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Adventures in Baby Poop: Elimination Communication with Our Infant

elimination communication bjorn potty

This is the first time Phoebe peed in a potty, at 10 weeks old.

My daughter is 11 weeks old, and she pees in a potty. That’s right: my infant pees in a potty. And she poops in one, too. Not all the time, mind you; but these days we catch most of her daytime potty needs. Plus, in the last two weeks, I’ve changed 3 poopy diapers. The other 32 times she’s pooped, our little baby has waited until she had her diaper off and was in a “potty place” in order to go.

This is all thanks to something called “Elimination Communication.” Weird name, right? Yeah; the name sounds all stuffy and clinical, but what it boils down to is inherent right in the title: when Phoebe lets us know that she has to pee or poop, we take her to a potty spot to do it so that she doesn’t have to soil herself.

I know. I know. There is a lot to unpack with this idea. Few people in America are aware this is even possible. Or that babies are capable. But Elimination Communication, or “EC” for short, is a widely used practice of infant pottying all across the globe. Typically you find it in places that are less westernized or Americanized, the same places where disposable diapers are too expensive for the common person. But if you ask me, peeing your pants is a far more primitive way to grow up than learning to pee where the big boys and girls go.

EC presupposes the following:
– Babies are capable of bowel and bladder control from birth.
– Babies prefer to be clean; it is only through desensitization that they come to accept sitting in a dirty diaper.
– Babies give cues to let you know when they need to relieve themselves. These cues can be reinforced by parents so that they become a form of communication.
– Parents, in turn, can establish cues to let the baby know they understand the baby’s potty needs and that help is on the way.

There are all sorts of applications of EC. Some families do it from birth and never use diapers. Some start at 3 months or 6 months or one year of age. Some families do it at one time of day but not another. There is no magic formula for how EC should be incorporated; each family has to find what works for them. So, I’m going to share with you…

OUR ADVENTURES IN INFANT POTTYING!!!

bjorn EC elimination communication

Phoebe likes to play with toys while she’s on her baby bjorn potty.

The first place I heard about EC was when I was reading “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering” by Sarah J Buckley. You can read an excerpt that she wrote about her experiences with EC here: Mothering, Mindfulness and a Baby’s Bottom.

Before Phoebe was born, I read “Diaper Free” by Ingrid Bauer. Bauer is a total hippie, but a lot of the book was well researched, and it laid out EC in a clear and accessible manner. Mr. Wetzel also read excerpts from the book and we talked about it. A lot.

We gleaned a lot of encouragement from Emily’s blog post Elimination Communication / Infant Pottying–Our Start, showing a common sense way normal people could incorporate it into their lives without being total weirdos.

We concluded that EC sounded difficult and time consuming, but we were going to try it, for the following reasons:
– We liked the idea of establishing communication with Phoebe about one of her basic needs.
– We didn’t want her to become desensitized to discomfort in her “private area.”
– We wanted to help her develop her use of the muscles in her bladder and bowels, instead of losing control over them.
– We figured potty training must be just as hard, so if we put in the effort now instead of later, we could avoid years of dirty diapers.
– It’s environmentally friendly.

diaper free baby butt

Diaper-free baby butt on Mama’s lap. Flannel cloth underneath “just in case.”

To start, we decided we’d change Phoebe’s diapers as quickly as possible, to help her keep the preference for a dry bum.

We established cueing sounds that we would use with Phoebe anytime we observed her “eliminating.” If she peed, we went “psssss;” if she pooped we grunted (I don’t really know how to write out the characters for a grunt). At the beginning, all we did was make the cueing sound if we observed her in action. That meant we almost never cued her to pee, because we had her in diapers except for diaper changes.

As Phoebe got a little older and we got more confident about being parents in general, we’d give her more diaper free time on the changing pad while we dressed her or changed her diaper. This would give her the opportunity to have an open air “accident,” which we loved, because it was an opportunity to make the cueing sounds for her. Our changing pad has washable cloths on it to soak up pee and poo, so the accidents were not really messy; in fact, they were easier clean-up jobs that most dirty diaper changes!

Phoebe went through a period of really bad gas, so we’d often have her on the pad, diaper off, and we’d bicycle her legs to help the gas out. This was another great opportunity to let her relieve herself. She loved time on the changing pad, and eventually started to pump her arms and legs in excitement whenever she was lying there with her diaper off.

peeing pooping elimination communication

Going potty in the sink

I took Phoebe into the bathroom a few times to hold her above the sink and see if she’d pee or poo there, but she cried and screamed, so I gave it a break. On June 6th, at 7.5 weeks old (and on her Papa’s birthday), we held her over the sink, made the cueing sounds to let her know she could go potty, and she peed and pooped on cue.

Amazing.

The next day we had success “catching” pees and poos again: she pooped once and peed 4 times in the sink, upon cueing. At this stage, we didn’t expect to catch most of her potty needs; we considered each “catch” a win; each time she peed or pooped in the sink, it was one dirty diaper we avoided.

diaper free baby nap

A diaper-free nap

Over the next week, we noticed trends: Phoebe didn’t pee in her sleep, but always needed to pee shortly after a nap. She tended to poop around the same times every day.

I started to realize that if she popped on and off a lot while nursing, it was because she either had to burp or pee…and most often it meant both.

As Phoebe’s vocalizations have developed this month, we’ve come to recognize the cry she gives when she needs to relieve herself. Unless she’s overtired, it’s the only time she’ll cry as if she’s upset or in pain.

Just this last week, I picked up on the fact that she often twitches she foot while nursing if she has to pee. And a friend pointed out that if I’m babywearing her in the ring sling, I can feel her stomach muscles flex when she’s gotta go.

diaper free baby elimination communication

Happy Phoebe wears underwear.

Phoebe is happier when she doesn’t have to wear a big bulky diaper all the time. She loves moving her legs around. This week, we dug out the bloomers that came with her dress outfits, and we give her “underwear time” periodically throughout the day. She’s peed on a lot of things, but each time a blanket or outfit (or parent) gets soaked with pee, we take it as an opportunity to learn, to understand more what body language and cues from Phoebe precede a pee, and we grow from there.

Where does Phoebe pee and poop? Sometimes, she goes in her diaper. And that’s ok! This isn’t about shaming her or forcing her to go somewhere else. It’s about offering her the opportunity to not have to defecate on herself. She also pees in the sink, in a little baby bjorn potty in her bedroom and in the backyard. When we’re out running errands, if she has a dry diaper and I suspect she needs to go, I offer her an opportunity to pee. She has peed: in the bushes near Target, in woodchips at the Costco parking lot and even in the sink at the Chiropractor’s. (Are you thinking: “Ew! That’s gross!”? Well…relax. Pee is sterile. The cigarette butts on the ground are grosser. And I washed out the sink afterwards.)

bloomers undies diaper-free

Phoebe’s collection of “baby underwear”…bloomers from her dress outfits!

The hardest thing about EC is the fact that it’s uncommon and countercultural. Thank goodness for twitter; using the hashtag #ecchat, I have found a community of other EC parents who offer encouragement, moral support and advice…as well as shared enthusiasm. Then, one day on twitter, my brother dropped me a line saying he and Eli (my sister-in-law) did this method with my niece. By 6 months, she was basically potty trained. I had no idea! Eli is from Bulgaria, and just about everyone in Bulgaria practices EC. It’s a cultural thing. It’s just the way infant pottying is done. I was so grateful to realize I had someone locally AND in my family that I could now talk to about it!

These days we do EC with Phoebe during the daytime. At night, we share our bed with her, and she has a specific way of hitting me with her arm to wake me up when she needs a diaper change. I give her a fresh diaper a few times a night, changing her right there on the bed, then we nurse back to sleep. She rarely wakes up during these sessions. Then in the morning, she awakens bright eyed and bushy tailed and giggles at us as we cuddle and yawn together in bed. We take her to the bathroom for her morning constitution, and she almost always poops. Sometimes she’ll poop up to 3 more times in the day. She almost always lets us know she has to go, and we almost always understand her in time to catch it.

Do you have questions about EC? I’d love to hear them!

Do you EC or have a fun EC anecdote? Join the conversation and share your experiences!

By ekwetzel
2011-06-30

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Nursery Room Tour

I have been meaning to blog a tour of Phoebe’s nursery for months, and now, at long last, here you have it! The tour of Phoebe’s baby room has arrived!

First, a quick spin around the room. As you enter from the hallway, you see the wall with the window, and the others as you turn counter-clockwise:

nursury room curtains joel dewberry
nursury room danish modern rocking chair shirae

nursury room montessori floorbed
nursury room closet babywearing

We spend a lot of time hanging out in the nursery. I like that the room is big enough to have multiple kids and moms comfortably sprawled around it. It is definitively a “daytime room.” Phoebe sleeps with us (we co-sleep, i.e. Phoebe sleeps in our bed with us), and the more that we use this room, the more it feels like a place for activity, not sleeping. I hope to hone it in this direction as Phoebe grows up and has different abilities and interests.

nursury room babywearing ring sling

Behind the door, we have our babywearing gear hung up: a ring sling from my mom and a moby wrap (and Phoebe’s little sun hat). It’s helpful to have these items handy.The ring sling has become my favorite baby carrier. My mom used this tutorial to make it. The rings were purchased from ringslings.com (link here) and and she used dupioni silk as the fabric.

We took the closet doors out of the room to open it up. You can see the diaper bag and a basket on the floor. We’ll often have a laundry basket down there, as well.
nursury room baby dressesPhoebe’s dresses hang in the closet. Most of these dresses were bought from thrift store or consignment shops. Baby clothing is so easy to find secondhand for reasonable prices; it floors me how much these items cost new in retail stores. On the shelf above the dresses are more baskets for storage (often, as she outgrows items, I’ll toss them up there until I have a chance to sort through them), as well as a collection of books that are currently too old for her. We keep the Ergo baby carrier on the shelf; it’s a little too bulky for the hooks behind the door.

One of the most challenging things for me in the room was sewing the curtains. I am not a sewer. At all. But, I figured, how hard could curtains be? Right?

baby nursery joel dewberry modern magestic meadow sunglow

I bought this amazing fabric off etsy (Modern Meadow – Majestic Oak in Sunglow, by Joel Dewberry ) and planned on making my own curtains for the room. First problem: I didn’t buy enough fabric. Second problem: I cut wrong. Third problem: I sewed it in such a way that I closed off the section where the curtain rod should go. Seriously. I’m a talented fool.

baby nursery joel dewberry modern magestic meadow sunglow
So, I gave up. Then I gave birth. And when my amazing seamstress mother came to visit, she magically fixed my errors and whipped up these curtains. (Yes, one of the curtains looks a little different from the others. Remember: I cut the fabric wrong. But I hardly notice. My mom is amazing.)

baby nursery ikea drawers dresser
Instead of buying a lot of nursery-specific furniture, we wanted items that could be used as furniture long after diaper changes and baby naps were a thing of the past. These drawers house Phoebe’s clothes, linens and diaper supplies, and the top is used as a changing station.

baby nursery diaer changing station
Our diaper changes are very simple. We are using cloth diapers and cloth wipes. There is a bowl for warm water and a tube of almond oil for her bum. In the basket, we store diaper supplies, typically a stack of fresh cloth wipes, a few cloth inserts, and perhaps a pre-stuffed diaper or two. The lamp is nice and dim for nighttime changes; I sewed a little cover out of scrap fabric to slide over an IKEA lamp.

As we are starting to do more Elimination Communication, we’ve been keeping bloomers from her dresses in the basket as a stash up-cycled of “baby underwear.”  The first place I heard about Elimination Communication was the book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Sarah J Buckley; you can read an except about Elimination Communication here. I’ll write more on Elimination Communication is a future blog post.

baby nursery wetbag hamper

baby nursery  wetbags

Dirty clothes and linens go into the hamper in the open closet. Dirty diapers and wipes go into the wetbag hanging above it. We have 2 large wetbags to rotate for at home, and 2 smaller ones for the diaper bag. And I love them. I think the fabrics are really cute. (We bought these on etsy, as well).
baby nursery needlepoint
Above the changing station is a needlepoint that was in my room as a child: it reads “Somebunny loves you.”
baby nursery  fish mobile chime
There is also a fish mobile with bells on it that I found at a consignment shop. Honestly, I wish I’d placed this above the changing pad instead so that Phoebe had a better view of it.
baby nursery  danish modern rocking chair

To date, this is where I spend most of my time while in the nursery: sitting in the rocking chair. I love this rocking chair. It is a Danish-modern design and we bought it off a Seattle seller we found on craigslist. My Mom the Amazing Seamstress made new cushion covers for it, and the whole thing was reborn. I love that the chair is so simple and comfortable, yet stylish.

We re-purposed the orange side table from another room of the house. It quickly became apparent how handy it is to have tables on both sides of me while nursing or letting Phoebe sleep on me. I have 1 basket with mom necessities: trail mix, tissues, a journal. The other basket has baby washcloths and supplies, like a baby brush & nail clippers. The yellow crate has books and a magazine or two tucked away for my reading pleasure. Within easy reach, the first drawer is for our burp cloths, and Phoebe’s books are also close at hand.

baby nursery wee gallery art cards
I love the black and white artwork from the Wee Gallery. These are three of their art cards in a simple frame. I thought it’d be neat to switch them out from time to time. Sitting on the frame are little wooden dolls, a gift from GG (Phoebe’s Great-Grandmother).

baby nursery shirae artworkbaby nursery shirae artwork
Mr. Wetzel and I have loved the artwork of etsy seller shirae since we discovered her, around the time we found out we were pregnant. We bought this series of pictures from her for the nursery. I like how they show a child going on an adventure: first she starts down an unknown path; then she experiences a wonderful ocean; finally she rests, dreaming, while a zebra walks the through the forest. Shirae even through the last picture of the girl collecting flowers in for free. We have these hung up above the rocking chair, and I hope all our children come to love them in the coming years.

baby nursery TULIPS target lamp
When we first gave birth, it was mid-April, and tulips were in bloom everywhere. I took this picture back in the first weeks on Phoebe’s life; the tulips were a gift from someone who’d brought us a meal. I loved looking at them whenever I was sitting in the rocking chair with the new little blossom of joy that we’d just welcomed in to the world.

The lamp is from Target. I admit, we bought it on an impulse buy when we were at Target right after we found out we were pregnant. But I love it, and Phoebe often stops nursing to look up at it, as well. Frivolous purchase? Perhaps. Am I glad we have it? Absolutely.

baby nursery ikea shelf
This shelf runs the length of one wall in the room. We have the drawers for storing different supplies: burp cloths, toys, blankets. The bottom area is meant to hold things that Phoebe can access and use once she starts crawling. When designing the room, we took a page out of Montessori’s handbook: we wanted this to be a place where Phoebe could explore and grow. Everything that we have out is something she’s allowed to take, use, touch or teeth on.

The room is meant to be very simple: each open compartment in these shelves holds a purpose: books, a rattle in a basket, a potty for Elimination Communication. It’s very difficult to reduce clutter, and even more difficult to keep the room tidy, but we try. We believe that having a consistent, simple environment will help reduce stress for Phoebe and help her feel safe in her surroundings. By keeping the room simple and constant, she can come to understand her experiences in it as she changes, gains new abilities and perceives the world in different ways.

baby nursery chinese lanterns floorbed
There is a cubby in the room that is the perfect size for a bed. Originally, we thought Phoebe would sleep in here some of the time, so we bought a mattress for the floor where she and I could nap. As it turns out, we aren’t doing any naps in this room, and we’re thinking of storing this mattress for guests (or for a future bed) and getting a shorter play mat that Phoebe can easily crawl off of once she starts moving around.

Why don’t we have a crib? Instead of fencing Phoebe into a crib or playpen, our idea is that the entire room is her crib. She can explore the whole thing, and we’ll make sure it’s all baby-proofed and safe by the time she’s crawling. Add a babygate to the door, and presto: one big room-sized crib ready to go!

baby nursery mobile wee gallery art cards
This corner of the room is the main activity center. Hanging from the ceiling is the Pom Pom Mobile that I made for her. There is a mirror leaning up again the wall (we keep meaning to secure it to the wall and keep procrastinating). Phoebe loves both of these things; she particularly loves looking at her mobile in the mirror. We also have a few extra toys available: some wrist rattles and art cards in a basket. We’re trying to only have a few toys out at a time so that the area isn’t too overwhelming.

floorbed baby nursery
There is a tiny shelf (repurposed from an IKEA spice rack) that we’ll fasten to the wall. It’s currently leaning up against the bed with some art cards & a beany baby in it. As Phoebe learns to stand, she can use the little bar to pull herself up. We can rotate what items we put in the shelf to add interest and give her incentive to reach up to them.

baby nursery messages
Strung up above the bed are messages that friends and family wrote to Phoebe, before she was born, welcoming her into the world. One day, perhaps, we’ll rotate these out for artwork or paper craft projects. For now, I like having the symbols of love hanging over her as she plays.

baby nursery chinese lanterns
I imagine that think the Chinese lanterns strung above the activity area are reminiscent of clouds.

baby nursery chinese lanterns cloud lamp
Speaking of clouds…the cloud light fixture is from IKEA.

baby nursery papa chair
Perhaps my favorite addition to the room is the Papa chair. I love it that Mr. Wetzel has a place to sit and visit with me while I’m nursing. Before she was born, we’d often come in here, sit in our respective chairs, and dream about the days to come. These days, after Phoebe is asleep, we’ll often do the same. Or, when we have company, there is a place for grandparents or other moms to sit while we chat or show off our little one. Under the seat is a floor cushion (holla, World Market!) which also comes in handy while playing on the floor.

I took a lot of inspiration from the following nurseries:
–    Nearly Finished Nest by Megan Boley
–    Finnian’s Montessori Room by Meg McElwee
–    Baby Room Tour – Hanford, CA Home by Emily from JoyfulAbode.com

By ekwetzel
2011-06-27

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Dunstan Baby Language

phoebe ekwetzel open mouthTwo weeks into parenthood, I was starting to read Phoebe better. I knew when she was tired what her “tired cry” sounded like; however, I had no clue what the difference was between “I’m hungry,” “Change my diaper,” as well as other cries. It was frustrating for both of us: I’d often give her the wrong thing late at night, and it would only make things worse. Further crying would ensue. I’d feel bad for my unhappy baby & she’d feel bad for her unhappy self.

Then a couple friends told me about Dunstan baby language. The premise is quite simple, actually: when a baby needs something, they’ll naturally form their mouth a certain way: a yawn if they are tired, for example. When the baby adds vocalization, the cry vocalizes this mouth position, giving it a distinctive and recognizable sound. Not all cries are exactly the same, but using this basic principle, Dunstan distinguished between 5 different cries that appear is almost all babies, cross-culturally.

(You could buy Dunstan’s dvd, but I just pulled the info from wikipedia. Verbatim. This is my “I’m not plagiarizing, just quoting” disclaimer.)

Neh

I’m hungry – An infant uses the sound reflex “Neh” to communicate its hunger. The sound is produced when the sucking reflex is triggered, and the tongue is pushed up on the roof of the mouth.

Owh

I’m sleepy – An infant uses the sound reflex “Owh” to communicate that they are tired. The sound is produced much like an audible yawn.

Heh

I’m experiencing discomfort – An infant uses the sound reflex “Heh” to communicate stress, discomfort, or perhaps that it needs a fresh diaper. The sound is produced by a response to a skin reflex, such as feeling sweat or itchiness in the bum.

Eairh

I have lower gas – An infant uses the sound reflex “Eairh” to communicate they have flatulence or an upset stomach. The sound is produced when trapped air from a belch is unable to release and travels to the stomach where the muscles of the intestines tighten to force the air bubble out. Often, this sound will indicate that a bowel movement is in progress, and the infant will bend its knees, bringing the legs toward the torso. This leg movement assists in the ongoing process.

Eh

I have gas – An infant uses the sound reflex “Eh” to communicate that it needs to be burped. The sound is produced when a large bubble of trapped air is caught in the chest, and the reflex is trying to release this out of the mouth.

I wish I had known these “baby sounds” from day 1! Having the knowledge of these tools has helped Mr. Wetzel and me meet Phoebe’s needs more quickly and to understand her better. I can tell when she’s uncomfortable or hungry that she is less stressed about it now that we understand her better.

If you’re an English major geek like me, it also makes you wonder about the nature and history of language and how the phenomenology of words and sounds influence each other’s development and meaning over time. These baby sounds are a universal form of communication; and yet our actual words for hunger, sleep and discomfort vary widely from tongue to tongue.Except for one word: Mama. I think that’s the same everywhere. Because Mamas rock. Universally.

By ekwetzel
2011-05-12

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