Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Communication Skills

I had a lovely time recently sharing Bob's birth story at my local Positive Birth Movement group. A friend brought her tiny newborn girl (oh yes I DID get a cuddle!), and we chatted about our experience with "elimination communication" or "natural infant hygiene." I prefer the term "responsive toileting," but since I've made that up I don't expect anyone else to use it! There seems to be an increase in interest in this practice, so I thought I'd share our experience of how it works for us. This post is unillustrated, because I didn't want to share pictures of my children on the toilet, and because I couldn't find anything else I thought would work!

What is EC?
Elimination communication is the practice of taking your baby to urinate and defecate according to their need rather than using a nappy. Conventionally in the West this means a potty or toilet, but throughout the world it might be a designated pot, on a cloth, in a bush or waterway...somewhere convenient but hygienic. At night the baby might sleep on a sheepskin, or on a pile of flat cloth nappies. Families who practice toileting in this way often also practice cosleeping, and so are in a position to use a potty with a baby who wakes to nurse at night. Parents are required to be aware of when the child needs to go and to be responsive to this need. Advocates of this system believe that when we put our babies in nappies we are teaching them to wet and soil themselves against their natural inclinations, then have to reteach awareness and control through conventional potty training. It is important to note that elimination communication, natural infant hygiene, responsive toileting or whatever you want to call it is NOT a form of potty training. It is a practice of responding to the child's needs, rather than a teaching process.

Why do this?
Like all parenting tools, there is no single reason why carers choose to practice this method. It is used throughout the developing world because there are no washing machines and no nappies. In these communities there is no alternative, and going without nappies is the norm. In earlier years everyone would have cared for their children in this way. Some parents seek to raise their children in basic, unindustrialised human ways, and this form of toileting fits in with their philosophy. Other carers make social and ecological commitments that they feel are better suited to toileting their children than using nappies. Many carers particularly appreciate the closeness between carer and child generated by this level of awareness of the baby's body language, and find it supports their parenting in other ways, such as with breastfeeding. Some carers are attracted by the lack of cost and reduced laundry, but I don't think this is a major factor for many. I don't think that if you weren't driven by one of the other motivations you would commit to a practice that inevitably means stray baby poos at some point!

How does it work in the Wailliewaillie household?
Well, we describe ourselves as practicing EC part time. For us this means that when we are at home or somewhere else where we are comfortable doing so Bob doesn't wear a nappy and we respond to his signs of needing the toilet. We pop him on the potty or toilet insert seat, give him his cue sound, and away he goes. He seems to prefer this practice to wearing a nappy. He is fussy about sitting in a wet nappy, and lets us know loudly if he needs to go to the loo and we're not picking it up. He never wets during his naps, and stirs to wee at night even though he is wearing a nappy, which I think really shows that he is controlling his urination more than we conventionally attribute to such small children. I frequently rock him to sleep in the sling, and he has never wet in it. However, Sausages and I need to be out and about, and sometimes this isn't really compatible with keeping Bob without a nappy. Especially combined with babywearing! Sometimes Sausages just needs me to be able to focus on him during an activity, or Husband and I need to focus on something grown-up, like doing the finances. Sometimes someone in the household is poorly. If practicing EC is going to be challenging on these days, we stick a nappy on. It's nice, and we enjoy doing it, but it's not something we are prepared to beat ourselves up over. We don't take note of hits and misses for the same reason, but if we feel overwhelmed by the misses on a particular day, we stick a nappy on. There is not wee and poo all over my floor!

When Sausages was small we had never heard of EC, but from a very young age he made it very clear when he needed to poo, so we started sticking him on a potty at around 6 months. After that we very rarely had a dirty nappy. Think on that! He was a late walker but an early talker, and by the time he started walking around the age of 18 months he was telling us every time he went to the toilet, so we decided to try abandoning the nappies in the day time. It soon became apparent that he was only wetting his night nappy first thing in the morning, rather than getting up to go to the toilet, so we ditched that too. It worked really well, and that gradually evolved into independent toileting over time, so we never had to engage with "potty training."

It's not just me! I asked a couple of friends about their experiences with EC.

Me: Why did you decide to try EC?
HA: I honestly can't remember where/how/why I found out about EC, but as soon as I read about it I felt that it was something we had to try. The idea that babies would naturally prefer to wee and poo *away* from their caregiver and themselves made sense and I found the idea that we are training them to ignore this instinct and go in a nappy instead intriguing. Let's face it, we wouldn't want to sit in a wet (or worse, dirty) nappy for hours, so if there is was way to help our babies do their business in the appropriate place, why wouldn't we want to try that? We didn't start until my son was 4 months, because that is when I first found out about it, but when we started, we had lots of "hits" from day one, which was very encouraging. (Although I should say that the very first time I put him on the potty, after he had been fussing at the breast; a typical sign of needing to wee, he cried out and looked terrified. Thinking I had traumatised him for life I wondered what on earth I had started, but I tried again later and this time, being plonked on the potty was met with giggles - and a wee!)
BK: I decided to practice EC (though id say I'm more 'dabbling in' than practicing it at the moment) for a few reasons: 1. I was curious to see if it would work 2. After reading about it I realised that the way we potty 'trained' E was basically EC for older children 3. (and I guess this is why I read about it in the first place) the idea of not having to change poo-ey nappies sounded very good to me! (plus nappy rash freaks me out and E would get a rash if I didn't change her absolutely immediately so I'm hoping to avoid/minimise rashes).Another reason I decided to dabble is that it makes sense - E often wee-d/pooed during changes when her nappy was off and EC is basically using this natural tendency not to want to soil yourself... oh and this links with yet another reason - E took more than 6 months longer to be out of nappies for poos than wees - trying to poo without a nappy was clearly a huge deal for her - I'd inadvertently trained her to need one! And I decided I'd like to avoid that with P if possible - a bit of effort investment in the short term for ease of 'potty training' in the future.

What did you particularly enjoy about it? 
HA: This may sound odd, but helping him to go on the potty was a much better bonding experience to me than breastfeeding ever was, or anything else we had done together up to that point for that matter. He would sit on the potty, gurgling and giggling, wriggling and cooing (and doing whatever he needed to do) and I would be singing to him, whilst holding him steady so that he wouldn't slide off. In a strange way, it was our special time, and we had books and toys that we would keep in the bathroom for "pottytunities" only.
BK: What have I enjoyed most? So far I am very much enjoying my poo catches!! Especially the explosive ones which would probably have necessitated an outfit change. But also love it as I do feel an extra bond - some of her wriggles/grunts/squirms that without EC I would just be trying to give generic comfort for - I can respond with a potty or at least an understanding of why she's suddenly fussing/squirming. Feeling more in tune with her makes me feel like a better mummy (whether I am or not is beside the point!!) (another thing I'm enjoying is showing off my skills to friends - I have (i like to think) wowed several people with the wonderful entertainment of me whipping off her nappy and catching a poo!!)
I can really relate to that last one! My best ever catch was while waiting between the loos and the pool before Bob's swimming lesson once, when I realised he needed to go for a poo so took him in front of all the other mums. I fully expect to fall flat on my face in front of them at some point to make up for my moment of smugness! I can testify that whenever I see BK she only has catches, she's much more committed than me!

What did you find challenging? 
HA: In the early days we would count "hits" and "misses" and aim to stop using nappies altogether, which was frustrating and disheartening. Whilst he showed a clear preference for doing poos on the potty rather than in the nappy, wees were everywhere and seemingly happened at any time - little and often. We didn't like having to clean up every time he wet himself, so we reverted to using nappies full time, with extra pottytunities at regular times when we knew a wee would be forthcoming, such as first thing in the morning, straight after a nap, about 10 minutes after a feed and after a car journey. With this approach, it was a lot more pleasant and we completely stopped counting hits and misses. What remained a challenge though, was that once our son was old enough to show us what he wanted, he would refuse to get off the potty! The pottytunities had become such special moments for him, that he preferred to sit on the potty for hours (if we let him), playing, chatting to himself, and (sometimes) doing a wee or poo. This never changed and hasn't to this day (and he is long since potty trained): He just loves his long toilet breaks!
BK: The biggest challenge so far has been not expecting too much from myself, not feeling too competitive about it and not overthinking it if I miss a poo. Another challenge is that I'm only catching the odd wee at the moment as she can't practically-speaking be nappy free really as she spends most of her day asleep in a wrap - and I think she probably does do a squirm and come into lighter sleep/end of a sleep cycle to wee - but I don't want to be waking her to potty her if she'd otherwise go straight back to sleep in the wrap. I hope that wees might be easier when she's not needing to be held 100% of the day. I get very excited if her nappy is dry when I take it off and she wees as soon as I position her - but this has only happened 2 or 3 times.
Interestingly I have found that Bob never wees in the wrap, just like he doesn't wee during a nap, but he does do that slight rousing to wee at night. It's amazing to see how aware they are when you didn't expect it from a tiny baby!

And anything you wanted to add. 
HA: The only thing I can think of is that I thought EC would make us use less nappies, but the opposite was the case: Because we offered the potty regularly but used nappies alongside the potty breaks, and because we didn't want to put a nappy back on if it was wet, even if just damp, we ended up going through a lot more nappies in a day than would have otherwise been the case. I should say that these were cloth nappies, so we had no waste mountains forming in our bin, thankfully, but there was more washing than would have been the case had we not done EC. We could however use thinner, less absorbent nappies, as he was getting most of the wees in the potty. 
I think this practice has really suited our family, and I hope I have answered a few questions. We're a normal sort of family, not extreme in any way, and we see this practice as being gentle, rather than "hardcore." Please do share your opinions and experiences, but be polite!


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