Is your child ready to potty train? Are you wondering how to start, when to…
Elimination communication is a way to skip the nappy and potty training. You allow your child to eliminate naturally from the start. It's so in line with Montessori and toilet learning.
There is also a video interview on the FB group. Watch the replay here.
1) Can you tell me more about yourself and your family?
I’m Kate, mum to Sophie (5) & Miles (3). Though a horticulturist by trade I also recently trained as a “Go Diaper Free” coach to share my knowledge & enthusiasm for Elimination Communication & early toilet learning with others. We live by the sea in The Hague, The Netherlands where we feel lucky that both children can attend a Montessori primary school just up the road.
2) How did you become interested in Elimination communication way?
Funnily enough several years before I had children, when I brought home a pet lovebird and noticed she would shuffle backwards or wriggle when she needed to poop. I quickly learnt to hold her out over a tissue to do her business.
A few years later whilst pregnant I read something, somewhere online about EC & it all made perfect sense. If I could understand my parrot’s signals I was sure it would be possible with my own baby too!
New motherhood reality struck & despite my best intentions, we used disposables (not even the eco ones..) and only really started getting out the potty during the day & experimenting with some diaper-free observation when she was around 10 months old & starting walking. Once I paid some more attention, I noticed she would get restless at certain times in the night (we were bedsharing) & decided to try to sleep together diaper-free (with bed protection layered under us) for a week. We both quickly realised that the restlessness & wakings were linked to needing to pee! We started helping her use the potty on the floor by the side of the bed. Our sleep got so much better & there was less night nursing too. In the day she would be either be bare bottomed at home, in training pants or when I needed to be totally worry free, in a disposable as a back-up but I would try to keep a regular pattern to using the potty & later the toilet with step & reducer seat.
We were totally nappy free & reliable around 18 months. It was during this time that I started to read & learn more about Montessori too.
With our 2nd I was much better prepared & committed started at 3 weeks. Although I would say the end outcome was similar the journey was really fun and super interesting. It definitely gave me a new respect for tiny babies, they are definitely active partners in the process and it felt really great to
Within the first week of starting there were no more pooey nappies, perhaps 8 in total, ever (a very common benefit reported by EC families though it is not guaranteed) & by 6 months we were normally sleeping nappy-free as he would wake up & often sit up before if he needed to pee. Teething or illness was often the cause of “misses” (the EC term for “accidents”) but we just made sure to use a nappy back up at those times & ride it through
We used some disposables in the first months and then flaparaps, which are brilliant minimalist drop-flap nappy covers that make pottying & changing a wet cloth insert super quick & easy.
3) In a nutshell, what is Elimination Communication?
Building awareness & 2-way communication about the process of “toileting” (peeing & pooping) from as early as newborn and offering them an alternative to only using a diaper as a full-time toilet.
It’s not much different from learning to understand, respond & eventually predict baby’s needs and behaviours around other basics such as feeding and sleep. It can even make things easier as a full bladder or bowels can influence sleep & feeding behaviours. It can definitely help to understand your baby even better.
It’s an alternative to full-time diapering followed by a more sudden switch to using a potty or toilet in toddlerhood. The focus can be on the journey, the appreciation of learning on the way, rather than the end goal of “being dry”.
Rather than only changing a nappy after it’s full or soiled, you learn the typical signals & timings around needing to pee/poo & offer them the chance to “go” outside of their nappy. It’s really clean, gives them great direct sensory feedback and they learn that toileting is part of the daily rhythm.
You can use the principles of EC for newborns through to young toddlers, 0-18mths. After that, it can become more a psychological process with more focus & consistency needed to break the established diaper habit. Which is when diaper-free methods such as Oh Crap come in.
Switch off any preconceptions you may have about potty training & instead think of toilet awareness as a sensory activity & one that’s also part of practical daily life
4) Being diaper-free is described as more natural, can you share any historical information about when did we start to use diapers? Is it something we do only for convenience in modern times?
Nappy-like solutions have been around for a long time; however, it’s not been until quite recently that they have become the only place we expect babies to pee & poo all the time. The average age of potty training (or starting to use a potty) has never been higher and is on an upward trend. That’s a lot of nappies.
Supporting babies to use a potty, toilet or “holding them out” to avoid them from soiling themselves, is still normal practice in many places in the world today. Type “potty” into the search function on babycentre.co.uk it’ll tell you not to even think about it until your child is 18 months. Do the same search on Babycenter.in (India) and the 1st result is about how to potty an infant.
Even I was surprised to read how things were in the UK only a few decades ago:
In a 1958* UK survey:
- 60% of mum’s started pottying by 2 weeks of age (yes 2 weeks, newborn!)
- 85% by 6months
- 47% were out of nappies by 12months
- 83% by 18months
In Maria Montessori’s day for sure, it would have been culturally normal to give babies potty breaks throughout the day.
From an anthropological perspective, we are a carrying species; being in close proximity, skin to skin it would have been easy to learn the natural rhythms of a newborn and how nursing, eliminating & sleep are connected.
The Inuit used moss pouches to absorb eliminations when they needed to travel longer distances, but they also used EC when out & about as part of daily life, carrying & holding the baby to “potty” skin to skin inside a kind of babywearing parka called an amauti. Which also kind of busts the common myth that it’s only something possible in warm climates or summertime! No such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.
Babywearing is hugely popular & mainstream again but we have lost a lot of knowledge of EC along the way and our senses (& arguably babies) are muffled by these super absorbent modern nappies & the current cultural expectations.
5) So what happened to change these cultural expectations so dramatically?
The main reason was mass marketing of the disposable nappy sponsored campaigns to wait for readiness. This has become a hugely profitable industry. Initially the message to “wait” was to avoid parents getting frustrated & using undue force & punishment. Thanks to our modern-day conveniences of washing machines & even disposable nappies there is no pressure or big stress about a wet or soiled nappy. In this respect, there has never been a more convenient time to use EC at least some of the time.
Patience & applying Montessori principles following the child’s development is, of course, an alternative to delaying potty learning/training altogether. Waiting to approach potty training until later into toddlerhood also has its own set of common issues having to untrain the habit of eliminating in nappies, a loss of bodily awareness and the ever more common fear of pooping without a nappy and standing to poop versus the natural & healthier squatting position.
5) I read that there are different types of elimination communication? Part-time or full-time? Can you tell me more?
Absolutely, it’s another common myth that it can only be done full time & if you are a stay at home mum. Even if you only do it once in the morning & as part of the bedtime routine, each time you offer the opportunity to potty is learning. Part-time is by far the most popular approach to EC & very effective.
Many people start by trying out one or more of the easy times:
- nappy changes - easy as the nappy is off anyway & young babies are well known for peeing/pooing at this time
- upon waking - often successful as it’s natural to hold it during active sleep
- after feeding - making use of the gastrocolic reflex (what’s goes in must come out)
- or when they already know it’s the ‘poop time’ of day for their baby - clearer daily patterns often form after solid foods are established. Ever seen those antique high chairs with a cut-out seat & a chamber pot underneath? Give your baby an opportunity to sit ergonomically on a little potty after a meal & nature will do the rest.
Consistency is more important than frequency. Think about every morning to wake & potty, potty after dinner & before bed as more helpful than attempting full time all day one day & then the next day not all because it stressed & exhausted you.
With a young infant, offering to potty after most feedings would likely result in most poops in the potty. This actually makes it pretty convenient rather than extra work! Those explosive newborn poops are actually a perfect design for keeping poop away from the baby’s body unless you try & contain it in a nappy... When pooping settles to once a day they are likely to go either in the morning or evening when at home anyhow.
Many people do part-time EC & then follow with a potty training plan around 16-24mths to ditch the nappies completely. Others find that by gradually moving to full-time EC & teaching independence skills along the way, there is no need to separately potty train at all.
For sure you needn’t fear it’s all or nothing.
6) Do you think EC is for every family? How does it fit with working parents? Or with babies in a nursery?
If you are interested in EC for any reason, please don’t feel hesitant, you can start at any age (adapting it to the child’s stage of development) and you can do this even very part-time with benefits. Get yourself informed & give it a go!
We are very lucky now that we have washing machines & the choice to pick & choose from an array of cloth, (eco) disposable nappies and training pants. EC doesn’t have to be messy or all of the time.
It’s OK to use nappies at daycare but EC (even with nappy back-up) when with you. It’s not all about the end goal. You can enjoy the positive parts of EC on a day by day basis, whether it’s the extra connection/communication, the cleanliness, or just to avoid peeing & pooping only being associated with the nappy to make it an easier transition later. Think of it as a practical life activity (that is also a fundamentally a sensory activity) that you will do at home.
You may we’ll find that a childminder or nursery willing to offer potty time after nap & meals/milk and nappy changes when you explain they are accustomed to it at home & are often dry for 1-2hrs.
But even if not, or you choose only to do very part-time EC and not potty train until 18mths+, value the learning along the way, not only the end goal.
7) You are not only helping parents go diaper free but you have blended this with a Montessori approach. So can you tell me more about your Montessori background?
I guess I am like many of us in your Montessori Family group here, I did some reading, I admit that’s more from blogs more than from books, & felt a click. Using Montessori in our daily practical life is part I most enjoyed at home & where we saw the greatest positive impact on our children. In that context, elimination communication and being conscious about removing the modern-day obstacles for them to toilet & stay clean felt completely logical and respectful.
Potty by the bed for night time or the first urgent pee upon waking (2.5yrs & 6mths). Mattress protectors essential for peace of mind! We like the IKEA NATTLIG, non-sweaty & quick drying.
8) What would be the Montessori approach to potty training?
Rather than “training”, the Montessori approach uses the terms Toilet Awareness & Toilet Learning, introducing the concept at a much younger age than we most often think about with potty training today. 12-18mths (or once a child is walking) is generally considered the sensitive period for learning to use the toilet with increasing independence.
Elimination Communication is pretty much what early Toilet Awareness is all about. There is a lot of learning & facilitating body awareness that can be done before a child starts to work on skills such as pushing down clothing & being able to back up & sit down on a potty or toilet. Actually it is this fostering the more fundamental body awareness & sensory aspects of what we mean by “toileting” (vs diaper use):
- The more conscious connection between the feeling before & after emptying the bladder & bowels. Even young babies will look down & watch the stream of their pee.
- normalising the feeling of peeing & pooing without a nappy on. This is a very different sensory experience to the warm, wet turning to a dry but humid feeling of a nappy.
- associating the natural & healthy squat positioning of the EC hold or low potty. This is the most ergonomic position to be able to properly empty both bladder & bowels.
- Developing 2-way communication before & during toileting with sounds, sign language before they are verbal
The first sensitive period being 0-4mths when babies very quickly & naturally respond to EC. Though it can take a little more time to establish EC after 4mths many people are amazed that their 6 or 9mth baby happily pees or poos in a potty once they decide to give it a go, so there is really no “too late”.
A combination of observation of their natural timings together with sensible transition time toilet breaks (especially in an infant & toddler nursery setting) is used. As the baby develops their gross & fine motor skills they start to participate more in the process & eventually become independent.
With a Montessori approach, such as by being mindful, preparing the environment and giving the child time to do things as independently as possible, a child can become skilled & capable much earlier than we might otherwise expect. Without “pushing them”.
Some real-life examples:
- 4mth old blowing raspberries to sign they need to poop
- 6mth old patting their nappy to sign when they need to pee
- 8mth old crawling to the potty when they need to pee/poop
- When able to cruise: climbing onto a potty independently (if bare bottomed & a low enough potty with enough support/stability)
I have a fond memory the first time my 12mth old left the low table, where they were having something to eat, to pee in the potty before toddling back to sit down & continue eating. Totally unprompted. He was not yet able to manage to push down trousers or pants independently so he was enjoying some bare bum time. This enabled his independence.
The earlier you introduce using a potty or toilet as consistently normal the earlier the child can learn. Babies are not born in nappies, we change them when we decide to. There is the trend to change nappies less frequently than ever thanks to modern materials in both disposables & cloth. It’s very parent-led from the start. This is why I personally struggle with the idea of “child-led potty training” meaning waiting for self-initiation or the very widely interpreted “signs of readiness”. Practising some EC with your baby can definitely increase your own parental confidence & “readiness” to try training pants or bare-bottomed time when they enter the 12-18mth sensitive period or even if you chose to wait to go full-time diaper-free 18mths+ & use a potty training approach like “Oh Crap”.
With EC the child experiences the normal act of toileting, with an uncovered bottom in an ergonomically correct position from a very early age. They receive sensory feedback by feeling, seeing & hearing themselves pee & poop, as well as the communication with their parent/carer. When we communicate about them peeing & pooping, at the moment, we are effectively showing them that this is a thing of significance & lets them join up the inner feelings of their body before, during & after, with the outside environment, the position, place, sounds, sign language or verbal cues. This effective joining of the inner self with the outside world is valuable learning.
This in itself avoids some of the common later potty training problems where a child has become accustomed (conditioned) to the sensation & “insignificance” of going in a nappy. The sensory experience of going in a nappy vs potty/toilet is very different.
The AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) has an informative, piece on Toilet Learning vs Toilet Training and how this can start in infancy.
I know Jamie from Oh Crap Potty Training talked with you about some common EC problems, like diaper-free time with peeing wherever & the difficulty getting the child to take themselves, the caregiver remaining over involved. It’s true that these are common EC problems, along with ‘potty pause’ or refusal once the child becomes mobile and when they start walking.
But it certainly does not have to be this way if you use the nappy-free time sensibly & have a Montessori mindset. This is actually why I always recommend Montessori to those who do EC, as well as talking about EC to those interested in Montessori!
Allowing the child to take over more & more of the process themselves, preparing the environment for their success, allowing for up & downs, until one day you realize that they are toilet independent.
9) For parents who are weary to ditch the nappy, what would you advise? How do we start?
Well, to get started you don’t’ have ditch the nappy at all. I guess the terms “nappy-free” or “go diaper-free” might sound intimidating for many! Baby can still wear a nappy, but you are now going to remove it at times not only to clean up & change it but to also offer them the chance to use the potty. There’s really nothing to lose in giving it a go.
This is a great guide to how you can start without giving up nappies at all:
Get the Go Diaper Free Easy Start Guide
What you do need is to tune into what’s going on “down there” to be able to learn & properly support your child’s awareness.
Start by removing obstacles to learning.
You need to be aware of their “eliminations” to be able to support 2-way communication
No magic required! Only awareness
Start off by considering the child’s need to “toilet” in the same way as their need to feed and sleep. With feeding & sleep, we kind of keep in mind when we might expect them to be hungry or tired, based on our experiences & what we are “taught” by others as a new parent. With learning more about EC you will also learn how these basic 3 needs relate to each other. Baby having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Check: do they need to pee/poop? As well as Check: do they need to nurse?
Knowing your baby & understanding some basic human baby biology to know which times they are likely to need to go. This means you don’t need to be hyper-alert all the time (another myth!) only in certain windows of time:
- Upon waking is the first easy one as babies tend not pee whilst in active sleep but when moving between sleep cycles.
- The 2nd easy one is after feeding. The gastrocolic reflex means the bowels are stimulated to move & the younger the baby, the stronger the reflex.
- Babies will also tend to pee more frequently in the mornings, especially after asleep.
- Babies will tend to hold longer & signal more clearly when they are in arms or a carrier on your body. Arching back or attempting to climb out of arms or carrier is a classic signal.
- Having the nappy open loosely whilst nursing or bottle-feeding can allow you to observe & tune in without mess too.
- Babies may pee/poo more frequently & with more subtle signals if nappy free. Experiment observing in different ways.
- Diaper changes. Babies do have sphincter control. They are well known for peeing & pooping at diaper changes, it’s no coincidence. Those explosive blowouts are also the result of holding it until they just can’t anymore.
You can simply remove the diaper & offer a “pottytunity” (opportunity to potty!) at these natural timings.
You can also do some observation. This is helpful for babies 4+mths who may have started to lose the newborn reflexes.
10) Do you see any reasons for not going Diaper Free?
It’s very hard to unknown what you know, so for me personally, I could not use EC again. Though as with most things parenting wise, with the benefit of hindsight I would be better prepared & more relaxed!
The practical thing with EC is there is no need to actually go diaper-free until they are reliable. You are simply avoiding “diaper training” by allowing them to experience an alternative.
The key to modern EC is to think of the diaper as a back-up rather than a full-time toileting place.
You are going to give your baby the opportunity to go outside of the diaper.
Knowing their natural rhythm of needing to pee & poo, can actually make life easier rather than being an extra “chore”.
I really wish I had known this as a new, overwhelmed parent:
- reducing fussing or unsettled behaviour for apparently “no reason”
- reducing the number of poopy diapers you need to change (most babies quickly prefer to use the potty vs diaper)
- less surprise blowouts when you learn they often need to poo shortly after feeding but may hold it until...boom! in the Maxi-Cosi
- that popping on & off the breast may not be a milk supply issue but only that they need to pee/poop
- being restless, waking at night or repeatedly in the too-early morning can be to pee/poop not only feed
- fussing in a sling or resisting sleep can be a sign they need to go (rather than they’ve had enough of being carried)
- Normalizing the potty/toilet avoiding fear or resistance in toddlerhood. Fear of pooping outside the nappy is the most common potty training problem as it feels so different sensory wise and they may have developed the habit of standing to poop.
- It means that you can respond much quicker or even before they start to fuss rather than feeling a bit lost & helpless.
This way it really did not seem extra work at all. Hardly any poopy nappies & a super quick way to attend to the start of fussiness. If you’re finding yourself helplessly trying to soothe a fussy baby & find yourself bouncing them to sleep for ages I seriously recommend giving this a good go right now instead of waiting for things to settle down.
ECing a baby part-time whilst starting toilet learning with an older child is a great combination too & it can help prevent “regression” in recently toilet trained kids, all by normalising the potty/toilet.
11) finally, let us know how you help parents and where can we find more info about Elimination communication
I run a local group with workshops in The Netherlands but also love to help out people online too, you can tag me (Kate Jacoba Arnold) in your baby pottying or Montessori toileting questions on Carine’s group anytime.
Via my coach page you can easily access the Go Diaper Free Easy Start Guide, read & listen to lots of great elimination communication information.
The Go Diaper Free (e)book with audio version is my #1 resource recommendation, as it’s really practical & covers the whole journey through to moving from parent assisted EC to foster toilet independence 0-18months. Audiobooks have become a parenting essential!
The online mini courses are also great if you are a visual learner as they come with lots of video clips showing EC in real life. Though the
There are sales throughout the year, but you can always use code “babyfris” (fris means fresh in Dutch) to get 15% off.
There is also https://www.facebook.com/pottylearning/ where I collect & share information specifically on Montessori Toilet Learning including starting with Elimination Communication.
If you are interested in historical & cross-cultural perspectives of EC then ‘Infant Potty Training’ by Laurie Boucke is a wealth of information.
Facebook groups such as “EC UK” and “Elimination Communication” are very supportive. If you get the Go Diaper Free Book you will have the added support of myself & other international coaches via the private Facebook group.
Go on, give it a go 🙂
I swear it’s easier than DIYing & hanging a Montessori baby mobile (I totally failed at that!).
*JWB Douglas & JM Bloomfield, Children Under 5, 1958
*MW de Vries, MR de Vries, ‘Cultural relativity of toilet training readiness: a perspective from East Africa’, Pediatrics,
*Boucke, Infant Potty Training, 2008
*Kassina Ryder, “Anatomy of An Amauti’, Uphere magazine, 12 June 2017
*Duong, Janssen, Holmdahl, Sillén, Hellström. ‘Urinary bladder control during the first three years of life in healthy children in Vietnam — a comparison study with Swedish children. Journal Pediatric Urology 9, 2013
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