Elimination Communication and Breastfeeding

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Elimination Communication and Breastfeeding

EC Could be the Answer to Your Breastfeeding Woes

Elimination communication (or EC for short) is a fancy term for allowing a baby opportunities to pee or poop in a potty. It's not the same as potty training a toddler. It's more of a collaborative effort between parent and child. When the baby signals the need to pee or poop, or it happens to be a convenient transition time, the parent removes the diaper or clothing and holds the baby over a potty.

Those of us who practice elimination communication often see issues raised in breastfeeding support groups and think, "Oooh, oooh, I know the answer! EC can solve that!". I'm like a school girl with her hand raised high in the air thinking, "Teacher, call on me!". But when we share our perspective we are often met with silence. Probably brushed off as crazy. So I wrote this post to provide a deeper explanation of the intersection between breastfeeding and elimination communication. Yes, the concept of elimination communication may sound crazy the first time you hear of it. And maybe the second time... But I'm hoping by the third time you'll stop and consider it for a bit.

Popping Off (Unlatching) While Nursing

Has this scenario ever happened to you? Your baby is showing her normal cues that she is hungry and wants to breastfeed. You offer your breast and your baby latches on for a second, only to pop right off. You offer again and your baby straightens her body and cries a bit in protest. You're left bewildered, wondering why she is acting hungry but refusing to eat. After a little while of trying different things, your baby latches on and drinks her milk.

You go to a support group or lactation consultant for help and are told that you might have "over active let down" and your milk is coming out too fast for your baby. That is a possibility, but here's another one:

Your baby may be popping off the breast while breastfeeding because she needs to pee!

Have you ever been in the situation where your bladder is full and someone hands you a nice cold drink? The first thing that runs through your mind is, "I can't drink this until I go pee!". That's how your baby feels when her bladder is full and you offer the breast.

So why doesn't she just pee in her diaper? Here's something you probably didn't read in a baby book or hear in a baby care class: babies prefer not to pee on themselves or their caregivers. If given the option to pee away from their body, they prefer that option to peeing in a diaper. But if the diaper is the only option, your baby will give in and pee in the diaper and then go on to breastfeed.

I'm here to let you know that the diaper doesn't have to be the only option. You can also offer your baby "pottytunities", or opportunities to use the potty. The fancy term for this concept is "elimination communication". Or as I like to describe it, "sometimes I let my baby pee in the potty".

Needing to eliminate is just one possible reason for popping of the breast while nursing. If your baby continues to pop off the breast throughout a breastfeeding session along with coughing and choking, you may want to research the symptoms of tongue tie.

Gymnurstics

I often see moms in breastfeeding groups post silly photos of their nurslings doing #gymnurstics. Babies and toddlers can pull off some pretty acrobatic moves while breastfeeding!

Any time I see a baby nursing with his legs straight and butt up in the air, I think how my baby only did that when he needed to poop.

So if your baby starts straightening his legs and doing yoga poses while nursing, it might be the perfect opportunity to offer the potty right after that nursing session. Let me know if you catch a poop!

Waking at Night: Hungry, or Just Needing to Pee?

I made an interesting discovery with my second baby, with whom I have been practicing EC since birth. Sometimes when she starts tossing and turning at night and looking like she's about to rouse, I offer the potty and after peeing she goes peacefully back to sleep. Other times I take longer to wake and respond and she's rolled onto her belly and started inch-worming up the bed. I can feel that her cloth diaper is wet, so I change her into a dry diaper, and before even nursing, she is sound asleep.

Sometimes my baby wakes at night simply because she needs to pee, not because she is hungry.

With my first baby, I would nurse and offer the potty at the same time. Nursing helped to relax him enough to pee. With my second baby, I have a different routine. I offer the potty first, to catch a pee. Then I breastfeed her. This routine helped me to realize that sometimes she just needs to empty her bladder.

Early Morning Tossing and Turning and Frequent Nursing

I've often seen moms asking about their babies becoming restless and nursing frequently during the early morning hours. Having practiced elimination communication with two babies and actively participated in EC support groups, it's pretty clear to me what's going on. Your baby needs to pee and/or poop!

It's unlikely that your baby will settle back into a sound sleep until his elimination needs are met.

Try this experiment. The next time your baby starts tossing and turning around 5-6am in the morning and nursing doesn't help to settle him: remove his diaper, hold him in EC hold over a little potty (with one of your hands under each of his thighs and his back resting against your belly), and make a "pssss" sound. If nothing happens at first, take a deep breath and exhale in a relaxing sigh. If he pees and/or poops, put on a fresh diaper and lay him back in bed. It's best to keep the lights dim and temperature warm, so as not to startle or disturb him.

Learning to Potty Your Baby is Like Learning to Breastfeed

Learning your baby's elimination communication signals is like learning her hunger cues. At first it may feel like you don't know what your baby needs. But over time, you start to understand what your baby is communicating. Some of my baby's hunger cues include crying "nay", sucking on my shoulder, and making an adorable frowning face. Some of her elimination communication signals include becoming agitated, trying to crawl out of my arms, and blowing raspberries.

You are already in close contact with your baby while breastfeeding and babywearing, so it can be easier to notice her elimination communication signals at those times. What helped me learn my newborn baby's elimination communication signals was having her wear a cloth diaper without a waterproof cover. I would keep a wool puddle pad under her, to prevent pee from leaking through onto my clothing or the bed.

Your baby's natural timing of peeing and pooping may be synchronized with their breastfeeding routine.

For example, my baby pees before nursing and poops right after nursing. It's possible to breastfeed a newborn baby over a top hat potty. Or you can offer the potty before and after nursing.

You Don't Have to Wait Until You Figure Out Breastfeeding to Start EC

I often see people in the Facebook EC support groups mention that they are planning to wait to start elimination communication until they figure out breastfeeding. That was also my line of thought with my first baby. Breastfeeding was my top priority.

What I didn't realize, was that practicing elimination communication from birth can actually help with breastfeeding. Like I mentioned above, fussiness at the breast or refusing to nurse when acting hungry can be due to the need to pee or poop. If you choose to start EC right away, you can simultaneously learn your baby's hunger cues and elimination communication signals.

I felt so blessed with my second baby that I pretty much always understood the needs she was communicating. A little sad frown meant she was hungry and wanted to nurse. If she had a full belly and was content but then started to flail in an agitated manner or fuss, she needed to pee. If she started rubbing her face, she was tired and wanted to take a nap.

At the heart of elimination communication is COMMUNICATION. It's amazing the two-way communication you can have with your baby!

Resources for Learning more about Elimination Communication

Just like with breastfeeding, the more you learn about EC, the easier it is to do!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!

And my all-time favorite book about breastfeeding is The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League.

 

That wraps up my thoughts on the intersection between breastfeeding and elimination communication. I'm curious to hear from you about your experience with breastfeeding and/or elimination communication.

Would you like to receive tips on practicing EC and early potty training?

Let's Chat about EC...

If you are new to elimination communication, are you willing to give it a try and see if it helps with breastfeeding? If you are practicing EC and breastfeeding, has your experience been similar or different from mine?

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About Heidi Avelino

Heidi is passionate about spreading awareness of elimination communication and early potty learning. She has always been an environmentalist and strives to live a minimalist and zero-waste lifestyle. Heidi practiced EC with her son, starting at one-month-old, until he reached potty independence. She is now practicing EC from birth with her baby girl.

14 Comments

  1. Colleen on October 23, 2018 at 9:56 am

    So true! I breast fed both of my babies on demand and practiced EC from birth. Once I figured out how EC played a roll in some of the fussy nursing behaviors life became a whole lot easier. My second baby also had a lot of intolerance and digestive issues and the breastfeeding and EC combination helped me figure out how to best help him and to finally get some sleep!

    • Heidi Avelino on October 23, 2018 at 10:53 am

      Hi Colleen,
      Thanks for commenting! I’m glad that breastfeeding and EC helped you to soothe your baby.

      My second baby was born with lip and tongue ties which caused really bad gas and silent reflux. I think doing elimination communication helped relieve the gas, until her ties were released.

  2. Kim on October 23, 2018 at 11:07 am

    Yes!
    Thanks for spreading awareness!
    I figured out quickly (by using a cloth diaper without a cover or by nursing with a bowl under him) that popping off my breast almost always meant he had to pee. As he’s gotten a little older (now 7 months), I still know this is true and can offer right away. It is so satisfying to deeply understand exactly what your baby is trying to communicate.
    I used to nighttime EC (in the first few months and occasionally since then), but as he began to wake more easily, and then as he began to hold it longer, it stopped working as well. We may get back into when I have a good idea of timing, but it keeps changing. I do change the diaper immediately, though. Without that, he’d be unable to keep sleeping.

    • Heidi Avelino on October 23, 2018 at 12:23 pm

      Hi Kim,
      Thanks for commenting! I agree that it’s so rewarding to deeply understand what your baby is communicating. It also helps keep my baby happy!

      I’ve been way more lax with nighttime EC with my second baby. Sometimes it’s easier to change a wet diaper than to risk waking her up. My first baby would stay half asleep while using the potty at night.

  3. Janell Stover on October 23, 2018 at 11:28 am

    I am a Montessori guide, trained in 2001 and love EC! I just had my first baby this year, and have been breast feeding since day 1. We started EC holds at 2 weeks, and cloth diapers at 3 weeks. Love the connection with our baby and helping her learn her body 🙂

    • Heidi Avelino on October 24, 2018 at 10:12 am

      Hi Janell,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. I love what I have learned so far about Montessori education. I hope to keep learning more.

      At first I thought that Montessori toilet learning didn’t start until around 12-months-old. Then I listened to a podcast with Sarah Moudry, author of Toilet Awareness, and realized that toilet learning can include offering the potty during the baby phase.

  4. Lea on October 23, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Wonderfully informative! Thank you for writing this. I didn’t start Elimination communication with my first until he was almost 5 months so I didn’t know about the connection between breastfeeding and eliminating. It could have saved me so many struggles with trying to relatch a fussy baby. I’m pregnant and excited to start EC from birth this time around.

    Also, I have definitely noticed that my son has slept better since we started night EC. He was waking about half the time to pee and half to nurse. We sleep so much better now!

    • Heidi Avelino on October 23, 2018 at 2:34 pm

      Hi Lea,
      Thanks for inspiring me to write this post. Congratulations on your baby on-the-way! I was so happy to start EC from birth this time around, so I’ve been sharing lots about doing elimination communication with a newborn.

      I’m glad that nighttime EC has been helping your son sleep better. I was surprised when I realized that sometimes my baby only needs to pee at night and doesn’t even need to nurse back to sleep.

  5. Rebecca on October 24, 2018 at 8:41 am

    Lovely post highlighting this little know about problem. Although I was unable to BF either of my children for long, what I found is that the same is true of bottle feeding. As you say, it’s about the liquid in and so this is not necessarily something exclusive to breastfeeding per se.
    EC can help with feeding, whether you bottle or breastfeed.

    • Heidi Avelino on October 24, 2018 at 10:07 am

      Hi Rebecca,
      Thank you for sharing your experience! I haven’t personally bottle fed. It makes sense that it has the same relationship to EC, since either way the baby is drinking liquid.

  6. Tanveer on October 26, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    I’ve noticed the same, esp with early morning tossing and turning! Thanks for the article.

  7. Ana Neloska on October 27, 2018 at 1:03 am

    Thank you for this article. It is so true, and knowing it helped me understand my baby better and not “give up” when he unlatches thinking “… well, he is not hungry..” or “.. he must have colic..” or some other explanation.

  8. Sarah on November 4, 2018 at 2:32 am

    This is amazing and I have never heard of it before! Is it possible to do it with an older baby (9+ months)? Or is it something you need to do from birth?

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