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« Dear Santa, I want this toilet! | Main | Undead Mama with a Chainsaw »

How to do part-time potty-training with your baby

EC or Elimination Communication (aka "Infant Potty Training" or "Natural Infant Hygiene") has been in the news non-stop lately. A story about ECing moms in NYC was recently the most emailed article on the New York Times website! There have also been articles in Newsweek, The Boston Globe...the list is growing daily, it seems.

But EC is just a new label on a very old practice that has been around since the dawn of human history. My grandmother used EC techniques with my mother, and had her out of diapers by 9 months. We've mostly lost this art in the Age of Disposables, and now a new set of problems has reared its ugly head...that of the 3,4 and 5 year olds who are so trained to use diapers that they won't transition to the toilet without a huge battle.

I've been pottying my son Julian since he was 2 months old. I think it's great that the word is getting out, and I would encourage *every* parent to give it a try. It has been great for us, and I am so glad that we have been slowly introducing the potty to Julian all along, rather than waiting for the difficult toddler years to introduce it as a totally new concept. Julian has been mostly out of his diapers since he was 13 months old, and completely out of them during the day since 16 months. Meanwhile, so many other parents are struggling to begin potty-training at 2.5 years, 3 seems it often gets harder and becomes more of a struggle as time goes on.

It's really not that hard to take your baby potty, I promise you. And it is definitely possible to do EC part-time as a working parent. You do not need to be a stay-at-home obsessive to do this! Anyone can do it part-time...and not just moms but dads, grandparents, babysitters...whoever is willing to give it a try.

I would recommend that you put your baby on the potty (or hold him/her in arms over the sink/bathtub/toilet -- see photos of various positions here) right when he/she wakes up in the morning, using the cueing sound "pssss-pssss". Waking up from sleep is an almost-certain pee catch time. There may be resistance at first if your baby is not used to this (most likely for older babies who are used to using a diaper to pee in), if so, you can nurse on the potty, sing a song, run water, read a book, play with a toy, touch the feet together...whatever helps to relax your baby enough to release and let them know that this new thing is OK.

Sometimes there can be a lot of fussing. Your baby likely has an uncomfortably full bladder after waking up, but doesn't know yet that it's OK to release outside of diapers. That's where the relaxing, reassuring, and communication comes in. "It's OK, peepee goes in the potty." If your baby does pee/poop in the potty, give some verbal affirmation..."Yay! You went peepee/poopoo in the potty!" But there's no need to go overboard with this. The younger you start, the easier it is, because the baby is not yet trained to release only into diapers.

You should be able to put your baby on the potty at least once in the morning before going to work. If nothing else, try potty time when you take off the soggy overnight diaper. Babies pee the most in the morning. With little babies under 6 months it can be every 15-20 minutes after waking for an hour or so, then it slows down to once an hour or so by afternoon. No need to fret about not catching every pee, just do what you can. The point is to simply expose your baby to using the potty from a young age, so that it is a familiar, comfortable, and regular thing to do, instead of a sudden and dramatic regime change.

Think about the message of we encourage our newborn babies to use diapers as a toilet, with no alternatives. Once the child is fully diaper-trained at age 2,3 or 4, we change the rules 180 degrees and tell them that diapers are now the *wrong* place to go. Does that makes sense? No. Why not work with a small baby's natural inclination to be clean and dry? Pottying is a skill to practice over time with gentle help from loving parents, like everything else. So don't worry...even if you only potty your baby once a day, you're still doing fine. I pottied my son in the morning before going to work and he did all his pooping during our morning sessions. We went 3 months without a single poopy diaper, which was wonderful for us both. No more rashes, no more sitting in his own poop for even a minute.

I recommend observing your baby with some diaper-free time on weekends in an uncarpeted area and see what his/her individual timing patterns are. This will help you to recognize any pre-pottying signals given by your baby, and also to anticipate how often your baby needs to go.

Some babies signal very strongly, others rely on parents to take them potty based on timing. My son now alternates between the two. He will sometimes use a hand sign or even say "peepee" or "poopoo", at other times he is busy playing and needs a reminder that it's probably time to go. Whatever your baby does, it's OK, just go with it and stay relaxed. Keep in mind that next week might be a completely different story!

Diaper-free time is not as big a deal as it sounds. Baby pee is not sulfuric acid, it's pretty harmless stuff, and the poop of a little baby is not bad either. If you can corral your baby in a carpet-free area for your diaper-free observation time (or outside, on a warm day) then the clean-up is actually easier than the average diaper change. Don't be afraid...believe me, it's *much* easier to clean up a little puddle from the floor with a cloth than it is to change a diaper! I keep cheap cloth prefold diapers for accidents (they are very absorbent), then just do a quick rinse and throw in the laundry hamper. I was surprised to find that even a poop on the floor is quickly picked up with toilet paper and disposed of in the toilet, but poop smeared on a baby's butt is a real chore to clean up AND time-consuming!

Back to working parent strategies...during the day, I took my son to the toilet one last time AT the daycare before leaving. I would also potty him very first thing at the daycare upon arriving to pick him up. My son never got confused by this. He seemed to accept and understand that Mama would take him potty, but the caregivers at daycare would not. They commented to me about his excellent bladder control, and how he never peed or pooped on the changing table.

Apart from wake-up pees, I would offer "pottytunities" (the opportunity to use the potty or toilet) at *every diaper change*. This is a GREAT habit to get into for part-timers using diaper back-up.

  • It is a great reminder to offer the potty frequently and on a regular basis.
  • It avoids the common problem of changing a diaper, only to have the baby immediately pee or poop in the clean one. Don't say that hasn't happened to you! ;-) While the baby is bottomless and the diaper is off, you might as well offer a pottytunity before putting on a clean diaper, right? It just makes sense. And this avoids the other problem of getting peed/pooped on on the changing table during the diaper change. Once I started doing EC at 8 weeks, my son never peed or pooped on the changing table again.

So OK, let's recap....


  1. Potty upon first waking in the morning at home, and thereafter as frequently as you think your baby might have to potty until you have to go to work. (Use diaper-free time on weekends to get a good estimate of how often your baby usually has to pee/poop.)
  2. Optional: Potty at daycare before leaving (bring a little potty, or use the toilet).
  3. Optional: Potty at daycare upon arrival for pick-up. Might save you a wet diaper on the way home!
  4. The rest of the time, potty at every diaper change.
  5. It's also a good idea to have baby in a cloth diaper without a cover (or training pants, or underwear) at home. That way you can tell very quickly when your baby has peed, and change the diaper. The baby will also get physical feedback from a pee..."I'm wet! Yuck!" instead of having it mysteriously disappear into a dry-feeling disposable with no real effect. This lack of feedback after peeing tends to deaden the baby's connection with his/her bodily functions after a while.

    I used disposables as a backup, but I stopped at around 1 year old. I discovered that I tended to ignore my son's potty signals when he was diapered in a disposable. However, whatever makes you most comfortable and relaxed in the process, use it! If you are feeling tense or stressed about EC, then feel free to use a diaper backup. Just keep taking the diaper off to offer the potty on a regular basis.

  6. One last thing...I highly recommend having your baby in loose sweatpants or something easy on/off for ease of pottying. No one-piece outfits with a zillion snaps. Onesies are bad in general. They make it such a pain to get the clothes off that you tend to just leave your baby in the diaper until it's full. Ick. But hey, I've done that before too.

That's it! EC is easy and anyone can do it. It's not an all-or-nothing practice. Why not give pottying a try tomorrow morning at diaper change time and see what happens? I guarantee it's easier than cleaning pee off your changing table.


THANK YOU for providing this info. I have been looking all over for working parent EC ideas, mainly concerned about confusing the baby. Thanks so much!

Thank you for this information. Without having read any of the books, my six-month-old and I have been trying EC. I feel like I'm doing the "right" thing, but there's a bit of doubt I guess. So, ok, this takes a while, and I shouldn't be worried that he's not getting it. Just keep offering and we'll get there eventually.

I clearly understand that it is possible to potty part time. Still I would like to know if the baby will be ok with pooing/peeing in a diaper, when it's not possible to go to a toilet.

Thank you,


What are some easy hand signing techniques to practice EC?

Also, any suggestions on potties to train my now 5 month old??


Laerke asked:
I would like to know if the baby will be ok with pooing/peeing in a diaper, when it's not possible to go to a toilet.
I suppose it would be ideal to be 100% consistent in theory, but even if you try REALLY hard, there will still be times that you will miss a pee or poop. And there will probably be times that your child will be so busy with some new activity or skill that he or she won't *want* to stop to pee or poop elsewhere. So personally, I don't worry about it. I catch what I can, and that's it.

It's also important to remember that this practice is known as Elimination *Communication*. So if you can't take your baby to an appropriate potty place and the baby must use a diaper instead, just say so!

"I'm sorry honey, I know you probably have to go potty, but we can't stop the car right now. It's OK to just go in your diaper and I'll change you when we get there.".

If you can't do the E, then focus on the C.

Most kids go through phases where they are not interested in using a potty, or they have a string of misses resulting in wet or dirty pants or diapers.

Don't stress about it. Just communicate! "Oh, you went peepee in your pants, that must feel wet and icky. Let's clean you up and get some nice dry pants on. There, doesn't that feel better? Next time when you have to go potty you can tell me, and I'll help you keep your pants clean and dry."

Chi-wai Song wrote:

What are some easy hand signing techniques to practice EC?

Also, any suggestions on potties to train my now 5 month old??


Laurie Boucke has a good article on using sign language with EC.

The most commonly used sign in the US is "toilet" in ASL (American Sign Language). It can be difficult for some young babies to make this sign, but most can approximate it. This link shows what the toilet sign looks like. It is also known as the "shaking T".

As for potties, the gold standard is the Baby Bjorn Little Potty, also known familiarly as the BBLP. You can buy this online in any number of places. I got my first one from They come in a million different colors, though the most common colors are red, blue and white.

I started EC with my son when he was 3 mos. old and we were catching about 80% of his poos.

Now at 4.5 mos, there are a lot of changes going on in his life. I've gone back to work and he´s just started daycare (where they don't do EC of course). He's gone from a 100% breastmilk diet to adding solid food (mashed bananas, etc.)

He's adapted to daycare and he loves all the food he's tried so far. The problem is he's getting constipated and pooing very infrequently (and only at home with me on the potty.)

My husband is *accusing* me of having harmed him somehow, of the part-time ECing contributing to his constipation, the idea being that he's holding it in all day until someone will take him to a potty. Can this be true? I hate to think that he might be uncomfortable all day long--because of me.

Any insight?

Hi Amerj,
Yes, my insight is that your baby just started solids at 4.5mo, (which is on the early side, 6 months is the earliest recommended age for introduction of solids).

Even at 6 months, introducing solids is a HUGE change in digestion for your baby, and takes adjustment time. My second baby started eating solids around 7 months and he went from pooping easily several times a day to pooping with difficulty about once every 3 days. Major change.

But, it passes. You might notice that certain foods are very constipating.

Bananas, rice, apples and dairy are foods to stay away from if your son is having difficulty pooping, as they are notorious for causing constipation.

Every time my babies ate even tiny amounts of banana they had major constipation lasting for days afterwards.

Good first foods include mashed avocado, sweet potato, pureed prunes, and winter squash.

Second insight...your baby is intelligent. He would rather not poop in his pants, but prefers to wait to use the potty.

Huh. Me too. Imagine that!

How about your husband. How would he feel about pooping in his pants and having it squish all over his butt? Do you think he might prefer to wait until a toilet was available?

That's what I thought.

Anyway, go slow with the solids, and watch out for constipating foods. Apart from that, it sounds like you are doing a great job and have an intelligent, aware baby who responds well to you.

Keep up the good work, that's my advice to you.

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