An Honest Look at Elimination Communication & its Messiness
I received a call today from a new customer, and we got to chatting about various parenting topics, among them Elimination Communication. This customer was not wholly sold on the idea, based on an experience with a relative. (Which is completely fine, by the way. I don’t expect anyone to fall in love with the EC concept – it is clearly not for everyone.) Since it’s not really my place to push or give advice to customers over the phone, I didn’t get into it much, but it did get me thinking.
This person’s main objection was one that I’ve heard often. “The kids just pee and poop all over the floor.”
Now, I won’t say that in some EC households, this does not happen. I’m sure it does. But I don’t think it happens in the majority of EC households, and certainly not in the households of those I personally know who practice EC.
I actually think our experience was pretty typical, so I’ll detail it here.
When Wally was an infant, he had lots of naked time and I got to know his rhythms. Yes, this meant pee on the floor. I would put him, naked, on some sort of absorbent cloth but the boy has always been a long-distance pee-er, and could out-shoot pretty much anything I laid him on, no matter how big. (And, yes, this child is going to hate me when he grows up for writing this.) But we have hardwood floors so I didn’t sweat it. Poop, of course, went on the diaper or pad he was laying on.
When we were not having naked time, he was in diapers, which is a choice many EC families make for their infants. We were all new at this, and we used diapers whenever it was not convenient to be naked. When he was being diapered, he probably peed and pooped during diaper changes at least as often as he peed and pooped while naked, and the pee and poop went on the changing pad or diaper we had laid underneath him, so I think the net amount of mess was about the same whether he was being traditionally diapered or whether we were being more “EC” about things.
So…birth through 6 or 9 months? The mess was about the same whether we were diapering or ECing. Though we were not full time ECers (and didn’t even dare mention the idea to anyone because it seemed too freaky), many EC families I know choose to use diapers with their children much like we did.
Once we decided to do EC full-on, the amount of mess did go up a bit. I chose to have him completely out of diapers at home, mainly to force me to be more mindful about taking him to pee. We bought lots of cotton pants at garage sales, and he wore those. We changed them whenever wet. Poop stayed inside the pants, as well, so there still wasn’t any real mess on the floor when he was dressed. After the first month or two, which were full of misses, we probably changed pants only once or twice daily.
The two things that DID lead to more mess were:
1. Early on, he preferred (as do many children) to poop standing up. Had he been in diapers, no problem. But without a diaper, and with him refusing to sit down, we had to make accommodations. I felt it was more important that he learn that there is an appropriate place to poop than to force any given place on him, so we made a few locations available to him at our home. The shower (easily cleanable) and a particular corner in his (hardwood floored) room (over a diaper).
2. My unwillingness to accept my intuition combined with the arrival of summer. Summer is hot here and we ditched the pants in favor of naked baby. My rational mind overrode my intution far too many times during this period, causing me to miss Wally’s pee signals. Since he was still not able to take himself to an appropriate pee place, he would pee wherever he happened to be.
I don’t know that there was a better solution to #1. But if parents are very concerned about the possibility of needing to clean up pee or poop, issue #2 could easily be resolved by keeping the child in pants or underwear or even a fitted diaper sans a cover.
As we progressed towards “graduation,” of course, the misses became far fewer, and he was able to tell me, first with signs and then with words, before he needed to pee or poop. He was also able to hold it for longer and longer periods. (I was amazed when, before he was 1, he was able to tell me he needed to pee while at Target, and able to hold it while we finished checking out so we could get to the bathroom.)
The bottom line is – even EC kids should not be peeing on the floor frequently and for long periods of time. Just as children are taught (and learn) about appropriate behavior in other areas, they can be taught (and learn) about appropriate elimination. Additionally, parents need to do their part. EC with infants is really more about parent reaction that it is about the child controlling his or her bodily functions. Parents need to be tuned in – know their kids’ schedules, know their signals, and be paying enough attention to catch them.
In homes where any amount of pee or poop on the floor is unacceptable, it’s perfectly possible to EC with the child in a diaper or training pants. The diaper/pants catch the misses, but the aim is still to respond promptly to the child’s elimination signals and to not teach them to use their pants as a toilet.
(I’d also encourage parents fearful of ANY pee or poop on the floor to loosen up a bit. No matter how you parent, at some point you’re going to have pee, poop, and/or vomit on the floor, your furniture, and yourself. Just trust me on that one.)
Bottom line, though, the net mess I’ve had to deal with over Wally’s lifetime has been far, far less than the amount of mess I would have had to deal with had he been conventionally diapered and still wearing diapers until 3 or so.