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 years...it 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 consistency...today 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....
HOW DOES A WORKING PARENT START TO EC?
- 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.)
- Optional: Potty at daycare before leaving (bring a little potty, or use the toilet).
- Optional: Potty at daycare upon arrival for pick-up. Might save you a wet diaper on the way home!
- The rest of the time, potty at every diaper change.
- 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.
- 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.