Psst, psst: Deceived by EC

I last wrote about our “Elimination Communication journey” in November 2012.  We’ve made huge progress in the nine intervening months, which I want to share, but I also became thoroughly disillusioned by the promises made in the Elimination Communication (EC) literature, which feature anecdotes from the very rare (at least in the United States) families that achieve freedom from diapers before or very shortly after the one-year-of-age mark.

The EC literature creates unrealistic expectations, especially in the cultural context of the United States, where EC practice is very rare, and where many infants spend time in daycare facilities where pee and poop free-for-alls from undiapered bottoms would create serious sanitation and health problems, and where caregivers do not possibly have the time to put each and every baby on the potty every time the infant might be showing some need.

After thirteen months of largely wasted time and effort, followed by five months of one step forward, two steps back, I was coming to this realization for myself this past February, when I read the chapter on “natural parenting” in Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?

She raised good questions and provided this thought-provoking critique of EC:

. . . EC also represents the white middle-class phenomenon of fetishizing a largely imaginary “third world” motherhood that’s supposedly more pure and natural than Western parenting practices.  A common refrain from EC advocates, for example, is that mothers in India or Africa don’t use or need diapers.  Never mind that there isn’t a monolithic “Indian” or “African” parenting experience (or that Africa isn’t a country), or that the mothers they’re referring to could be very happy to have diapers, were they available.  It’s easy to appropriate a condescending fixation on “underdeveloped” motherhood when you have the financial means and leisure time to pick whatever kind of parenting works for you at the moment.  This clueless racism is captured perfectly on Krista Cornish Scott’s website, where she assures readers that “EC is not just for African bush-women” (p. 20-21).

I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time as I read that chapter.  If I had actually owned any EC books (I checked them out from the library, of course), I might have planned a book burning.

Unfortunately, my epiphany came too late, long after I’d been sucked into the myth of a diaper-free baby.

Looking back on my EC experience
Feeling frustrated (with yourself and your baby) and discouraged with every wet diaper, like you must be doing something wrong, is not a healthy or fulfilling introduction to motherhood.

Between the normal first-year-with-a-baby, sleep deprived, what-the-hell-am-I-doing haze, plus my postpartum depression haze, I failed to recognize this for many, many months.  Many months when I could, and should, have been enjoying a cute little [cloth] diapered baby butt.  Though I don’t dwell on it, I resent the extra strain and stress I put  on myself (and Matthew), as well as the normal, cuddling with a tiny baby time that I lost to potty efforts and naked-baby-on-the-floor time.

If I had a do-over . . .
I would not even attempt to take my baby anywhere near a potty until at least six months.  Even that is probably crazy early.

For Sir, things really clicked shortly after he began walking and was able to get on and off the [little] potty by himself.  This age will differ for every infant, of course, but in Sir’s case, the walking happened at about 12 1/2 months, with the independent on and off the potty about a month later (this is not to say that he was “diaper-free” at this point).

While there’s no way to know for sure, I have a strong suspicion that the “potty work” and any small progress we made during the first thirteen months of Sir’s life could have been condensed into a single month when he was thirteen- or fourteen-months-old.

One month of effort vs. thirteen months of effort — which would you choose?

I’ve concluded (though again, every child is unique) that there is probably middle ground between the very early potty learning espoused by EC advocates and the much-later, don’t even think about it until the child is at least two-years-old position held by most Western child-rearing “experts.”

I’ll share more about that in an upcoming post on our experience with potty learning from months fourteen through twenty-four, by which point we were diaper-free except for naps and overnights.


  1. Jami says:

    Thanks for this post, although I never tried EC with Harlee I thought about it with the next one. And potty training is not going well at all on our end and I kept feeling like maybe we should have tried the EC route and introduced it long ago… But I don’t feel too bad now. You’re right, every baby is different AND every situation is different. Maybe we’re having trouble because Harlee’s life is changing with the new house being built. Who knows. But I’m glad I did decide to just go with the flow instead – he wants nothing to do with the potty, so I’m not going to force it on him and fight with him. Every case is different! Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Karen Karabell says:

    My mother-in-law did “EC” with Harold. Before he was a year old, she had trained him to poop on the toilet (this was in 1953). While he sat on the throne, she would read books to him. I had forgotten about this until reading your post.

    When our sons were babies, she never let me forget. I shrugged off her insistence on a “better way” (I guess because I never minded changing diapers). At some point she decided to accept that her son and I were delusional diaper washers who refused to see the light 🙂

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      I didn’t really mind washing diapers, per se. The problem was my erroneous expectation that I wouldn’t have to do it for all that long and the following disappointment when Gabriel wasn’t quite as precocious on the potty as Harold was!

      It can be hard to shrug off that advice, but it’s important for every family to figure out what works for them, in their unique situation.

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