaving off 1.5 to 2 years of diaper usage and saving thousands in diapers per child (I've saved approx $10,000 total), saving loads of time (less changes, no toilet training), and your child has a superb level of self-esteem from having this part of his body handled.
What are some more benefits of EC?
Parents report that their connection with their baby is very strong, they feel more confident as parents and are thus more relaxed, and babies are less fussy and much happier.
On top of that, 27.4 billion disposable diapers, full of pee and poop, are landfilled each year in the United States alone... none of them have EVER biodegraded since they were invented in 1961. This is a major environmental issue that every ECing family helps mitigate!
When should parents start? Is there an age that is considered "too late"?
You can start EC anytime between 0-18 months of age. At 17-18 months and up, it's best to potty train because a toddler desires quick mastery and you're in that closing window of sensitivity to easily learning this task of self-care. The earlier you start, the better! Again, it takes one thing OFF your plate — so an overwhelmed new parent can catch their breath and feel a jolt of confidence, for sure. The earlier you start, no matter if it's 4 or 6 or 12 or 14 months old, the sooner you, the parent, develop the habit of taking your baby at certain times during the day. That's the biggest barrier with starting older: you!
Do you offer any tools or resources for parents who want to get started?
Yes, I have a free Easy Start Guide at godiaperfree.com/start to help get your feet wet. If you are like "oh this makes total sense" then skip that and grab my popular EC book at godiaperfree.com/thebook. It has a free book owners community where our certified coaches hold your hand and answer questions, you can meet others doing this zany EC thing, and you can see video examples and get helpful downloads — because EC is best learned hands-on and visually.
If you're beyond that 0-18 month window, I have a book on potty training as well that's at godiaperfree.com/potty-training-book -- the average time over the potty training hump is 7 days, and about a month of tweaking and teaching afterward. It shouldn't take longer than a month or two to complete potty training in the 18-months plus range, and the earlier you start, the better. There is no scientific proof that potty training early or doing EC can damage your child — only proof that starting after 2 or 3 years can. So go for it! We've got your back.
Andrea Olson is the proud mama of 5 children — all ECed from birth, all out of diapers by walking — and owner of Go Diaper Free. Andrea has made it super-simple for hundreds of thousands of parents worldwide to start EC with their own babies, as early as birth, and has trained over 300 coaches to host EC communities across the globe. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, kiddos, sweet kitty, and (at last count) 18 backyard chickens.