How We Do Things: Elimination Communication & Potty Training

This post is part of my series The Way We Do Things. Please click through for more.

Five years ago, while pregnant and on vacation, I found myself in a library with a couple of hours to pass and thought I’d browse the parenting section. A book caught my eye. The words “Diaper Free” were written largely across the binding.

“Surely they don’t mean…?”

I grabbed the book* and found a comfy chair (My husband was somewhere else in the library doing the same thing – it’s how we roll. We even included a long Barnes & Noble visit to our honeymoon road trip!) and read the book cover to cover.

I already felt like I was going against the flow by planning to cloth diaper my bab(ies). Frugality was a big motivator for me, and what could be more frugal than NO diapers? But was it possible?

Communicating About Eliminating

Elimination Communication (or EC) was a completely new concept for me. In all of my research (and I’d done a LOT even before conceiving) I’d never heard of families doing anything other than diapering until they decided to potty train. I must have looked hilarious sitting there at the library with my eyes as big as saucers and my mouth stuck open for two hours! People DID this?

EC can mean no diapers. at. all. from. day. one. Or, more commonly, it just means paying attention to your baby’s potty cues. The little faces and sounds he makes, the way he tenses up right before he goes, etc.

What parents decide to do about the cues and how much attention they pay varies widely, but the spectrum generally looks like this:

There are families who hold their baby over a bowl or the toilet from day one and “catch” the waste. They may use diapers only rarely or never.

There are families who use diapers, but also use a potty of some sort from earl(ier) days to cut back on diapers and make potty training easier.

There are families who use diapers exclusively – even disposables – but work to make their children aware of what is going on so that at some point they are better able to recognize the sensation of the urge to go potty, and make it to the toilet without an accident.

I was completely intrigued by these ideas and their implications and pretty much had the book memorized by the time we got to the car and I got to spill out all of my thoughts to my husband.

As soon as we got home, I rushed to Google University and started devouring the information I found. There really wasn’t much about it in the blogosphere back then, but I did find some pretty even-keeled people doing some form of EC. And I learned about some of the anecdotal benefits of it:

* Extra Bonding – Just like some of the other parenting choices we looked forward to making, like breastfeeding and cosleeping, EC proponents lauded the fact that they were required to focus more on their children and pay attention to their cues and rhythms – which made them feel like they knew their children a bit better than they would have.

* Fewer Diapers – That meant either less money spent or less laundry done. Either way, I was sold!

* Fewer Diaper Rashes – Less waste sitting on the skin. Makes sense.

* Earlier Potty Learning – That sounded good! Same benefits as the “fewer diapers” category! But…

Should it be a race?

I had also read/heard plenty of advice that potty training too early or too firmly could negatively impact a child’s perception of elimination and make them regress, refuse to use the toilet, or even hold in their waste and endanger their health!

As with just about every other parenting decision, there seemed to be very different perspectives on the subject, so we decided “wait and see” was a good course of action. As interesting as infant EC sounded, it didn’t appeal to me strongly enough to give it a try.

Two of my favorite bloggers (both of whom have stopped blogging – sad day!) posted about their potty training and EC thoughts just before I gave birth. Their advice and experience was full of common sense, and in the end it stuck with me.

Where We Landed

Elimination Communication and Early Potty Training

One of the benefits of cloth diapering is that older babies are potentially more likely to want out of them because they are more bothered by sitting in soiled pants than their disposable wearing peers since cloth doesn’t usually wick away moisture as well.

It makes sense, then, that cloth diapered babes would want out of diapers earlier. We decided to make it our goal to pay attention to the signals Aidan gave us during and after he pottied and change him asap to get him used to the idea that being dirty is less desirable than clean.

Then, at around 8 months old, we began placing him on the little potty every morning after breakfast, since that is when he usually had a bowel movement.

It took only two or three times before he pood in the potty, and he “got it” right away! We clapped and showed him the potty, and from that day on he rarely ever pooped in his diaper! This was mostly because the “signals” he gave us for impending poop were much more clear than for pee (you know the “face” I mean). :)

By one year, we had increased to putting him on the potty several times a day successfully, and by 18 months, I knew he was ready for more.

One of the blogger’s whose advice I’d appreciated mentioned that she never used a potty seat – just stuck her boys right on the adult seat and taught them how to hold on. Aidan loved the idea of going potty just like a big boy, so for him this meant sitting at the back of the regular toilet seat and resting his legs on the seat as well.

Just a month or so before his two year birthday, I took Aidan out of diapers completely and also started ushering him to the bathroom every hour or so.

By the time his birthday rolled around, he was in underwear over night with only an occasional accident (thankful for mattress protectors!)

Round Two

Cora was much the same as Aidan in the beginning, but our journey with her was longer and bumpier. I had to laugh out loud reading this post about Potty Training the Strong Willed Child recently. While I do think that our EC/Early Potty Training Hybrid works for our family, anything that requires cooperation goes a little bit slower with our assertive little girl.

Cora walked a full 5 months later than Aidan, and in the midst of figuring out mobility, we went through a long and traumatic ordeal with her dental health.

She didn’t like to be forced away from what she was doing to potty. She didn’t like to have her diaper changed when it wasn’t convenient for her. And no matter how “matter of course” cheery eyed I was, getting her to sit on the potty was sometimes a creative feat. And then there were a few tantrums on the bathroom floor about putting her underwear back ON.

*whew* I am exhausted remembering it. But she’s only three, and it’s over, so it was short-lived (thank you, Jesus)!

Some of the things that helped us with our reluctant pottier:

* Pretty underwear. With ballerinas. Enough said.
* A little travel potty seat* to sit on top of our big seat and make her feel more secure.
* Our motto that “food can’t fit in until potty comes out.” We explained how our food turns into waste and that if wait too long to let it out, our insides get too full of waste and adding more food would make us sick. So we go potty before snack and before meals. Food is usually a pretty awesome motivator. She never goes hungry!

It took Cora until almost her third birthday to be diaper free at night, but that was back in March and so far she hasn’t had a single night time accident.

Round Three

Our little Alexander is 10.5 months old now and I only change one or two poopy diapers a week. His digestion is way better than the other two as well, so diapering is a dream this time around. For reals.

We started him on the Little Potty at 8 months just like Aidan and so far he thinks it’s the best thing ever. In fact, he has four “words” right now: mama, dada, ball, and poo poo. :)

Maybe fiestiness is gender specific in our family? ;)

To Sum Up

We’ve chosen to watch our children for potty signals, start them on the potty early, go directly to underwear instead of pull-ups, and not use incentives.

That’s what WE’VE chosen to do, but I do NOT think it is best for everyone. Life just isn’t one-size fits all, so no guilt trip here! In fact, while I do think there are ways that potty training can be done “incorrectly,” none of them are commonly accepted methods. In general, I think that late potty training is just as “good” as early. Potty training in a weekend can be just as effective as a more drawn out process.

Cora would probably have been a good candidate for letting her potty train herself when she wanted to if we hadn’t started so early and I hadn’t decided that two in diapers was more than I wanted to handle. It might have meant more work for me in the end. That’s not a complaint, it’s just the choice I made. You make yours. You are the only one who knows your child. :)

If you do decide to try EC or Early Pottying, I hope this post gives you some insight!


And lastly, the impetus for me writing this post now instead of letting it sit in draft forever like most of my other posts (*sigh*) is that the photo of Alex on the Little Potty that I posted above is in a photo contest this week!

Out of 27 finalists, 9 of us will win a prize! I’d love for your vote if you have a minute. :)

*This post includes Amazon Affiliate links – I am compensated when you make a purchase. Thanks for your support!

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  1. Awesome read! I do the tech side of my wife’s business, Go Diaper Free! in which she wrote an ebook on the subject of Elimination Communication. It was really great to see the differences in EC with each of your 3 kids. Her now 2.5 year old only had a week of poopy diapers and was done with that. He was completely out of diapers and on the toilet full time at 2 and is now using the “big potty” with no seat converter. Every now and then, normally when he is heavily engaged in building with legos, he let’s just enough pee out to let him keep playing. On the flip side, he has started doing the subconscious “pee-pee dance” so when we see it, we just remind him… “isn’t it time to go pee?” and he runs in there and goes.

    You should check out and pass it on or mention it should you want.

    • Thanks for pointing us toward this resource, David. I see that you have an affiliate program. I’d be happy to review the book and consider joining the affiliate program if you are interested in exposure here on my blog and in my social networking communities.

  2. This is so great and inspiring. I love your no pressure approach, and I’m going to start experimenting with my 10 month old son! Thanks for sharing with the Tuesday baby link up community!

  3. Love your post on EC. There has been a lot of media attention lately painting us as crazies, but all I’m doing at the moment is cuing my 8 week old, not letting her run around in the buff and poop everywhere, like the articles would lead you to believe. We had a few catches before she totally changed her schedule on me, and none really since, but I’m happy just to cue for now. Have you tried any of the EC pants or diapers? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on those.

    • I haven’t used anything special except baby legs/leg warmers so that his diaper is easily accessible. They also help with helping him to crawl comfortably. :)


  1. […] Is “early” potty training really “early?”  Take a look!  Via Raising the Barrs […]

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