Cover Story: Part-time EC
by Caren Polner
If the idea of practicing EC seems daunting to you; or if you have begun practicing EC and are feeling challenged, consider a part-time approach. Practicing EC part-time basically means that you are not attempting to catch all of your baby's elimination. There are many reasons families might choose to pursue this approach. For some, part-time EC is a way to begin communicating with your baby in this way. For others, it is a way to feel relaxed. A part-time approach offers a way to reassess your family's needs if you have grown frustrated with your communications with your baby. Part-time EC can be a way to transition into full-time EC. Lastly, part-time EC is a viable choice when your baby's environment does not support EC on a full-time basis.
A way to begin
Focusing on bowel movements is a easy way to begin EC. Bowel movements are usually fairly easy to predict in newborns and older babies alike. A grimace, heavy breathing, passing gas, or knowing your baby's patterns helps. A grimace, passing gas, or just knowledge of your baby's patterns helps you know when to offer the potty. Wiping a baby's bottom after a poop on the potty is so much easier than wiping his whole behind after a poop in a diaper. You will find it rewarding, and it's a lot more comfortable for your baby than going in a diaper. Meanwhile, keep using diapers to catch the pees until you are ready for more.
A way to relax
One of the most frequent questions from people new to EC is how to protect furniture, clothing, and floors. The fact is that if you are holding a scantily clad baby you will get peed on eventually. American diapering culture has gotten us parents scared of getting peed on, a hang-up ECers eventually lose. However, in the beginning it can be stressful to worry about getting wet or dirty. Without giving up diapers, pay attention to your baby's movement and verbalization signs, and notice when she is wet or soiled. Even if you are not attempting to take her to the potty, you are building your EC vocabulary and understanding of your baby. If you notice what she is doing, you can talk to her about it. Eventually you may feel inclined to offer more pottytunities.
Infants pee fairly often, and you might not be prepared to try to catch the pees all the time. It can be discouraging to have many misses, and you need to balance your EC practice with your baby's and family's other needs. If trying to catch the pees is stressful, don't make it a priority. As your baby gets older, and the interval between pees becomes longer, you and your baby will surely have more opportunities for more success and communication. Any chance you do have to put the baby on the potty - during a diaper change or a clothing change, for example - is a learning opportunity for you and your baby. So whatever is comfortable is the right thing for you to do. Your attention to your baby's needs will translate into positive communication later on.
A way to reassess
As with any other aspect of parenting, frustrations can arise that seem to have no solution. Perhaps you have been missing more than you've been catching; perhaps the child is suddenly more reluctant to use the potty; perhaps the baby is developing new ways to communicate which don't make sense to you yet. Trying less hard can often help you get a clearer picture of what is going on. With babies under a year old you can easily switch to a different form of backup (cloth or disposable diaper) and feel comfortable being less conscious of your child's pottying needs, just for a while. You may find that new patterns are easier to see from an emotional or physical distance, and once you've had a chance to regroup and reassess you can go back to full-time EC with fewer frustrations.
A way to transition to full-time EC
If you are ready to do EC but are not ready to go "diaper-free,"* a part-time approach is a good way to begin. Take your baby to the potty when it is convenient: any time you would think to change the diaper or change clothes. For example: upon awakening, before leaving the house, when you yourself are using the bathroom, after meals or feedings, when washing up before bed or changing into pajamas, just before sleep, upon night-time awakenings. Cue your baby with a "psss" sound and talk about what you are doing. You may be surprised by your baby peeing or pooping in the potty at one of these times. Your attention to your baby's elimination behavior will gradually lead you to offer more, and more well-timed pottytunities. Do what feels comfortable to you and your baby. As you grow more confident at reading your baby's signs, change your method of "backup" (diapers or absorbent pants). Using cloth as backup is recommended because it gives both you and your baby better feedback about elimination patterns, and encourages you to be more attentive (a baby will still be "dry" after one pee in a disposable diaper; a cloth diaper or pant needs to be changed immediately). If you have a limited supply of cloth backup, use them up and then use disposables for the rest of the day (or until you do the laundry). From there you will either be inspired to use more cloth pants, or you will find yourself needing fewer of them. Push yourself a little further every now and then by leaving the pants off entirely for a while. Some people find that "taking the plunge" by taking off the diapers and training pants actually leads to more "success" in pottying, especially when it feels like the baby has lost interest or begun to have more misses. If this works for you it will be inspiring. If it creates more stress, try it again in a few weeks.
A way to do EC at all
Perhaps your baby spends most or part of his day with at a daycare center which is unwilling to support EC. Or perhaps one of his caretakers is a parent or grandparent who is still uncomfortable with the whole idea or is unwilling to participate. For an infant or younger baby, it is not a problem to abandon EC at these times. When you are home or with baby and able to tune in and practice EC, then do it. Babies are resilient and flexible and will most likely be fine with this. As baby gets older she will likely communicate her preferences. And by then, perhaps the alternate caregivers will be happy to comply when baby clearly signals her need for the potty! (Just remember to share with the other caregivers your baby's particular vocal or hand signal!)
Whether you are trying to catch all your baby's eliminations, or just doing it part time, paying attention to your baby's elimination patterns increases the level of communication you have with your baby, and so often provides valuable insights into your baby's behavior. The key is to stay comfortable with what you are doing, and decrease, rather than increase, the stress on yourself, your baby, and your family.
*Note that it is possible, and common, to do full-time EC with backup (cloth, disposables, or absorbent pants).