Nappy-free: starting elimination communication with a toddler

Elimination communication involves catching your baby’s poo and wee in a potty, container or whatever instead of just leaving them to go in their nappies.

It sounds like something out of Star Trek.

It’s probably just what your granny used to do…without the techie name.

I first heard about it back when I was thirty-three weeks pregnant and someone commented on my list of things to do before the birth with a link to “Save on nappies – don’t use them?

I read that post and my eyes grew wide. Surely this was a step too far? It sounded like seriously hard work. Too crunchy for me.

When Talitha was nine-months-old we went to a sling meet in Bristol and met real people who were practising elimination communication. I was intrigued but unconvinced.

Then last month, I discovered Lulastic and the Hippyshake and fell in love with her blog. I felt like I identified with a lot of what she had to say and, well, what do you know? Her baby is nappy-free. It got me thinking about it again.

Now that Talitha is a toddler, the thought of toilet training doesn’t seem so distant. But the more I consider it, the more it doesn’t make sense to me.

Why would I teach her to go in her nappy for years and then present her with a potty? The only real reason seems to be convenience, though nappies do mean work, especially if you’re washing and folding them. Convenience isn’t really enough of a reason for me.

The more I’ve read about EC, the more it’s made sense to me. The baby grows awareness of her bodily functions. The adults in her life are responsive to her need to eliminate as they would be to any of her other needs.

I know how “out there” this probably sounds because at one point it sounded crazy to me. But this is where I am.

So, I bought and read The Diaper-Free Baby: The Natural Toilet Training Alternative on Kindle, got a few little knickers and the potty out of storage and decided to make a go of it. The book has a chapter on starting EC with toddlers so I especially focused on that.

How’s it gone so far?

Here we go:

Day 1: We spend an hour in the morning nappy free in uncarpeted parts of the house for ease of cleaning. The aim right now is not to get her on the potty but just to reconnect her with her bodily functions.

She normally wees a lot in the morning but she’s completely dry. It’s nap time so I put a cloth nappy on. She wees immediately. I suspected she would so checked and was right. It confirms what I thought. She doesn’t want to go without a nappy.

That evening after the nanny’s left, we spend more time nappy free. This time she wees. I don’t catch it but I tell her, “You’re weeing, Talitha. You’ve done a wee.” I show her the “T” sign as I’ve decided this will be our toilet sign. She looks down in suprise. This all happens again shortly later.

Day 2 & 3: Talitha is ill and I’m feeling wrecked so we don’t try again.

Day 4: We don’t do nappy time in the morning but I show her the potty and encourage her to sit on it. She won’t go near it. I pretend to sit on it. She laughs and runs away.

That evening she clearly wants to poo so I whip off her nappy and bring the potty to her. She is upset because she’s always upset when she’s doing a poo. She pushes the potty away and runs to the other side of the room, continuing to fuss.

I follow her with the potty bowl, offering it to her and offering my lap. She shoves the bowl at me and runs away shouting, “No! No! No!” I’m pretty excited that this is her first word! But we still have to deal with this poo. I decide to put the bowl to one side and grab a terry square. It doesn’t really matter whether we catch this poo or not but we’re in a carpeted room and I don’t really want it to end up on the floor.

I think she must be resisting going because she doesn’t have a nappy on but finally she goes. I catch most of it in the bowl. Talitha looks horrified. I pick up the rest of it and invite her to come with me to flush it down the toilet. She shakes her head, recoiling and staring at the spot where the poo was. She doesn’t calm down until everything is cleared away and she’s clean and in her nappy again.

I wonder whether we’ve missed the boat on EC. Maybe 17 months is too late to try. I ask for support in online groups.

Day 5: I’ve had some good reassurance today. I feel like she will be journeying out of nappies at some point any way so why not gently, why not now?

I don’t really believe in “training” and would prefer her to find toilet independence through communication. So I will continue. It’s not stressing me out and I really do think it will be better for her as long as I’m not placing any pressure on her.

We spend the day out so we do not try any time nappy free. I continue to take her to the toilet with me and explain what I am doing. I’ve been doing this for the past couple of weeks anyway. She always thinks the flush is funny.

Day 6: I come across a straight-talking post by Kate Evans of The Food of Love: “Parents who practice Elimination Communication are overachievers.” Discuss.

It makes me laugh and feel OK about what I’m doing because I’m definitely not pursuing EC in an attempt to prove how much I rock at attachment parenting or whatever. I’m doing it because it makes sense to me.

We’ve been out again all day to day. We need to either cut out some time to give this a good start by staying home I think.

Day 7: We spend the whole morning nappy-free. We read a lot of books, have breakfast, play and do some housework. She is in knickers and remains completely dry. I offer the potty but she still won’t sit on it.

I take a good look at it and realise the problem. It’s too big! She can’t sit on it, she just falls in. It’s made for an older child. How have I only just realised this? I make a note to explore other options.

I get distracted while washing up and Talitha disappears to the livingroom. I go in to discover she’s weed in front of the TV where we’ve been playing music. Upon reflection, I should have just put her back in a nappy if I was done paying close attention.

Ah well. I clean her up, put a nappy on and put her down for a nap then clean up the little mess.

I don’t think we really have goals with what we’re doing. It’s just another part of the journey to independence. Journeys and relationships don’t really have goals, do they? EC also won’t be straightforward for us because Talitha is a toddler.

I wish we’d started earlier but I don’t know that I could have handled thinking about it when she was a newborn with all the breastfeeding stress we had. We are where we are when we are.

It’s also inconsistent because she’s with a nanny for ten hours a week and the fact that she does cloth nappies feels like enough to me. So, we’re definitely not trying to get out of nappies earlier. We’re just…on a journey.

Have you considered Elimination Communication? Any comments from anyone who’s started it with a toddler?

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  • I had never even heard of this Adele so I had to quickly go google another article and read more! It’s an interesting concept…

    My personal reaction is that I’ve been able identify cues from both my children as to when they are about to go to the toilet, but to successfully and regularly catch them before they went as infants sounds like it would be hard work, particularly now that I have two and need to divide my attention.

    On the other hand I can see how regularly talking about going to the bathroom, showing kids the toilet and making them aware of their bodily functions from an early age might lead to earlier results in this area.

    I was not surprised to read this is more readily accepted in non-Western cultures where the pace and culture of life is broadly a bit different.

    Then there is the question of how long this will take. When we potty trained LLC at 2 years 4 months she converted in 1-2 weeks. Most of the people I know who started around 2 with their kids said it took several weeks. I expect with EC children might learn to use the toilet far earlier, but it will take a lot longer getting there.

    So yes, I see absolute value in communicating to our children about the bathroom at an early age and hopefully sparking their interest sooner rather than later. But for me, and maybe this is selfish, with all the hubbub and things to think about in daily life this is one area where I’m willing to wait a little longer before pulling the diapers in hopes for a quicker result.

    But to each his own, and it sounds like you are embracing and committed to this journey. I would be interested to know what you find.
    Tanya (Bump2Basics) recently posted..Brother and Sister

    • It seems to vary from what I’ve heard. Some EC children independently go to the toilet very early and others later. In terms of length of time, that has to do with placing goals and expectations, which isn’t really what EC is about. EC is about the parent responding to the baby’s need to go to the toilet than about the baby learning to go to the toilet early.

      I think back to when Talitha was much younger and I actually did catch some of her poos and wees just because I had kept a bowl near me and dressed her accessibly. I didn’t think about what we were doing as EC at the time and I didn’t think to continue. It would’ve been interesting to see what would have happened if I had.

  • I have always dismissed EC as a step too far for me, and with three it probably is but I am curious. I wonder though whether starting at 17 months is EC or early potty training considering that Ive had friends who potty trained their children at this age. What would the differences be? What you describe so far sounds pretty much like the first stages of potty training, so I would be interested to hear how you feel they differ.
    Purplemum recently posted..Liz Jones – Don’t Be Rude

    • I absolutely know what you mean, Ella! If done from birth then obviously there is no “training”, the baby just grows up knowing that elimination doesn’t happen in a nappy. In a way, we actually “nappy train” babies. That’s why I would’ve liked to have started sooner.

      For me, the difference is that I am training myself to recognise cues and bring the potty (or terry square or whatever) to her rather than putting an expectation on her to do anything really, except observe what happens.

      Potty training often seems to come with some goals, rewards, praises etc and I’m hoping not to do any of this. I am not even expecting that she’ll be dry any sooner than otherwise.

      It probably is a form of potty training but with an approach that is communicative. We are learning together. Going to the potty is not something I am “teaching” her. Does that make any sense?

      • Ah ok that makes sense, with conventional potty training there are often rewards involved and a certain expectation that it is leading towards the child knowing when to sit on the potty. Do keep us updated with where this leads.

  • I only heard about EC last week. My son is 9 months. I’ve just started using reusable nappies. I’ve tried putting him on the potty at most nappy changes….screaming head fit from him! He looks so uncomfortable! I’m guessing same issue as you with potty…it’s too big and only his thighs touch the top. Must be really uncomfortable! So, now I need to find a better potty, or invest in a decent toddler loo seat (picked one up today….it is too small and slides around all over the place. Glad I only paid 99p…maybe the price should have told me something!) so back to looking at padded ones online!

    If you have any joy with a potty, is love to know!!!

    I wonder if 9 months is too early to begin. Especially as I have no idea what I’m doing! But then my mum says I would sit on the pot at 6 months and my brother would only poop in a pot at 1 yr after my mum sat him in a pot every nappy change from 6 months!

    • Becky, 9 months isn’t early at all. The optimum time to start is meant to be 0-4 months. That said, I easily caught a few poos and wees around 8 months…should’ve continued!

      Will let you know about the potty. One thing I’ve heard about toddler seats is that babies often find it good to have their feet supported too so you might also want to look for a step or something.

  • We started both boys on the potty at 12 months and during their second summer got rid of nappies cold turkey. It took them both about 2 weeks to be mostly accident free, 1st one by 28 months (feb bday) and 2nd by 19 months (nov bday). The earlier kids get to know the potty and are reminded of their bodily functions the easier the training in the end. (PS. the 2nd summer rule is an estonian thing)

  • Brilliant post, you explain it all so articulately.

    I think, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are doing the right thing!

    i find it really hard to imagine conventional toilet training if you are trying to avoid reward, praise etc.

    I really recommend the Baby Bjorn potties, the little one is ideal for small bums and the potty chair is perfect for tots to get on and off themselves- although tis quite big!

    Keep in touch, and find the EC UK group on facebook, so good knowing lots of other mamas do this too 🙂

    • You’re the third one to suggest those potties. I’ve requested to join the group too. Thanks for all the support! 🙂

  • I saw this featured on a TV programme some months ago mostly being used by American mums. I think if you have to time to commit to this and maybe start early enough it can work. You need to loosen up about accidents on your floor and furniture don’t you? I may find it hard to let go enough for this concept to work.
    Interesting read though and I wish you luck and would love to hear how you both progress x
    Jenny Paulin recently posted..Parsnip, Honey & Orange Cake

    • I think it does take time. Places where it’s common practice tend to have a slower pace of life. I haven’t really had the time to commit to it properly so we’re just sort of muddling along.

  • Aaron’s 29 months and still in nappies and I feel terrible about it – a real Mummy Fail.

    I bought all the stuff £39 in Mothercare a few weeks ago and even blogged about it, but we only went nappy free for about 30 mins and nothing since.

    He had diarhoea all of last week, so I was glad of the nappies then (we have carpets).

    I am so scared of toilet/potty training as I just don’t have a clue 🙁

    Liska x
    Liska recently posted..The Best Blog I Can Be? Let me ask: Best Dad I Can Be…

    • Not a mummy fail at all. I think that’s pretty common. Hope he’s better or gets better soon, poor little soul.

  • Potty training is something that fills me with dread and the thought of teaching a baby at a few months old to know when it’s weeing? Bonkers 🙂
    For me I’d rather spend time playing etc than worrying about using nappies at this age.
    Fascinated to see how you get on though….
    The Fool recently posted..Listography: six songs of me

    • Parents who practice EC from birth will tell you that babies are born with an awareness of their bodily functions but that by putting them in nappies we train them to go in nappies. Talitha knows when she’s going. That’s why she’s been holding it so that she can go in her nappy. This changed yesterday though. She’s been OK about me catching it and has even helped me flush the toilet! She still hasn’t sat on the potty yet but I still haven’t got her a better potty. This honestly hasn’t been more work. We play and then when I notice her signs, I stick a container under her. It’s easier to clean than changing a nappy!

  • I’ve read about this before – an article in The Green Parent Magazine – but I have to say it was a step too far for me. I’m happy mixing and matching with cloth but I don’t know that I could do EC. It’s a fascinating concept and my admiration goes to those who manage to make it work for them, but we’ve had quite a few “issues” with anything poo related and we’re having trouble enough with getting F used to the idea that Mummy and Daddy don’t wear a nappy!
    Molly – Mother’s Always Right recently posted..Why blogs make me spend money

  • Another reason not to rush potty training:

    My sister told me about EC. I was intrigued. Rafi always made it obvious when he was about to poo, so one day when he was about a month old, I took his cue and ran to the loo with him, whipped off his nappy, and held onto him in an awkward double grip (trying to aim the poo down the loo whilst keeping his floppy newborn baby body upright was a serious challenge). It was difficult and distressing for both of us. He cried. I was probably just being a bit cack-handed that day (!) but it just didn’t feel right.

    Then when he was about 5 months, I started sitting him on his potty in the morning, when I went for my first morning wee (and you thought YOU gave out too much info!). He started doing a morning poo, every day without fail, for about two months. But then we started solids. He got more and more constipated. And he got big enough to get off the potty at will (before, he needed help getting back up). Now he wont go anywhere near the potty.

    I’m working on making pooing a happier experience for him, mainly by using prune juice and toilet-related books. And hopefully I haven’t traumatised his for life!

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  • Really interesting post. I actually think EC/potty training is more semantics than anything else.

    I plan on starting my daughter very soon (she’s just approaching 14 months). I have called it ‘potty training’ because that’s what it’s usually called, but I don’t plan to have a reward chart or give her a star or a biscuit if she poos on the potty. I plan to do it as you described, so maybe it’s EC I’m planning on starting – who knows! 🙂

    Conventional wisdom in the UK states that 14 months is too young to ‘potty train’. I disagree. In Europe the process starts much earlier. My sister-in-law is Slovak and over there all children are potty trained by two, and her daughter who is now 25 months has been independent of nappies other than at night for quite some time now. She still has little accidents but I believe this is because what my sister in law has practiced is what you’d call EC, not ‘potty training’, eg learning to recognise the signs, taking a gentle approach, not linking to reward or punishment, not using pull-ups. That’s what I also plan to do.

    I have no ‘end goal’ in mind. It takes as long as it takes.

    Long ramble but great post, thanks for writing, has helped me feel a little better about my plans as the few people I’ve shared them with have just told me ‘that’s far too young to potty-train’.

    • That’s not too young at all. It could be for “training” but it sounds like what you’re doing is potty “learning” with EC principles. 🙂

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