Our nearly nappy free journey - the first six months

When pregnant with my first child, I was curious to learn how parents in other cultures managed without nappies, but didn’t find out much and focussed instead on researching cloth nappies.  When my daughter was about nine months old, I read an article by Sarah Buckley about Elimination Communication.  The technique is based on listening to a baby’s cues and then frequently offering them opportunities to eliminate paired with a cue, which they learn to associate with eliminating.  A two way communication process takes place.  I bought a book on the subject and I started practising this with my daughter, but by that age I found reading her cues difficult.  I did catch most of her poos but there were many misses with “issies” (thank goodness for wooden floors!)  She progressed very easily out of all daytime nappies before her 2nd birthday, and night-time ones just a few weeks later.  Being out of nappies at home during the day seemed to help her have more awareness of, and choice about, what her body was doing.

When pregnant with my son I knew I wanted to start practising Elimination Communication from early on.  For the first week, he wore nappies day and night – having a lotus birth I decided that caring for him and his placenta was enough without trying to be nappy free too!  When he was a week old I stopped putting nappies on him for most of the day but kept putting them on at night.  So began a wonderful journey of learning and awareness!

 At first he would always wee and/or poo whilst feeding, which meant holding him over a bowl whilst I fed him.  That became a bit of a circus trick, and meant sitting up to feed him, even at night!  After a week or two I ordered two potty bowls with fluffy covers from the Elimination Communication Store.  These were easy to hold between my legs as I fed my little one.  Sometimes my back would get pretty sore though!  I would be filled with delight any time I “caught” a wee or poo, pleased to have read his cues.  Apart from during feeding, he would usually eliminate soon after waking, and also had a cue of sticking his tongue out (this “issy tongue” was to be distinguished from his “booby tongue”!)  At night I would put him in a nappy but take it off whilst he fed.  I was relieved when he began eliminating after a feed, instead of during it, and I lay down for night-time feeds. 

For the first many weeks I was very unused to a baby boy’s anatomy – which meant that often I would be holding everything in position and just as I moved a bit, a stream would go up into the air and inevitably all over the sheets and me!  And although I had several organic sheet protectors directly under him, the wee would often miss this!  So there was plenty of extra washing those first months.  The same reverse magic would happen in the daytime too – I might just have put him on the nappy change table to get him dressed, and would then see a stream of liquid making its way onto the floor, or I’d be holding him over the pot for what seemed like ages, giving him the cue, “issy”, and would look away for a few seconds to talk to my daughter, and there it would be, all over me – and another change of clothes!  Some days I would think to myself, “No wonder people use nappies,” other days when my mind was thinking the worst of things anyway, I would enter a self-defeating spiral of negative thoughts, forgetting to offer him his little pot, and then of course being weed on a lot and changing clothes several times a day.  My husband would ask me why on earth I didn’t put a nappy on Sunny and then take it off when I though he might need to go, but I was determined not to put one on him in the daytime, believing that if I got weed on enough, it would act as an incentive for me to really get his cues.  I noticed that my sensitivity to his cues was strongly affective by my emotional state – if I was feeling upset I would miss many of his cues, if I was calm and happy then I would have much more awareness of what was going on for him.  So, Elimination Communication became a practice in mindfulness.

Catching the poos was pretty easy from early on – usually preceded by passing of wind and some slight straining actions on his face.  So luckily, I’ve been pooed on very little – and have really enjoyed the rarity of washing pooey nappies! 

In the early weeks he would often cry a little before eliminating – so that was a cue to listen for.  One of the easiest times was to offer the pot just after he had woken up.  From a couple of months onwards, I would catch the majority of the wees he did after waking.  That would boost my confidence!

There were a few other differences doing Elimination Communication from early on – some very practical, such as my choice of clothing for him.  I did not buy any all-in-one suits but instead chose t-shirts and trousers.  I bought several pairs of very long woolly socks (he was born in winter) so even without a nappy and trousers, his long t-shirts and jumpers would meet up with the socks and he would be cosy and warm.  There are other options, such as easy opening trousers and a “sarong nappy” (a nappy simply tied round the waist like a sarong) that I haven’t tried yet!

One of the most interesting things for me has been learning about intuition.  In the literature I read about this, and was amazed to see it in action.  The thought messages that I received when Sunny needed to eliminate came in all kinds of different forms – all somehow related to weeing.  For example, lately whenever I have thought about writing this article, the thought has been followed by him weeing.  Many times I would receive a thought related to weeing and not act on it, and then there would be another change of clothes! 

When Sunny was about three months old, I watched the “Nappy Free” DVD and felt inspired watching other couples also looking for cues and for suitable spots on outings!  I learnt a few new things – such as wriggling as a cue for a need to go.  Sunny had stopped his “issy tongue” by then, whether developmentally or because I didn’t respond consistently enough, I’m not sure.  So the wriggling and squirming was a useful new cue to look for.  After watching the DVD, I realised that I was already tuned into his cues and could choose to act on them more consistently and frequently.  From then onwards, I had more awareness to frequently offer him the sink or pot, and listened to my intuition more.  And when I didn’t act on my intuition, I chose to celebrate that I was receiving the messages, rather than berate myself for not acting on them.  From then on, Elimination Communication became a lot more fun!

Now my son is six months old and I’m really pleased with how our communication is going. I usually offer him the pot once in the night when he stirs and once before he feeds in the morning, so his nappy is usually dry all night and there is no washing in the morning!  Sometimes he’ll go through with no wees in the pot and will still have a dry nappy in the morning.  Occasionally, when I’m tired from staying up late reading or writing, I won’t be bothered to wake up fully and so there might be a wet nappy a little later.  In the daytime, I often catch the majority of his cues and am delighted that on most days we are down to very little extra washing.  When we are out, I love to find places for him to wee – such as in a bush or on a suitable patch of grass.  Funnily enough, this seems to help me connect to nature more, and helps me slow down and have more awareness.  I’m amazed at how much choice he has about his body, and how much he communicates.  I feel joy that we often understand each other on this pre-verbal level.  Some days, when I’m tired or overwhelmed, I’ll miss more cues.  I imagine that as he grows and his needs and cues develop, we will have times where we are more attuned, and other days when we are less so.  I love to learn, and I love awareness and challenge, and EC meets all these needs for me.  I imagine that Sunny feels comfortable not wearing wet nappies, and feeling the air on his skin, and of course I love seeing his little bottom!

I’m intrigued at how every family uses options, like EC, in such varying ways.  I’m enjoying the unfolding of our family’s journey of being ‘nearly nappy-free’.

A few resources

There are many websites about EC – just type in Elimination Communication, Natural Infant Hygiene, Infant Potty Training, or Nappy Free into your search engine.

I enjoyed Ingrid Bauer’s “Diaper Free! The gentle wisdom of natural infant hygiene.  (2001) Natural Wisdom Press, Canada.

I found the Nappy Free DVD inspiring:

I recommend The EC Store http://www.theecstore.com/  for the potty bowl, plus lots of other EC goodies like clothes for ECing and training pants.

This article was first published in Natural Parenting Magazine in 2007 www.naturalparenting.com.au