Does elimination communication work? Yes, yes it does! Elimination communication "works" in many different ways!
Reasons Why Elimination Communication Works
Before we dive into the many ways that elimination communication (EC) works, let's look at the reasons why EC works. When people are skeptical as to whether elimination communication is possible, it usually boils down to their basic assumptions as to babies' preferences and capabilities. They've heard something form a friend, relative, doctor, or text book that makes them believe that babies don't have the mental and physiological ability to recognize when they need to eliminate and control their elimination. I admit, I was even skeptical at first as to whether EC would work for my family. While reading about EC, I learned some valuable pieces of information, that made me realize elimination communication really is possible!
Babies are born with an instinctual desire not to soil themselves or their caregivers. Babies are aware of their need to eliminate before they pee or poo.
When I babysat, I always assumed that a baby cried at the discomfort of wearing a wet diaper. It had never occurred to me that a baby might cry before wetting a diaper, as a way to say, "hey, I need to pee!". As caregivers, we can tune in and become aware of when babies need to eliminate. Just as a mother quickly learns when her baby is hungry or tired, she can pick up on signals that indicate her baby needs to pee or poo.
And, contrary to common belief, babies can control their sphincter muscles and intentionally eliminate from birth or soon thereafter. This has been observed by many parents practicing EC with their babies.
Ways in Which Elimination Communication Works
I have personally seen elimination communication work for my family. We started practicing EC with my son when he was 1-month-old. He is currently 29-months-old and wears undies full time. He is dry throughout the night and no longer needs to potty at night. He has occasional daytime pee accidents, if he doesn't bother to stop his activity to run to the bathroom.
In writing this article I wanted a broader perspective, so I also compiled input from members of an online EC support group to which I belong. Let's look at the many ways in which EC works!
Catches in the Potty
First of all, yes, it is possible to catch even a newborn baby's pee and poo in the potty. Each family does elimination communication to a different extent and has a different catch rate, but at least some of the pees and poos end up in the potty, instead of a diaper.
For us, when my son was a young baby, we caught about half of his pees in the potty and some, but not all poos. Once he started eating solid foods at 6-months-old we caught most poos in the potty. It was pretty easy, since he had a regular schedule. We would put him on the toilet to poo first thing in the morning. The photo above is my husband and our son, when he was 6-months-old, during morning poo time.
Reduces Diaper Usage
Although many books about elimination communication use the catchy phrase "diaper free", most Westerners practicing elimination communication use diapers as back-up on their young babies.
By practicing elimination communication, you can drastically cut down on diaper usage. When my son was a young baby, we used about half as many cloth diapers per day as we would have used if we hadn't been doing elimination communication.
EC'd babies are also often out of diapers a year or two earlier than their peers. We switched to cloth training pants, with occasional disposable diapers, when my son was one-year-old and to underwear when he was 2-years-old. Many ECing families make the switch to cloth training pants or underwear even younger, especially now that there are more options in smaller sizes. With the average age of potty independence in the US currently at 36-months-old, ditching the diapers at 24-months-old cuts out an entire year's worth of diapers! I love this environmentally friendly aspect of elimination communication! And it also means you can spend less on either purchasing disposable diapers or washing cloth diapers.
At our last local elimination communication support group meeting, I discovered that many mothers are drawn to elimination communication because it cuts down on the need to spray and wash poopy cloth diapers. Once a baby's bowel movements become more solid and regular it's easy to catch most poops in the toilet or potty, especially because poop signals are more noticeable than pee signals.
Reduces Diaper Rash and Constipation
Allowing a baby to eliminate away from his or her body is very hygienic and can reduce or avoid diaper rash. I only remember my son getting diaper rash once, and it was during a time that he had diarrhea and we temporarily stopped doing EC and relied on disposable diapers. Some EC'ing families completely avoid diaper rash.
Establishing a routine of pooping in the toilet or potty everyday can help avoid withholding and constipation. Although toddlers encountering potty training for the first time may have a fear of pooping in the potty; babies who do EC from a young age quickly show their preference for pooping in the potty rather than in a diaper. And they are offered frequent pottytunities, allowing them to establish a regular pattern of bowel movements.
Child Understands Bodily Functions
Babies and toddlers doing elimination communication are in tune with their bodily functions. They are aware of their body's signals indicating that they need to pee or poo and are comfortable with the feeling of eliminating in a potty or toilet. They are also comfortable asking for help with using the potty or changing their diaper/training pants, when needed.
Deepens Communication Between Baby and Caregiver
And let's not forgot one of the most important aspects of elimination communication- it deepens the communication between a baby and a caregiver. The baby either willfully or inadvertently signals the need to eliminate; the caregiver responds to those signals or the baby's natural timing by offering a pottytunitiy; the caregiver communicates that it is the proper time and place to eliminate by making a cue sound such as "psss"; the baby eliminates and feels relieved and understood. "I was uncomfortable; Mama helped me poo in the potty; now I feel much better!"
Potty time is also great bonding time. It can take a couple minutes to relax enough to pee, or a few minutes to work out a poo. Parent and child can bond by passing the time singing, making silly faces, or reading.
Reaching Potty Independence
If you are considering trying elimination communication because you think it will guarantee your child will be potty independent sooner, you may want to reconsider. While some EC graduates are diaper-free long before 2-years-old, not all toddlers practicing EC reach graduation earlier than "potty trained" peers. In order to reach potty independence, the child must take over responsibility for using the potty, and the parent must hand over control. Potty independence happens at different ages for different families. It will eventually follow EC, but there is no guarantee as to when!
Now that we have covered the ways in which elimination communication works, here are some tips in case you encounter a potty pause.