Elimination Communication: Infant Potty Training

elimination communication: infant potty trainingUsing cloth diapers on your child can be a heck of a lot of work. So is learning elimination communication, but by using infant potty training while they’re young, babies can go diaper-free much earlier than you think.

Babies will go through as many clean diapers each day as you have (it seems like it, anyway), so the washing machine gets a good workout, and there’s always a load to be hung on the line to dry. But using disposable diapers costs quite a bit, and the waste involved is tremendous.

To our way of thinking, getting kids out of diapers as soon as possible is the best answer, and the fastest way to do that is to begin potty training them at a very early age – as in when they’re still infants.

Elimination Communication, or infant potty training, is something so intuitive and natural in our house that it’s hard to remember that many parents don’t know about it. It’s the method that most cultures use that don’t have access to disposables or washing machines.

It takes an investment of time in the beginning to start the process of elimination communication, but for those of us who are practicing attachment parenting, our children are almost always with us anyway, so it’s not a stretch for us to also begin using this method to make toilet training much more natural and easy than waiting until the child is “old enough”.

An infant goes to the bathroom on a pretty regular schedule (about every 15 minutes is the norm for ours), and there are times when they don’t go to the bathroom, such as when sleeping or when actively nursing. When a baby first wakes up, there’s a window of time when they’ll need to pee, so that’s a great time to start with them. Another is when they pull off of the boobie while nursing. When that happens, you can pretty much count on a pee from them.

We use a quart sized yogurt container to hold under the baby, and hold their legs up in a squat – the potty position – while making a noise that they will associate with going to the bathroom. Our noise was “psss psss psss”, which we made every time we held them over the container. That’s our verbal half of the elimination communication, but the infant also learns to communicate to us when they gotta go.

We use a simple hand sign, such as wiggling our fist so the baby can see it. Pretty soon, the baby associates both the sound and the hand sign with going pee and pooping, and will make the hand sign to us when they need to go. People who see it for the first time don’t believe their eyes. (We are also big believers in infant sign language, as kids want to communicate even before they can speak the words.)

We started elimination communication with our second daughter when she was an infant, and she was pretty much done with diapers by age 1 and a half. When she was old enough to want to go by herself, I built her a potty chair out of scrap wood, which I scrounged from a cabinet shop. There is a removable container (a large yogurt tub) underneath, and it fits nicely in the truck and tent for traveling.

When we went on a 5 week camping trip a couple of years ago, not having to wash diapers in a bucket every day was such a blessing. As she got older, she would go into the bathroom and say “me need space”, and sit down and do her business “all by myself”.

It’s so completely awesome to be free of diaper duty, and kids who can control their bladder and bowels can learn to go in the great outdoors pretty easily. I know from experience that having kids who can and will use the bathroom outside (as opposed to only while sitting on a toilet) are much easier to take hiking, camping, and on road trips. Having to find a modern bathroom with a flush toilet and a door before your kid can go to the toilet is a major drag.

Such a simple thing, this taking care of our own “business”, yet many adults I know still have issues going to the bathroom anywhere other than while sitting on a ceramic bowl filled with water. Somehow our waste being flushed magically away is the only way we can deal with our bodily functions. “If I don’t see it, then everything’s alright.”

I personally prefer peeing outside. I don’t think I could put it into words, and it seems silly to even say it, but it’s true. Because we used a composting toilet for 5 1/2 years, I feel like I have a greater appreciation for bodily waste, and it doesn’t gross me out.

There are some who will tell you that people shouldn’t just go the bathroom any old place, but those same people will also let their dog poop just about anywhere and spray urine all over the neighborhood. I don’t see the big deal about humans voiding their bladders outside (and I’m not saying you should just leave a log lying on the lawn, so don’t even go there).

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

12 thoughts on “Elimination Communication: Infant Potty Training

  • Very sensible thoughts. We used infant potty training with our third boy and enjoyed it very much, were delighted to start and finish sooner than we had with traditional delayed toilet learning. And now I’m using it with my first grandchild.

    Here are a few links in case anyone wants to read more on this topic:


  • You are the second person I’ve known of to do this with their kids. It seems rather Pavlovian, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a matter of training your kid. It certainly would save money on diapers (we spent a small fortune), but I’d be scared to try it for fear of getting it wrong and having messes all over the place. But, like you say, cultures that do practice it have interwoven it into their lives so it would just be an adjustment for us, nothing more. Educational, thanks.
    .-= Keith Wilcox´s last blog ..Reading Progress: 5 year old Alan =-.

  • So where were you, with this great advice, when it took 2 and a half years to potty train my little one? Thanks so much I will twitter this too!

  • Shanyne

    Cool concept. I was unaware of this method of training when my kids were infants. So, for those whose children are already walking, the thing that worked best for me was to just let them be naked… they feel the urge, see the result, make the connection & voila… no more diapers. There were a few clean-ups on aisle 3, but I always did it in the summer when we spent a lot of time outdoors & it worked like a charm for each of my 4!!

  • Pingback: Baby Potty Training – Some Reading | Baby Potty Training

  • I’m a big fan of potty training before 2. I find when children hit the age of 2 and higher they are much more likely to face serious regression and can make things much, much more difficult.

  • good advice however Learning to do the right thing by means of motivation and reward is the most effective way to potty train boys. When children associate a certain behaviour with a reward they tend to want to repeat the act more often. A good way to practice the reward system is by giving your child a reward like a favorite toy or a treat when he actually uses the potty. If your child resists or has an accident, it is best to give positive reinforcement to them rather than getting angry. Positive reinforcement is a great way to motivate children.

    • Derek Markham

      We’ve never needed any rewards to potty train our son, who has been out of diapers since before he was two years old. We’re also very careful to never set our kids up with expectations of specific rewards for behavior, as that can backfire on you.

  • Interesting points but surely small treats (of good food not chocolate) are an excellent motivation and have no backfire consequences. Kids have to be taught that there are rewards in life for success. They’re not just there to take orders from the parents. Parents needs to be peers for their children as well as being adult figures. We only have them on loan remember! 🙂

  • Marlen

    ever since I first heard of it I have been very exited to try it. It just seams natural to us. My little one is not born yet and I have discussed this with the father and we both think that we will have nothing to loose if we try it. I have the thought of having my child get used to sitting in their own waste, I would hate doing it my self and see no reason why my baby should. I’m glad to see it worked well for you. Are there any specific books or techniques you would suggest we try?


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