Around six months old, my daughter, Petra started eating a few bites of ‘real food’; I bought liners for her cloth diapers and braced myself for things to get gross. But a few weeks into things, I saw a tell-tale look on her face and found myself asking my six-month-old, “Do you have to go to the bathroom?” It was our first step into what I’d discover is called ‘Elimination Communication’ and it changed my life as a parent. When my daughter was just seven months old, I essentially bid adieu to poopy diapers and by the time she turned one, the just-in-case diapers she wore were mostly dry. Finally, at fifteen months, I decided to give underwear a shot and there were so few accidents, I wondered why I hadn’t trusted her before. Along this odd little journey, I discovered a lot about possibility and expectations (spoiler, my every reaction wasn’t perfect!), and now I want to pass along what I’ve learned. Dear new parents interested in skipping potty training, ditching the diaper bag early, adopting a gentle approach to infant hygiene, avoiding diaper rash, and adding another very positive bonding experience to your life: I’m writing this post for you.
First up, a caveat. I live in Canada which offers a year-long (soon up to 18 months) maternity leave and I was able to take advantage of that since I’d held an office job. I was also fortunate to have a solid support system around me and no post-partum depression, which I easily could have (that shit doesn’t discriminate and it’s only a happy fluke for me that I felt great both physically and mentally after my child’s birth). My daughter, too, was thriving. For these reasons, I was able to be fully attentive to cues and bond with my daughter without barriers; you will likely need that same kind of time and access to energy if Elimination Communication is in your plan but of course, if you’re in that boat, why not sail it?!
In the 1950s, kids were often out of diapers by their first birthday and in the 70s, the potty-trained age sat around 18 months. It was the advent of disposable diapers that made it not only easier and less icky for parents to diaper their kiddos but for children to not understand the ramifications of peeing their pants since the feeling of wetness was a thing of the past. Now that most people use them, only 10% of children are out of diapers at 18 months and the more common age lies somewhere between two and three. Safe to say that for both early learning and parental incentive, cloth diapers are key. Now, some people do no diapers at all (this is most common in India and China) but in this post, I'll just speak from my personal experience.
If you’re spending a lot of time looking at and listening to your baby, you probably recognize the different cries and expressions. The key to this method is taking mental notes of how your child behaves before you’ve got a diaper to change. When you recognize what’s going to happen, and this is as simple as it sounds, take the diaper off and and run your kiddo to the toilet. Hold them there and praise them. Make it their throne.
Some people who practice Elimination Communication make a "psshhhhh" sound when they put their baby on a toilet to teach them to sound associate. I just talked to Petra normally, which also worked fine. Oh, and I used the "toilet" ASL sign whenever I asked her if she had to go and at about a year, she started signing it (imperfectly, mind you, she's only now really good at signing the alphabet) alongside saying "pee pee". Do whatever you're comfortable with since after all, EC is all about the individual communication style between you and your child.
I found taking a toy or book into the washroom kept things fun for her. We had a few go-tos but Petra’s favourite was a light-up, silicone alligator—it fit into my jacket pocket so when we went out, I always had him at the ready. You will be going to the washroom often at first since, at least for Petra, 'holding it' wasn't in full swing until she was about a year old.
We didn't give rewards except for praise and if there was some wetness in her diaper, we just said “Oops, that’s okay” and took her to a washroom, lauding her for peeing where she should. This attitude is important even through little regressions (which may or may not happen). When Petra was a few weeks out of diapers, I took her to a birthday party and, distracted, she had an accident on laminate flooring. The party was all the way in Warman and I hadn’t brought extra undies because she hadn’t had a mishap yet, so I’m embarrassed to say I pointed at the little puddle and told her I wasn’t happy to clean it up and that she’d be naked under her dress until we left. Ugh, I'm so sorry about it now! In retrospect, I wish I would have asked my husband to clean it up whilst I whisked her away to the washroom with a “whoops, that’s alright”. Oh and obviously packing a change of clothes is never not a good idea.
Petra and I were together A LOT so obviously, I could pick up on her cues best and although generally, her Nana and Grandpa were great at communicating with her, there were a few accidents over at their house when she was still wearing a just-in-case diaper. Keep in mind that although it might be disappointing to get a plastic bag with a diaper in it, you can't be upset about it, especially when your infant isn't talking yet. Be sure to pack for caretakers accordingly.
I didn’t use a training potty but next time, I’ll use one here and there because the thing about using a full-sized toilet 100% of the time is that the child is only comfortable with those. Airplanes, malls, hotel rooms… all of these places require a comfort level with full-sized toilets so it’s definitely important to make public restrooms part of the process (I've heard tales of 4-year-olds still being scared of an air dryer), but I found road trips to be VERY difficult without another option. I bought a trainer potty for an Edmonton trip we took at ten months but my daughter was having none of it. She screamed as I put her back in the car seat and raced to a small town bar. I definitely wished we'd introduced her to a little potty before.
Speaking of airport and mall bathrooms, the automatic flusher is a shock for a baby to hear mid-potty-break so be sure to cover the sensor with toilet paper before propping them up.
When your child is walking, incorporating a stepping stool into the process adds a degree of autonomy. We waited until Petra was two but knowing how excited she was to have her own steps, I see we should have given her one earlier. Now nearly three, she goes to the washroom all by herself ...though I still supervise handwashing.
Nighttimes are different for every child and Petra wore a 'nighttime diaper' for almost a year after being out of them during the day because she didn't always wake up and alert us, though once we ditched them, accidents were pretty rare. I recommend getting a waterproof bed liner, telling your child to just yell when they have to pee, and going for it. It probably won't be perfect for a few months but hey, there's a liner. Not the end of the world.
Before I wrap this up, I feel it important to say that when it comes to swim diapers, please wait until you're 100% confident your little one is telling you when they have to use a washroom. No one wants more bacteria in the pool. Because we started so early, it was a non-issue but if you're later to this alternative-potty-training-train, you might have some habits to combat and there's more people's comfort and health at stake than you and your baby's when you're in a public pool.
Google any issues you have along the way because there's a big community of people who have practised elimination communication successfully so, chances are, someone else has gone through your very same problem and has an answer. And my most major piece of advice if you're wanting to skip traditional potty training and instead encourage the normalcy of going to a washroom? Simply trust yourself, and your child.