Monday, January 17, 2011

There's No Use Crying Over Spilled Baby Pee

So, The Carpenter and I do elimination communication (EC) with The Smiler. This is a process of watching your child for cues s/he needs to eliminate and then giving an opportunity to do so in an appropriate vessel and should not be misconstrued as 'infant potty training' which is ridiculous and impossible.

EC is a process with several different approaches. Firstly, I rely heavily on what I like to call "Sure Thing Opps" - for example, upon waking or after nursing. Secondly, I use timing - on its own or in combination with Sure Things like half an hour since he went last, fifteen minutes since he nursed or the fact that he usually poops every two to three days. Thirdly, I use intuition; I cannot describe it any other way but to say I just know he needs to go. This is often at times when I, myself, have to go, too. Fourthly, I use cues from him which include a myriad of things such as arm swinging, body wriggling, faster breathing, touching his penis, fussing for seemingly no reason, acting like he wants to be picked up when playing on the floor, eye contact in combination with these things, to name a few.

These cues often compliment the other approaches. In fact, they all work together to help us know how to meet his elimination needs. This is much the same way one might use similar approaches or combinations thereof to know when their baby is hungry (rooting, grabbing, fussing, reaching for Momma, timing, intuition, etc) or when their baby is tired (rubbing eyes, dark circles under eyes, rubbing face into shoulders, reaching for Momma, crying, impatience, etc). As with all things baby, some signals are universal and some vary widely from child to child.

To reinforce the action and let him know when elimination is appropriate we use a cue sound. This can be any sound or word, as long as you're consistent with it. We decided to go with the age old standard, "tsssss" for pees and a gentle grunt combined with flexed abs against their back for poops (we originally started with a "k-k-k-k" sound for poops but The Smiler would make this sound at the cats after a while so we changed it). Starting out, small babies are held against you, their back to your stomach with the potty in your lap or you sitting on the toilet, generally. This helps them feel safe and is easier on the parent as, in the beginning, they may sit on the potty for several minutes before they can relax enough to let go. You hold them under the legs, mimicking a sitting or squatting position which is conducive to relaxing to eliminate.

We started with diapers pretty much full time and slowly moved to part time EC, then full day time EC, then true full time EC (yes, I mean diaper free 24/7 - all night, too). I cannot stress enough how much I wish we had just jumped in feet first right from birth. When I had trouble transitioning from the diapers when he was two to three months old, I would ask experienced EC-ers for advice and the resounding response was to ditch the diapers completely and just dive in. "It's as simple as that!" they'd exclaim. I just didn't get it, though. It seemed so random, I just couldn't figure out how I would start knowing how to meet his elimination needs.

When I was doing part time EC, giving him lots of diaper free time on water proof mats (silly in hindsight as we have all hardwood floors) I would watch for him to eliminate and then make the cue sounds to help him make the connection. In retrospect, this could have been done with a 100% diaper free approach, using a prefold cloth diaper in my lap or on the floor or sofa or wherever. There was no need for me to be so rigid about it but I still had some preconceived notions about babies not being able to control their elimination.

As I got braver, I wanted to start catching some pees so I would go for those Sure Thing Opps but found I'd often just barely miss or catch him mid-go because I was messing to get a cloth diaper off a sleepy baby. My growing addiction to the "Thrill of the Catch" got the better of me, though, and I started trying an hour or two here and there with no diaper and a towel under his butt in case I missed. When he'd get sleepy he'd often be upset with me trying to put a diaper on him before napping so I started letting him nap with a bare bum, too. I figured, "Hey, he's angry about the diaper and I'm just going to lay down and nurse him, probably falling asleep myself so why not just put a towel down and see how it goes? Worst comes to worst, I'm washing the sheets." Well, I immediately had more success with the catches after naps and this boosted my confidence tremendously!

Soon I was ready to try going diaper free all day and, I'll admit, it was a steep learning curve but not wanting to have another miss sure gives you the motivation to learn fast! This is why I say I wish we had done diaper free right from birth; within less than a week of going totally diaper free we were having more consistent catches than we'd had in two months of part time EC. We were sending our child a much clearer message, too, whereas when we were doing part time it's no wonder his cues were confusing - we were confusing him! The message must have been, "We want to meet your elimination needs when it's convenient for us so please do signal clearly at those times. However, when it's not convenient, we'll be ignoring you and you'll get uncomfortable holding and waiting until you finally (guiltily?) soil your diaper and then quickly get very upset that it's dirty. Mmmmmkay?" I felt wonderful being able to show him that we truly wanted to help him in his desire to eliminate away from his body and he was loving it, too. I cannot explain the satisfaction that comes from seeing your child light up with excitement that he communicated something to you and you understood.

It wasn't long before I was ready to tackle night time EC. I went out and got some polyurethane laminate (PUL) and some fleece (both pretty cheap at your local fabric store, though be warned, they may call the PUL 'diaper liner' and act like you're crazy for calling it what it really is). I took some old towels and made night pads which consist of a bottom layer of PUL, a middle two layers of toweling and a top layer of fleece (fleece wicks moisture away so it's great for this type of application so the pee isn't right against baby's skin). I now wish I had made these bigger as The Smiler grew so quickly and is now too big to fit his whole body on them (while maintaining a large enough border, that is) so I have to just put them under his lower half. I feel bad because it must be uncomfortable having the edge of it under his lower back all night so I'm going to make some bigger ones soon.

But I digress.

So I got those made up and then I cut up some old receiving blankets into strips about 6"x12" which we call "crotchies". This is only necessary if you have a son and need to prevent incidents of the fire hose variety (The Carpenter, The Smiler and I share a bed, FYI). I have the potty next to the bed and I try to catch as many night time pees as possible but I'll admit, I become coherent slowly when woken so often by the time I figure out he's waking to pee he's in the act of peeing so the night pads and crotchies definitely come in handy for us. Other times he's twitching in his sleep in a way that I know he has to pee so I hold an old plastic bottle for him to pee in (the wider the mouth and shorter the bottle the better, FYI). I used to try to pick him up gently and get him on the potty but was generally unsuccessful with the latter, The Smiler getting angry, bawling and arching his back until I set him down and started nursing him, at which time he would, inevitably pee. Hence the bottle set up. Missing at night used to frustrate me or make me feel like I was failing but I'm over it now. I just pull the pad out and change it, either before or after nursing him back to sleep depending on if he's rushing me to feed him or not. Easy peasy.

When we go out, I have some adorable little baby underwear lovingly custom made by Bongo Baby in Australia. They have an absorbent crotch panel with a layer of waterproof PUL to stop major leaking and hold only one missed pee before needing to be changed (or the pee will soak into the leg bands after a short while). These are perfect for us and all we need for outings to pretty much anywhere. The Smiler is a little particular about where he eliminates, insisting it be on his potty and insisting still to be in someone's lap but many EC'd babies will go anywhere their care provider cues them. I have heard of people pottying their babies on the grass at a park, in a parking lot, over a public toilet, in a sink in a public washroom - pretty much anywhere. A good rule of thumb is if it's alright for a dog to pee there or alright for a person to pee there then it's alright for a baby to pee there! I, on the other hand, am the woman with the very big purse in which I've stuffed a small potty to accommodate my picky pottyer. But I don't mind. I figure it's no different than carting around a bunch of diapers, right?

Baby wearing is a wonderful tool to have up you sleeve when EC-ing, too. As discussed, babies don't want to eliminate on themselves and they don't want to eliminate on you, either! The Smiler has only ever peed on me in his carrier once and that was when he had just woken in strange surroundings and I wasn't able to offer him a "potty-tunity" soon enough. Holding your baby often (like literally 85-90% of the time) has many, many benefits for both of you, one of which is easier EC! You trust your baby not to pee on you and your baby trusts you to offer him potty at reasonable intervals.

The thing about EC that people who've never done it don't realise is that babies have an innate desire to be social and communicate. Their needs as infants are their first opportunity to experience receptiveness from their care providers and I wonder sometimes if we're doing some kind of damage making our children soil their clothing for the first 2-3 years of their lives. Is this fair to the child? It seems to be for the parents' convenience now that I've started EC-ing. The message sent is first that their instinct to eliminate away from their bodies is wrong an they must eliminate in a diaper against their better judgment. Then, they see us eliminating away from our bodies so they must think they're not 'good enough' for the same privilege. We wonder why toddlers take their diapers off and do things like 'paint' with their poop, too. Finally we tell them they're supposed to use the toilet like us but now they're very confused. They long ago stopped listening to their body's signals and then we get impatient with them when they haven't caught on in a week's time. This is just my take on the child's perspective. I am not an expert.

Just as we are responsible to learn their cues for needing nourishment or needing rest we, too, should respond to their cues for needing to eliminate. This doesn't mean we never miss, I assure you. Though we're doing much better now at catching on to his cues, he also changes them occasionally, as well so we're always learning and on our toes. On a good day we'll have only one or two missed pees - sometimes none. On a not so good day we'll have three or four or more. These are days when, in retrospect, I could have been more present as a parent. Today, for example, we've been really off kilter and schedule and had about six misses by evening when I'm writing this. We've also had several catches today, too, so I take joy in knowing I connected with my child and helped him communicate and fulfill a basic need. There are times when he doesn't do a darn thing before peeing all over the floor. There are days when he sits on the potty for quite a while doing nothing, then I set him on my knee and he pees. They're really not that often, though and I would never stop doing EC now that I've started. I only wish I had started it right away. If I feel impatient, I need only think of it from his point of view and put it in perspective a little - it's just a little baby pee, after all - so I remind myself, "There's no use crying over spilled baby pee!" and get on with the day.


  1. I couldn't do it! I respect it and think it takes an extremely watchful and 'present' parent to EC. I will stand by and be extremely jealous when he's 'trained' long before mine are. ;)

  2. You make me laugh, Amy. You ARE an extremely watchful and present parent! I guess, for us, it was just needing to change our frame of mind - a lot! Anyway, here's hoping he doesn't take too long to reach independence with his elimination needs but you never know, right?

  3. Congrats Amy! You've done a wonderful job :) My daughter will be one in a couple of weeks and we are just now starting to try EC. I had not heard of it until recently but will be very keen to try from birth with my next bub.

    Was linked to this blog by Sausagemama and I'm glad I found it!

  4. Okay finally had time to read it - and thank you so much for this, I too was in 2 minds about being part time with EC, was wondering how SL was seeing us meet half her needs....but with a toddler in toe and a house that is in a diabolical state as we rearrange rooms, I think there will be a lot more washing of sheets and things if I try this full time now...hopefully in a month I can begin!

    In the meantime, I would LOVE to see a pic of your bed pad, do you use sheepskin or polar fleece?

    Thank you for taking the time to write this, it has given me some confidence and you have verbalised thoughts I hadn't even had yet about this, it makes so much sense..... can't wait to share it with the people thinking I'm cruel or crazy trying this now..

    Also: SL usually cries quite frantically as she is this normal? The morning after she was born, I asked a nurse to help me change her nappy as I hadn't changed a girl for years... as soon as the nurse took SL's nappy off, SL peed - and the nurse reprimanded her. I was PISSED OFF. I praised SL and told her she did a great wee, but I worry that that event may have affected her - am I being silly?

    P.S LOVE Bongo Baby!

  5. I'm always saying it's never too late, mungbean! (love your screen name, too!)

    SM, I'll try to get a pic up of the night pads for you soon on the FB fan page. I made our night pads (they're not pretty, I warn you) out of a layer of PUL, two layers of toweling and a top layer of fleece and they work really well!

    For those that 'poo poo' on EC, my retort is usually, "Well, people do EC with dogs - we don't even bat an eye at that - and most would agree a dog has less intelligence than a human." It's such a change in mindset that's required so I try to be open about the process with anyone who's willing to listen; planting thought seeds, as it were. I also remind people that 50% of the world will never diaper their babies. HALF.

    The Smiler used to cry when he peed, too. I think the sensation is different ex utero than in utero or something. It may also be that they're really making sure you know they have a need or that it's challenging to relax the muscles or that, in the case of having a diaper on or being in arms, they are upset at soiling themself/you. It could also be that they've been holding too long and are very uncomfortable or are having trouble releasing even though they know it's the appropriate time to do so (have you ever rushed to the bathroom in the morning with a full bladder and then had to wait a minute before your muscles listened to your brain to let go?) We have some potty songs that we use (only for pottying so there's no confusing association) to help The Smiler relax and that seems to help as he doesn't cry about peeing nearly as often as he used to.

    I don't think it's silly to worry about the nurse's reaction but I also don't think you should be too concerned about it. Babies make associations mostly with people so she won't have made that connection of negativity with you or peeing but probably more with that woman. Goodness knows I've reacted less than cheerfully on bad EC days after being peed on four times in a row so I hope our littles are forgiving of us!

    As a side note on praising, we choose not to praise for pottying (and, of course, not to admonish for missing) as we want using the potty to be the norm and feel praising makes it seem like exceptional behaviour. Praising for what you'd like to be standard also puts you in a situation where you have to wean off of praise, as well. We typically don't give any response when The Smiler uses the potty except if we've had a particularly 'missy' day, sometimes we'll say, "See, pee pee goes in the potty." and then bring him with us to empty it.

  6. Here's a link to some pics of the night pads, SM! Sorry it took so long but better late than never, right?!


Keep it clean, guys.