It has only been in the last 50 years that Western children as old as 3 and 4 are still wearing nappies. Prior to that time, parents observed their child from birth and used what is known as ‘Elimination Communication’ to help their babies eliminate. Tiffany Cowling explores this wonderful, old concept.
All over the world, babies are listened to and communicated with in regards to their elimination needs. In the West, babies are ‘taught’ to ignore their instincts and to eliminate in a nappy. Environmentally this reliance on nappies, which can last beyond the age of 3 years, is having a huge impact as the third largest single consumer item in landfills. It is estimated that nappies take somewhere between 250 and 500 years to break down. Financially, families with one child can spend in excess of $5000 on nappies, barrier and nappy rash creams, wet wipes and scented disposable bags. These two factors are incentive enough for many who embark on Elimination Communication (EC). But there is much more to the story.
Let us delineate what EC is not. It is not control, persuasion or bribing. It is not even about catching every wee. It is not results-based. It is not Potty Training, nor is it a nappy-free destination. It is not about timing, praise or reprimands. It is not harsh or judging, successful or failing.
It is a journey.
Fostering communication, awareness and bonds beyond what we are told is possible by the media and mainstream healthcare professionals; it is truly a heart-opening and joyous experience. Historically, babies were responsible for their toilet needs by the time they could walk. Through steady marketing and the need for a more convenient lifestyle, nappies have become the standard in the West, but at what cost besides environmental and financial? Babies are able to communicate with and respond to us from birth about their needs for comfort, food, sleep AND elimination. As responsive parents, we understand the importance of these cues and the psychological impact of ignoring them. EC is easy if we remember that the aim is to listen and respond, not to be perfect or controlling.
EC is about two-way communication, listening, responding and awareness of where your baby is at. In other parts of the world, the benefits are an unspoken matter-of-fact way of life. EC fosters good hygiene, body and genital awareness, comfort and a sense of empowerment in babies. It is fun, easy, practical and natural. It can decrease tantrums, rashes, smells, messes, UTIs in little girls, constipation and fear of defecation. It bonds parent and child together in a harmonious, empowered relationship of joy, freedom and confidence. It will develop compassion and responsiveness in both of you.
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
A great attitude and a sense of humour! On a practical level, gardens, sinks and toilets are ample. To make things simple and a little more luxurious, there are some simple items to have handy. Bowls or potties where you frequently sit, a bowl for the car, boxes of tissues or face washers; wet wipes are not really necessary and can contain strong perfumes and ingredients. Towels or woollen blankets and sheepskins are handy for a baby to lie on. Leg warmers or thigh-high socks for a warm nappy-free time. Lastly, some cloth or biodegradable nappies for the in-between times or for taking breaks. Have a spare pair of pants in your bag in case of accidents. It’s ok to have your baby in a nappy and to remove it when you or baby cue and then pop it back on.
HOW TO START
Decide on full-time or part-time commitment level. Talk to family and caregivers. Explain what you are planning, and be prepared for a barrage of negativity and scepticism. These responses are natural given our cultural approach and understanding of toilet training. Be patient and confident and ask that your wishes be respected. Remember there will be ups and downs. The purpose of EC is communication – the financial and environmental gains are a bonus – understanding when your baby needs a break and occasionally reverting back to nappies is not a failing. Indeed it is a win. It signals that you have heard, understood, respected and responded to your baby. Regressions, or ebbs, are natural and can signal development, emotional stressors, moving, illness, travel or a new sibling.
There are four elements to ‘doing’ EC. These elements are Baby Cues, Our
Cues, Timing and Intuition and are all used and interchanged every day. EC is not EC without all four of them.
Newborns grunt, squirm, wriggle, stare or make a face to communicate they need to eliminate. Spending time observing your naked baby will give a good insight into what your baby does. This is the start of the communication. Almost always, babies up to 6 months old who are carried in slings will signal clearly in the car and when carried. As babies get older, their cues will change. They may point to the potty, crawl to or play with it, crawl outside, call out, grab or point to their genitals. If you use baby sign language, they may start to accentuate it. In all these ways, your baby is communicating with you!
Choose a cue word or sound. “Wee wee”, “shi shi”, or “psssss” are common examples. When you notice a baby eliminating, make this sound, even if you can’t respond physically at the time. After a while, your baby will associate that sound with eliminating. When you cue baby, hold them and make your cue sound. Your baby will push, and if he needs to go, will go. Newborns can be held in a reclining position or held with their back against their stomach, hands under thighs (see pictures on next page). These natural positions promote easy elimination. When baby can sit, you can teach them to squat or sit on a potty.
Remember that in times of stress or illness, they may like to be held again or take a break. It’s also important not to praise or reward too much, and especially not to be disapproving if the baby doesn’t go. Our cues change as our baby gets older and more verbal, but no matter what age, your baby should receive love regardless of the result. The communication continues – it is now two-way.
There are some key times when nature takes the lead. Babies will naturally wait to wee until they are naked. They prefer not to eliminate in a seat or a baby carrier or where there is any pressure against their genitals. Babies are less likely to wee when sleeping. Babies often wee while or soon after nursing. Before a car ride, after a car ride, before a walk, after you take him out of the sling and upon waking are key times to EC and build confidence.
Intuition plays a major role in knowing when to cue your baby. That little voice that asks, “I wonder if he needs to go?” is often right. Women have been known to call out from across the house, “toilet!” to husbands who have been shocked when, upon asking, their babies eliminate. Siblings are very attuned to baby’s needs and can often be reliable guides. Communication is now complete; baby to us, us to baby and us to ourselves.
WHAT IF IT DOESN’T WORK?
There will be times when your baby appears to be uncooperative. She may go on the floor just after you’ve asked her. She may refuse to be held, arch and pull away. She may appear to have ‘forgotten’ everything. The most important thing to do is RESPECT her “no”. Always. And ask, “what is my baby trying to tell me?” She may be embarrassed if you are commenting negatively about smell or messes. You may be obsessing or hovering. If you have become results-focused, your baby may decide to wait until you relax again. Remember there will be misses, as there are with Toilet Training. Our babies are very linked with us and can sense our moods and feelings.
They can sense disappointment, disapproval or conditional love, and this may cause them to stop communicating. Have a break if either of you needs to, and regroup in a couple of days. Talk to your baby – tell them it’s ok for them to have a break if they are going through something troubling or challenging. Your baby might be telling you that they are ready for a new position, or that they don’t want to be asked anymore, that they want to be held again or that they want to take charge. Toddlers may especially exercise control over this as they get older and learn to assert themselves and take charge of certain aspects of their day, which they can influence, such as dressing and when and where to wee. They may be unwell, teething, distracted, busy, concentrating, or emotional. Being aware of this and adjusting your approach is all part of the communication and the trust you have fostered.
Laughter and an “it’s just poo” attitude will get you a long way! Our babies are our gurus, and listening to them on the EC journey will teach us so much. It will challenge you and push you to let go and ease into parenting. It will open your heart and mind and inspire people around you. It will surprise you and excite you. It will get messy at times, and it will be a whole lot cleaner at times. Within weeks you will have a baby who will not poo in her nappy. But more importantly, within days, you will have a deeper bond and connection with your baby. You will laugh, you will sigh, and you will have fun. You will communicate and play. You will never look back.
Tiffany Cowling has a 2-year-old daughter, and they have been ECing since birth. Tiffany runs group EC workshops in Adelaide or is available for a one-on-one consultation via Skype. She can be contacted via http://www.gypsyfreelance.com