Elimination communication, or EC for short, involves a mother (or caregiver) and baby building a relationship where the infant's hygiene and toilet needs are met through a unique system of communication between the two individuals.
EC is a modern adaption of an ancient method of childcare that has always been practiced in many tribal communities around the world and even in some industrialized countries.
Initially, it involves a mother using timing, cues from the baby and intuition to know when the baby needs to eliminate waste from the body. The mother will then take the baby to a suitable place or use a receptacle such as a bowl, potty or toilet to 'catch' for this purpose.
The mother may also use a verbal cue, a hand sign or sign language to encourage the baby to eliminate. Later, the more mature infant may learn to use a cue to indicate that she needs to eliminate.
Although the terms elimination communication, natural infant hygiene and infant potty training are often used interchangeably, many parents practicing EC emphasise that it is more about communication and relationship-building between parent and child, than about potty training.
Potty training is simply the consequence of successful communication.
As EC advocates point out, the practice of diapering infants sends children a mixed message: Babies have bladder and sphincter control from birth, yet for about two years they are conditioned to sit in their own excrement. Then potty training begins and they are expected to unlearn this behaviour.
In contrast, with EC, babies are encouraged to express their need to eliminate or the need to be changed if their diaper or clothing is wet or soiled. They are generally completely potty trained at an earlier age than diapered babies.
1A study on EC and toilet training behaviour showed that where potty training began in the first year of life, mean completion ages for daytime dryness and bowel control were 17.4 and 15.0 months, respectively; those who initiated toilet training during the first 6 months completed training earlier than those who started later. Infants that used signals for voiding or bowel movements completed day-dryness and bowel training earlier than those who did not.
Some parents practicing EC use nappies or diapers as a back-up, others choose to keep their babies diaper free, while still others use a combination of the two.
Either way, elimination communication enables families to use less diapers than those who are not practicing EC. This saves a large amount of money, laundering of cloth diapers and benefits the environment by reducing unrecyclable waste created by disposable diapers, baby wipes and plastic bags that would otherwise add to the waste in landfills.
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1. Rugolotto S, Sun M, Boucke L, Calò DG, Tatò L.,Toilet training started during the first year of life: a report on elimination signals, stool toileting refusal and completion age, Minerva Pediatr. 2008 Feb;60(1):27-35.
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