Elimination Communication: Tips to Potty Train an Infant


Think potty training starts around 2 or 3 years of age? Surprise! A growing legion of parents say it's possible to potty train infants from the moment they're born. It's called "elimination communication," or EC, and it's slowly been catching on, particularly among fans of the natural parenting approach. And while it seems crazy to train an infant to use a toilet, advocates swear it's possible. 


How to potty train an infant

"Elimination communication is what humans have been doing for thousands of years before diapers hit the market," points out Andrew Olson, founder of godiaperfree who's been teaching EC to parents for four years. She also practiced EC with both her children (now 4 years and 14 months old) from the day they were born. If you don't like changing diapers (and who does?) or what all those diapers are doing to the environment, here's how to put this approach in action:

Consider the age of your baby. EC is best to start anytime from the moment your baby is born up to 18 months. After 18 months, a more "traditional" potty training approach works better, although it can maintain many of the same aspects, such as being non-coercive and tuned in to your child's signals.

Rest assured it's not all or nothing. First things first: EC is not about quitting diapers completely, but about limiting your dependence on them. "Most people only do EC part-time," says Olson. "Infants pee every 15 minutes, so parents would be crazy to catch them all." Instead, try setting small goals where you practice EC when it makes sense for you. Many advocates, for instance, do it only for poops or only for morning pees. Which may not seem like much, but this sets the stage for easier potty training down the road.

Use cloth diapers. For the many stretches when you're not practicing EC, Olson recommended using cloth diapers. The reason: when babies pee in them, this gives them more of a sensation of being wet than disposable diapers, which wick most of the moisture away. And since babies don't like sitting in a wet diaper, cloth will subtly encourage them to hold it until they can relieve themselves on a potty.

More from The Stir: Cloth vs. Disposable Diapers: The Pros & Cons of Each

Keep baby clothed. Another misconception about EC is that when you're "on duty," you allow your infant to be naked and pee whenever and wherever he wants. That's not true; because this will teach your baby nothing. "They'll just pee on the floor then crawl away if they can," says Olson. Instead, while practicing EC, keep them clothed in pants and underwear (if you can find any that fit, you can order them for babies as young as 6 months at tiny undies). Yet again, the clothes will make your baby feel wet and encourage him to hold it until he gets to a potty. 

Hone in on baby's signals. The first step to getting your infant to pee or poop on a potty is to keep an eye out for the signals that he's gotta go! Every baby is different, and you'll have to really tune into your baby to figure it out. That said, "the most common signals that they're about to pee is sudden fussiness out of nowhere," says Olson. "They may start to wiggle, or thrash their legs, or squeeze their thighs. Or if you're wearing your baby, you may actually feel like you're wet, but you're not. It's called a 'phantom pee' and it's actually a sign it's about to happen."

For poops, it's a bit more obvious: your infant will probably grunt or make a "face." You've probably seen it and thought, Oh, my baby's pooping. News flash: That "push" doesn't mean the poop is out yet, but on its way. At this point, babies may often hold it, then look to you as if you say: Can you please take me to the potty now?

Head to the nearest sink, bowl, or toilet. Once you spot the "signs," grab your baby and hightail it to the nearest receptacle. The best position is what Olson calls the "point and shoot": holding baby's legs pointing forward and lean his back on your front torso -- that way you not only support his head and neck if he can't yet, but make the baby feel safe and warm rather than dangled at arm's length mid-air. Then wait, and pray, for a pee or poop. If it happens, make a sound -- pssst for pee, a grunt for poo -- while he's relieving himself. "That's the universal noise for poo or pee," explains Olson. This helps babies learn that these "sound associations" go with the action of peeing or pooping. Then, whenever you're trying to encourage your baby to go (before heading out, for instance), make that same noise, and your baby may put two and two together and go on command!

Accept that accidents will happen. Of course, no matter how vigilant you are, you will not catch it all. Only when accidents happen, don't call them that. "We call them 'misses' or 'missed opportunities,'" says Olson. Obviously try not to get angry or upset when they happen, but just change your baby's clothes and move on. Likewise, when your baby does successfully pee on the potty, don't lavish him with candy, sticker charts, or other rewards. "EC should be non-coercive, because we believe that natural processes should not be rewarded," says Olson. "This is just what we do; a matter-of-fact approach works best. That said, there's nothing wrong with praising your baby for a good job or saying, 'Wow! You did it.'" 

What age do you plan to start potty training?


Images via Todsaporn Wattanasupinyo; © iStock.com/DaydreamsGirl     

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