Freelance writer Christine Gross-Loh discovered baby-led potty training, also known as elimination communication (EC), as a student when the family she was living with in Japan practised it with their twin baby girls. When she became a parent she remembered what she had seen and decided to try it herself, encouraged by her own mother who had been raised in Korea. Christine’s four children have all been raised nappy-free, and her practical guide The Diaper-Free Baby was published in 2007.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW ELIMINATION COMMUNICATION WORKS?
First of all, I want to emphasise that being “diaper free” doesn’t mean you never use nappies. I’ve used my fair share! But what it’s about is being free from an exclusive reliance on them. In our culture we’ve mostly forgotten this knowledge about our babies and their bodies, unlike many parents around the world, who aren’t told that early toileting is harmful, or that children will train themselves when they are “ready” (some of these messages originated with the disposable nappy industry, but have become accepted wisdom). Instead, parents in some other cultures learn that babies are born quite aware of when they have to eliminate (like most mammal babies, they have an inherent aversion to soiling their own “nest”). They show their awareness through a variety of signs. If the caregiver is aware of what these signs might be and also able to put the baby on a potty or even open up the nappy and then clean the baby right away, the baby won’t get desensitised to the sensation of being dirty, and will continue to show signs of when he needs to eliminate. The baby also learns to associate the cue sound you make with the act of elimination and this helps him to maintain his bodily awareness. Many people have visions of a parent madly running to the bathroom with a baby every 10 minutes, but the truth is that when babies have this bodily awareness they don’t eliminate randomly, and they often actually naturally just prefer to hold it until they can go outside the nappy, meaning that at times during the day, depending on age of the baby, you’ll potty him only every few hours.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN BENEFITS AND DRAWBACKS?
There are so many benefits - you learn to tell when your baby is fussy because he has to eliminate, just as you learn to tell when he needs to eat or needs to sleep. EC provides a wonderful way to understand your baby better, and to respond to his needs. Obviously, it also is a good way to help prevent nappy rash because your baby rarely ever sits in a dirty or wet nappy. Finally, though this should not be the goal, your baby will likely be out of nappies permanently at a younger age (between one and two), rather than the three- to four-year-old average toilet training age that is so prevalent today. There certainly are drawbacks and this practice isn’t for everyone. It is helpful if you are in close contact with your baby while doing it (though working parents can do it and I show how in my book). Some people get stressed or perfectionistic about this, and that is really counterproductive - for you and for your baby. Depending on how much nappy backup you use, you may have the occasional mess to clean up, and that can be a turnoff for some parents, too.
WHAT WOULD BE A GOOD FIRST STEP FOR A PARENT INTERESTED IN TRYING THIS METHOD?
Just set aside a little chunk of time to let your baby be without her nappy and to observe what her patterns are. Depending on age, it’s typical for babies to eliminate soon after feeding, right after awakening, and soon after coming out of a carrier (they tend not to want to eliminate when held in a sling or carrier). If you notice your baby eliminating, make a cue sound (such as “shhhh”) and very soon your baby will associate the cue sound with elimination. Using cloth nappies part time is also a useful way to get started because they don’t let your baby feel dry, so she will usually let you know when she’s just peed.
DO YOU NEED TO COMMIT TO EC FULL-TIME?
Absolutely not! You can do it once a day or less - at times in my life when I was juggling a lot, I let it slide sometimes for weeks.
ISN’T IT A LOT OF WORK AND MESS?
Once you get used to it it’s neither a lot of work, nor messy. Many people argue that it’s less messy to have your baby just go directly in the toilet than to change/clean nappies or wipe a messy bottom.
IF A PARENT TAKES AWAY ONE MESSAGE FROM YOUR BOOK, WHAT SHOULD IT BE?
We have so many assumptions that we make about how we “should” do things when raising our children - but my experience with EC and with many other parenting practices shows me that there are many right ways to do things. This is a really perfect example of that. The good thing about being a parent today is that we can learn that there is no one right way, nor is there just one fixed, natural way things should be done. We can have the freedom to try EC with our babies without feeling pressure to continue or to stop. Keeping it fun and light can open up a whole new world for you and your baby.
READ: Christine’s book Parenting Without Borders: Surprising lessons parents around the world can teach us offers parenting inspiration from different cultures.
LEARN: Nappy-Free Baby (nappyfreebaby.co.uk) is a UK-based resource for baby-led potty training, and includes a list of online and real life groups where you can support from like-minded parents.