Diaper Free with Elimination Communication
The fourth in a series of articles on ALIGNMENT for NEW PARENTS
by Esther Taylor
Jatamansi Center Massage & Holistics, Fillmore, CA
Elimination communication (EC), also known by other names including infant hygiene and infant pottying is founded on the premise that all primates are born with the instinct to not soil themselves. This innate awareness is often broken in human infants by diapering and the parents’ lack of response to the infant when communicating his/her needs (often in the form of a subtle squeal or squirmy movement). When ignored, the infant will simply give up trying to express this need to go to the bathroom. Eventually infants will all but lose awareness of soiling themselves since diapers pull the urine and stool away from the skin. This is especially true of disposable diapers which is one reason most EC parents prefer cloth diapers, unless traveling or leaving their infant with a sitter.
While Westerners may find the concept strange, even unbelievable, in many developing countries such as in Africa and Asia, infants are not diapered at all. This ancient knowledge that babies can indeed control and communicate their hygiene needs was reintroduced to Western culture in the 1970′s, by a woman named Laurie Boucke who had learned about it during her travels around the globe. In the last couple of years, EC seems to have gotten more attention in mainstream media as modern western parents search for better ways to care for and connect with their infants. EC parents often view the goal of this practice not as “training” the infant but rather accommodating the infant’s needs.
The most common approach to EC entails paying close attention to the infant’s sounds and movements, learning the infant’s bathroom “cue,” and then holding the infant over a bowl, sink, toilet or even outdoors with one hand under each leg creating a squat position. Making a sound like “ppppsssss” or grunting lets the infant know it is time to go. When finished the infant can be wiped or rinsed off as usual. Some EC parents will positively reinforce their infant’s experience with a “bathroom song” and log their infant’s eliminations in a journal to keep track of timing and patterns, though most EC parents claim that it is a very intuition based practice.
The benefits to EC are countless. EC infants are virtually free from diaper rash and related infections. EC also provides a regular and deep bonding opportunity and allows the infant to develop trust that the parents are aware of his/her signals, needs and wellbeing, establishing a profound connection between parent and child. In addition, EC eliminates a significant amount of waste and environmental contamination. According to a 2008 TIME article by Pamela Paul, an estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used in the US, adding 3.4 million tons of waste (including plastic, viruses, bacteria and vaccines) to landfills each year. Disposable diapers were, at the time, a $5.7 billion industry. Many of these diapers also contain dioxins, sodium polyacrylate and drying agents that can contribute to a long range of symptoms from diaper rash to cancer. Although using cloth diapers is a slightly greener (and chemically safer) practice, it still requires significant amounts of energy to produce and lauder them.
EC receives plenty of criticisms, the biggest of which are that it is too time consuming and that it requires too much patience. My experience is that EC is simply being proactive as opposed to reactive. A responsible parent spends just as much time and applies just as much patience to continuously changing soiled diapers, and besides, isn’t being patient just part of being a parent? Raising a child can certainly be emotionally trying, but isn’t each child’s welfare worth every minute taken to best accommodate his/her needs? It is also important to consider all the time, frustration and anxiety EC parents don’t have to deal with when traditional potty training age is reached.
In our society EC is not always feasible and diapering might make more sense if, for instance, both parents need to work outside the home to provide for the family and caretakers are uneducated about or unwilling to participate in the process. Ironically, according to BabyCenter.com, a family’s cost of living would be reduced by $3,000 per year if they did not consume disposable diapers and $2,400 per year if they did not have to purchase and launder cloth diapers and these savings do not include the cost of wipes or diaper rash cream.
My personal experience with EC has been quite remarkable. I first heard of EC when I was about 4 months pregnant and my husband and I immediately began researching the topic. Still, when our daughter was born I felt unsure about how to begin using EC. Then something amazing happened. When our daughter was four days old I went to change her diaper and found that it was still dry. In that moment I asked myself, “Should I hold her over a bucket and see if she will go?” Just as I had this thought she peed. I told myself that the next time I got the sense that she needed to go I would not second guess myself but go ahead and try EC. About twenty minutes later when I next had that feeling, I quickly took off her diaper, held her over a bowl and made a “pppsss” sound and she peed. I was overwhelmed with delight – it was the first time my daughter and I had achieved something as a team. She is now five months old and has been fully “trained” for 3 months. Most of the time we are home she wears miniature underwear I made for her or a cloth diaper if am working or distracted. When traveling my husband and I use Honest brand all natural, eco-friendly disposable diapers.
For more information on EC check out DiaperFreeBaby.org or any one of the following books:
Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid Bauer
The Diaper-Free Baby: The Natural Toilet Training Alternative by Christine Gross-Loh