What Is Elimination Communication?

What is Elimination Communication? - Illustration by Zoe Hansen

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Early potty training is a goal for most parents. After all, who doesn’t want their kid out of diapers as soon as possible? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents start toilet training once their infant can control their nerves, muscles, language, and bladder sphincter—usually between 18 months and 4 years old. But some parents essentially start toilet training their kids from birth using elimination communication (EC). 

Babies often give clues, like grunting or straining, when they need to urinate or have a bowel movement. Elimination communication teaches parents to recognize these signs and help facilitate potty time by holding their child over a sink, bowl, or toilet instead of having them go in a diaper. 

“In my current patient panel, I might have 1 to 2% of patients using elimination communication for toilet training,” says Virginia-based pediatrician Florencia Segura, MD, FAAP. “These patients are usually international and grew up with this style of toilet training at home.” 

However, EC is becoming more common—and a growing number of pediatricians are challenging the traditional method of toilet training as the only method. “Elimination training can be an effective way of encouraging spontaneous voiding and stooling physiologically at a younger age,” says Dr. Segura.  

How Experts Define Elimination Communication

Andrea Olson, who runs the online resource Go Diaper Free and is the director of both the DiaperFreeBaby organization and Go Diaper Free Certified Coach Program, has used elimination communication with all five of her children. Olson doesn’t like to call it potty training and instead calls it helping babies use the potty from as early as birth to 18 months, rather than relying on the diaper as a full-time toilet. 

However, the EC method doesn’t require babies to go without diapers all the time. “Most parents who do EC use a diaper as a backup but it is no longer considered a toilet,” Olson says. 

Although it might seem like a trend to those who haven't heard the term before, Olson points out that parents have done EC with babies for all of human history until the invention of diapers (the first commercial cloth diapers were created in the 1880s, then disposable diapers followed in the 1960s).

Elimination communication involves paying very close attention to your baby so that you learn to recognize when they need to use the toilet (for instance, when they wake up from sleep, squirm, or start to strain), then taking them to an appropriate place, like a toilet or other waste container, to pee or poop.  

Olson recommends keeping a log of when your baby uses the potty so that you can identify a pattern. For instance, they may pee when they wake from a nap and poop 10 to 15 minutes after eating. Of course, you will want to visit the toilet regularly during the day and night until you get to that point. 

Benefits of Elimination Communication

EC advocates vouch for a number of benefits, for both parents and babies. First, the obvious: financial savings. Olson estimates that most parents who do elimination communication save around $2,000 per child that they’d otherwise spend on diapers. 

There’s also a lot less waste. Even if you rely on diapers as a backup, as many EC parents do, you still won’t use as many as families who exclusively diaper. And even if you’re avoiding landfill guilt by using cloth, you’re likely to be doing less washing—meaning you’ll use less energy and water. 

In Olson's experience, the EC method makes the transition to toilet training easier. "Again, EC isn’t full potty training because it doesn’t involve the baby actively holding their urine or feces," she says. "With all the practice and knowing where to go, though, your little one may catch onto this process much more quickly than their peers."

Elimination communication may also help with the parent-child bonding process. "The act of responding to your vulnerable baby and their needs can help strengthen the connection you have with one another, which goes back to attachment parenting," Olson says.

Your baby is not likely to be harmed if you opt to use elimination communication. “Pediatricians would mostly agree that as long as caregivers are responsive to their baby's facial, vocal, and physical expressions in a caring and responsive way, they can attempt elimination training,” adds Dr. Segura.  

Downsides of Elimination Communication

Like all parenting methods, there are some possible downsides to elimination communication. It definitely requires time, which many parents are short of. Simply letting your little one poop in a diaper is easy; paying close attention to their signals requires a lot more effort. For first-time parents, this may be overwhelming.

EC can be difficult if you're not with your baby 24/7, for obvious reasons. Working parents might struggle to use EC, particularly if the childminder or daycare isn't equally committed to the process.

Some parents find that elimination communication is fairly easy when their baby is young, but they hit some obstacles later on. "When baby learns how to walk, their signals may go away and it can become a bumpier road," Olson reveals.

But if you're aware of the potential pitfalls and challenges, you can enjoy the benefits of EC in your own time. "Don’t expect perfection—see it as a process, not a goal," says Olson. "Try to roll with it and know that it’s not linear—nothing with a baby is." She adds that every tiny bit helps, even just popping your infant on the potty as soon as they wake up in the morning.

A Word From Verywell

Saving money, reducing waste, and building potty training skills are some of the benefits of elimination communication. If you want to try it, all you need is time, patience, and a potty or suitable waste container. Like all parenting methods, EC isn't for everyone. Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work for you—there's no shame in using diapers.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Healthchildren.org. Potty training.

  2. Xu PC, Wang YH, Meng QJ, Wen YB, Yang J, Wang XZ, Chen Y, He YL, Wang QW, Wang Y, Cui LG, Sihoe JD, Franco I, Lang JH, Wen JG. Delayed elimination communication on the prevalence of children's bladder and bowel dysfunction. Sci Rep. 2021 Jun 11;11(1):12366. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-91704-3

By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more. Claire is passionate about raising awareness for mental health issues and helping people experiencing them not feel so alone.