Going Diaper-Free with Elimination Communication

Guest blog, written by Ruo Yang, parent and environmentalist living minimally in Toronto. 

Elimination Communication (EC) is the practice of communicating with and assisting baby in their poop and pee needs in a variety of ways including timing, signals, cues, and intuition. 

Babies – even newborns, understand their eliminations to a degree and when given some assistance, will try to not soil themselves. 

It does not take too long for the babies to show this when given the chance.

[image caption:] Baby is about 100 days here and wearing a ‘split crotch’ sleeper with a diy fabric diaper 

We love EC!  

We started to practice EC at almost a full-time basis at 8 weeks during the day time (we are 8 months now). Intimidating at first, we found a good rhythm, about 3 weeks after we started. EC has been a wonderful process for us that has: 

  • Strengthened our bond with baby
  • Improved our understanding of his needs (for elimination and generally)
  • Increased our confidence in parenting 
  • Increased pride in our ability to parent
  • Avoided hundreds of disposable diapers
  • Saved water from washing many poopy cloth diapers (though we did have to wash a few) 
  • Saved a lot of poopy bum-wiping (our baby, like many others, is a poop machine!) 
  • Spared baby from many hours of being in wet and poopy diapers 

The EC spectrum 

Nearly every parent is already on the EC spectrum: 

  • Awareness of when baby is pooping and peeing and general timing (e.g. wake from sleep/nap, 10 min after eating)
  • Recognition of poop and pee and making signals and verbal cues 
  • Opportunities of diaper-free time 
  • Opportunities to poop and pee without a diaper (from occasional to part time to full time) caught in toilet or other container with timing based on your knowledge or intuition, or baby’s signals 

Helpful supplies 

  • Cloth diapers
  • DIY fabric diapers – with covers and pre-folds from used bedsheets and old t-shirts
  • Split crotch pants
  • Button up sleepers (with buttons down both legs)
  • Fabric (cotton, wool, some plastic) pads for diaper-free time

Our routine 

  • Diaper folding time – first thing and as needed
  • Diaper free time – anytime I was in the house and didn’t have chores to do and felt like it (I usually covered his diaper area with a piece of cloth so any pee wouldn’t spray
  • Pee catching – usually at the end of each nap, and 20min and 40min after each feed, much more frequent in the morning, sometimes it’s almost an hour towards late afternoon/evening. He generally will not pee when in the carrier
  • Sound cue: psssss
  • Poop catching – almost always has a poop upon waking, poops are harder to catch at other times – poopy farts are usually a good indicator
  • Sounds cue – uh-uhn-uh
  • Diaper washing time
  • Pee-as I changed them if I could, or soaked as soon as I could (most often in leftover bath water)
  • Poop – ideally right after it happens with a quick soak and scrub. It generally comes right out
  • Used disposable diapers (pee-only) are good for wiping poop from the floor and diapers since they absorb quickly
  • Out of the house – between 3-5 months we did a number of pees and poops in public toilets and friends houses, it worked as well as at home. If I was alone, sometimes I got him to pee in a loosely fastened disposable diaper- I used a lightly used one since it’s removed right after he pees/poops in it
  • Nights – Bedshared and breastfed, but it was hard to get up at night to EC him, and baby once peed on own face as I was putting on a diaper so from 2 months we used one disposable diaper for a night – leading us to use about one package of disposable diapers every month

Our initiation

EC has been practiced in every generation of my family. I’m proud to say that as a baby, I was out of diapers at 6 months. Though this is not the expectation, it can be a great bonus to the EC experience if this does happen. 

Even though my parents had practiced this and I even remembered the verbal cues as a child, I found the idea very intimidating – I didn’t exactly have any extra time or energy to spare. It was Christine Gross-Loh’s book that gave me the push and confidence to start. 

After nearly 2 weeks of starting EC almost full time, I was dejected at how little it was taking hold – we had many more misses than catches. The poop pictured above was the first one I personally caught (my mom and husband caught a few) – I was hooked forever after. 

It took 2 more weeks of almost full-time effort to settle into a routine. 6 more weeks of almost full-time during the day to feel more natural and not feel disappointed with a miss. We usually used only one disposable diaper per day for overnight and also tried to EC and use cloth diapers when we were out.

The intuition can be compared to the breastfeeding process: the first three weeks required hard work, few things came easily and naturally but once my implicit learning process got the hang of things, it gradually evened out and EC started feeling like not much work at all. 

So much of today’s consumerist culture has led to a reliance on products (e.g. disposable diapers) that have led mothers and families to not trust their own instincts. In terms of EC, all mammal babies have the instinct not to soil themselves. EC helps our baby regain his dignity. He doesn’t need to wallow in his own poop for hours and he can feel a natural sense of comfort when he poops outside the diaper. As mentioned before, the connection that has been built between us parents and our baby is one of the biggest benefits that has a spillover effect to every interaction with him.

Our challenges  

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “Success (at catching a poop) is not final, failure (at missing a poop or pee) is not fatal. It is the courage to continue (elimination communication) that counts” – this was my motto, since I have a bit of an obsessive personality.

There are times when EC can feel like a waste of time. Our baby at 7 months, crawled everywhere, hated to be EC’d (and wouldn’t stay still enough to have their diaper changed), sometimes, especially if I was sick and tired, would used a disposable diaper if I knew there was a pee and the EC was a miss, there’s suggestions like 3 misses, and change to disposables as long as you need.