Elimination communication: housebreak your baby


I first wrote about this nearly 3 years ago, but it was only recently discovered by the mainstream media. I think it might be time for a review.

Freud would have a field day with these people.

I’m talking about proponents of EC, elimination communication, the goofiest obsession of the many goofy obsessions of the natural childbirth and attachment parenting crowd. They began obsessing about excrement when cloth diapers came back into vogue, arguing that cloth diapers are better for babies and better for the environment. It turns out that neither of these claims are true. Indeed, those busily preening themselves for their prescience in rejecting disposal diapers forgot to include the environmental impact of sanitizing reusable cloth diapers, an impact that may be worse than the problem of landfills containing used Pampers and Huggies.

As is typical of the oneupsmanship characteristic of the NCB and AP types, fretting over what will catch your baby’s excrement is now passe. Proving your maternal superiority now means rejecting diapers altogether in favor of rigorously and continuously observing your baby for any signs of imminent excrement release and immediately holding him or her over a pot to catch the excrement. As Diaper Free Baby explains:

Full time EC’ing families are committed to trying to stay aware of as many of baby’s eliminations as they can. To this end, they may choose not to use diapers or other waterproof backup, as this can muffle a parent’s awareness of when a baby is about to or has already eliminated, and catches may be easier with trainers or underpants.

Full-time EC’ers figure out what works to help them catch eliminations when they are out and about, traveling, or EC’ing at night. They recognize that, like other aspects of parenting, EC progress is not always linear, but they recognize the value of process over results, and have a full toolbox of options to choose from to adjust to each of baby’s developmental milestones and stages.

“EC parents speak out” (not surprisingly since EC is all about them, not about their babies). According to “Rachel, mom to Simon, began EC at birth”:

By the time Simon was three and a half months old he had proven to us that EC is more than just ‘parent training.’ He started signaling his need to pee by making his own imitation of our ‘sss’ cue! We were delighted to be in such two way communication with him.

Evidently Rachel had trouble recognizing smiling and cooing as two way communication.

Sarabeth, mom to Ben, began EC at 2 1/2 months” says:

Doing EC with Ben has completely changed our relationship for the better. Before we started EC, it seemed like he often cried for no reason. With EC, I finally have an important tool to help meet his needs, and he is 100% happier.

There’s nothing like a relationship based on excrement, is there?

And “Megan, mom to Noe, began EC at 8 months”:

Responding to your baby’s elimination patterns provides many wonderful opportunities for you and your baby to communicate and to become more in-tune.

Poor Megan must be sorely lacking quality communication with her baby if she thinks excrement is a highlight.

How does a parent practice EC? First she must assiduously observe her baby to determine when he or she is preparing to “eliminate”:

… [Y]our own intuition will naturally develop around your baby’s elimination. Listening to and trusting your intuition is an important part of parenting. With a little time and practice, it can also become a very reliable tool for anticipating your baby’s elimination… [T]here are a few concrete ways you will know your intuition is telling you that your baby needs to eliminate. For example:

* a sudden thought along the lines of “She needs to pee.”
* wondering or questioning, “Does he need to go?”
* “seeing” or “hearing” the word “pee” or cueing sound (see below)
* “just knowing” that your baby needs to pee
* feeling the urge to pee yourself
* feeling a warm wet spreading over your lap or other area while baby is dry

Then mother and baby must assume the position:

When you think your baby needs to eliminate, hold her in a gentle and secure manner over your preferred receptacle. This could be the toilet, sink, potty, bucket, diaper, tree, or any other appropriate place… Generally, she will be more or less in a deep squat, cradled in your arms with her back to your tummy. The main thing is to keep her secure and to think about your aim.

Once your baby is comfortably in position, make a specific cueing sound to “invite” your baby to pee or poop. In most places where EC is practiced culturally, caregivers use a watery sound such as “psss”. This sound, along with a particular position, is used to signal or stimulate the baby’s elimination. When you are starting out, make your cueing sound every time you notice your baby peeing. Within a few days, your baby will associate the sound with the act of eliminating. By practicing EC consistently, your baby will learn to release her bladder at will upon hearing the cueing sound and/or being held in the potty position.

In other words, EC is a form of operant conditioning. The parent attempts to condition the baby to urinate or defecate in response to specific visual and auditory signals. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is. It’s the same way that pets are housebroken. In essence, EC is nothing more than “housebreaking” a baby.

EC is about, by and for parents. The parent wants the baby to urinate and defecate in a pot and attempts to condition the baby to do so. It stands in explicit contrast to a child centered approach to toilet training that elicits the child’s understanding and point of view. In fact, “elimination communication” is a misnomer. It does not involve communication of any kind, since the child is incapable of expressing his views on the subject. It treats children like dogs. Show the dog/baby what you expect, disregard what the dog/baby might prefer, bestow approval or disappointment on the dog/baby until he or she learns to do it your way.

In one way EC is about communication, but not in the way its proponents assert. Adopting EC communicates that the mother thinks her child’s bodily functions can be used as weapons in the war of maternal superiority. It communicates that the mother considers that her need to be au courant within her mothering community takes precedence over her child’s developmental needs. It communicates that the mother thinks that housebreaking her baby is an appropriate form of parenting.

EC explicitly ignores a child’s needs. Instead of allowing a baby to follow the rhythms of its own body, EC implies that urination and defecation must be closely regulated, with the constant parental scrutiny that implies. It conditions the child to believe that even her bodily functions are property of her parents and that urination and defecation must be performed on demand, at the risk of parental disapproval.

Ultimately, it demonstrates the astounding gullibility of certain women and their desperation to claim superiority over other mothers. Proponents of EC are busily housebreaking their babies with the same techniques that they would use for a dog and bragging to each other about it.