Deciding to Do EC
As I mentioned in my newborn gear post, Will and I have been practicing elimination communication, or EC, with our daughter, Lydia. I’d read an article about EC quite a few years ago, well before I was pregnant, and I was intrigued. It’s just the sort of idea that tends to a appeal to me: a bit unusual, contrarian, has a good story behind it where I can talk about hunter gatherer tribes and the evolutionary environment.
But when I first heard of it, I basically decided that it would be way too much work, especially if I wanted to do things other than just stare at my baby all day. I found out through my mother that at least one of my Indian aunts had used a version of EC, though not by that name, but I hadn’t met anyone else who had successfully used EC.
Fast forward to 2012, where I’m pregnant and reading up a ton about everything baby-related. EC seems to have gotten more popular in the intervening years, and my internet browsing ends up one day at EC Simplified. The copy drew me in, and I started to get the idea that maybe EC could actually work in practice.I bought the product, quickly read through the book, and decided it was something I was going to try. I wish I could remember exactly what tipped the scales, but it might have been realizing that I could use a diaper backup full-time, and just do my best to notice patterns. I read a few more books about EC and some of the forum posts on EC Simplified, and then I met some people who used it successfully (mostly though the homebirth community), and it started to seem more and more doable.
It Actually Works
One month into having a newborn, my basic update about EC is that it’s worked really well! It’s been pretty fun and not that hard. I’ve heard from other parents that some kids take to it much more so than others, but it definitely works for Lydia.
The first week I mostly concentrated on observing and cueing. We’ve done basically no diaper-free time, but her bowel movements were hilariously easy to hear right as she made them, and using a Snappied prefold without a cover allowed us to tell when she was peeing in real time as well.
After some failed attempts to hold Lydia over the sink when I thought maybe she had to go, I fondly remember the first time I noticed her gut rumbling and rushed her to the bathroom so she could poop in the sink. I was so proud! And after the first time it worked, it all started to feel possible.
It’s been somewhat up and down, with some evenings where it seemed like she peed in her diaper ever ten minutes, and some days where I took her to the sink again and again when she didn’t have to go. At first we couldn’t really tell when she was going to pee, but she was pooping so much that we caught a bunch of her pees anyway. Then, she slowed down a bit with her pooping and we stared to figure out her patterns with pee as well.
Really early on, Lydia clearly got the idea that when we wanted her to poop when we held her over the sink. It was pretty adorable to see her trying, even when she didn’t really have to go. By now she seems to have also decided that she prefers peeing in the sink to going in her diaper as well, but until she actually goes, we can’t really tell whether she’s trying.
I kept vaguely planning to keep track of when she was nursing, waking up, and eliminating to figure out patterns, but I never did end up keeping actual records. Instead, I’ve been building up an approximate model that combines timing, cues, and intuition.
Right now, I’d say we’re getting well over 2/3 of her pees and almost all of her poop. Sometimes it’s been less when we’re out and about, but taking her to bathrooms wherever we end up has worked pretty well too.
Here’s how we do it:
When Lydia has just woken up, I make a judgment call and either offer Lydia a “pottytunity”, as they call it, or an opportunity to nurse. If I think she’s hungrier, based on how long it’s been since she last fed and whether she’s rooting, I’ll feed her first. Otherwise, I’ll take her to the bathroom. She doesn’t like to do much of anything other than feed when she’s hungry.
If I’m feeding Lydia and she detaches repeatedly (without also falling asleep), even after I offer her the other side, I take her to the bathroom.
If Lydia is fussing and I’m not sure what’s bothering her, I take her to the bathroom.
The coolest thing to me is at this point she already seems to be learning to wait to be taken, because early on she used to go in her diaper while she was feeding or sleeping pretty often, and now she basically never does. There’s almost always some signal before hand, even though it’s pretty nonspecific.
She can even hold it at night when she’s sleeping in blocks of more than four hours, though sometimes she’ll wake up fussing, go to the bathroom, and go right back to sleep for an extended period of time.
It’s happened a bunch of times recently that she got through the entire night without going in her diaper at all. Other times, I’ve been too tired to pick up on her signals (this usually happens early in the night). Not a big deal, and we do put her in a diaper cover so the bed stays clean.
Benefits, Drawbacks, and Open Questions
EC has been fun to do, and I like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I correctly predict Lydia’s needs and patterns.I also like that she almost never sits around in a wet or dirty diaper, and that she gets to squat for her bowel movements, which I’m sure she prefers. I like that she’s retaining awareness of her elimination patterns and also increasingly gaining control of them. Using fewer diapers is also a plus, especially when we’re out of the house, since cloth diapers are bulky to carry around. No diaper rash, but she might not have gotten that anyway. EC is also just kind of a cool trick.
However, it does take time to do EC. We still have to take a diaper off, clean her off, and put one on. The cleaning her off step is shorter, but not shorter enough to make up for the time spent holding her over the sink. It seems worth it to me, but it’s a bit inconvenient. We’re also pretty much training her to dislike going in her diaper and being in a wet diaper, so that makes her a bit higher-maintenance. I don’t mind, but it seems worth noting.
I’m hoping, naturally, that our early success continues, we get even better at this, Lydia gets out of diapers early, and we smoothly transition into her being potty trained, but it’s definitely too soon to say. My understanding is that babies often have their ups and down with EC, especially as they concentrate more on learning other skills, such as crawling, walking, and talking. We’ll see what the future holds.
Another thing I send a medium amount of thought cycles wondering about is what other babies preferences are about peeing and pooping in their diapers. Now that I see Lydia consistently complaining about the prospect of going in her diaper, I can’t help but wonder whether all the non-EC babies are doing the same thing, but their parents have no idea what they’re trying to communicate. I’m pretty sure some babies don’t care, or at least quickly learn not to care, but I’d also guess that some babies do care. I know I’d be considerably more confused about what was going on with breastfeeding if I didn’t have a model of why she sometimes refuses to latch even when she’s not done eating.
I do also realize that getting into the whole EC thing has made me into even more of the stereotypical parent who is always talking about poop. Oh well.