Elimination Communication

I started 2015 off right this morning by getting a stream of baby pee right in my face while changing my son’s diaper. Happy New Year! Well, to be honest, he didn’t really get me right in my face, he just zapped my shoulder until I could get my hand in the way. But he’ll only be a month old tomorrow; I’m sure his aim will improve.

Little Z is our first boy. I’ve done this before with two girls, and I gotta tell you: boys are different. You’re shocked, I know. In our house, Mom handles the feeding of babies while my responsibility happens at the other end; she’s input, I’m output. In his thirty days on this earth, I’m pretty sure Z has peed on me more times than either of his sisters managed to do. And, yes, I am aware of the trick where you undo the diaper but keep it in front of him as a shield until he unleashes his high-pressure terror weapon, then change his diaper normally. That’s not a trick I can employ because we use Elimination Communication.

Elimination Communication (or EC) is, basically, a potty training method that you can use with babies. We started using it with our girls, RU and Me-Too, as soon as they were born and they’ve both been potty trained since they were 18 months old. Our method is to hold the baby over the potty and make a “running water” noise — a consistent cue is essential — until he either goes or it becomes clear he’s not going to. You do this whenever you’re changing a diaper and, if you’re really on the ball (meaning this is your first child), you try to also take the baby potty any time they would naturally need to go, like after eating or just waking up. Babies don’t like to poop themselves any more than the rest of us (Me-Too hated having a wet diaper), so it’s more like you’re just giving them an alternative than trying to teach them a trick.

It’s worked really well for us. Me-Too still has accidents — she only has the bladder size and attention span of a 22-month-old, after all — and still sleeps in a diaper, but the only things keeping her from taking herself to the bathroom totally independently is that she has to climb the toilet in order to sit on it (not easy with your pants around your ankles) and can’t be trusted around toilet paper. Wiping one’s self does take longer to master, but, when you think about it, that’s a lot less instinctive than simply not crapping or urinating on yourself. That’s really what’s going on when your infant pees when you start to change them — do you prefer to start peeing before or after you pull your pants down?

We have a sporty little red Baby Bjorn potty I keep in the diaper changing area so I can minimize the transition time. Back when we were a one-baby family, and even for a few months into Baby 2, we would carry it around when traveling and set up a little changing-station-away-from-home. I even whipped it out for RU once on a car trip so she could go on the side of the road. By now, if the baby redecorates the hotel room’s carpet while I’m trying to carry him from the bed to the bathroom, we just throw a towel down and try to walk around it. The more you practice EC, the more both you and your kid will get the hang of it. You’ll notice the signs that they need to go (Z kicks his legs), and if they can help it, they’ll try to wait until you give them the signal. But babies are still just babies, and accidents happen.

Which brings us back to this morning and how boys are different than girls.

In practice, Elimination Communication goes something like this: Z has just finished nursing and is going to need to go. Odds are, he needs changing anyway, since you’ve been in the car or you’ve been sleeping or let’s be honest you’re not going to catch them all and he’s still going to have lots of dirty diapers. So you take him to the changing table (which, in our case, is a crib with one side removed, since you never cleaned off the actual changing table in the other room) which has your wipes, fresh diapers, and the little potty all arranged just so, because, like field-stripping your rifle, changing your son is something you occasionally have to be able to do in the dark, blindfolded, with one hand. Ideally, you’d whip the diaper off and get him directly on the potty, exposing yourself and the surrounding environment to potential hazard for less than two seconds. But, yes, he already had a poopy mess in there. Before you start trying to hold him, you want to clean him up. Not that you won’t get poop on your hands today at some point, but, you know, you don’t want to just embrace it. With the diaper off, the clock is ticking, and you have no idea how much time is on it. But you know what it’s ticking down to. The wipes come out in a clump of two or three stuck together. It’s up to you whether you shake them apart (you’re using your other hand to keep his feet out of the mess) or just use the whole wad and be wasteful but you’d better have thought of this eventuality ahead of time because pausing to consider it may result in disaster. Now that you’ve got him clean (or clean enough for this phase of the operation) you can get him onto the potty, where it’s okay for nature to take its course. With the girls, you just picked them up sat them on the thing, facing you, holding them under the arms. But you don’t want your boy facing you. No, you only make that mistake once. And when little Z’s legs touch the cold potty he just gets upset and can’t go with the process, so you have to hold him up by the thighs, facing away from you, anyway. Turning him around and getting a proper grip on him adds an extra second to the transition time — and once you’re holding him like that, he may not wait for the cue and decide to start right away. But if you’re not already holding a spewing fire hose, you can settle him over the potty, make sure everything is pointed away from anything valuable and/or alive and say “Psssssssssss” into his ear until he pees right over the splash guard at the front of the potty. Maybe you shouldn’t have put the changing area so close to those drapes. Then you just have to put him back down and get a new diaper on — quickly since he can fool you and go again, just ask that men’s room in the Culver’s — and you’re done.

So is it worth the effort, since there are easier, less potentially messy ways to change a baby? Honestly, if you have a baby, you’re going to get peed on, sooner or later, no matter what. If you have a baby boy, anything and anyone within three yards might get peed on. Even with the girls, when I’ve been lazy and thought they’d already done all their business in the diaper and I could just whip a new one and some wipes out of the bag and take care of them right where I was, I’ve ended up having to catch poo in my hand. When you’re a parent, you’ll do it, too. You can’t avoid mess, and with a little extra effort (and a lot of willpower to be consistent about it, even in the middle of the night), you can have a child potty trained before the age of two.

Z seems to be a fast learner and is already catching on. Even when he doesn’t go, I can feel that he’s trying to. He gets it right far more often than not. Hopefully, as he grows his talents will branch out beyond just urinating and defecating at a skill beyond his years. But for now, I can occasionally impress my friends and co-workers by declaring that my month-old baby boy can go in the toilet with almost as much accuracy as his old man.

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