Sleep training has Ferberization. Now potty training has elimination communication… or does it? This controversial method of managing your child’s bodily functions can begin at birth.

This isn’t grandma’s potty training

A potty instead of diapers? Say what? Hear from experts and moms who’ve been-there, done-that.

The term “elimination communication” (EC) may imply that there’s a new way to chat about potty training with your child. But EC is not potty training. And it doesn’t involve talking about or reading about peeing, pooping and underpants with your toddler.

Advocates of this controversial technique – also known as “potty whispering” or natural infant hygiene – say you can start training your baby to use the toilet from birth. Dissenters believe EC can harm a child’s physical development.

What is elimination communication?

“EC is the practice of reading an infant's cues that they need to eliminate and facilitating that elimination into a potty, rather than ignoring those cues and directing all pees and poops into a diaper,” explains Cheri Wiggins, MD, a physiatrist who has used EC with her two daughters.

“Our first daughter understood what a potty was very early and would use sign language to indicate she needed to go by the age of five months. She didn't poop in her diapers after six months and she stayed dry from 12 months on,” says Wiggins.

An EC parent reads their child’s body language (squirms), verbal cues (grunts) and pays attention to patterns that may develop in their baby’s elimination schedule (e.g.,  always pooping right after breakfast) to get them on the potty at the right times (though there can definitely be waiting involved).

Which leads to the question…

Do I have time to implement elimination communication?

EC is often associated with attachment parenting (touted by celebs like Mayim Bialik), as proponents of this method see it as another way to intensely bond and communicate with their child from birth. It is, however, time-intensive and requires near-constant attention so you don’t miss cues from your child. Many EC parents turn to sites like DiaperFreeBaby for support.

“EC puts the onus on the parent to watch the child (initially) for cues that they need to pee/poop,” says Wiggins. “Then, by learning the child's own patterns, gently encouraging them to pee and poop in a potty.” (Read about one EC mom’s experience on her blog.)

Alicia Silverstone is potty training her infant son >>

Will I have a mess to clean up?

If you’re contemplating EC, you may feel it’s necessary to cover your home in plastic or pee pads. Some parents opt for the diaper-free EC method which may result in accidents, but this “toilet independence” doesn’t necessarily mean your baby never wears a diaper. Experts say you won’t jeopardize the success of your EC efforts if your baby wears a diaper overnight, on long car rides or even at daycare.

"Babies have a lot more interest in keeping themselves dry and clean than we give them credit for."

“Babies have a lot more interest in keeping themselves dry and clean than we give them credit for,” says Wiggins. “In medical school, I was taught that children couldn't control their sphincters until 18 months of age – as the mother of a child who would squirm and yell at us (at six months of age) until we put her on the potty, whereupon she would immediately poop, I can attest that that is just wrong.”

However, Steve J. Hodges, MD, author of It’s No Accident, offers this: “It’s impossible to predict when a child needs to pee or poop, and it’s impossible to know if they have emptied completely when they do go. At some point in EC, the child will begin going on their own and it will likely be at a young age where children are more likely to not understand the importance of regular emptying, so they may put off going,” says Hodges. “Proponents of EC say that since the child was never taught to hold they won’t do that, but I don’t trust a 2-year-old with that responsibility.”

Next: How to get started with elimination communication

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Comments on "WTF is elimination communication?"

Anne August 21, 2012 | 12:18 PM

This is not training, no, not training in the least. Maybe the better question would by why do people assume babies are incontinent? I EC'd both my kids (it's just how it goes in other countries no name for it) and they both would signal me when they had to go. If we teach them to ignore it they will, if we listen to their need to eliminate they will communicate that needs like any other (hunger, tired, etc). This is no way in comparison to the brain damaging "training" of Dr. Ferber and I'm disgusted it was compared to that. When a childs needs are responded to it builds neural connections so if anything my children will be smarter for being listened to. It's not forced, it's not trained, it's about the child and respecting their need to use the bathroom. When we are out and about the baby signals me and I hold her over a public toilet, no big deal.

Amy July 30, 2012 | 2:53 PM

I've never heard of this, but I am intrigued. I think the hardest thing would be never being able to leave the house! I personally don't think diapers are a big deal, and obviously we are all potty trained at some point. Though I do believe baby's could learn to use the toilet at a very young age, I don't see the point in causing more stress to the parents.

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