It seems impossible: A baby — many times not much older than newly born — going to the bathroom directly into the toilet and not a diaper. Thanks to a much-circulated New York Times article last month that featured these poopy miracles, "elimination communication" has become the buzzword for plugged-in parents everywhere.
The EC technique means watching and listening to your baby's cues about when they might be, well, "eliminating." Tipped off to their bodily functions, you then put them over a potty, thus training them at an early age that the place to go is the bathroom, not their diapers. Christine Gross-Loh has been preaching this alternative to toilet training for years; her book, "The Diaper Free Baby," has been the instruction manual for EC devotees since it was published in 2007. Here she gives advice on being No. 1 in the "number two" business.
How is EC different from regular toilet training?
The most basic difference is that you start EC earlier, before a child has become so used to eliminating in diapers that potty training is a whole new transition he has to get used to (and may be resistant to). Babies are born with this awareness of elimination, but as they become used to eliminating in a diaper all the time, they lose that awareness — and have to work on becoming aware again when they reach the age of conventional toilet training. With EC, your child has known from an early age that a diaper is not the only place to eliminate, and using a potty or toilet becomes second nature to your child. EC'ed children are often out of diapers completely at or before the age when most children are just beginning to embark on potty training.
Wouldn't it be easier for parents to potty train their children on their own when they are older?
It depends on how you define easier. Parents may wonder if EC is really easier because at first, a parent is the one taking her baby to the toilet. But a lot of parents who EC find it easier that they don't have to deal with diapers as much for so many years, and that their child can just eliminate in a toilet (less messy). Parents who do EC also often find that their babies aren't eliminating randomly or frequently once they prefer using a toilet to a diaper — which eases worries that they'd be constantly running their baby to the toilet!
What advice do you have for working parents who live in cities who may want to try EC?
EC can be done during the evening or on weekends. Even if you are at home with your baby full time, you may not be doing EC full time. It's easy to have some diaper-free time during the evening, or sit your baby on the potty before and after his bath. Doing EC does not mean you have to ditch diapers completely.
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What are some drawbacks to EC? Benefits?
It's hard to do anything when it's not a cultural norm — you may get less support and less information. Information about EC — about typical stages, about the logistics — is really key. Luckily, the information and support is out there as more and more parents do EC. And there are so many great reasons to give it a try: There are communication benefits (you learn to read your baby just as you learn how to figure out when he is hungry or sleepy), environmental and economic benefits (you go through fewer diapers,) and health benefits too (less diaper rash). Finally, you are not relying on diapers so much that your child becomes reluctant to let go of them (a problem that some parents face when doing conventional toilet training).
Why do you think EC has taken off in recent years?
I think it's because there are so many parents out there who know more about the world around us. They know that in cultures around the world, it's not at all the norm for a baby older than 1 to be in a diaper (if he was ever in a diaper at all). When you know that this isn't a universal thing, it makes you feel more open to understanding why and how this is, and to realizing there are some viable lessons here for us. It's also kind of instinctive: I know so many parents who could tell their newborn was eliminating — it's usually so obvious at that age — but conventional wisdom tells us to change the diaper after he's done. EC gives us permission to follow our instincts and common sense.
EC has also become more popular because we realize there are so many ways to do it. When I had my first child 13 years ago, before EC was widely known, I had heard of EC but thought of it as a black-or-white endeavor — you either do it fully or you don't. I simply couldn't imagine how you could make it work in a culture where we have so many homes with carpets! But my experiences showed me that you can do it to any degree that works for you. Even if your baby sits on the potty just once a day, there are benefits.