Saturday, October 01, 2011

Guest post on "Elimination Communication" and "Diaper Free Baby" book review

I'm so excited to share this guest blog post from my dear friend Ali about her amazing 3 month old baby girl Summit.  I had flirted with the thought of using Elimination Communication, which I really like the idea of, but I never got around to trying it... now I really wish I had, and I'm even inspired to start trying it with my 9 month old.  Here's Ali's story:

I think I’m being toilet trained by my three month old. Seriously, she hasn’t pooped in a diaper in over a week. Here’s how it happened. Fair warning, there will be talk of poop.

Ever since she came home from the hospital Summit has been a little fussy when she has to poop. This is especially true in the early morning, when it seems to take her a while. I’ve assumed it was gas or just general discomfort but at one point I told my friend Melissa about it and she asked if I’d read a book called The Diaper-Free Baby: The Natural Toilet Training Alternative by Christine Gross-Loh about Elimination Communication. Truthfully, I’d been avoiding it.
Elimination Communication (often called EC) is a process where parents learn to read their baby’s cues and offer them chances to use the toilet instead of a diaper. Some families start as early as birth which sounds crazy until you think about the fact that it is a relatively new (and Western) idea that babies should use diapers for the first 2-3 years of their lives. In fact, in more than half of the world babies are using the toilet by age 1. The basic idea is that it is not natural to soil oneself (seriously, what other mammal poops all over itself and sits in it?) and that if we nurture a sense of body awareness from an early age we allow our babies an alternative to soiling themselves. Also we don’t set them up to struggle with toilet training later. Sounds great, right? So why was I avoiding it even though my baby was giving me clear signs that she didn’t want to poop in a diaper?

The truth is that during the first few months of Summit’s life I was overwhelmed enough with the transition from caring for a relatively independent 6 year old to caring for him and his brand new, totally dependent sister. The thought of adding a new level of awareness to my day to day life sounded impossible. During those early days it seemed like she was always peeing or pooping and I couldn’t imagine how I would realistically implement something like EC. Also, she was this floppy, tiny little person and the idea of holding her over the toilet didn’t appeal to me. It may sound silly, but there it is.

There was another aspect to my reluctance as well. The people I know who practice EC do it in a community where there’s a lot of support for it; a community where it is not frowned upon to bring your half-naked baby to a party and even let them poop on the ground in the yard. Most of them do a pretty comprehensive form of EC, so I assumed that was the way it was always done. In my community there is not a lot of EC going on so there would be much less support and much less understanding about what is involved. All I could imagine was what it would be like to try to pick Mason up from school with a pants-less baby ,who might or might not cover me in pee (or worse, poop) in front of all the other moms. No, EC was not for me. I was sure of it.

But Summit’s apparent discomfort continued and it got me thinking. Melissa is smart and knows quite a bit about EC, and her instincts around parenting are fantastic. I decided I should at least read the book.  As I read section after section in which Summit’s exact behaviors were described I was hit hard with the realization that like-it-or-not I couldn’t unlearn what I was learning. I couldn’t ignore that there might be a way to better meet Summit’s needs. I was also relieved to learn that EC is not an all or nothing proposition. You can practice it sometimes but not all the time. You can keep your baby in a diaper and take it off to give her chances at the potty. This appealed to me greatly because it minimized the risk of standing at swimming lessons or on the school playground or anywhere else at all actually, with yellow poop running down my side. Even doing it once a week is supposed to help your baby maintain body awareness. Surely I could handle it once a week, right?

The more I read the more clear it became that Summit is the perfect candidate for some level of EC. I had to be honest with myself and admit that I’d been seeing signs from the beginning. I started to feel silly about the fact that I’d almost always known when Summit had to poop and, because I knew she struggled with it, I’d hold her little knees up to put her in kind of a squatting position so she could poop…into a diaper. You’d think removing the diaper and putting her over the toilet wouldn’t feel like such a huge, giant leap.

The author of Diaper Free Baby suggests that people who want to practice EC might consider using cloth diapers because they also increase body awareness. Disposables don’t allow the baby to feel the wetness when they go, disconnecting them from the process and outcome of elimination. We already use cloth diapers. The author suggested that baby wearing helps in practicing EC because the proximity helps the parent to pick up on cues and also because babies don’t like to pee or poop when they are in their carriers so the signs may be even clearer. I wear Summit almost all the time. I tried not to think about the times she’d protest in the carrier and then poop in her diaper when I pulled her out. The author mentioned that co-sleeping also makes EC easier. Summit doesn’t even have a crib. Though it is clear that EC is flexible and none of these other parenting approaches are a mandatory part of it, it is also clear that most of what we instinctively do compliments elimination communication. Perhaps more importantly it feels like ignoring signs my baby is communicating to me about her needs would be a departure from everything else I believe about parenting.

Last Saturday night I finished the book and at about 5:00am Sunday morning Summit started squirming around in bed, making complaining sounds and kicking her legs. Ordinarily I’d try to comfort her, nurse her and put her back to sleep. If she did eventually poop (after an hour or so of restless tossing around) I’d get up and change her diaper and then restart the comforting, nursing routine and hope against hope that more sleep might be had. It’s not a process I love to participate in before the sun has risen so what is the logic in clinging to it, right? “Here goes nothing” I thought to myself , and brought her to the bathroom. I felt a little silly.

The moment I held Summit over the toilet she pooped. Then she turned to me and gave me a huge, happy grin and started making excited, chatty sounds as if she was telling me a story all about her dense mommy who finally figured out that poop goes in the potty. Moments later we were back in bed where she nursed herself back to sleep and slept for another peaceful hour and a half. When she woke up I could hardly wait to let her try again. I held her over the potty and she peed immediately, the restarted the chatty, happy girl routine. I was pretty impressed with both of us.

Jeannette was less impressed. From the moment the book entered the house she’d feared it. “Are you going to drag me down this road with you?” she wanted to know. It all sounded crazy and overwhelming to her and I could empathize, but I also couldn’t ignore what Summit and the book were both telling me. She didn’t want to poop in a diaper. There was another option. We should learn more. I tried to woo Jeannette with promises of fewer diapers to wash, more sleep to be had, a happier baby. She laughed at me… right up until the moment that I had her watch Summit do it. The smile got her too. Summit, at 3 months old, is clearly proud of herself. What parent can ignore that?

The author of Diaper Free Baby emphasizes that Elimination Communication does not have to be a full time practice. Summit disagrees. In the week and a half since that first poop in the potty she has not pooped in a single diaper. Instead she gives me cues that she needs to go. They aren’t always the same but they are pretty clear. I’d compare it to the way a baby communicates that they want to nurse. Whatever set of signs they give you might not be clear to everyone around you but you as the mom will know they want to nurse. Sometimes you may get it wrong. Mostly you get it right. It’s like that with EC. I have a harder time with the cues for peeing so she still has a fair number of wet diapers but she also pees in the potty at least a few times every day.

It’s exciting when we get it right and we’re getting better at it. The other day I tried to put Summit in the Mei Tai Baby Carrier and she got really fussy and wouldn’t settle. I took her out and brought her to the toilet where she pooped immediately and then went happily back into the carrier for a nice, long nap. One day she wouldn’t latch on to nurse herself to sleep at naptime so I took her to the bathroom. She peed, smiled, then snuggled in for a 3 hour nap. She woke up with a dry diaper and was thrilled to pee the moment I put her on the potty but not before. It’s pretty rewarding when it works like that.

It doesn’t always work like that. Some days it does feel a little overwhelming. Honestly, it’s faster and more convenient to just ignore a baby’s cues and change her at a time that works for you. The question is, is it fair? I’ve had moments where we’re trying to get out the door and a voice in my head is telling me I should let Summit try the potty before we go and another voice is telling me we just don’t have time. It’s hard to feel torn. There are times when I make the time and then it turns out she doesn’t need to go and I wonder if I’m reading the signs right at all. There have been times when I feel a little ridiculous holding a tiny three month old over a potty. It is easier at home but going out in public can feel like a challenge. Socially it can feel awkward to have to explain what we’re doing to friends and family. It can be hard to offer as many opportunities as a tiny baby needs . It is easier for me to sleep through Summit peeing into a diaper than it is for me to get up and hold her over a potty. The reality is though, that I can’t un-know what I’ve seen in the past week. I would never tell Mason that he couldn’t use the bathroom because we have somewhere to be. Why should Summit have to soil herself just because that’s what we assume babies do? This is an unusual practice in our culture and some people might judge me for doing it. That’s uncomfortable. However, when I measure the discomfort that comes with that judgment against the pride I take in meeting my baby’s needs there is just no comparison.

A few weeks ago I would have told you that I didn’t have the energy, the time, even the knowledge to do this. And yet here we are, doing it. Is it work? Sure. But it is work that I’d rather do now, with an eager infant, than in two or three years with a reluctant toddler or (God forbid) preschooler. This whole thing has rocked my world a little. My preconceptions about EC have been rattled by the clear evidence I see in front of me. I worried that a baby might feel pressured to use the potty before she was really ready. It turns out that Summit is distressed when she can’t use the potty and proud and relieved when she has a chance. There are no false rewards for using the potty and certainly there are no punishments when it doesn’t work out that way. I don’t praise her for using the potty. Instead I make statements like “Oh, you peed in the potty, you must feel better!” There are no “accidents” in this process. When she pees in her diaper I simply change her and we move on. It’s all pretty natural and fluid. If some days it is remarkably rewarding while others it is a little overwhelming, then it is just like most other aspects of parenting, right? Practically speaking I can’t ignore the fact that I’m washing and changing fewer diapers. More importantly, I’m making my baby girl really, really happy.

Thanks Ali for letting me share this wonderful post with the world.  You are an inspiration to us all :-)
Lots of Love, 


Mason's Mom said...

Thanks Annie! I'm so happy to share this wild experience with other parents.

Andrea Olson said...

I'm so happy to read your post. Saw it on Twitter. Glad it's going so well for you...I was immediately hooked too. (As was my boy!) Happy ECing to you!! :)

Mason's Mom said...

Thanks Andrea!

Anonymous said...

I love the honesty of this account. While it's really different from the EC journey I've had with my daughter, it seems like we all somehow have to learn a lot of the same lessons. Thanks for the encouragement!

We're almost graduating I think, down to a miss or so a day most days.

Naturally Diaper Free said...

Thank you for posting this great information on EC! I started practicing EC with my daughter when she was 4 months old and she is now 17 months and we are so happy with our EC journey. My daughter wears undies and signals when she needs to use the potty. We have been done with diapers for a long time but the most impressive aspect of EC is the close bond that is developed between parent and child. EC forces you to tune-in to your baby and pay attention to subtle signals that your baby displays when he or she needs to potty. EC has had such a positive impact on my life, that I became a Mentor through the non-profit organization, Diaper Free Baby, to teach other families in my community how to practice EC. I also created an online retail shop that sells EC products. Check it out:
Jenay Burke
Owner, Naturally Diaper Free

Andrea said...

Wow, I had never heard of EC before. Thank you so much for sharing. I've got a 1 year old boy and I would love to try this!