A few weeks after my son was born at the end of August last year, I got a call from my old friend E in Brooklyn. His son was also a brand newbie. He had something he was dying to tell me--"Dude! Have you heard about elimination communication?" No was my reply, and so he broke it down... you study the patterns of when your newborn baby has to pee or poo, and try to time things right so that they are held over a toilet when it's time. The babies build up a habit/context of recognizing the circumstances and within a few months, you can catch most of the pees and poos in the toilet. To build up the habit, you've got to be fairly on your toes and pro-active about it. That was more or less E's thumbnail sketch.
I told my wife, and she was game. We ordered a book about Elimination Communication (EC) -- fairly worthless, I'll get to that later -- but decided to try to start right away, since as parents of newborns, it's not like there's much else you're doing other than changing diapers. We had success right away; the second day we caught our son's first pee in the toilet -- he was 17 days old. A drop in the bucket so to speak, because newborns pee every 20 minutes or so. But it was definitely a morale booster.
We studied the patterns. In his first two months of life, our son would always pee within about 30 seconds of waking up from naps, within a minute after feeding, and he could be counted on to pee in his diaper every 20 to 30 minutes he was awake. He'd poop 4 or 5 times a day, starting with right when he first woke up in the morning. With both peeing and pooing he made sounds before -- these varied and weren't always synchronized with his actions, but they were good clues: a high pitched squeak for peeing and a more guttural gurgle that sometimes sounded like babbling before he pooed.
No exaggeration, I'd say within three weeks, we were catching half of everything in the toilet. You learn to be quick with taking the baby's diaper on and off -- that's key. The book we ordered had arrived mid-way at that point, and its best advice was to give the baby a sound cue to encourage it to pee/poo -- sometimes the wait can be up to a minute. Fairly quickly we noticed that the baby gained its ability to hold its bladder for longer and longer spells.
Fast forward to now, our son is 6 months old. This admittedly sounds like noxious playground parent bragging, but I'm trying to sell you on something here: He hasn't pooped in a diaper for at least two weeks. He lets us know when he has to go loud and clear. Most of the day, he's not wearing a diaper, just pants or shorts...and he can go about 45 mins to and hour or more without peeing. There's a pee accident once a week or so...not that big in the scheme of things. On a few occasions already, he has used his hands to wave at us and let us know he has to pee. He gets very angry and particular about being in an even slightly wet diaper.
The official Elimination Communication organization is pretty outfront in saying that it's not potty training.
Well, whatever, it involves training the child to go to the bathroom over a toilet, and not using a diaper. I don't think it's for everyone, or for every baby raising context -- you've got to have serious dedication of at least one parent, better two, and the willingness to run to the bathroom with the child. Be prepared for many failed efforts, some accidents, etc. But newborn parenting is so intensive anyway, it's not like there's time to do much else ... you're tied to that kid, so why not do it, is what we concluded.
The amount of waste associated with the raising of a newborn in the USA is staggering...it's some minor relief to be throwing away increasingly smaller piles of diapers. Our book said that the American infant stops wearing diapers at 24-30 months, when the world average is 18 months. Yet another area, where we aren't #1..."we," -- the big consumer cluster of the population -- teach our babies that diapers are toilets, and have an extended, unnecessary learning process.
If you try out EC, you'll discover quickly what works best in terms of holding the child over the toilet, what cue sound to make -- I use a soft whisper "Shhh" sound to make him pee and make loud fake farting sounds to encourage him to poo (these make him laugh), but you could use any you like. Last of all, I've learned from experienced ECers not to congratulate your child for doing the inevitable. Just carry on with life once it's over, just like adults do. I don't think a book is necessary, and I wouldn't spend much time reading online parenting forums. What you need is permission to take an exit ramp from the dominant culture, and try to get your baby to pee in the toilet, or at least something that isn't a diaper.
Soon enough our son will be pooping in his own mini-toilet...and hopefully will be potty trained before he takes his first step...here's to hoping, anyway.