Washing nappies can be a hefty job and when you’re looking at ways of making this easier, there’s often an area that goes overlooked; what goes into them in the first place! Jenn from Born Ready joins us on our 38th Live Chat to talk to us about the intriguing concept of Elimination Communication.
Q: Thanks for coming Jenn, can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Jenn: Of course. I’m Jenn Philpott. I run Born Ready and help spread the word about baby-led pottying / elimination communication. I have loads of personal experience because I did it with my own 4 girls, but I also pay attention to other people’s experiences – I listen to what parents say on my Facebook forum (and the forums of yesteryear!) Happy to clarify anything I can during this chat. It’s likely some questions won’t have a definite answer.
Q: For anyone who doesn’t know, can you explain what elimination communication is?
Jenn: Elimination communication is the traditional way of keeping babies’ bottoms clean and dry. You’ve probably heard “They don’t use nappies in China” – well, they don’t (at least, not traditionally). EC is a way of either predicting when your child needs to wee or poo, or responding to a definite signal that they give, and then holding them over a potty rather than waiting for them to use their nappy.
Q: You said it’s a form of Baby Led Potty Training, How on earth do babies lead potty training?
Jenn: Ha! Good question! Terminology is so difficult around this subject! I think this is baby-led in that you follow your baby’s rhythms and cues.
Q: So what’s the history – when did nappies start taking over from the traditional methods?
Jenn: We’ve had nappies for a long time, but they were used in conjunction with EC. Lots of tribal societies use some form of nappy along with holding their babies out. Two things have really changed since the 1960s. The first was pushed by concerted efforts for early potty training.
BUT then comes trouble. Lots of people experience refusals when their babes develop gross motor skills – crawling, walking, running. Even people who have had phenomenal success in the baby days can come unstuck. And when misses meant lots and lots of washing where previously there was none, parents got annoyed and children were punished.
The original push away from early potty use was to save the children from the wrath of their parents if things didn’t go to plan.
At the same time, disposables arrived on the scene – and that in itself became a driver of new habits.
@Jenn: For us the most important part of EC was not the communication it was making potty part of normal life, like high chair for food or buggy for going to the shop, just a thing we did every day that was utterly commonplace. I feel we rely too heavily on nappies and not on leading toward toilets. I wonder why we as a society have moved so far from our grandparents knowledge around learning to toilet and now the potty is a massive issue which raises its head at a difficult age (toddlerdom).
Jenn: I agree. For us too, it was a part of normal life. No different from taking cues on feeding. Sometimes I would preempt a feed ‘she’ll be hungry and I have to do the school run in 10 minutes, better feed her now’ and sometimes I would wait until afterwards.
Q: I’ve been giving it a half-hearted go. My issues seem to be that she’ll pee when I’m not watching, like doing the washing up. How are you meant to do any sort of jobs if you’re watching for their signs all the time?
Jenn: I guess you can’t do anything if you’re watching for your baby’s signs ‘all the time’. If you’re feeling for your baby’s signs because you’re wearing them or carrying them, then you can do that at the same time as doing other things.
@Jenn: Interesting. I’ve been able to catch wees after sleeps, and occasionally at changes, but it’s very hit and miss otherwise. Thanks for the info.
Q: How does the frequency with which a baby urinates change as they grow older? Are they all pretty similar, or is it very individual? And for a given baby, what factors influence how long they’ll go between wees?
Jenn: Urinating frequency is a personal thing – but there are influencing factors.
1) Bladder maturity. Babies tend to wee in spurts until they learn to fully empty their bladders in one go. That takes practice. There was a paper published by a Swedish group that showed Vietnamese babies who used a potty from birth could fully void by 9 months, whereas Swedish babies who wore nappies until they were nearly three couldn’t fully void until 36+ months.
2) Allergens. Some foods make babies wee more – that’s a personal thing but also more general. Vitamin C irritates the bladder for example.
3) Teething and illness can cause way more wees that you were expecting! That’s a short lived blip though.
So to come back to your original question: my tiny babies went one to two hours between wees. Then the time shortened a bit (as the milk volume increased maybe?) to perhaps hourly? Then lengthened a lot during toddlerhood to several hours. Different in mornings and afternoons for lots of people, too.
@Jenn: That’s absolutely fascinating! My son could hold his urine from quite young and the general belief in the UK seems to be that it’s impossible to have bladder control until 2 years+
Jenn: The ‘impossible to have bladder control until 2’ is annoying because I’ve had health visitors tell me that and it’s simply not true – however, I do understand where it comes from. It’s a contraction of the research and general understanding. Desired outcome: wait until 24 months – ended up being ‘no control until 24 months’.
Q: What are the signs of readiness and the issues that arise from them?
Jenn: 1) Bladder and bowel control: comes at 9 months.
2) Nerves fully formed: happens by the time a child can walk. Research papers tend to use ’18 months’ as the age by which most babies are toddling.
3) Willingness to cooperate with potty training. This is where the 18 months-2 years comes in.
@Jenn: Is that voluntary bowel control at 9 months? Is there another mechanism before then that allows them to delay a bit – long enough to get to a potty? I think my nearly 6 month old can hang on a bit to delay a poo between giving me the look until I can get him to the potty.
Jenn: Same thing as for the bladder control. Fully voiding is one of the recognised signs of bladder maturity – so I’m not surprised those two papers tie up. But that doesn’t mean every child will hit that point at 9 months on the nose.
@Jenn: Does that mean babies who walk earlier have fully formed nerves earlier?
Jenn: That’s my impression, yes. They need to put a figure on it – so they say 18 months. It’s actually a hypothetical process, but they assume it must be complete by the time a child learns to walk.
Q: My daughter is 16 months. Getting her to actually sit on a potty is near impossible and it causes her upset when I try to play with her to keep her there. I’m nervous of creating a negative association with the potty!
Jenn: That might just be an age thing. Babies go through bouts of resistance and there’s not much you can do – except keep the association going. By which I mean, make the easy catches. If you only get one co-operative catch a day at 16 months, that’s fine.
Q: I feel like I’ve scared my son 2.5 off potty training. The yuk factor played too highly in our nappy changes. Hes not up for using toilet or potty, can we change the way we have created negative associations? I’d like my 1 year old to learn, my mum said it was done with me at 12m.
Jenn: 2.5 is a very typical age to potty train around here. I wouldn’t worry that you’ve scared your son off, too much. If you start putting your 1 year old on a potty the 2 year old will probably join in!
Q: I’ve heard that trying to potty train too young can cause bladder problems or constipation because babies/toddlers learn to hold their wee/poo before they learn it’s important to go when they need to. E.g. they don’t go because they’re too busy playing. How does EC avoid this problem?
Jenn: I don’t think EC itself does avoid that problem. EC’s babies are susceptible like any others. But if parents are aware of their child’s rhythms and know what to look out for, I think they’re much better placed to prevent constipation from becoming established.
Constipation risks link: http://www.bornready.uk/constipation
Q: I have a 2mo. Interested to try potty at home, but really scared of getting wee and poo on soft furnishings. What are your top protecting/cleaning tips?
Jenn: Here’s my top tip for keeping your furniture clean: when your child isn’t on a potty, have them in a nappy. You’re not going to catch everything at 2 months unless this is your main focus (or you have a lot of help). Go for the easy option!
Q: In my experience with friends and family, it seems children generally potty train in their own without much encouragement. What do you think the benefits of EC are over just letting them get it in their own time?
Jenn: I think it depends on what your goals are. A lot of focus seems to be on the end result, without much thought for how babies spend their time before that point.
@Jenn: Avoiding pooey nappies has to be a big bonus – particularly if you’re cloth bumming!
@Jenn: Oh I agree. I always found mining poo from my daughters privates utterly distasteful and unhygienic so as soon as she associated potty with poos we were both much happier (around 6 months)
Jenn: It’s true that a babies who are EC’d can end up independent (so what we’d think of as potty trained) at around the same time as their peers – but they probably spent a great deal more of their lives in dry pants. I also loved the communication side. With tiny babies it’s great to be able to soothe them by offering the potty.
Q: How would I actually go about getting my daughter to make the association that potties are for poops and wees if she won’t sit on it, so chances of catching something are like 0.1!
Jenn: Even EC’d toddlers need to take that final step by themselves. Parents can really help out in the baby days, but there comes a time when toddlers need to take over – and that takes a different kind of practice.
@Jenn: She can tell me when she’s done a wee in her nappy (or on the floor!)
Jenn: Brilliant! That’s one of the steps along the way to being properly potty trained 🙂
1) notice afterwards, 2) notice during, 3) notice during but realise they can stop it from happening, 4) know in advance.
Q: A quick question from the Facebook group : ‘do you need to stay home with your children or bedshare for EC to really work?’
Jenn: This depends on what you’re after. If you’re happy to part time EC, then you can do it however you like. Some people just like to catch poos for example. If that’s all over with by 6:30am it doesn’t much matter what the rest of the day looks like. Some people like to ditch nappies as early as possible – that’s much more of a commitment.
Q: Can you talk a bit about the technique you begin with (holding over a container) position, timing, etc and how that might help up catch a wee for a urine sample?
Jenn: Ah yes – urine samples! Babies have a reflex that helps them wee in the classic hold position (basically a suspended crouch – hold under their thighs, lean their back against your chest / tummy, pull the legs into a crouch).
Did you see those pro baby photos that went viral recently with the babies pooing and weeing all over their parents? Every single one had the legs in a deep crouch position 😀
@Jenn I saw those photos, but I totally hadn’t noticed that.
@Jenn: It’s a great position for constipated adults too!
Q:When do they lose the reflex to wee in a crouch position?
I’m not sure. I think Amber Hatch says around 4 months in her book (which is brilliant, by the way. It’s called Nappy Free Baby – a practical guide to baby-led potty training.)
But I know babies older than that who have instinctively known exactly what to do when held in position or placed on a potty for the first time. Up to 9 months or there abouts. But that might be the children who always wee in that position so it feels familiar.
@Jenn: At each nappy change I hold baby over the toilet and she nearly always wees. She’s nearly 8m. Does that mean she’s learned the association now rather than it being a reflex?
Jenn: After a few times it becomes an association, yes.
Q: My daughter was sat on the kitchen floor naked and did a wee. She started splashing in it like a puddle of water! How would you deal with that situation?
Jenn: The splashing – that’s for you to deal with however fits your parenting / house rules. If you think it’s harmless, you’ll probably direct her towards a cloth to mop it up. If you don’t want to encourage it you’ll treat it as you would do any other unwanted behaviour.
Q: My mum told me today that when we want to “potty train” i.e use an actual potty herself rather than put her on the toilet, we will struggle as she won’t know what it is for, in your experience, is this likely?
Jenn: I think the opposite is true. When you want to potty train (and you may well have to go through potty training just like the nappy wearers) you’ll be starting three jumps ahead. No child knows what a potty is for before they’ve used it for the first time… She’ll be ok 🙂
Q: Any tips for getting a sample on older babies who’s reflex has gone?
Jenn: How old? I think familiarity will help. If you know what position they favour and can replicate that? Also, a verbal cue sound works wonders. People often skip this step because the potty position is such a strong cue they don’t think the verbal cue is necessary.
@Jenn: Well I’m a children’s A&E nurse so thinking of tips for parents of any little ones still in nappies that need to catch a wee for us! 3yrs ish I guess.
Jenn: By the time you’re into toddler territory it’s much harder, I think. Some will hold without a nappy long before their parents think they’re ready to potty train!
Yes @Jenn, and put them in a strange environment, generally feeling unwell and stressed parents! Not a great combo! So it’s still a waiting game!
Jenn: I guess you do all the hand in warm water / running the taps / feet in a warm bowl of water type tricks already? Loads of kids wee as soon as their feet hit are in the bath.
@Jenn – why the bath thing?
Jenn: Warm bath = relaxation I guess? I don’t suppose a washing up bowl in an ER cubicle would have the same effect…
With my eldest I used to preempt her at night by dipping her feet into warm water. Worked every time. Bit of a faff but meant she slept till 7 rather than 5 so I was happy to do it.
Q: Has any research been conducted into the prevalence of EC? I suspect it’s more widespread (at least part time) than you might think, as it’s not the culture any more. I mean that perhaps it’s not really discussed as it’s not the “done thing”.
@Jenn: like bedsharing!
Jenn: A surprising number of parents catch poos on the potty from early on. Their parents tell them to do it, they try once and decide they never want to deal with dirty nappies again. But because there’s so much backlash about damaging their children, they stop.
@Jenn: That’s exactly how we started at about 4/5m, she has a poo face that she does so I thought I’d give it a go on a potty, realised that meant actually more poo contact so bought one of those toilet seat things.
@Jenn: Mention it in most parenting groups and they think you’re a loon!
@Jenn: I accidentally left the toilet trainer seat out and my NCT friends thought we were nutters!
Jenn: What is funny is the number of times I’ve explained the concept of EC to a pregnant lady, mentioned everyone used to do it and she’s looked across at her mother incredulous and wide eyed and the mum says ‘oh yes, we did that with you!’
Q: This has been very interesting and useful, my son has been defiantly peeing on the floor, whenever nappy free. I try potty but refuses point blank to go near it. My mum suggested starting with the wee one also, she has been asking me to start since 6m, and sees it as a practical easy process. she is Indian/African and says it’s a cultural thing. Seems sensible.
Jenn: Yep, Indian culture starts at about 6 months. There’s often conflict between the my generation and their parents over how to use nappies. No one likes to have their parents nagging them about their parenting – but sometimes they’re right!
Thanks @Jenn, really interesting chat. Really making me think both about my own little one still in nappies and about how we can help reduce stress of collecting wee from little ones at work!
Jenn: I’d love to talk to you more about how you do it at work. Can you find me in the Facebook group and say hello, please?
If you’ve liked this chat, Born Ready is currently in the running for Richard Branson’s Voom competition. You can vote here: http://www.bornready.uk/voom