Elimination communication (EC) was something I heard about frequently while I was pregnant, and while I was very interested in trying it, I was so overwhelmed with everything else that came with preparing for motherhood that I didn't get a chance to look into it further. Then Amanda of Making Memories emailed me about writing a guest post for my Baby on a Budget series about EC! I hadn't even thought of it in terms of saving money, but that just gives me one more reason to try it out. I hope you learn as much as I did, or if you already use EC, I hope you will comment with your experiences. Thank so much, Amanda!
I first heard about elimination communication, also known as natural infant hygiene, when my second son, Joshua, was a newborn. Not coincidentally, I was in the process of helping my firstborn, Gabriel (two years old), learn to use the toilet. With Gabriel, learning to use the toilet was a learned habit. After twenty months in diapers, learning to do something else did not come very easily to him. There was a large amount of time invested in the process, cajoling, and some bribery (in the form of M&Ms) as well as frustration. Learning about elimination communication at that time made me realize that we needed to try something different with Joshua. In Gabriel's case, waiting to introduce the toilet with the signs of "readiness" had been too late to begin the learning process. I knew that there must be a better way, and elimination communication was our answer. Since about half of the world's babies, mostly in Asia and Africa, never use diapers, and they are essentially "potty trained" by the time they are a year old, I knew that elimination communication must work. Additionally, based on the problems that I had run into with Gabriel during potty training, elimination communication made sense to me.
For those unfamiliar with the term, elimination communication is defined by Diaper Free Baby as "a gentle, natural, non-coercive process by which a baby... learns with the loving assistance of parents and caregivers to communicate about and address his or her elimination needs." Additionally, I think that it is important to mention that elimination communication is not an "all or nothing" endeavor. Parents and caregivers of babies can use whatever clothing and diapering system works best for them in conjunction with elimination communication, in order to reach the goal of communicating with their child about his or her elimination needs without causing stress to either party.
The Benefits of Elimination Communication include:
- Good for baby's health (the less time babies spend in diapers, the lower the incidence of a diaper rash occurring)
- Supports breastfeeding (breastfeeding mothers are not really sure how much breast milk their babies are getting, but elimination communication provides a clear indicator)
- Good for the environment (fewer disposable diapers in landfills, fewer loads of cloth diapers being washed)
- Encourages child development (communicating needs with parents)
- Economical (diapers are a large portion of the baby budget, while elimination communication is nearly free)
- Avoid struggles sometimes associated with diaper changes and toilet training (one of the primary motivators for our family)
Thus, I began elimination communication with my four month old. At first, I only sat Joshua on his tiny, Baby Bjorn Potty after naps and eating, but I was surprised by how often I was able to make "catches." Since the only rooms in my home that are not carpeted are the bathrooms, I kept Joshua in a cotton cloth diaper, so that he could feel the wetness and I could easily tell when he was wet, most of the time for the first year. We went through several months without any real advancement, but Joshua was always happy to sit on the potty and understood how to use it, which, along with earlier potty training, was my primary goal in using elimination communication. There was no bribery, no period of apprehension over using the toilet, etc. It was wonderful. The day that I knew elimination communication was really working for us was on a vacation when Joshua was about fifteen months old. We were preparing to go swimming in the hotel pool, and instructed Gabriel to sit on the potty before putting on his swim trunks. After his brother finished, unprompted, Joshua climbed on to the potty and used it. When we came back from the pool an hour later, Joshua again sat himself on the potty and used it. It was so rewarding to see that the relatively small amount of time invested in elimination communication was paying off so well. At fifteen months, Gabriel had never been introduced to a toilet, yet Joshua knew exactly how to use it without being instructed to do so.
Around twenty-one months, Joshua reached a point at which he would immediately remove his wet diaper himself, even if it was under clothing. Oftentimes, he would remove his diaper before it was wet as well, because he realized that he needed to use the toilet. Though I realize that we probably could have stopped using diapers at home before this time if I had decided to take a more active approach, elimination communication is really about what works best for a particular family, so Joshua started going without a diaper when it became clear that he recognized his elimination needs without me needing to be particularly involved in helping him remove clothing, get to the toilet, etc. There were only had a couple of misses before Joshua was, without any coaching, taking himself to the potty and returning when he had finished. All of this was in sharp contrast to Gabriel, who, though he had worn cloth diapers (mostly stay dry fabrics, which did not allow him to feel much wetness), never felt the need to seek the toilet if he was wearing a diaper, and required many months of reminders to reach the point of no misses and independence after he began learning to use the potty. While I recognize that my sons are two individuals and Joshua was likely to have learned to use the toilet earlier than Gabriel due to parental experience and his older brother's example, I still credit the combination of elimination communication and cotton cloth diapers with assisting in earlier and easier potty learning for Joshua. The average age that a child is considered daytime potty trained in the United States is around age three. Gabriel was average in this respect, but Joshua was about a year earlier than the US average. I feel that it is important to mention that we are not completely out of diapers at this time, as Joshua (twenty-seven months old at writing) still uses cloth training pants when we are away from home and at night, since we do not expect to see consistent night time dryness until he is three or older.
Aside from earlier and easier potty training, the other major benefit of elimination communication that a family experiences is cost savings. The cost of diapering can vary drastically from family to family, so I am going to base my calculations on my own experience, found in a blog post that I wrote on my blog in 2010. I wish that I had saved the exact calculations, but I determined that between the cost of detergent and energy to run my washer and dryer, a load of cloth diaper laundry costs my family about $1.00. If a family washes cloth diapers every two days, they would save about $180 on laundry alone by potty training their child a year earlier. A family that starts elimination communication part-time in the beginning of their baby's life, and uses cloth diapers the rest of the time, could stretch diaper laundry out by an extra day, which would save about $120 per year in laundry costs. While $100-$200 per year (or possibly more if elimination communication is used in conjunction with disposable diapers) may not seem like much savings, if a family is trying to raise their baby on a tight budget, that money would be enough to pay at least one month of the average monthly energy bill in the United States. A family that forgoes diapers altogether in favor of full-time elimination communication would be saving themselves the cost of diapers and associated costs, which could be greater than $2,000 over the period of time that their child would have spent in diapers.
I hope that this post has been informative, and that it will help other parents consider elimination communication. As you can see, elimination communication may take whatever form works for each individual family, and families will be reap many benefits by taking an active approach in helping their babies learn to communicate about their elimination needs from an early age. If you are interested in more information on elimination communication, the following are resources that I found helpful:
Please check out the other posts (including some great guest posts) in my Baby on a Budget series.