Elimination Communication: Potty Training Without Diapers

You're probably dreaming of the diaper-free days ahead. With elimination communication, a potty-training method used in other parts of the world, you can speed up the process by introducing the toilet early. Here’s what parents need to know.

little girl with glasses potty training
Photo: BartoszBudrewicz/shutterstock.com

Most American children stop using diapers when they're between 2 and 3 years old. But in parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, parents potty train soon after their baby is born. A study of Vietnamese mothers and their newborns found that by 9 months, all babies were using the potty, and they were fully trained by 2 years. The secret is a method known as elimination communication or diaperless toilet training.

While elimination communication isn't likely to become the norm in America, a growing number of parents are giving it a try. Here's everything you need to know about elimination communication, with tips for using the method yourself.

What is Elimination Communication?

The elimination communication potty training method is based on the idea that babies naturally signal when they need to go. Once you've figured out your child's cues, you can position them over a potty and make a sound (like a whistle or a hiss). They'll eventually respond by peeing or pooping on demand. Essentially, parents practicing this technique use diapers as more of a "back-up plan" instead of their baby's main receptacle for pee and poop.

Proponents think elimination communication speeds up the potty training process. It's also eco-conscious and budget-friendly because you'll use fewer diapers. Another benefit is a decreased risk of diaper rashes, since your little one will spend minimal time sitting in their waste.

Adriane Stare, a mom in Brooklyn, New York, used elimination communication with both her sons, Damien and Loren. She'd hold them over the potty right before putting on a fresh diaper. "If they had to go, they'd go, and if they didn't, they wouldn't," she says. The upside: She used a lot fewer diapers while reinforcing the connection between the potty and the need to go. Both kids were diaper-free around age 2, with the exception of naps, nighttime, and long road trips.

How to Use the Elimination Communication Method

All kids send signals that nature is calling; they'll typically grunt and turn red for poop, and squirm, cry, and crotch-grab for pee. However, it may take a while to figure out your child's specific cues and to establish a consistent response that they understand. The good news is that a toddler's cues tend to be easier to read than an infant's, says Andrea Olson, author of Go Diaper Free.

A baby trained with elimination communication needs to be physically supported on the toilet, because they're not strong enough to sit upright. In China, where elimination communication has been the preferred potty-training method for centuries, parents hold their child by the hips over the toilet, facing away from them. To simplify the process, they may dress their kid in split-crotch pants and let them go commando underneath. Those adopting the method in the U.S. tend to sit facing the toilet as they hold their toddler in front of them.

You'll increase your odds of success if you join a support group, such as the one at diaperfreebaby.org, and keep the focus on getting in sync with your toddler.

When To Begin Elimination Communication

There's no "proper" time to begin elimination communication. Some parents start immediately after birth; this helps incorporate the practice into their everyday lives. Others take it up several months later. According to Olson, most babies use diapers as back-up until they're 9-16 months olds.

Whether parents choose part-time or full-time elimination communication depends largely on practicality. If a primary caregiver works throughout the day, for example, it might make the most sense to do part-time training on the nights and weekends. Some childcare facilities may be open to working with you on elimination communication, but it does take a lot of extra time, which may not always be possible in a daycare setting.

Should You Try Elimination Communication?

Elimination communication works best for parents with a sense of humor who can make adjustments on the fly, says Christine Gross-Loh, author of The Diaper-Free Baby. In America, parents often modify the technique to suit their lifestyle—for example, by using diapers when they're away from home and finding a potty may be difficult.

Don't be surprised if family, friends, and your pediatrician question your potty training approach. Denise Padilla de Font, a pregnancy and postpartum mentor in Durham, North Carolina, says her decision to use elimination communication with her daughter was met with a mix of fascination, awe, and outright rejection. "People have the misconception that I was pressuring my daughter to perform, which wasn't the case at all," she adds. (In fact, elimination communication proponents advise parents to ignore accidents and stay positive throughout the process.)

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