I was returning a book called Beyond the Sling, by Mayim Bialik. (Aside: She's the woman that played Blossom as a child, and now plays the dorky girl on The Big Bang Theory. In between those two roles she got a PhD in neuroscience. She learned how neuroscience and anthropology actually support a lot of parenting practices that she previously thought were crazy. This book talks about her family's experience with attachment parenting. I loved it.) The librarian hadn't read the book, but she had seen an interview with the author, and asked if I did all the things she did. Attachment parenting is a pretty broad topic, and not all parents that claim to parent that way do the same things, so I wasn't sure what she was referring to. But I did agree with a lot of the things in the book. The librarian said, still in shock, "She lets her kids run around without diapers on!" Ah yes, elimination communication (EC), or the less popular term I preferred, natural infant hygiene.
If you haven't heard of it before, the easiest way I usually explain it to people is that I take my baby to the potty. We started doing it at three weeks old. A lot of people claim they don't believe this is possible. They don't think babies realize they need to go before they go. Yet it's often these same people that will later make comments to or about a child making a mess in their diaper before it actually happens. Even at three weeks old, once Acorn realized he didn't have to defecate in his diaper, he would get really mad if he asked to go the potty and I didn't take him right away.
So how do we do it. Well, that's an ever evolving answer. Here's a little bit about our EC journey thus far:
I first heard about EC when I was pregnant. I thought it sounded interesting, but also crazy. After all, my sociology/psychology teacher in high school said you can't potty train kids that can't walk, because the muscles that control the bladder are the same that develop when they learn to walk. (By the way, he was wrong; babies can control their bladder from birth.) But I was sitting around nursing our little nut a lot, so I decided to read more on the topic. I checked out three books from the library to learn the pros and cons of different potty training techniques. I had heard some sources say that EC can help a baby with colic, and some sources that said it could cause constipation and UTIs. So I read The everything guide to potty training by Kim Bookout and Karen Williams by Jill M. Lekovic, The Diaper-Free Baby by Christine Gross-Loh, and Diaper Free by Ingrid Bauer. The "Everything Guide..." was really helpful to compare and contrast different techniques. They didn't exactly know what EC was all about, but it gave you a good general idea. Diaper Free was my favorite book on EC. She was very knowledgeable on the subject and explains how to implement the practice without a lot of pressure.
So while reading diaper free, I jumped right in. I figured, I had to change his diaper anyway, I might as well hold him over the toilet while I'm in there. At first I mostly used some common timing suggested in the book, such as upon waking and before and after eating. Wouldn't you know, pretty soon I was catching almost all of his eliminations. Now we have very few bowel movements in diapers. If I put a stay-dry diaper on him, he urinates in it. But if I keep him in one that allows him to feel the wetness, he stops doing that too and lets me know when he needs to urinate.
When a lot of people first hear about this, they think it sounds like a lot of work, but I think it's a lot less work. Flushing a toilet is a lot easier than cleaning feces off a baby. I usually don't have to take him to the potty any more often than I would change his diaper. Keeping diapers dry means less laundry when you cloth diaper.
Upon hearing that I potty my baby, a lot of people ask me to help them with their older children. Well, I can try, but the longer you wait to start, the harder it is. When we ignore the signs of a baby that needs to potty, or even wait for them to finish eliminating in their diaper before changing them, we are teaching them that that's how they're supposed to do it. What's harder than teaching a new trick, is un-teaching an old trick. And when we put super absorbent, stay-dry diapers on babies, they can't feel they are wet and pretty soon stop recognizing the feeling of a full bladder and lose bladder control. That means the signs that they used to give for needing to urinate disappear. So before you can learn their signs, they have to relearn their own bodily functions so they can start giving you signs again. Most people have heard someone comment on a child defecating in their diaper, so obviously that's easier than just staying dry. I have found the same to be true of EC'ed babies too. (Oh yeah, we use the abbreviation like a verb or noun, just like the word potty.)
If you have heard of EC, you may have seen articles about how bad it is for your baby. These articles are usually written by someone that doesn't understand what EC is, or rather what it's not. It's not infant potty training. I don't praise my son for his elimination of bodily waste. I just respond to his need as I would respond to my own, because he can't take himself to the potty yet. I'm very grateful for every bowel movement we catch in the potty, because we cloth diaper and it makes laundry easier. But I really try not to show him this. (Thinking of yourself as an impartial sports caster rather than a cheerleader really helps in this area.) I want him to use the potty for himself because it feels better to stay dry and clean, not because it makes Mommy proud.
So yes, for a few hours a day, I usually let Acorn run around the main floor of the house without a diaper on. We don't have carpet on that level, so it's easy to wipe up when I miss a urination cue. We let him go diaper free for a couple reasons. 1 - Airing things out helps eliminate any redness from wearing a wet diaper. I've heard horrible stories of diaper rash, and I'm not even sure what that looks like. 2 - Observing a child right before they urinate helps you learn their cues. As children go through developmental milestones, their cues change. During some developmental stages like teething and learning to walk, they stop cuing for urination all together. This seems to be where Acorn is right now. The exception is if I keep him in a diaper that allows him to feel wet, or if he's being held. Generally if he's in a sling and really fighting to get out, it means he needs to eliminate, or already has. Even when I'm holding him without a diaper on, he lets me know, and I haven't been urinated on (yet).
When we first started this, I was really hesitant to tell anyone. I pretty much shared it with people that caught me taking him to the toilet. I already thought it was crazy; I didn't need someone else to tell me it was crazy. I was really surprised on days that I was able to put the same dry diaper back on Acorn three or four times. I really started to think I wasn't crazy when my husband saw it was working and also started to hold Acorn on the potty. Once I realized how well it was working and making life easier, I wanted to share it with everyone. So people still look at me like I'm crazy, but that's nothing new. I don't blame you at all if you are skeptical. I'm still shocked on the days that one diaper lasts me twelve hours. But if you have a baby and you're on the fence, try holding him or her over the toilet when you change their diaper. It just might change your life. But count yourself warned - even if you want to give it up, they might not want to.