I try to “watch the baby and not the clock”. I feed him when he is hungry, I help him fall asleep when he is tired, I don’t give him carrots from a jar because the doctor told me I can, but I gave him his first banana when he asked for it. The only thing I used to do differently is changing his diapers.
All I wanted was some fluff
I did consider using cloth diapers at first, but with a first child it seemed like too much stress/work, so we chose disposables. Now the thing with disposables is that they stay pretty much dry for a couple of hours and I had no clue when the wetness started to bother the baby, so I just changed them every now and then (except when they smelled like fruit, I changed those right away, but my breastfed baby would often poop about once a week). I even started changing them at the same time of the day. It was the only thing I did on schedule.
It was an interesting observation that the only need I didn’t try to meet “on demand” was changing the baby, but I wasn’t bothered by it until I started having second thoughts about disposable diapers. I wish I had done my research much earlier and found out that the advantages of cloth diapers are not only environmental. They also keep some harmful chemicals away from baby’s skin and allow it to breath. Modern diaper systems don’t have to be a stinky mess and can be easy—and fun—to use too. And they are much cheaper than disposables!
So I voiced my concerns to several people and heard some interesting stories. A friend of a friend has stopped using diapers altogether. She can tell when her crawling daughter is about to pee or poop and she acts accordingly. Occasional misses are just cleaned up. And then someone on a parenting forum told me all of her family had been EC’ed (at least three generations) and they all had been potty trained before one.
A little explanation
In case you are wondering, EC stands for elimination communication and can be vaguely described as toilet training for babies. Some of the “EC’ed” babies are diaper-free from birth and are held over a bush, a sink, a potty or a toilet when they need to go. It is not about the usual training though, it is about communication. There is no goal to have a potty trained child as an outcome, it’s the process that matters.
The concept wasn’t new to me, I heard similar stories before, but I was convinced that it was something for people with a garden or a (rain) forest right outside the door. How can you possibly not use diapers in an apartment with couches and carpets? Of course, some people are crazy enough to do it, but am I crazy or “crunchy” enough?
Indeed, EC is done in many cultures but is very unusual in the Western world. We are told here that children are not ready for potty training before a certain age. Apparently they have no control over their elimination and should be allowed to grow out of diapers at their own pace, with some gentle guidance.
I was amazed to find out that quite the opposite is true. Like other mammals, human babies are born with a need to eliminate away form themselves and they give signals when they are going or are about to go. They have to learn that they are supposed to use their diapers as a toilet only to be trained to let go of the diapers a couple of years later.
How it works
Parents who practice EC observe signals to meet their babies’ elimination needs. It is also common to use timing to predict when a potty or other toilet alternative should be offered, for example, after a nap or a feeding. Every time a baby goes pee or poop, the parent makes a sound to make an association. This sound can be used later to “cue” the baby while holding him or her over a potty, and thus communicate back.
Our first attempts
So I eventually admitted to be crunchy enough and decided to give it a try.
Many people start from birth, we made or first attempts at about five months. In general, they say it is good to start before a baby becomes mobile and too busy.
At first I introduced some naked time every day. I waterprooved the bed and let Little Darling play, taking notice of when he goes and how he signals.
It turned out he made most of his signals after he wet the towel. “Hem hem! It is wet around here, are you going to do anything about it?” But the first stage was about developing a general understanding of when elimination took place. As I learned later, many babies don’t signal at all, so you have to rely on timing.
I proceeded with making a sound (“ps ps psss”) every time Little Darling went. After I noticed that he peed after his naps and often after a feeding, I started offering him a potty (in our case a plastic bowl) at these times and cued him with the sound. And it worked!
Catching the poops has been much easier by the way, there have been very distinguishable signals (groaning).
- Babywearing and EC go together well. I was worried at first that I would not be fast enough to take Baby Roo out when he signaled, but it turns out he can wait till I hold him over his bowl and cue him. The huge benefit is better signals he gives: he shows me that he wants to get out.
- I am still amazed at it, but he often does go on cue even with no previous signals or obvious timing. So, indeed, it is not about holding it but about releasing.
- EC helps me be in tune with the baby. I feel like I know better what is going on with him and I understand other signals, like hunger, better.
- EC is a life (and money and time=money) saver with teething diarrhea!
- EC on the go can be easier than changing diapers.
- A tupperware bowl with a lid works as a travel potty.
- BabyLegs are the only pants we need.
Free from diapers
When a mother at our swimming course saw me cuing my son over a bowl, she explained excitedly, “Oh, are you diaper-free? Look, honey, they have this bowl and are diaper-free!” I almost felt like I was showing off—and yet we are diaper-free! It just sounds cooler than it is. We do use diapers as a back-up, at night or when I need a break from EC’ing. Being diaper-free means just that: being free to use diapers when you want to and not to use them when you don’t; that is, being free from relying on them completely.
One of babies’ needs is not just to get dry and clean as soon as possible, but to have an opportunity not to get dirty. Now that I know that my son feels uncomfortable when he has to use his diaper and is able to tell me about it, I can’t leave it unnoticed. So I am getting rid of the last remaining schedule.