Elimination Communication: No More Diapers?

Elimination communication sounds like a vow of silence, but it is actually a technique for early toilet training, also called infant potty training. The basic idea is that in less developed parts of the world, like Africa, China, or India, most babies never wear diapers. In these countries, babies are carried around by their mothers bare-bottomed.

Moms become attuned to a baby’s cues for pooping and peeing, take baby to a likely spot, hold the baby out, and elimination occurs. The baby has communicated a need to go and elimination is successfully managed, without the need of a diaper. In fact, to these moms the thought of their baby wearing a dirty diaper may be disgusting.

In these cultures, once the baby can walk, he or she will know to go to the right place and poop or pee at will. There may be no indoor plumbing, no washing machine to clean cloth diapers, or no access to expensive disposable diapers. Elimination communication makes sense. But what about here in the very developed United States?

Could Infant Potty-Training Work for You?

If you Google infant potty training or elimination communication, you will find plenty of advice on how to go diaper free. The average age for a child to be potty trained in the U.S. is about 2.5 years. Proponents of elimination communication claim that you can get started soon after your baby is born and have your baby potty trained much sooner, maybe before 12 months. They also claim some advantages to their method:

  • Since your baby is not wearing dirty diapers there is less risk of diaper rash.
  • Since a single baby may soil close to 5,000 diapers by the age of toilet training, you will be environmentally responsible. It has been estimated that 30 billion diapers go into landfills every year.
  • Elimination communication teaches your baby to be aware of the need to pee or poop and not to become used to wearing a soiled diaper. This may make the transition to complete toilet training easier, even if not earlier.

How Do You Do Elimination Communication?

Parents who commit to this method can start soon after birth. The key thing you need to do is become aware of your baby’s elimination communication cues. This may be a change in body position, a facial expression, a squirm, or fuss, or a sound. Some parents say they develop an intuition for a coming event over time:

  • When the time is right, you place your baby over a potty or hold your baby out over the toilet. If your baby goes, you make a sound that you will use every time, to act as a cue back to your baby to let go.
  • Many parents will still use diapers at night or when leaving the house. The best time to try the diaper free elimination is first thing in the morning. Some parents will leave their baby without a diaper on an absorbent mat and watch for cues throughout the day. Over time, a baby may develop a predictable schedule for going, similar to the timetable for feedings.
  • If all, goes well, you will find yourself using much fewer diapers. Your baby may have an easier transition to full potty training at an earlier age than the average American toddler.

What Could Go Wrong?

You knew this part was coming, right? For one thing, you do not live in a less developed part of the world. A one-year-old child toddling down to the bushes to pee or poop might be fine in India but not so much in Indiana.

Do you have the time to walk around with your baby all day waiting to learn to cues? Elimination communication is hard work. It takes a lot of time and effort, and there will be poop and pee on the floor or on your lap. You might be able to predict a poop eventually, but a small baby may pee about 20 times per day.

Finally, the term “infant potty training” is misleading. There is really no chance that an infant is going to be fully potty trained. It is much more like you are the one being potty trained. It is unrealistic to expect a child to know when to go to the potty, be able to walk to the potty, pull down the pants, and do some clean up afterwards much before 24 months.

Bottom Line

Despite the fact that elimination communication is hard and messy, some parents do manage to overcome the difficulties. There is no evidence that earlier potty training makes your baby smarter or creates some special bond between parent and child. You may save on diapers, and feel good about decreasing the diaper load of landfills or saving the energy of washing thousands of cloth diapers. You may also find that the transition to full potty training is less stressful and may even happen a bit earlier than average.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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