What Is Elimination Communication, & Can It Help Me Potty Train My Kid?
This form of “natural infant hygiene” can start as soon as baby comes home, says The Potty School founder Michelle Swaney.
One of the biggest stressors that comes with babies is the cost of diapers, which might be trumped only by the drama of potty training. So, most parents are all ears if someone comes along with suggestions for making that entire chapter of early childhood any easier. Well, as luck has it, many experts today suggest forgoing much of that whole headache by opting for something called "elimination communication." And now you need more information, right?
Often mistakenly called early potty training, elimination communication starts right out of the gate. It involves a lot of scheduling, planning, and time sitting in front of the potty, holding your babe onto the seat. But that early dedication can pay off big in the long run! It eliminates years of diaper buying. It also means not playing the "are they ready for the potty" guessing game every few months.
So, what is it? How does it work? When do you start? And is it the answer to your biggest parenting yucks? One potty training expert thinks that if you have the time and mental/emotional resources to devote to trying elimination communication, it can be a parenting game changer.
What exactly is elimination communication?
Elimination communication is often called "natural infant hygiene" and is, in essence, starting your baby or newborn using the toilet as soon as possible. It can save you a ton of money in the long run, but it also requires quite the commitment from mamas already stretched to their limits during those early months/weeks of motherhood.
"Elimination communication (EC) is basically a form of infant hygiene utilizing the communication and care between an infant and caregiver," says Michelle Swaney, founder of The Potty School. "There is a sound association created between the signals and signs a child gives off or based on the timing of when the child needs to eliminate. It's about sanitation and communication."
Is EC different from early potty training?
"Yes, absolutely," says Swaney. "Elimination communication is less a form of training and more a form of responding and teaching. You are not starting from scratch or all of a sudden. It is a much more gentle approach. Early potty training would be the same as typical potty training but started before the age of 2 or 2 ½. For elimination communication, 'early' would be as early as day one of life, so there's really no comparison."
Many believe early potty training is the answer to their diapering and toilet-training concerns. And since they both tend to start earlier than expected, they're often confused as the same thing. However, as Swaney mentions, much more science (and intuition) is involved in elimination communication.
What are the benefits?
Swaney puts it simply: "The benefits of elimination communication include: (1) increased communication between caregiver and child, (2) a strong sense of abilities formed at a very young age, (3) independence given to a child in an amount that is appropriate (and very well supported), and (4) a reduced eco-footprint because the number of diapers used can be negligible if practiced full-time (though it definitely can be a part-time practice and still be successful)."
She elaborates, "[Number one], without a doubt, is the bond of communication created between caregiver and child. We have a child who [physicians] thought may never be able to walk or talk, so I wanted to give her every opportunity to communicate and us to respond to her lovingly as humanly possible, and EC was a way to do that — even when she was very behind in language skills, she was already potty independent."
Is there criticism for elimination communication?
Of course. Swaney says that, like everything else, there are plenty of naysayers.
"There are medical concerns on both sides of the conversations," says Swaney. "If you wait 'too long,' your child is more likely to have urinary tract infections and withholding issues, or if you start 'too early,' your child is more likely to have prolonged accidents and poor bowel habits. But you can find articles to support or negate any of those things."
Swaney also says many people don't think it works or believe it requires a ton of work. "The most common criticisms are actually that 'it doesn't work,' or it's a joke and people are saying their children are 'potty trained' when really their kids are 'parent trained.' I can happily attest, both personally and professionally, that elimination communication absolutely works."
She adds, "The biggest misconception is that it will be more work. Yes, it will assuredly take more than three to five days, but if you're potentially subtracting two complete years of diapering, I'd strongly argue that the potty training parent who is waiting for 'signs of readiness' is definitely doing not only more work, but substantially more work."
When can you start elimination communication?
Believe it or not, you can begin as early as the moment you bring your babe home instead of spending months (read: years) paying for diapers first.
"Gosh, I have done many-a-consult with expecting parents wanting to start from birth," shares Swaney. "That said, there really isn't a 'too early' time for a parent (or expectant parent) to educate themselves about the process. Parents should start using elimination communication as soon as they have a basic idea of what it is, their motivation for using it personally, and when they are ready to commit a couple solid hours to a first day of trying (depending on their child's age, that can be as minimal as two hours that first day). Having a support person to ask questions of is very helpful as well."
Some experts suggest waiting until your babe is old enough to hold their head up on their own, as it makes time spent on the potty easier. However, as Swaney mentioned, if you have the time and motivation earlier than that, you can absolutely start earlier.
Should you try elimination communication?
No one can make a decision like that except for you. For many parents, the idea of starting "early" with elimination communication just feels more hygienic and less stressful. Instead of spending years handling poopy situations, you're setting yourself up to be done with that entirely in a matter of months.
For other parents, though, it feels like one more thing to micromanage in those early, sleepless, stressful months. And honestly, it's totally natural to have questions. How do you know when a baby needs to go potty? When they can barely hold their own head up, how do you "direct" their... um, flow? There are a lot of moving parts — quite literally.
If you haven't learned it yet, here's a hard parenting lesson: There are no universally "right" or "wrong" answers. What works for one family (or even thousands of families) may differ from what works for you. But if you start doing the math on how much money you'll drop on diapers those first few years, elimination communication might strike you as worth a shot, at the very least.