New parents often daydream of the time they can say goodbye to diapers and hello to a kid who can use the potty on their own. And, while that may be a few years off for parents of newborns, there is a diaper-free method that enlists caregivers to respond to baby’s need to use the bathroom even from birth.
The method is called Elimination Communication and it claims to help prepare children for future potty training and teach them to use the toilet on their own sooner than most people think. However, this method is controversial and not all experts agree. Pediatric pelvic health specialist and OT Quiara Smith cautions that Elimination Communication does not follow typical development and physiology and she does not recommend the method.
What is Elimination Communication?
Elimination Communication is a way for caregivers to respond to a baby’s natural hygiene needs without the use of diapers. This happens when the baby communicates their need to urinate or defecate and then does so immediately, with parental support. Baby’s communication can be anything from a squirm to a grunt or cry. The parent responds by immediately holding the child over a receptacle in either a seated, squatted or cradle position.
The method can be integrated when at home, out, at daycare, full time or part time —it depends on what the parent would like to do. Over time, the method claims, e child becomes more used to going pee and poo in a potty, and is more empowered and independent when using the toilet from a younger age.
However, studies from John’s Hopkins show, a child younger than 12 months of age has no control over bladder or bowel movements and very little control between 12 to 18 months. Most children are unable to obtain bowel and bladder control until 24 to 30 months.
When can you start Elimination Communication?
Elimination communication can be started as early as from birth, however, as the child approaches 24 months of age, more common potty training is more effective as they can better verbally communicate their needs.
Not sure if your child is ready to potty train? Read these expert tips.
How does Elimination Communication Differ from traditional potty training?
In the elimination communication method, a child does not hold their pee or poop like in potty training. It is the parent’s responsibility to learn the baby’s communications and act immediately since biologically, the child is not capable of holding it.
How do I introduce Elimination Communication?
Depending on when you start, the level in which your baby can communicate may differ. To start, you can give baby diaper-free time so you can begin to learn their cues. Observe their motions, moods, and reactions prior to them relieving themselves and take note. Start to notice what those cues are. Also, keep in mind that babies often go to the bathroom after eating and after sleeping, so pay attention to their natural elimination schedule as well.
What are the suggested benefits of Elimination Communication?
Using this method is thought to help create more of a connection between parent and child by building communication and trust as well as helping a baby gain self esteem. Aside from that, there are more practical benefits the method claims: less diapers used, less waste created, and an easier transition to actual potty learning.
Are there any drawbacks to Elimination Communication? An Expert’s Take:
The most talked about cons noted by users of this method are that it requires more time and dedication on the caregiver(s). When you first start, it can be messy as you are still learning your baby’s cues, and is less than convenient when out and about.
According to Pediatric Occupational Therapist Quiara Smith, another downside is that many children whose parents choose to do Elimination Communication have bowel and bladder issues like constipation, bedwetting, and sensory differences when they are older — mostly during toddlerhood and school-age years.
“As a pediatric pelvic health therapist that works on toileting skills with a variety of neurodiverse children, Elimination communication does not follow typical development and physiology, “ said Smith.
Citing the study we mentioned earlier, Smith went on to explain, “A child younger than 12 months of age has no control over bladder or bowel movements, and very little control between 12 to 18 months. Most children are unable to obtain bowel and bladder control until 24 to 30 months. The average age of toilet training is 27 months.
It’s important to understand that Elimination Communication is just tracking body patterns and putting an infant on a "potty" – but they are not learning or mastering skills. In order to be independent in toileting and bowel and bladder control, children must be able to have good sphincter control, maintain upright sitting on a potty or toilet on their own and understand the association between urge sensation and being able to independently act on it.
In my opinion there are no benefits to EC, it does not support typical child development and there can be more drawbacks for the child long term than most people stop to consider.”
Think your toddler is ready to start traditional potty training? Our class, Potty Training: The Stress-Free Guide to Success, led by Quiara, will walk you through everything you need to know. Including: how to get started, a specific step-by-step method to train your child in a matter of days, what type of potty to use, how to teach your toddler to breathe correctly (protect those pelvic floors!), and how to get through challenges and regressions that might pop up along the way. Is your child younger than 24 months, but you want to start preparing them for potty training? We’ve got a class for that too! Check out Preparing for Potty Learning, here.