Potty Training & Elimination Communication

We’ve been bringing our Daughter to the toilet since she was just a couple of months old. It’s a process formerly known as Elimination Communication where the parents learn the baby’s cues and when she/he may have to pee or poop. Instead of waiting for the baby's to soil themselves, you instead take them to the toilet and have them go in there so that they can begin to associate elimination with the toilet.

Benefits of EC include:

  • Reduced risk for diaper rash

  • Reduced risk for UTI’s and constipation

  • Reduced cost spent on disposable diapers and less washes for reusable diapers

  • Less disposables=better for the environment!

  • Positive toilet experience so that they are not afraid of the toilet later on

  • Better hygiene

  • Overall enhanced potty training experience

While EC has become more and more popular amongst new moms, it wasn’t something I was immediately interested in merely because of research and “new studies”. Instead, I thought, surely Mothers in Ghana, Ecuador, India, and most other countries don’t rely on diapers for such an extended amount of time as we do here in North America and Europe! What’s the difference? Why are our children in diapers for so long? I learned that babies don’t want to soil themselves just as adults wouldn’t and that they can communicate by giving us certain cues when they have to use the toilet. Our task as parents is to learn what those cues are by studying the child’s behavior closely.

*If you prefer to skip to my Top Potty Training tips please scroll to the bottom now!

I wasn’t the most consistent with bringing my Daughter to the toilet throughout the first year and especially when she was younger, but when she turned 4-months-old I bought her a potty and I decided to take it more seriously. I began by taking her at the times I knew she’d have to go. Just like any other person, it is when she woke up in the morning, after naps, and before bed. Most of the time she didn't pee in the toilet, but sometimes she did. Success wasn’t based off of her going in the toilet or not, but rather on the consistency of reinforcing a positive experience.

(Sitting on her first potty when she was 4-months-old)

I found that it was a bit more difficult for me to know when she had to pee when she was younger, but that was due to my inability to understand her- In essence, using diapers to cover her up actually inhibited my ability to know exactly when she had eliminated and what events took place prior to.

Did she just eat? How much? How long ago? Did she make a face? Or perhaps stop moving for a moment? What were her cues???

I couldn’t tell because her diaper hid it all away from me.

(Wearing her reusable diapers at 10-months-old)

Poos were different for me. My Daughter only went about every 10 days until she was well over 6 months. I know that sounds asinine, but actually it’s totally normal for breastfed babies to poo every 7-10 days and it’s no cause for concern. I suppose I’ve been spared of all the horror stories of babies who just won’t stop pooping! Lol

When she was a young baby she used to cry and become fussy with gas before she pooped. Sometimes it affected her for a few days before she actually eliminated. It was much more difficult for me to access when she would actually go so I didn’t catch many poos in the toilet when she was this age.

Once my Daughter did start to poop more regularly, I was quickly able to learn her cues though- She would always begin to pass gas first. As she has grown she has also began to make a very particular concentrated face as well. Since I know her cues for poo it takes no effort to simply bring her to the toilet and sit with her until she goes. Sometimes it can take up to 30 minutes for her to poop so in these times I'll put on a show for her to watch so that she sits still until she goes.

(Waiting for poop while watching a show)

When a baby is placed into the squatting position their puborectalis muscle is relaxed, allowing poo to freely flow. If you know the poo is coming, it's easy to take the initiative and help them to defecate on the toilet instead of in their diaper. The last time she pooped in a diaper was approximately around the age of 15 months. It’s so nice not having to wash poopy reusable diapers!

Back in November 2018 (when she was about 13-months-old), we had just come back from a trip to Amsterdam. It was getting colder outside and there was no way my Daughter and I were leaving the house! I like to joke I’m a bear and as winter approaches my hibernation begins! Since we were going to be home all day I decided to do something really simple-I took her diaper off. I figured, what’s the worst that could happen? She pees on the floor? Removing her diaper was the first and most pivotal step in potty training because it allowed me to begin to learn her cues and it allowed her to see what she was doing.

(Exploring Amsterdam when she was 13 months, just before coming home and going diaper free!)

Without a diaper my Daughter was able to feel a wet and warm substance coming down her leg. It caused her to stop and think and figure out what was going on. Diapers are made to absorb urine, so babies don’t get the chance to learn about what they are doing when wearing one. This makes it harder to teach them because they don’t fully understand the concept. Instead of a diaper, I put panties on her (it made her look like such a big girl!) so she wasn’t completely naked. Panties don’t absorb the pee, so she could see and feel it while also remaining covered up.

(Wearing proper under wear while at home)

In the days after first going diaperless, I began to time her pees so that I could calculate how much time passed after nursing her and just how many times she would have to pee too. Just like adults, babies will have to empty their bladders at some point after drinking and/or eating and by monitoring her without a diaper, I quickly learned that she had to pee about 3 times after every full feed. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I was under the impression that babies kind of just peed all the time? Allowing her to be free permitted me to learn that she only peed after she had a drink just like adults do. It sounds so simple, but it was a huge ah-ha! moment for me.

(I gave her water in a cup to drink to try to encourage her to pee)

*Keep in mind my Daughter was strictly breastfed until 1 year of age. At this point in time breastmilk was still her main source of both food and drink. The amount of time your baby has to pee will differ based off of various factors.

Yes, during these diaper free times she peed on the floor-a lot. It’s all part of learning though and it didn’t bother me too much. I should point out that I do have hard flooring throughout our space, with only 2 area rugs. I suppose that made it a bit easier for cleanup and a lot easier to succumb to the inevitable mess. It was annoying to clean at times and we went through lots of towels, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

Soon enough I taught her to clean her own mess though. If she wet the floor I handed her a towel and told her to clean it herself since it came from her. Most times she would grab the towel without any fuss whatsoever and do a pretty good job of wiping too! She knew to stand still if she did have an accident on the floor so that she wouldn’t slip and also so she didn’t track pee throughout the floors.

(Cleaning her pee from the floor at 15-months-old)

For those first few months of being diaperless at home I didn’t raise my voice or punish her for peeing on the floor. I simply put on a stern “Mom voice” and gave her a serious look. I would repeat "pee" so she could learn the word, “Baby, you just peed on the floor. You pee in the potty, not on yourself. Pee pee goes in the potty, not on the floor”, and other variations.

About 2 weeks after not wearing any diapers at home, when I finally understood how often she had to pee, I began to put her on the potty at the time I thought she’d have to go. Sometimes she put up a fight, other times she was complacent. She hardly ever actually peed in the potty at that time, but it was more about beginning to consciously associate the act of eliminating with the potty. Sometimes we sat there for up to 15 minutes because I knew it was time for her to go, but even then she wouldn’t. I’d finally take her off the potty and then she would pee on the floor. It was frustrating, but I never yelled at her or told her she was in trouble. I had to recognize that there are various factors associated with her comprehension of what it meant to go potty:

  1. She had to first know her bladder was full

  2. She had to know what the potty was

  3. She had to know how to get to the potty

  4. She had to know how to hold her pee so that she could make it to the potty in time

When she peed on the floor, I would just get the towel and hand it to her so she could clean up.

(Putting her on the potty after nap time sometime around 6-months-old)

By the time February rolled around my Daughter was nearly 16 months and she and I were headed to Florida to spend time with my family. It had been about 3 months of timing pees, being diaper less at home, consistently putting her on the potty, and trying to teach her that when she has to pee she should, in the best way she can, communicate that with me. My Mom and I agreed she would be potty trained by the time we left Florida on the First of May.

For the first few weeks in Florida, everything was the same: Put my Daughter on the potty when she wakes, after a nap, and before bed time. I continued to time her pees and would put her on the potty every 1-1.5 hours as long as she had breastfed/drank fluids. She went through a stage where she would fight and scream and throw her back out if she had to sit down on the potty, but it didn’t last too long and I never allowed her to get up. I would become stern and talk to her in a very serious voice,

“Baby, relax. You’re behavior is unacceptable. You have to sit on the potty to pee. I know you have to pee. Let’s pee so we can move on.”

Obviously, not in that order and not always so calmly. 3 months of intensely taking the responsibility of bringing someone who can't verbally communicate to the bathroom can become a strain. Sometimes we had to call her Daddy so she would listen to me. She eventually learned to sit still and not act up. I was also grateful to have my Mom there to actively help potty train my Daughter.

(Potty training in Florida)

Soon enough she learned that when I placed her on the potty she should release so she could pee. She was finally getting it and I was so excited! My Daughter was then 16-months-old and I found that if I put her on the potty from the moment she opened her eyes in the morning she would let out a big morning time pee (just like us adults!) and that would set the clock up for us to know when she’d have to go next. If I missed the morning pee because I didn’t want to upset her or because I wanted her to rub the sleep from her eyes there was a huge chance she would pee while she continued to wake up slowly. Sometimes potty training is uncomfortable and this was one of those moments. She had to learn to wake up and pee and eventually she stopped getting upset and she’d sit on the potty to pee in the mornings with no trouble at all.

During these months we still traveled in diapers. No matter the distance, she didn’t know how to hold her pee yet and we weren’t taking chances. One day we were out all day running errands and visiting with our family (it was actually April 1, I wrote it down) and from the time we left in the morning until the time we got home that night she stayed dry! I kept feeling her diaper all day and since it was dry I just took her to the toilet throughout the day. Everytime I took her she peed in the toilet! She was 17-months-old and this was the day she proved to me she didn’t need a diaper anymore.

Since she proved she could do it I took the initiative and began to take her to the toilet/potty even while we were out every day since April 1st. She wore diapers, but completely stopped soiling them as long as I brought her to the toilet when she had to go. As long as we were home for nap time, she napped diaperless too. I simply put a towel underneath her bottom while she napped, just in case. She never peed while sleeping though, even while napping for up to 2 hours. I just waited for her to wake and immediately put her on the potty and then she would go.

Every morning I would wake up and get us both ready for the day. Since she peed on the potty first thing in the morning this set our whole schedule for the day. I could then know when she’d have to pee for the rest of the entire day and also how often and I could plan around it. Just before we left the house I would sit her down to pee and if she did we would leave immediately after. This would ensure we had at least one hour until she might have to pee again and it enabled me to trust that I did not need to put a diaper on her.

I traveled with her potty in the car because this made it easier to arrive at my destination, unbuckle her, and stick her right on the potty to pee. The convenience of having a car made it so much easier! That little potty would just be placed right next to the car so she could sit on it and when she was done we were guaranteed a few uninterrupted hours of dry fun! Keep in mind that when a Baby isn't rolling around in their dirty diaper you also don't require wipes. I carried small toilet paper with me, wiped her, dumped her pee in the grass or down the drain, and kept it moving.

(Using the potty after arriving at our destination an hour later)

In those beginning diaperless traveling moments she only had one accident. I knew she had to go and I took her to the bathroom at Publix (a grocery store) and she just wouldn’t release. I let her get up and we started walking around and then she went all over the floor. Luckily, she did wait until we were outside on the street so there was no cleanup necessary. I wasn’t embarrassed and you definitely shouldn’t be either-it’s a baby and they’re learning.

My Daughter is now currently18-months-old and we’ve been totally diaper free for just over 6 weeks now! She doesn’t vocalize when she has to pee because she doesn’t talk much yet, but she knows how to use the potty and the toilet and I know how to read her. She grabs at herself when she has to go and I bring her straight to the potty and she pees. I know her cues and I respond to them swiftly to ensure she doesn't wet herself. Occasionally she will walk to the potty or toilet by herself and point at it. I'll sit her down and she'll pee! It’s such an amazing accomplishment for us both!

(My diaperless 17-month-old playing while out visiting with family)

We run our errands, eat at restaurants, play at the park, and more all without a diaper! I bring her to the toilet at key moments or when she gives me a signal saying she has to go. She only wears diapers overnight still, but this week she woke up twice totally dry! I imagine she’ll be out of her overnight diapers sometime in the near future too.

(Me and my potty trained 18-month-old)

Now that I'm back in London and not driving, when we’re out and about I take with me a small toilet trainer like this, which allows me to place it over any big toilet that I take her to. This toilet trainer makes the seat smaller so she doesn’t fall in and it also allows her skin not to touch the public toilet too. It fits perfectly in my Tiba + Marl vegan backpack that I always have with me. I also travel with 2 extra outfits and 2 extra pair of panties for accidents.

All in all, it’s been a super laborious journey. Taking her to the toilet before she could stand or walk takes a lot of time and further continuing to pursue the goal as they grow takes a lot of effort, but I’m happy that we’ve done it! It’s nice to not be washing reusable diapers daily now. It’s nice not having to clean pee and poo from all over my baby’s bottom just because it smeared all over her diaper. It’s nice seeing her take this first big step towards being a real Big Girl.

(Daddy taking Baby to the toilet when she was about 5-months-old)

Yes, it takes a lot of effort, but it's something that must eventually be done, no matter what. The longer a Baby stays in diapers, the more reluctant they'll be to change their actions later on. Why stop playing and having fun to go to the toilet when I can just pee/poo in my Diaper and let Mommy or Daddy clean it? Babies do not want to be soiled any more than we would want to be. They just learn to be soiled because we allow it.

I’m so proud of my Daughter. I’m so proud of me. You can do it too as long as you’re willing to put the work in. Below are my top tips for potty training:

  1. Commit to it- You have to be willing to put the work in. If you wait until they’re older it only becomes harder because they are used to soiling themself and they don’t feel the need to use the toilet after so long.

  2. Be an example- Bring your child to the bathroom with you. Let them see what you’re doing and let them participate by handing you the toilet paper or flushing the toilet. This eliminates fear and encourages them to copy you!

  3. Communicate- When you’re changing their diaper or if you think their soiling themself speak to them. Use key words and be repetitive. Also, incorporate certain sounds that may help trigger pee/poop later on e.g. “psssss” makes a peeing sound that can be used when they are peeing and when you put them on the potty. They may learn to pee when you make that specific sound.

  4. Take the diaper off- This one is the scariest for most parents, but it’s also the most crucial. Your baby can’t learn to use the toilet when their diaper is soaking up their mess and making it impossible for them to know what they are doing.

  5. Catch the poop- Poops are much easier to catch because even a younger baby usually has more distinctive cues. When you see that your baby has to go bring them to the potty/toilet immediately!

  6. Offer Baby lots of liquids- You can speed up the process of learning how often they pee by ensuring they have a lot to drink. Whether it’s breastmilk, water, or coconut water keeping them drinking will encourage more pee, giving you the perfect opportunities to learn their cues and to take them to the potty!

  7. Don’t punish them for mistakes- They are still learning when their bladder is full, what pee/poop is, and when and how to get to the potty. Punishing them for mistakes will only result in fear, frustration, and anxiety of the whole experience.

  8. Let them help- When they do successfully use the potty have them complete the whole experience by letting them wipe themself (you can wipe after they wipe). If they used the potty let them go to the toilet with you to dump it out and let them flush the toilet too. This teaches them the whole process and encourages them with a successful experience.