Diaper Free?   What’s That About?

Note:  There are two of my EC blogs available:

  • Daughter Blog (this blog) is a monthly with some side articles covering birth (2009) to 2013.
  • Son’s Blog  is a daily dairy covering birth (2012) to present.    Early posts are daily published, and later ones are in digest form.

The monthly blog is easier to follow and has more tips.    The daily blog centers more around documentation and daily musings–the trenches.  If you are looking for a specific age, type the desired month  into the search box (example:  month 18, month 2…)

I have taken my two babies to eliminate in the potty or other receptacle since birth and this blog is dedicated daughter’s journey  (my other blog is a daily “trenches” blog focused mostly on my second child though I also talk about my first there too starting from February 2012).

Though the same techniques work for toddlers, the approach has to be modified when starting with a toddler rather than an infant.   You don’t have to start from birth, I chose to because I find it easier to do so (Clarifying Intentions with Newborns).

This doesn’t mean I never used diapers at all (though some ECers don’t).  On the contrary, I used my cloth  prefold and flat diapers a lot in the beginning together with a lot of diaper free time before graduating to training pants.   It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to go all-in, it was mainly because I was not confident learning from scratch sans backup with no prior hands-on experience between me and my spouse.     The difference in my approach to just conventional diapering is that I wanted to be sure I used diapers as accident management, not as portable toilets.  What I learned very quickly, was that relying too much on the diaper made me less attentive.  Whenever I removed this safety net and plunged in, accidents immediately went down or stopped completely for several days.

Below are Frequently Asked Questions with my responses and observations.  Hopefully, the answers will open the door to understanding.  Some of these have been asked of me directly and some I’ve seen on groups, message boards and blogs –which for some unknown reason reactions and responses to diaper free practices can be downright mean, hostile, and rude!   I’d stumbled upon the EC techniques about ten years ago, and even then debates got quite nasty.  I devoured as much information I could and learned a lot even before I had my first.

Why would you want to do that?

Why not?    A diaper free baby is sanitary.   All waste goes directly into sewage where it belongs and not the trash.   There is no poop to clean out of creases or bits.   Also, it makes cloth diapering even more economical.  Less waste, easier clean up, no diaper rash, and no smell.  We can travel light, and we gained a pre-verbal baby confident in communicating potty needs making the whole diaper phase short and the potty learning phase a daily matter of course — not a thing of dread looming in the future.

Impossible.   Babies don’t have bladder control until they are two!

The muscles that release waste are under voluntary, conscious control.  We are all born with the awareness and ability to release the muscles to urinate or defecate.  What a baby doesn’t have is a large storage capacity or the ability to hold it past the automatic release thresh hold.   These are totally different things!    Babies wake up to pee.  Sleeping through peeing is something that is learned, it isn’t the way it began.   Of course, there are some really natural heavy sleepers out there who are going to have night continence challenges, but they are the exception not the rule.

That’s ridiculous.    Babies are too small to understand the need to go!

Babies know when they are hungry, thirsty, hot, cold, in pain, uncomfortable, and bored, but the sensation of needing to pee is somehow too complicated?    Think about that for a minute.     They may not understand what a toilet is, but they certainly understand their own body sensations.  Over time they learn where appropriate potty places are located just as easily as they recognize the other differences in their world.

This is stupid.  You are the one who is trained.

You say trained as if it were a negative for a parent to learn to respond to their babies.  I suppose we all are trained to recognize the cry of hunger, the wail of pain, the weep of tiredness, the sobs of boredom, and the hysterics of fear.   Yet, those who also respond to the vocal or body signals of needing to go to the bathroom are labeled weird?  Perhaps, the next time a baby wiggles and is fussy seemingly without reason, you might consider that you haven’t considered that they are about to blow out their diaper, and you’ll be spending the next half hour cleaning poop out of neck creases and other places you didn’t think poop could get to.   At some early point, even disposable diapering parents routinely know when a baby is going to go, watch them do it, joke about the ‘face’, wait to be sure the process is complete, and change the baby after the deed is done.  A person who has a diaper free baby acts rather than waits.  Same skill different response.

Gross!   I don’t want pee and poop all over the place.

Let’s be practical, ALL parents get peed or pooped on or have to clean up an accident.   Disposables can leak unexpectedly and are notorious for the poo bomb blow out that can take out both parent and baby outfits.   When older potty training commences you will have pee accidents on the floor, in bed, and in pants of a larger mobile child.  Larger children have bigger bladders and bowel capacity, and thus make much bigger messes.  When an infant is diaper free you are prepared for an accident and you know that your small baby isn’t going to run anywhere.   So those who practice elimination communication have no more pee or poop all “over the place” than average, in fact, a lot less than that.

I don’t have time to waste on watching for pee or poo.

How much time do people spend changing diapers?   From those who do not practice EC it is assumed it takes a lot of  extra time.  Sure I have to pay attention.  I can’t ignore my baby and expect to be successful, but the same could be said for noticing hunger cues before the baby is hysterical.   The majority of people who have never heard of diaper free babies invest their time in putting the baby on the changing table, wiping, then putting on a fresh diaper only to find that the baby may pee again immediately or poop in the fresh diaper.    I invest my time is letting my baby cleanly eliminate into a container, potty, or toilet.   A baby who is not lying down but is in a natural potty position has rarely any thing to clean off except a few dots of pee, or a dribble of poo at the anus.     Ever wondered why very young babies often soil a fresh diaper?  The have an instinct to not soil themselves so stop before they are done.  They stop because it is uncomfortable and it is an instinct.   ECrs cultivate this innate behavior.

Don’t you get peed on?

Everyone earns their WeeWee Badge.  However, it is very rarely and usually its my fault.    Once I ignored the clear, insistent body wiggle to get down and I was rewarded with a little pee.   My baby often wiggled to “get away” to avoid peeing on me, daddy or others even when in a cloth diaper.   One needed only to pay attention to the warning!   With my son, I had a little trouble adapting to his different pattern, and the ability of the foreskin to make a pee stream behave in unpredictable ways!    EC Babies learn to stop an accident, and release the rest in the potty.   The other times I have been peed on is when I fall back to sleep after being awoken by the “I’ve got to wee” wiggle –and when “you gotta go you gotta go!”.  I have never ever been peed or pooped on when I’ve carried my baby diaper free in a sling or wrap.    Being upright actually helps young babies with weaker sphincter control to be more continent so it is easier for them.  Babies do not like to soil their bedding or parent if it can be helped.   Again, those who do diaper free part or full time cultivate this natural behavior.  Babies are not encouraged or taught to pee or poop wherever, whenever in their pants.  An accident is an accident, but the diaper is not the preferred place to go.  An ECers behavior reinforces acceptable places.

Isn’t coercion bad for the psyche?  They say early potty training is bad.

This isn’t “potty training”.   You have to train toddlers and young children to relearn their elimination needs, and with modern methods are often bribed with the promise of “big boy” or “big girl” underwear, candy treats, pretty potties, and lots of fanfare.  This is not what elimination communication is.   Babies never forget what they were born with because it has been nurtured — they have always been aware of control, and they have exercised those muscles every day.    You CAN NOT make some one pee or poop if they don’t want to.   ECers may offer a potty opportunity and if nothing appears that is okay.      Sometimes babies and toddlers will get irritated if they get interrupted from something they are doing and refuse to go!     For example, some young babies will absolutely not potty if they are hungry and want to eat.  They may therefore, pee while eating because priority is placed on food.        Late potty training, well past toddler hood, is fairly new — thirty years ago you wouldn’t have been able to find diapers to fit children over 2 1/2 .     Diapers were never meant to be used so long.  They were meant to catch accidents until babies and toddlers were able to use a receptacle.  Only in the United States and a select few industrialized countries do you commonly see older children in diapers.    Tribal women  don’t use disposables or diapers as the west does, if you notice in videos and pictures, their babies are naked and aren’t covered in poop or pee.   Yes, I know that tribal women live on nature’s door step and that their babies can freely pee on a dirt road — that’s not the point.  The point is that they know that their babies understand elimination, but the modern world has forgotten.  Dirt road, communal outhouse, hole in the ground, squat toilet, bed pan, modern bathroom, potty chair — locations may change but the babies stay the same.

How do you know when a baby has to go?

There is timing:   babies may have specific times where they will poop consistently or pee.  For example, many take their babies to the bathroom with them when they go.   Or a baby may pee immediately upon waking, or after nursing.         ECers take advantage of this tendency.

There are body signals:  Just like rooting behavior signals hunger, certain body positions/wiggles or muscle tone or releasing of gas may signal a need to go.   It is different for each baby and whatever signal we respond to best the baby will tend to prefer that.    It is just like when a baby smiles.   If they smile and you smile back, they will keep smiling to get you to smile.

There is vocal cuing:    A baby may grunt in a particular way or whine or cry or fuss with a particular pattern or sound that indicates the need.   Likewise some parents will pick a sound like “psssss” to teach the baby to release when they hear that sound.  It is a mutual learning process.

There is instinct:     Just like sometimes you just “know” when your baby is about to wake up or wants to eat without you even looking at them, sometimes you will just “know” when it is time to go.   This isn’t magic.  It is just your unconscious mind picking up information and processing it without you having to spend conscious mental energy.          ECers find that this is most acute when they don’t use a diaper back up and carry their baby skin to skin in a sling/wrap.  They spend far less time paying “attention” because instincts take over without them having to do anything special.      More often than not when you “think” about taking your baby to pee because you think they might need to go, they’ve gone while you were thinking!     Next time, don’t think…do!

Does it work all the time?

Just like anything there are misses.    Especially if a baby is sick or has just learned something new like crawling they may be too busy to notice they have to go.   It isn’t unlike when you are standing in line and you need to go, but you don’t want to leave the line and wait all over again.  Sometimes you make it to the bathroom just in the nick of time when you do that.  Another minute and you swear you would have peed yourself.   It is the same for babies, except they don’t have the bladder capacity or muscle strength you do to hold it past that thresh hold for so long.  Accidents happen.   I personally find, EC misses easier to clean up especially on a toddler.    Once a strong stander, I never had my children lie down to clean them.  I have them hold onto my legs facing me for balance, and I wipe them like you would if they were older.   Leg lifts are easy, and they can’t run off on one leg 🙂

Will this work for older babies and children?

Absolutely.    You can start at any time.  However, older babies may require a slightly different approach.  It is generally agreed by diaper free practitioners that the easiest time is between 0-6 months.     At that age babies have not yet begun to ignore their elimination needs, haven’t yet completely associated a diaper as potty place, are not mobile, have not yet begun solids, and have smaller — er, expulsions.    After that, mobility may discourage a parent’s willingness to leave babies diaper-less in the modern home and “unlearning” may need to be addressed since the babies have gotten used to diapers.   Children under the age of 1 tend to have smoother transitions than those between the ages of 1 and 2.

Every child is different so mileage may vary.   After that conventional potty training methods will need to be used together with some of the principles of EC to get older children out of diapers and pull-ups (pull ups are no better than diapers).      It is generally advised to buy old fashioned training pants and use timing to your advantage, and forget about pull-ups.    The most difficult and problem prone age for potty learning is between the ages of 2 and 3.

How did it work for you?

It’s been a learning process, but a very pleasant (and often surprising) one.    EC comes more naturally to those who grew up with it — so there was a known learning curve in my case.   My only related experience to this method was  my pet Lutino Cockatiel that I had many years ago.  What does a bird have to do anything?   If I knew when a small brained bird was going to plop, that was proof there that elimination communication could be done and was practical.    My bird went on cue with the word “drop” into a trash can while out of the cage.  If sitting on my hand, my shoulder or on someone else, I just needed to watch out for the tell-tale tail-feather shake — the bird’s pre-poop signal.    Gives a new outlook on the “Shake a Tail Feather” song doesn’t it?   I cloth diapered part-time in the beginning but used far less than I would have.  Every diaper avoided was a success!    On July 5th, 2010 when my first baby was 9 months old I hadn’t done a load of diapers at all in a whole week and it was then that I put them away for good because  the training pants I ordered had arrived. No more back ups at night or outings.  For a month before I was using less than 4 cloth diapers a day–so going cold turkey was far overdue.     We’d had no diaper rash except for one or two days of redness at three months old from a poop-a-thon and that cleared up with one night and one day of complete diaper-freeness.  My son was a year old when I put away the diapers and went to training pants.

But I’m Not a Stay-At-Home Mom and I Use Day Care Can I Do This?

Anyone can do Elimination Communication!    When you do anything all-in, of course, it is going to be a different approach than part time.   That doesn’t mean you can’t do it.  There are many people out there who EC part time and even Day Care personnel who help when they are informed that the baby or toddler can use a potty.    Babies even learn who will take them potty without being asked, who needs a cue, and who just doesn’t “get it” and will adjust their cues accordingly.    Still not convinced anyone can do EC?  You don’t have to take my word for it:  Elimination Communication for Everyone.       Be aware, that even an ECer can fall into a diaper trap.   You can’t learn to ride a two wheeler if all you are willing to ride is a tricycle — in other words — you have to put the diapers away before your are past the magic window.    Another common trap is to be “okay” or “neutral” with pee on the floor.  This inadvertently teaches that the floor is an “okay” potty place by doing nothing.   Instead, you need to show in your behavior that the floor is not a potty, and to direct attention to appropriate places.    My preferred technique is “wait cuing” and the  “potty hustle” to demonstrate this point.  If a floor accident was in progress,  I’d squeal urgently, “Eek!  Wait!  Let’s go to the potty!”   I’d either bring the potty to them, or scoop them up and dash to the potty.     As they grow, they learn to stop an accident, and begin to run to the bathroom on their own.   I remember one incident when my daughter was a toddler that she was having an accident outside, and she jumped into a flower bed (without prompting by anyone) so she didn’t pee on the walking path!


Elimination Communication is also known as:  Diaper Free, Nappy Free, Infant Potty Learning, Natural Infant Hygiene, Potty Whispering, Baby Pottying, and Infant Potty Training (not popular in the community because “training” is a misnomer)

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  1. Hello

    It’s a very nicely written article. Thanks for the information.

    I am very keen on trying EC for my (almost) 5 months old. In fact I have been trying my hands on it for 3-4 days now. But all my attempts have failed.

    Firstly my son doesnt really give much signals for pee. He sometimes smiles thru the pee. Secondly, he seems to have got used to nappies already (I used combination of cloth diapers and nappies). There have been times when I know that he’s gonna pee. I take him over the sink and do psss sound, pour drops of water over his PP, start the tap etc. But he wouldn’t go. But as soon as I put him back to the nappy, he would go! Same is with poop too!

    Another problem is that he has newly started rolling over for 20 days or so. So he wants to do everything on his tummy. He feeds on my tummy lying back. He also dozes off to sleep like that. In the sleep also he tries to roll over (I put a pillow to prevent that and keep tight check on him). He now also pees and poops after rolling over! So when I put him on potty, he doesn’t at all like it and wants to get off it. When i put him down, he would roll over and poop! His PP too gets dirty with it.. I am afraid he might get urine infection. Hygiene, health and environment are few reasons i wanna try EC. Pls gimme some suggestions.

    • Hi! It is quite late here so I’ll keep it quick 🙂 Instead of “trying” leave the nappies off and observe. Eventually there will be pee or poop. That will be the start of learning his pattern. It is pretty obvious when a boy is about to go once the nappies are off. As for the belly pee and poop, that is normal. It takes a lot of abdominal effort and it happens. My son did that a lot.

  2. Thank you for the information! I was introduced to EC last month and started yesterday with my 7 month old daughter. It’s been an interesting experience so far ha.But a good one!

  3. Hey i’m attempting EC with my 12 week old twin boys, since 8 weeks old we’ve been having daily nappy(oops diaper, i’m in australia) free time, i’m watching them & have ‘caught’ a number of poo’s & pee’s – but I STILL haven’t become sure about any cues…I think it’s only a fluke that we catch some…they don’t seem to do anything different for a pee especially, & poo I only catch cos I know they’re gonna do one in the morning sometime…but we wait a LOOOng time over the potty sometimes & it’s often while feeding (potty underneath!) that they poo… For the life of me I can’t understand how it sounds so easy for most people, but I can’t seem to get it happening!! Thru the day we NEVER catch a pee or poo unless by accident while I’m washing them at the sink… I bought the book EC simplified at the start and have read/listened to it…it does inspire me each time but then I get disheartened some days (tired) when we don’t seem to progress at all… If anyone has any more inspiration for us we’ll gladly receive it! ❤

    • Sometimes it’s just a lot of “inner voice” and not a conscious cue you can catch. EC isn’t just about noticing the cues of the baby, it is also about the baby learning your cues. My son’s “poo cue” before he learned the potty signal was a “super cute face” no kidding. I’d miss it because I’d get distracted by thinking…”aww he’s so cuuuute”. With my son he learned my cues more than it was the other way around. We relied on a lot of timing. It was just the way it was…not good nor bad…just different than my daughter who had a more independent personality. It isn’t that I didn’t notice any baby cues, but it was more instinct most of the time than an overt thing. It is hard to explain. It is kind of like when you “know” someone is looking at you before you even turn around. It’s not a fluke…it is the subconscious alerting you.

      You should check out my son’s daily blog. We had catches, sure, but we also had a LOT of misses. It is all in how you look at it. Good luck!

  4. I would love to start EC with my 5 month old daughter and don’t know how to start or what I need to do to make it successful. I am sure that there is more to it than just leaving the diapers off. How do I communicate that you pwe/poo in the toilet and not a diaper? Do you have a post that explains the process and what I need to do to start the process with my daughter?

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