An Honest Update on Elimination Communication

elimination communication(Note: this first part was actually written last Thursday. Also, for those who haven’t been following the saga: we started practicing elimination communication with our daughter basically from birth, and I’ve updated from time to time. She is now a year and three months old.)

This past Monday, we finally mastered elimination communication.

When Ben got home from work just before supper, I was able to proudly announce that Lydia was still in the same dry diaper we’d put her to bed in the night before. Amazing!

Using a combination of timing and intuition, I’d gotten her to pee in the potty every time for the last 20 hours. At last! (Side note: She doesn’t cue me at all when she has to pee. She never has. Some babies do; but I’ve had to rely solely on timing.)

It felt SO GOOD to finally see all that dedication pay off. At fifteen months, she was finally using the potty full-time. We could switch to underpants! I could start putting her in full pants, rather than the leg-warmers she’s lived in since her third month of life to facilitate easy diaper removal for pottying. I couldn’t wait! Pants! Normal pants! Like all the other diapered kids! I’d teach her to pull them down and then back up by herself. And I wouldn’t have to buy the next size up in cloth diapers, which was a relief. Yes! This was great news.

I was going to write a post about why EC is so great, and why it paid off. I was going to enumerate all the benefits of starting with pottying in the first year of life rather than the third.

(You can probably see where this story is going.)

Lydia peed in her diaper a couple of times that evening, but it was no big deal. I’d been distracted. Tomorrow was a new day.

The next morning I got her first pee in the potty, as I always do; but I missed the second one. I was pretty sure she had been signing “potty,” too; but I’d been eating breakfast. Oops. Dang.

My mom took her for most of the day, so no pottying then; but oh well, we’d start again tomorrow. Maybe with undies!

She peed in her diaper that night, which was weird but not unheard of. But then I caught her wake-up pee again, as always.

I missed her second one – it was earlier than usual. Dang. I sat her on the potty 45 minutes later, the usual interval. . . . and nothing.

She peed in her diaper two minutes later.

Dang it! What the heck? What was wrong with us today? We’d get the next one.

We didn’t.

This went on ALL DAY. And then THE NEXT DAY.


What the heck was happening? We’d just mastered it! But today? Wet diaper after wet diaper. AFTER WET DIAPER. We were back to an 80% failure rate.

I was seething.

I knew that EC WORKED! I’d read all kinds of stories, and I’d experienced it firsthand! I knew that before the 1960’s, most babies were potty-trained by 18 months, and around the world, that’s still the norm (if not earlier). And I’d JUST done it three days earlier!!

So what the bleepity-bleep was I doing wrong?!?!?!

What AM I doing wrong??

I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m losing my mind over it.

*Deep breath.*

And you know what?

I still don’t regret practicing elimination communication.

Here’s why.

1. I get the sense that potty training is this frustrating for everyone. That’s just the nature of toilet-training children. I’m just dealing with it earlier – at 12-15 months, rather than 29-36 months.  So what I’m doing isn’t harder than if I was doing it the conventional way; just different.

I’m hoping I’ll get over this whole transitioning-from-diapers thing sooner, too.

I’m still confident that we’ll be done with this diaper business earlier than the national average. We at least have to be close to done by the time she’s two, which is when most people only start to potty-train. (Please, God. Please let us be done before then.)

I still believe it’s perfectly reasonable for kids this young to start using the potty. History confirms it. We Westerners, who typically start so much later, are an anomaly. Maybe I just need to get more creative.

2. I still believe that waiting to start potty-training until kids are older actually makes it harder. By the time they’re two, children are starting to become defiant, wanting to exert their independence. And they’ve  had two years to associate elimination with their diapers. That’s gotta be hard to reverse.

By contrast, at least my daughter has been able to associate urination and excretion with the potty since birth, instead of having to learn it at some arbitrary point in her later life, when she’s used to going in her diaper.

3. We have avoided at least half the poopy diapers in her life so far. Between five and nine months, we had to deal with maybe three poopy diapers. When you’re using cloth, that’s a HUGE benefit. And if you’re using disposable, that’s a lot of organic waste not going to the landfill in expensive, non-biodegradable packaging.

4. We’ve avoided lots of other common diapering problems, like diaper rash. We’ve never had to use a single dab of diaper cream.

5. I’m grateful to have always been so in tune with my daughter’s body. Even if I haven’t always managed to get her to the potty, at least I know exactly how many times she’s peed every day of her life (minus a few spent with grandma).

If I were to start potty training her a year from now without this information, I wouldn’t have a clue how many times to put her on the potty, or when. But I do have this information, which I hope will serve me in some way. (And if not, that’s OK too.)

So I’m still glad I’ve done it this way. But I do need to make a couple of changes.

First and foremost, I need to RELAX.

This is supposed to be liberating. It’s supposed to be about following my daughter’s lead, listening to her cues, keeping her comfortable, and keeping her wastes off her body. It’s supposed to be about saving energy, not using more. If it fails to do these things because I’m getting anxious and irritable, I’m missing the point.

I chose this method of dealing with my child’s elimination because it was supposed to be easier and more pleasant (and usually has been). If I’m turning it into something hard and unpleasant, I’m doing it wrong.

It’s not supposed to be about being able to wear cute pants or getting her out of diapers before her peers. So if I’m making it about those things, I’m missing the point.

I also have to remind myself that changing and washing diapers really isn’t all that difficult. (Unless it’s poop . . . but we usually manage to get poop in the potty). Seriously. I need to chill out.

I also need to switch my mentality.  I need to start thinking of what we’re doing as “part-time EC,” rather than “full-time EC with an incredible failure rate.” If we’re just doing part-time EC, then we’re actually doing quite great. Just think! Half of all the pee and almost all the poop goes into the toilet! That’ not bad.

I also need to keep in mind that when she pees in the potty, that’s awesome; but when she doesn’t, that’s fine and normal. No need to get upset. Peeing in her diaper is what all the other babies do.

* * *

Now it’s Tuesday again. Most days since I wrote this have been a happy medium between the two extremes: we’ve generally caught about half her pees, and all her poops.

I can deal with that, as long as I don’t let my perfectionist tendencies overwhelm me. We don’t have to be 100%. Part-time is A-OK.

SO. Have you ever tried this? Have I completely scared you off? What are your thoughts?

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  1. I applaud you for even attempting EC! I don’t think I’d do it even if I was SAHM. We’re also trying to potty train early – we introduced H. to the potty around August and have only had 4 successful uses so far – and all of them in the last 4 weeks. Not the success I was secretly hoping for BUT he now tells us everytime he goes in his diaper which is a great improvement! My mantra right now is slow and steady wins the race!

    Also, I’m trying to find the fun side of potty training – yesterday we read some books while he sat (and successfully used the potty!) and it’s pretty funny to hear the joy in his voice when, after he tells me “P.U.” and I ask him if he’s “made a p.u. in his diaper”, he exclaimes “YEA!” I can tell he’s really proud of the communication improvement.
    MollyMakesDo recently posted..The Shadow of ThankfulnessMy Profile

    • The fact that he tells you every time he goes is a great sign! (From my limited understanding of these things, anyway). Books have made all the difference for Lydia. She actually looks forward to potty time, because I will usually read her a couple of books. (Unfortunately, this means she has gotten the signs for “potty” and “book” a little mixed up, because to her, they’re almost synonymous…)

  2. Everything is this hard! Two steps forward, one step back, in all things child, I swear! In this, and in all the aspects that are important to your family, you will learn perseverance, and humility :) You are doing an awesome job: each accident is one closer to the end, and I believe she will be trained at a very early age, too. Stay strong! I think the hardest part of being a mommy is finding out how little we can actually control. She’s doing terrific!

    • “I think the hardest part of being a mommy is finding out how little we can actually control.” YES. Amen, amen. I’m learning that, too. Thanks so much for your encouragement, Sandra!

  3. Our daughter is almost 1 year old, so we’re starting to think about this… thanks for posting your experience.
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  4. I was secretly hoping in the darkest corners of my mind that Malachi would be so amazing at EC that he would just want to do it full-time himself even though I only make an effort about half of the time. Yeah… that’s definitely not happening.
    Like you, I just figure we’re already ahead of most people and that’s good enough for now. But it’s not all fun times and I swear it almost makes dirty diapers even more annoying than if we were not doing EC at all! After your kid poops in the potty ten times in a row a dirty diaper can be so frustrating, yucky, and feel like failure.
    We will continue to press on though and I will continue to pray that he starts communicating his need to go before the new baby comes! That would be a dream come true!
    Bekah recently posted..Midwife vs. OB/GYNMy Profile

  5. I liked what I read about the focus of EC being communication and early potty training being a nice but not guaranteed outcome. I think it takes the pressure off! That being said, I’m a royal EC failure! I got a few pees and poos but I’m horribly inconsistent. I have started again trying to do the first catch of the day but seriously, Sam is now totally clueless as to what I’m doing and just laughs at me in the mirror! This boy. Anyway, I would LOVE to see what a “typical day” looks like to you, especially since you said you rely solely on timing? Should I be holding him over the toilet longer than 2 minutes? My arms get tired ha! Thanks! PS: I must admit the extent that I’ve read up on this has been here and Elizabeth’s blog, as well as a few other sites and book reviews, no actual books :)
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    • Hey Alison! Oh, I feel like a royal EC failure most days, too. You’re not alone!

      I’m afraid I can’t really say what a “typical day” looks like, since it varies SO dramatically from day to day! As you can tell from this post, some days are amazingly successful . . . and others are complete flops. And things change so much from month to month, too, since she is s-l-o-w-l-y peeing less and less every day, with longer stretches in between.

      But for SURE, the BEST time to try is immediately upon his waking (in the morning, and from naps). You’re almost guaranteed to catch something then, and then you’ll feel like an EC champion. But you probably don’t have time to get to the bathroom for this . . . I always had to put her over the potty immediately. Meaning I had to have a potty handy wherever she slept.

      Lydia also always pees the most in the morning, so that gives me the most opportunity for catches. I’ve read that that’s typical. So you might consider focusing on mornings. Start out by just observing how often he goes. When Lydia was Sam’s age, I think she peed every 15-20 minutes. (I know: yikes!). After I established this, I used to set a timer to remind me, and had decent luck.

      Things usually fell apart after her first nap, when her peeing patterns became more spaced-out and irregular. So if you’re not THAT keen on full-time EC, I’d say just stick with mornings (if that works for you), rather than stress out.

      And no — I wouldn’t bother holding him over the toilet longer than 2 minutes. That ought to do it. If you always spend a ton of time waiting, you’re likely to go nuts, feeling like you’re wasting all kinds of time. Trust me. :)

      I would still recommend checking out a book if you’re really interested — my favourite was The Diaper Free Baby by Christine Gross-Loh. She’s so laid-back.

      Hope that helps!

  6. Hey Kathleen! I so appreciate your completely honest post of the ups and downs you’re experiencing. I’m with you on the celebration of your part time EC success rate! Not that we’re counting. But yeah, 1/2 pee and all poo in the potty is incredible at 15 mos. The rest could be a combination of things that I hopefully can articulate well enough…(sorry for the novel)….

    First, it’s definitely a good idea to relax. We all get to that point. If you are thinking about potty all day long, she knows it. And, you have other things to do, right? Yes. I’d back off *without stopping*, if that’s possible. Maybe just backing off the pressure you feel inside and the thoughts around it (the worry). But what you’re doing day-to-day is good as a foundation. Stay with it. Oh, and talk less. Keep it very matter-of-fact, if you’re not already. Too many words translate to them as fear/uncertainty and they respond to that, as we all know. ;)

    Also, one thing you might want to start doing is teaching some building blocks so she can begin to tell you when she needs to go. You can say the word you want her to begin saying as a “prompt phrase” when you take her (like “need to pee” or “potty” or “pee”). You’ve been doing everything for her til now, and helping her do some of the physical things herself (push her pants down, throw paper in the toilet, flush it, wash her hands, oh, run to the potty and sit on it, etc.) will help you “pass the baton” that often does NOT get passed with ECers til much much too late (that willful age you mention…yep…totally frustrating if the job’s not already done and tools aren’t available/taught).

    The learning curve with EC (and anything child-related) is completely non-linear. My friend Jamie has a post on this here: Invaluable.

    Along with this, a key thing to know is also that young toddlers’ brains are still developing the ability to hold repetitive long term memories (the nonlinear learning curve reflects this inner processing). This gives us a good amount of information about EC through 18 months. It can look like an unreliable practice with unreliable results, but honestly things are being learned and retained! It just doesn’t look like that. Usually at 18 months you can count on being “able” to wrap it up. At 15 months, the brain is still connecting the dots. The range is 14-18 months when this part of brain building finishes up. So hang in there and know that it’s not necessarily YOU. :)

    Speaking of you…you are doing great! And esp since your caregiver (your mom) isn’t doing EC with your babe…your results are really wonderful. We are way more distracted than past generations so give yourself a break on that. There is no perfection in EC. But you know that!

    As for transitioning from diapers, you can do that now. You just have to be confident in your decision. Use what keeps *you* the most calm, most of the time. Some of my readers have reported using a diaper belt and sumo-style diapering (just a prefold) is a great way they’ve transitioned from CDing to just pants. The point is WHEN you choose to transition, do it 100% confidently…no ambivalence. She will follow suit. Even if it takes a few days. We were done with daytime diapers at 9 months and by 13 months mostly dry by day. It was not easy, but I was sick of the diapers (so was my son!).

    You will absolutely be done by 2 years old if you’re not too attached to the whole EC identity…by this I mean if you also welcome in some of the things that folks like Jamie can contribute in the non-coercive potty training realm (there is one). She has a whole section in her book about how to PT (avg of 7 days to completion, with no M&Ms, starting at 18-20 mos) if you’ve done some bit of EC in the past. In my book, I also give parents the pieces of PT that help to wrap up EC. EC is not developmentally appropriate beyond 18-20 months, so at that point, if you’re still having misses or using diapers, you CAN be 100% done by either method. Good to know!!!! (I’m like the PSA of ditching diapers, I know.)

    Oh and regarding the potty then peeing 2 minutes later (if you’re still having this issue), I have a new post on this as well:

    Sorry for the novel! But I wanted to give a thorough response in hopes that it could help you or one of your readers going through the same thing.

    Good luck and keep up the wonderful writing (and ECing)! xx Andrea
    Andrea Olson @ECSimplified recently posted..Elimination Communication How-to Video #1 – Signal/Cue/Potty Baby on Mini-PottyMy Profile

    • Oh gosh, Andrea — thanks for all this! It’s hard when you’re the trailblazer, with no one to turn to for advice. That’s why the internet is so wonderful. I need to check out those articles . . . and probably your entire book! Thanks again. I really appreciate the time you put into responding.

  7. I’ve successfully ECed 3 kids and my personal experience with all 3 has been that having an “off” day or two in a row can mean one of 3 things: 1) I’m distracted by too much and need to pay all my kids more attention in general not just in regards to pottying, 2) the babe in question is coming down with something and this is the first symptom, or 3) the babe is constipated. At about a year old my daughter went through a period where she would pee just a tiny amount, every 5 minutes, for hours at a time. Finally she would poop a *huge* amount, which obviously hurt her tiny bottom, and then she’d be unable to poop for several days afterward until it became an absolute necessity and the cycle would start over. I think it was a combination of the hard poop in her colon spazzing out the nerves that signal a full bladder, and a fear of opening up to elimination of any kind because she knew pooping would hurt. In cases such as these you just kind of have to go with whatever works to get them pooping regularly: laxatives, a gentle diet that encourages soft poo, plenty of soaks in a warm bath, and singing or playing or anything that helps relax the baby on the toilet.

    Anyway, those are my first thoughts when we have an uncharacteristic string of misses.

  8. I’m considering myself quite lucky that I found this blog post! I haven’t seen much about people’s honest experiences with EC other than in the books I’ve read on the subject. I’m an experienced nanny, though the past couple months has been my first time working for a family who has an infant. She was 2mo when I started and is now 7mo. I feel like we got into a pretty great groove very quickly, but I was still just figuring out this whole “taking care of a baby” thing. ANYWAY! I wanted to know if you think it is too late to begin ECing with a 7 or 8 month old. I have the family’s blessing, though I may be the only one doing EC with her when the time comes. I guess I’m of the mindset that if I have to potty train her regardless, may as well get her used to a potty now… though not necessarily except success. What do you think?

    • Hi Lauren! I definitely think it’s still worth trying. My newest baby was in and out of the hospital, and continued to be medically fragile, for his first year, so we couldn’t do EC. But I’m giving it a try now, even though he’s over a year old. Even one pee in the potty a day seems worthwhile (as long as you’re not making yourself crazy), because as you say, it will get her used to the idea of the potty. Best wishes!

  9. Oh my gosh! Thank you so much for this post! I am having the same feelings with out almost 19 month old! We had three solid weeks of only 3 mistakes for the whole week, and usually I could realize that it was something I did wrong by not noticing/not being diligent about the potty upon waking, etc, but now she has back slid for the past month or to to a couple misses a day. :( But your post encouraged me so much, and yes, we hardly ever miss poop. Just got to keep at it! Thanks so much for the encouragement (also read your post at 19 months) so I think there is hope!

  10. Loved reading your post. As I was reading, I could tell what you were going to write because that’s been my experience. Just when we’ve had a few good days in a row, BAM! It goes downhill fast to mostly misses. And my son signals in a few ways and other times he doesn’t or I’m busy and miss his signals. I think I’d find it more frustrating if he was diaper free and having misses that I’d have to clean up… and my thought process is the same… please let us be done early. Thinking of going diaper free next month at 15 months old. See how we go. Have to check out more of your posts to see what the update is.
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