Cover Story: A Short History of EC and DiaperFreeBaby
By Amanda Alvine
Responding to an infant's elimination needs without using diapers has been and remains the norm in many parts of the world. However, many in the US and in other first-world countries have had to rediscover this approach, known variably as elimination communication (EC), infant potty training, natural infant hygiene and elimination timing. Once practiced only by a small number of innovative parents, EC has gained visibility and is now mentioned alongside other potty learning methods.
Infant pottying was once widely practiced in Western societies, but coercive forms of early potty learning practiced around the beginning of the twentieth century created a societal backlash against any form of early toileting at all. By the 1950s, pediatricians began recommending that parents wait until children were older and "ready." Currently, mainstream US culture still follows this philosophy, with many parents feeling that it is better to wait, and could even be damaging to offer the potty too soon.
However, individual parents rediscovered a form of EC while interacting and caring for their babies. Dr. Thomas Hall noted the experience of one such parent, Mrs. Lela Humpries, who started offering her babies the potty in 1947. With her first son, she noticed his pattern of having a bowel movement while feeding, and a specific facial gesture that preceded it. By the time he was 6 weeks old, she would unpin one side of his diaper and pull it aside to position him over a potty in her lap, all without changing his position or disturbing his feeding. Her first two sons were both consistently using the potty for bowel movements by 6 months, and for all eliminations by 14 months. She responded to her third son, who had Down Syndrome, in the same way, and once he started walking at 16 months, he would walk to the bathroom when he needed to go. Ingrid Bauer, author of Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene, found out that her mother had also created her own form of EC because she felt that her children did not particularly enjoy wearing diapers. Starting when the children were 6 months of age, she would sit them on a potty and sing to them, with the result that both Bauer and her brother were independently using the toilet shortly after their first birthdays.
In 1976, an entire child-centered community began infant pottying. A man named Gridley White had seen what he called "elimination timing" used in Asia, and suggested that it might work in their community. No one in the community knew how to do it; they understood only that it "had to do with baby being consciously communicative" and the caregiver "being in the baby's timing," as Linda "Natec" Penn recalls. Not to be deterred by a lack of knowledge, one mother tried it with her one-month old, and he peed. From that point, it caught on and all the babies in the community were more or less diaper-free. Natec took this newfound knowledge to other parents through presentations in 1977-78. She would ask the babies present to let the group know when they had to pee, and to everyone's delight, it worked! She continued to teach parents and babies about this new approach to elimination, and in 1992, she took the information to a wider audience when she published a pamphlet, Elimination Timing, on the web at www.parentsplace.com.
Another parent named Laurie Boucke discovered the practice of EC when her third child was an infant. A mother visiting from India taught her how to hold and cue her 3 month old. She referred to the approach as "Indian-style toilet training." In 1980, Boucke wrote an article entitled "Conscious Toilet Training," and later published a book, Trickle Treat, in 1991. Since then, she has written a comprehensive book on EC entitled Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living as well as a more compact version, Infant Potty Basics: With or Without Diapers...the Natural Way. All three of her books have helped and encouraged countless parents on their EC journeys.
Other publications also helped spread the word about infant pottying among receptive parents. Ingrid Bauer's book Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene (2000; Plume, 2006), is one such example. Bauer's journey to EC started when she found herself considering with her husband whether it was possible to "not do" diapers when they were expecting their second child. She recalled having seen babies without diapers on her visits to India and Africa, and a friend explained that the mothers there were so in tune with their children that they could tell when a child needed to eliminate, offer an appropriate potty spot and cue the child. When her own child was born, Bauer had the idea that such a natural approach to infant hygiene was possible, but no plan or model from which to draw. So she discovered what worked along the way and termed the practice "Natural Infant Hygiene;" she also coined the term "elimination communication."
Books were not the only way that that parents came to learn about EC in those early years. Terra Carlson had a three-month old baby when she first found an article about EC online. At first, she worried that infant pottying would not be feasible in a developed society. But she tried it, and her baby responded immediately and enthusiastically. She went on to practice it with her next child starting at his birth. Noting that EC was not a topic you could discuss on most online parenting forums because of the widespread perception that early infant pottying was harmful or even abusive, Carlson created a website dedicated to spreading the word. She also created and managed the email list now known affectionately as "the big EC list" on Yahoo! Groups, to help other parents learn about and successfully practice EC. Through her Letters to the Editor in Mothering and posts on the Mothering Dot Commune, she reached many other parents who were receptive to EC. Slowly, parents who practiced EC were moving from isolated innovators into a thriving and supportive online community.
As interest in EC grew, innovative parents were looking for ways to make EC work more smoothly. Some, like Robin Hagerty, created infant-sized underwear that could absorb one pee, thereby eliminating the bulk between a child's legs and the temptation to leave a child in a more absorbent diaper while avoiding wet pants. Hagerty's online business, www.wonderbabydesigns.com, began to sell her small-sized underwear, called Poquito Pants. Another parent, Michelle Hallett, developed an online store called www.TheECStore.com to sell all sorts of equipment that assists EC'ing families. Now owned by Emily Quick, the store is currently thriving. Various types of EC clothing began to appear. Along with the Poquito Pants and other infant-sized underwear, people were designing and producing split-crotch pants similar to those worn by infants in China. Nicole Donnolly created an infant leg warmer, called BabyLegs, designed to keep a baby's legs warm while leaving the baby's bottom uncovered or easily un-diapered. Many parents still EC with little or no extra "gear", while others love the variety of products now available.
Although some local groups supporting EC, like the child-centered community Penn was part of, had existed for a while, it seems that for the most part, online support came first. But from the online support, people found ways to create local support as well. Mothers meeting each other online through Mothering Dot Commune's "Find Your Tribe" or the "Big EC list" would plan playdates at local parks or homes, finally meeting other EC'ers face-to-face. One such group, the SoCalEC group, grew from both "Find Your Tribe" and the Big EC list, as well as local Poquito Pants customers, and met for the first time in January 2004. Once local support was established, participants often invited other EC'ing families they knew, and the group grew.
Another local support group came together in Boston in 2003. Several EC'ing mothers had met each other at a local La Leche League meeting in the Fall of 2002, and came back together through playdates and on the "Big EC list". In April 2003, the first of the monthly Boston EC meeting/playgroup took place at Christine Gross-Loh's house. Having the local support was very inspiring to each member of the group. When one mother bravely went out with her baby wearing underwear, other mothers tried it too. When one mother peed her child at the edge of the park they were in, the rest of the mothers felt more willing to do so as well. And the babies also seemed to be inspired by seeing other babies use the potty. When mothers who were not yet EC'ing were invited to meetings, several of them decided to try it as well.
Two of the Boston EC group members, Rachel Milgroom and Melinda Rothstein, became convinced that the local, parent-to-parent connection was so valuable that they wanted to help bring such local support to EC'ing parents everywhere, and they began to work on a website to do just that. In the fall of 2003, www.DiaperFreeBaby.org began to take shape. In December 2003, the first DiaperFreeBaby "test" meeting was held at Melinda's house in Dover, MA. After a successful trial run, the first official meeting was held at Rachel's house in Newton, MA in January 2004.
Many experienced EC'ers from around the world volunteered to be Mentors, or group leaders, representing DiaperFreeBaby to help promote an organization of local support groups, which could pool ideas and resources. By April 2004, 30 local DiaperFreeBaby Groups were supporting EC'ing parents in the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa and Asia! And new Groups continued to form around the United States and the world. With the help of all these experience EC'ers, the philosophies of DiaperFreeBaby took shape, and DiaperFreeBaby wrote and produced its first brochure, "Discover How Amazing Your Baby Really Is."
In the Spring of 2005, Sarabeth Matilsky, a member of the Boston DiaperFreeBaby Group (who went on to become a DiaperFreeBaby Mentor in Ithaca, New York), wrote a column on EC for the Boston Parents' Paper. The Boston Globe picked up the story and it kicked off a storm of media interest. In October 2005, Melinda and Rachel were featured in People Magazine, and the article started with a two-page spread including a picture of Melinda's 6-month-old smiling daughter on the potty. A photo of Melinda's daughter also appeared on the front page of The New York Times, and Melinda was invited to several morning talk shows to discuss EC and DiaperFreeBaby. Interest in EC and DiaperFreeBaby took off. As EC'ing mother and DiaperFreeBaby Mentor Laureen Hudson was quoted as saying in The Daily Republic on May 6, 2006, "I spent the first 3 1/2 years being a freak for doing this. Then the media blitz hit. Now I'm a forward thinker."
Interest in DiaperFreeBaby and EC in general has remained high. Christine Gross-Loh wrote The Diaper-Free Baby, which resonated with modern parents, especially those interested in practicing part-time EC, and convinced many that it was worth trying. Both Ingrid Bauer's Diaper Free! and Laurie Boucke's Infant Potty Training were released in second editions. New DVDs such as Potty Whispering and Nappy Free offered parents a chance to see EC in action even where local support was not available. Major parenting magazines made sure to at least mention EC, and several did more in-depth coverage, including an article on EC'ing multiples in Twins Magazine. EC even made a cameo in the American TV drama ER, and the Associated Press covered it in August of 2007.
By early 2008, DiaperFreeBaby was made up of 74 Groups in 12 countries, led by 127 Mentors. Over 4400 participants were involved, including 116 DiaperFreeBaby members. Media interest was still holding strong, and the tenor of pieces was changing, thanks in large part to the DiaperFreeBaby PR department developed and headed by Mentor Elizabeth Parise. Instead of being mainly debate about whether or not EC was a good idea, coverage began to focus more on practical information. Online support groups like the Big EC list and Mothering Dot Commune board, as well as newer groups including the Late Start list and the Natural Infant Hygiene list, were flourishing, and the International Board for the Study, Research and Promotion of Assisted Infant Toilet Training was established.
Today, EC is still novel to many people, but it is no longer unheard-of in Western culture. Rather, elimination communication and its proponents are truly "forward-thinking"!
Issue No. 8
Letter from the Editor
Cover Story: A Short History of EC and DiaperFreeBaby
FAQ: On the Road With EC: Staying Focused in the Face of Skepticism
Featured DiaperFreeBaby Group: DiaperFreeBaby of MN (Minnesota)
Local Happenings: At Home or On the Road, EC makes Cloth Diapering Easier!
EC Gear Review: On the Go with the Baby Bjorn Little Potty
Take the DiaperFreeChallenge ™
The DiaperFreeChallenge ™ Journal: An “Out and About” Challenge
Tips For Starting with an Older Baby
Question from a EC’ing Family: Part-Time EC
Helpful Tip: Why and How to Switch to Training Pants
Survey Answer: What is your favorite piece of EC gear?
Creative Corner: What About EC!