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What is Elimination Communication? | Natural Infant Hygiene

What is Natural Infant Hygiene / Elimination Communication (EC)?

What is Natural Infant Hygiene / Elimination Communication (EC)?

Welcome to the Natural Infant Hygiene / EC Series

Welcome to the Natural Infant Hygiene Series on Natural Beauty Lifestyle. Natural Infant Hygiene is also known as Elimination Communication, or EC for short. Let me begin this series with an introduction explaining the concept of Natural Infant Hygiene. Hopefully this will clear up some of the common misperceptions.

How I Became Interested in Natural Infant Hygiene

I first heard of the concept years ago from a good friend who had read a book about “potty training” babies. Years later, on my world travels, I realized that many cultures do not rely on diapers. In China, it is common to see bare baby butts, as split-crotch pants are used. When the baby needs to go, they are taken to an acceptable location, such as a patch of grass, and they can relieve themself without the hindrance of a diaper or their cloths getting in the way. In India, undiapered babies are worn inside their mothers’ clothing. But even on overnight train rides the mothers are not soiled by their babies. How is that possible? When I returned home, I was curious to learn more about this concept, so I started reading about Natural Infant Hygiene / EC.

So What is Natural Infant Hygiene or EC?

Although an ordinary everyday activity in many cultures, natural infant hygiene may sound radical to most Westerners- allowing young babies, even from birth, to pee and poop in a toilet, rather than in diapers.

Natural Infant Hygiene

The term “natural infant hygiene” refers to a natural or primal way for a parent to respond to their baby’s elimination needs. Rather than waiting until after the fact, a baby’s elimination needs are responded to promptly and in a very hygienic manner. A baby who peed or pooed in a potty is much easier to clean than one who peed or pooed in a diaper.

Elimination Communication (EC)

The term “elimination communication” refers to the communication happening between caregiver and baby about baby’s need to eliminate (pee or poo). The baby communicates through signals indicating their needs. The caregiver communicates through cueing sounds, such as “psss”, and positioning to indicate that it is an appropriate time and place for the baby to eliminate. Eventually, the baby may also use sign language, the cue sounds, or words to communicate his or her needs. In addition to picking up on the baby’s signals, timing can be used to catch the pees or poos in an acceptable container. If the pee or poo ends up in a diaper, it is considered a miss.

Both terms “natural infant hygiene”and “elimination communication” were coined by Ingrid Bauer, author of Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene. She first used the term Elimination Communication (EC), and that is the term more widely used today. However, she later felt that Natural Infant Hygiene was a better description. In Ingrid Bauer’s own words,

“Elimination Communication opens another avenue for parents to respond to their baby’s primal needs. Yet, Natural Infant Hygiene offers much more than just another parenting ‘technique’ for dealing with a baby’s elimination. Ideally, it is fundamentally a way of being with one’s baby. This way of being focuses on the relationship and communication; it is a lifestyle, rather than a chore.”

Diaper Free

The use of the phrase “Diaper Free” in many book titles is a major source of confusion. When practicing EC, the baby is not necessarily diaperless. “Diaper free” refers to the lack of complete reliance on diapers. I think the term Diaper-Free was incorporated into titles just to sell more books, since it also appears in titles of books advocating using diapers as back up. None of the books that I read encouraged completely forgoing diapers.

As part of EC, diaper free time is used to observe a baby’s signals indicating that the baby needs to pee or poo. But babies who do EC may still wear diapers most of the time as back-up. However, many babies raised with EC are able to move onto training pants and underwear much sooner than traditionally potty trained children.

Infant Potty Training

The term “Infant Potty Training” is also sometimes used. I dislike this term. First of all, I do not care for the mainstream term “potty training”. It sounds like something I would do with a pet, not with my own child. Rather than training my child, I will teach my child what is or is not appropriate behavior. Infant potty training makes it sound like a one-way street, where the parent is forcing actions upon an infant. In reality, EC is a two-way line of communication.

Moreover, EC is fundamentally different than conventional potty training. With EC, a baby is taught to relax and release his or her sphincter muscles to eliminate. With conventional potty training, a child is taught to tighten their sphincter muscles and hold in their pee or poo. Conventionally potty trained children need to regain awareness of their need to eliminate, whereas babies raised with EC never loose this awareness, which they have from birth.

My View of Natural Infant Hygiene

I have my own name for this practice. I like to call it “pee in the potty”. It is as simple as that.

My interpretation of natural infant hygiene is simply allowing a baby to pee and poo in a toilet, potty, or the great outdoors, rather than in a diaper.

As much as I looked forward to becoming a parent and getting to change my baby’s diapers (seriously, I did look forward to changing diapers- I’m just strange like that), I always felt there must be a better way. I thought it odd that many parents know when their baby is about to poo, but allow the baby to finish pooing in a diaper before changing the diaper. If you know it’s about to happen, isn’t there a better way to deal with the poo than letting it make a mess on baby’s bottom?

I like the explanation that practicing EC with a child means NOT diaper-training the child. Traditional potty training follows months or years of teaching a child to eliminate in a diaper. All of the sudden what was fine before is no longer okay. With EC, the child is simply taught from the start that there are acceptable places outside a diaper to eliminate.

The Premise Behind Natural Infant Hygiene

The premise behind natural infant hygiene is that babies are aware BEFORE they need to pee or poo, and are able to communicate that need to a caregiver. The caregiver can then remove any clothing and take the baby to an appropriate place to pee or poo. Many people assume that a baby does not cry or otherwise signal until after peeing or pooing in a diaper. Once you realize that a baby can let you know before soiling his or her diaper, does that change your opinion of whether EC is really possible?

Also, at the foundation of EC, is the understanding that even a very young baby does not want to soil himself or herself. The baby would much rather pee or poo away from their own body and away from a caregiver’s body. You may have found while changing diapers that your baby would often pee as soon as the diaper was removed. For traditional diapering this may be a hindrance, but for EC it is a great starting point.

Also, since babies do not want to soil a caregiver who is holding them, they will signal the need to eliminate by trying to escape from the caregiver’s arms. This means that babywearing can make it easier to notice a baby’s signals.

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~Pictured above are a Diaper Belt from EC Wear worn with a Bummis Organic Cotton Prefold Diaper.

Natural Infant Hygiene / EC Series

If you would like to learn more about Natural Infant Hygiene a.k.a. Elimination Communication (EC), please read and share the rest of the articles in the series:

Had you heard of natural infant hygiene or EC before? What did you think those terms meant? Do you now have a clearer understanding of this practice?

About the Author:

Heidi Avelino is constantly searching for ways to live a natural and eco friendly lifestyle. From switching to safe natural beauty products to embracing natural parenting methods. Follow along for the latest on natural products, DIY recipes, natural foods, and natural parenting. Aloha!