“When I have another baby, I’m definitely gonna do it”, a friend said to me recently.
She has watched with fascination and awe as my baby has gradually learnt to control his bodily functions and now she really wants the chance to give it a go for herself.
My second baby has been learning steadily since his very first day after birth and he’s pretty much had it sussed since he was seven months old. We stopped using nappies after six months, which is sometimes hard for people to believe, but it’s true and I believe anyone can do it.
The first thing to say about this is that it’s not potty training at all.
You can’t potty train a new born baby because they can’t talk or sit on a potty and they certainly don’t respond to praise or rewards.
It’s also not potty training if you’re not using a potty most of the time and you’re not really training your baby to do anything he doesn’t already know how to do. You don’t have to train your baby to walk or talk, you just help them practice and in time they get better at it.
Many of us who do this actually call it EC (elimination communication) because we use various forms of communication to encourage our children’s innate ability to learn to eliminate their body waste appropriately and at will.
I fell into it by chance when my first baby became constipated at six months after I started him on solid food. My mum suggested I try him on a potty because “that’s what they did in the old days”.
Right, um yeah thanks mum… What?
Anyway, soon after this I was reading about childcare in other cultures and I came across the split-crotch pants the Chinese dress their babies in. I realised there were people all around the world getting on with life without nappies. How could this be? It had never occurred to me before.
I kept reading and it turns out that if you start holding a baby in a kind of sitting/squatting position in the first couple of months after he or she is born, you can tap into a newborn reflex to wee and poo in response to the feeling of fresh air on their bottom and being held out.
If you make a particular noise when they go, like “shhhh”, they will develop an association between the action and the noise and this can then be used as a cue.
After six months the child will have developed a learned response and the ability to hold on for a few minutes, which is enough to effectively ensure that as long as you are receptive to their cues, you can do without nappies and rely on communication to get the job done.
At two years of age a child will usually have developed full conscious control and will be able to manage and communicate his toileting needs quite competently. That doesn’t mean he toddles off to the loo by himself. It’s a collaborative effort and the baby will let someone know when he needs help to go.
My first son was already six months old when I discovered EC, which I worried might be too late to start, but I was desperate to help him, so I got a potty and as soon as he woke up from his nap I sat him on it. Hey Presto! He did a poo. What a relief. What a joy. What a discovery! I kept with it and even though we only did it part-time he picked it up really well so he was out of nappies by the age of two, (which I thought was pretty good for a first-time mum).
But when my second baby was born I got to put the theory to the test. The day after he was born my husband caught a wee and poo in a chamber pot and we have never looked back. It wasn’t easy. But once you get into the swing, it can become so much a part of your normal routine that you wouldn’t want it any other way.
If you want to give EC a go then it’s worthwhile reading up about it first.
Meeting up with people who are doing it makes all the difference. It’s such an alien concept to us that it really helps to see it in practice and get to understand what’s going on. It also helps to get the right kit. Leg-warmers and drop-flap nappies are a great combo for fuss-free easy access to try for a “catch”. I used pull-up nappies and absorbent pants too.
And you don’t have to catch a “catch” in a potty. That’s just one option among many. A wild wee on the grass or in the bushes still counts, as does down a drain or straight in the toilet.
When you hold your baby out, you are facilitating them in their learning. Your body is engaged with theirs and the communication is not just verbal. Sitting a toddler on a potty and expecting them to use it after years of soiling nappies now sounds a bit absurd to me, because my experience of using EC was not so much about them learning where to go as it was about them learning how to tell that they needed to go and how to let me know. In time the rest took care of itself.
– Rosie’s new book, Trust Your Body, Trust Your Baby is published Pinter & Martin £11.99