Infant Potty Training – How Did I Miss This One?

Originally posted March, 2011

Some people call it EC (for Elimination Communication), which happens to be a better name than Infant Potty Training, because it really is more about communicating than training. But whatever it’s called, I’m seriously bummed that I missed it with my first five kids.

We first introduced Baby Matthew to the potty the day he was born. It was slow going the first week, but by the second week, we were getting the hang of it, and although we’re only part time ECers, Baby Matt is a full-time potty pooper. With the exception of two or three misses over the past five weeks, he poops exclusively on the potty. It turns out, poop is pretty easy to catch.

I first heard about this phenomenon when my third child was a newborn (almost 10 years ago), but as most parents who hear the words “Infant Potty Training,” I thought it sounded ridiculous. In hindsight, my main misconception was that parents had to hover over their child and serendipitously catch him in the act. One of my friends made a comment recently that reflected my original misunderstanding of the whole thing. She said, “That is not baby training. It is parent training.”

I guess she’s sort of right. EC is parent training in the same way that understanding your baby’s hunger cry is parent training and recognizing a tired cry is parent training. Her comment reflected my own misconceptions, but I’ve since learned two important truths:

  1. Newborns are completely aware of their elimination needs and have control
  2. Newborns are as capable of communicating the need to pee and poop as they are able to communicate the need to eat

Newborns Have Control and They Can Communicate

I’ve learned that newborn babies are born with an awareness of the need to eliminate. It makes sense when you think about it. I can’t think of another mammal who is born wanting to poop and pee on itself. Based on what I have recently read, babies have control up to three months. After that, if it’s not used, they lose the ability.

Yikes! Could it be that we are actually TRAINING our sweet babies to use diapers? I can tell you for sure that my baby does NOT want to go in the diaper. He squirms and grunts, and if I don’t respond, he eventually cries – sometimes hard. Having had five babies before this one, I am no stranger to these signals. I remember every single one of them crying the exact same kind of cries. I simply did not know what they meant. So basically, I trained them to use a diaper, only to have to un-train them two years down the road.  Hmmmm….

Some things are fairly universal when it comes to babies. Most moms can clearly discern a hunger cry, even in other people’s babies. And they can usually understand a tired cry too. When our babies are hungry, we feed them. When they’re tired, we put them to sleep. And now that I understand the potty cry, when I hear it, I simply hold the baby over the toilet.

I think many moms are concerned that they’ll spend the whole day taking their baby to the potty. It’s as if they think fluids constantly drain from their little ones, like the Baby Alive doll. Actually, I think that’s somewhat true of babies who are trained to go in a diaper. It’s as if they let poop eek out incrementally. But the truth is, babies can eliminate a lot of poop at once. After such a big poop, they don’t need to go numerous times throughout the day. In fact, some of my EC buddies say that pretty soon, Baby Matt will likely go just once a day at a predictable time. Makes sense – that’s how my body works.

We’re Part Timers

So here’s how this whole thing started for us. When I was pregnant with Matthew, we were at a playground with a bunch of families from our school. My baby-wearing buddy Tanya was trying out a new sling with another mom’s one-year-old (Tanya makes great slings). After carrying little Sally around for a while, Tanya recognized the telltale squirm. “Your baby has to pee,” Tanya told Sally’s mom.

“Oh, no. Sally’s not potty trained.”

“Yeah, but she has to pee. If you take her now, she’ll go on the potty.”

Well, this opened the door to a big conversation about EC. And as I listened, I found myself slowly warming to the possibility of trying this. I went home and began researching it, and I read that it was possible to do this part time, which meant we could give it a try, and if it didn’t work out perfectly, it would still do our baby some good.

Our goal for EC is not to have a diaper free baby. Although there are many families that are successfully diaper free. Tanya’s youngest wore panties at three months. You have to special order those.

The average age for potty training in America is 3 years old, so they don’t sell infant panties at Target! Not yet, at least — maybe we if increase awareness of the benefits of EC, that will change. It could happen. In my grandmother’s day, very few women breastfed, and we all know how that has changed. Maybe when my daughters are having babies, the common culture will embrace EC. There could even be EC-friendly day care programs! I know some moms who want to do EC, but don’t know how to handle it when their kids are in daycare. Well…here’s to hoping! Maybe if everyone who reads this post retweets it and links to it on their Facebook page and emails it to friends and family, we can help do our part to bring about change.

In the meantime, our family’s goal for EC is to help our son maintain the awareness of elimination and the ability to control it. Although he poops almost exclusively in the potty, we don’t catch all the pees. Perhaps if I wore him in the sling for most of the day I would be more in tune to the pee squirm. He certainly does signal when he has to pee; I just don’t always see it because I spend a lot of time on the computer writing.

Jody and I write homeschool curriculum, and we teach parenting classes, which means writing the workshops and workbooks. We are also working on our first non-fiction book, and I freelance for parenting magazines…in addition to blogging, tweeting, and of course, homeschooling my five kids. Baby Matthew doesn’t like being in the sling if I’m sitting. So I can wear him when I’m working with my kids or teaching a homeschool co-op class or conducting a parenting workshop or even sometimes during a parent coaching session. But when I’m home at my desk or in the Panera working with Jody (a.k.a. our office), baby Matt is not wrapped to me, and I often miss his pee signals.

From what I’ve read, part time is enough to help him maintain the elimination awareness, and there’s a strong chance he will be diaper free before he’s two. But again, that’s not necessarily our goal. Although, I am thoroughly enjoying NOT changing poopy diapers! Baby Matt is now six weeks old. We have not wrecked one outfit yet, and his little bottom is not red and irritated. All of our kids are so fair skinned that diaper rash was a regular occurrence in our house – but not this time!

Baby Steps

Although the idea of going diaper free is alien to our common culture, it’s normal in other parts of the world, especially cultures that regularly wear their babies. In fact, I’ve even read that in some cultures it’s shameful for a baby to eliminate on her mother because it means the mother was not paying attention to her baby.

I’m certainly not at that point, but I am making small, subtle changes. For one, we are gearing up to becoming a cloth diaper house. For now, we still use disposable diapers (you don’t have to be the crunchy, tree hugging type to do EC!), but since Baby Matthew only pees in his diapers, there’s no reason we can’t use cloth. In the past, I cringed at the thought of cleaning a yucky poop out of a cloth diaper. But for the most part, there’s only one small pee in his diaper when I take him to the potty. I certainly don’t want to put that back on him, which is causing me to go through more diapers than the average family. It’s getting expensive, and I do feel guilty about filling a landfill with all these extra diapers. So…we’re going cloth!

Perhaps the next step after that will be to catch more pees, but in the meantime, I am content to go slowly and enjoy being able to meet yet another need for my sweet boy. There is something very bonding about EC. It’s as though his body and face show how grateful he is that I have understood his signal and helped him meet this need. My husband and other children have also bonded with the baby through EC. It’s been a rewarding journey for everyone so far.

Resources

I’m sure you have a boat load of questions. So I’ll to point you to the experts who have helped me. After all, I’m just a newbie here. If you’d like to learn more about EC, check out Christine Gross-Loh’s book, The Diaper Free Baby.

You can also visit the website ECSimplified. They’ve got some good info, including a downloadable book that I have yet to read (but I plan to).

Be sure to leave a comment below, and let me know what you think about the whole EC thing. And if you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them or point you in the direction of a better resource.

Update -- It's October, 2013, and Matty Jay is a great communicator! He talks up a storm and can tell me when he has to poop. He's totally ready for full potty training. We just moved, and Jody and I have a parenting conference this month. So in the first week of November, we're taking the plunge and going completely diaper free! Check back often for our progress. I'll document the journey here.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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5 thoughts on “Infant Potty Training – How Did I Miss This One?

  1. I did this with two of my three babies. I began the first day home after delivering them. People thought I was nuts, and perhaps I was. I was a stay- at-home mom and had the time on my hands to try it. It works! My girls preferred to wait to be set on the potty; although many times it wasn’t convinient for me to make that happen, so they were flexible to go in their diapers. When they were two, there was really never any “transition” time to a big girl potty, they just naturally transitioned over. If you have the time, it’s a great thing to do and a really fun conversaton piece. If you’re reading this and feel convicted that here’s just one more thing you’re not doing right, please take the pressure off yourself… There’s so much more in life to focus on!! Your baby will be popping and peeing on the
    potty by the time they leave home whether you began at two days old or two years old!!!

    • Thank you Erica! I so agree that we shouldn’t put any pressure on ourselves about this one. What I loved most about it was the opportunity it gave me to connect and communicate with my baby in one more way. 🙂

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