What is 'elimination communication' and does it work? 'By 10 months old, my son was using the toilet to poop'

Can an infant be successfully potty-trained? Through elimination communication, some experts and parents say yes. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Can an infant be successfully potty-trained? Through elimination communication, some experts and parents say yes. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Parenting has more options today than ever before – potty training included. While transitioning between cloth or disposable diapers and a diaper-free baby may feel like an overwhelming task for parents, there are more methods than ever for toilet training.

One of those methods, elimination communication, has even experts divided.

But what is elimination communication? According to an American Academy of Pediatrics journal article, the potty training method is also known as "natural infant hygiene," and is "the practice of using the infant's natural timing and cues to recognize when they need to defecate or urinate."

The article explains that, "by identifying these cues, caregivers can coordinate elimination in the toilet rather than in a diaper."

Alanna Gallo is founder of Play. Learn. Thrive., a brand focused on helping children develop problem solving and critical thinking skills through independent unstructured play. She's also co-host of FamSummit parenting courses and mom to four kids ages 6 and under.

Gallo shares how she stumbled into utilizing elimination communication in her home.

"We follow a loose version of elimination communication in our house," she tells Yahoo Life. "It started because we cloth diaper our kiddos and wanted to avoid dealing with poop as much as possible. When my first baby started eating solids, it became very clear when he needed to go, so one day I just started taking him to the bathroom."

When Gallo noticed her son showing signs of having to go, she would hold him on the potty seat and talk about the process, narrating what was happening. Slowly he learned and after a few months he was able to communicate his needs: When Gallo would ask about the potty he would become excited and bounce around to signal he was ready.

For Gallo and her family, time spent on elimination communication has paid off.

"By 10 months old my first son was almost exclusively using the toilet to poop and he was fully out of diapers by age two," says the New York, N.Y. mom. "My other children followed a similar pattern and we're currently using this method with our fourth child, now 9 months old."

How to begin elimination communication

Smriti Tuteja, a mom of two from Bangalore, India, is a contributor at Yogic-Experience.com who utilized elimination communication with both of her children starting at 3 months of age.

Tuteja says elimination communication helps facilitate a stronger bond with the child and develop a better understanding of their needs, as well as helps with the transition to proper toilet training.

For parents beginning their journey with elimination communication, Tuteja offers these tips: "First, observe their potty patterns and timings. Once a pattern has been ascertained, introduce cue sounds or positions that indicate to the child to let go. Next, it can be helpful to have a vessel or portable potty seat in all rooms."

"To begin, parents considering elimination communication for infants must pay proper attention to their posture," she adds. "A deep squat with their back towards the parent's tummy is an ideal position that will not stress their back while they learn to use the toilet."

Why elimination communication?

Michele Swaney is a mother of three, potty training expert and chief executive officer of The Potty School, an online potty training resource. Swaney says elimination communication has many benefits.

"Think of elimination communication as the more natural life-paced approach to noticing signs and signals of your child's biological needs to which you can be attentive for the sake of bonding and hygiene," she explains.

Swaney shares elimination communication typically makes the potty training process an easier integration into the rhythm of one's daily and family routine. According to Swaney, most children who practice elimination communication are out of diapers at an earlier age with fewer accidents longer term.

Benefits of elimination communication

Children's author and early childhood teacher Iveta Ongley is mother to two girls, ages 6 and 2. Ongley says she's practiced elimination communication with both of her daughters and sings the praises of the potty training method.

"This practice has been around for hundreds of years and is used in tribes all around the globe," she says. "It's a way of understanding your child's basic needs and becoming in sync with them."

Ongley shares the practice helped her understand her children better and supported their relationship-building from the start. "The benefit of elimination communication is the parent-child closeness," she says, "the way they learn more about each other and the sharing of one of the most intimate moments."

"A practical benefit," Ongley adds, "is definitely less washing if using cloth diapers or less waste and more money-saving for those using disposables. Children also learn to be more independent and are able to help themselves sooner."

Swaney recommends elimination communication for children ages 0-17 months.

According to the Orange County, Calif. mom, elimination communication can also increase the bond with your baby and help avoid diaper rash and urinary tract infections.

"Elimination communication, above all other reasons, really is about communicating with and responding to your child's needs," she says. "One of our kids was expected to have a lot of learning and developmental delays so we started elimination communication with that child as soon as we could after birth: I figured if the child may never be able to talk or physically walk herself to the bathroom, at least I could do my part to try to learn any and every sign of when the kiddo tried to communicate and respond lovingly to that."

Still, while many parents and experts say elimination communication has a list of benefits, not everyone agrees it's the best way to potty train.

Elimination communication criticism

Quiara Smith, mom to a 3-year-old daughter, works as a holistic pediatric pelvic health occupational therapist and is chief executive officer of Aloha Integrative Therapy. The Fargo, N. Dak. mom tells Yahoo Life she never suggests elimination communication.

"As a pediatric pelvic health therapist that works on toileting skills with a variety of neurodiverse children, elimination communication does not follow typical development and physiology," she cautions.

Smith shares that according to some studies, children younger than 12 months of age have no control over bladder or bowel movements and there is very little control between 12 to 18 months. In fact, most children are unable to obtain bowel and bladder control until 24 to 30 months of age, with the average age of toilet training being 27 months old.

"Elimination communication is just tracking body patterns and putting an infant on a potty," Smith says, "but they are not learning or mastering skills."

"In order to be independent in toileting, bowel and bladder control children must be able to have good sphincter control, maintain upright sitting on a potty or toilet on their own and understand the association between urge sensation and being able to independently act on it," she continues.

Smith says many children whose parents choose to do elimination communication have bowel and bladder issues when they are older, explaining that constipation, bedwetting and sensory differences are all possible side-effects of elimination communication down the road.

Still, Swaney suggests parents familiarize themselves with the basics of elimination communication to decide what is right for their family.

"Potty training children is a definite need in our society and the typical norm," she says. "There are many unexpected times in life when circumstances might lend to people knowing elimination communication basics."

"It doesn't have to be a full-time commitment," Swaney adds. "It can be done at home only, during weekdays only, during awake hours only or for those under age 12 months for small bits of time during a day. You can go at your own pace, and you can always start and stop if need be."

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