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Starting Elimination Communication with an Older Baby

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Margo in Her Undies

Margo in her undies around 12 months old.

Elimination Communication (EC) is about building a child’s awareness of his or her elimination needs, from a young age, it’s not all together ‘toilet training’, although, if you do it, even just part time, it will usually lend itself to earlier toilet independence. Not everyone gets to hear about EC before their baby is born, and some have heard about it, but are too overwhelmed in the beginning with a new baby to give it a go. A few friends of mine, with babies/toddlers around 12 months, have told me they are interested in doing elimination communication, but thought their babies were too old to start! While I’m not an expert in beginning EC with an older baby, since I did EC with my kids from birth, I do have an idea of what it would be like.

Let’s say here that an older baby is between 6-18 months (very roughly, as all babies are so very unique). Babies younger than about 6 months can be started on EC in the tradition methods. Babies between 6 and 18 months are getting more mobile and also getting better at communicating with cues, words, pointing, etc. But, they are still very eager to please. Often, a child shows signs of interest in the potty around 15 months, but parents are told that they are too young, so they won’t take them to the toilet. But, here is where you need to listen to your baby. If they want to go, TAKE THEM!!! Sometimes waiting until 2 (which is the current trend) means that you miss a very golden window of opportunity and then toilet training gets delayed.

Margo always let me know when her dolls had to go to the potty.

Here are some tips for starting EC on an older baby:

They Need to See it To Believe it!

  • Give them lots of diaper free time. Giving them diaper free time, not only allows them to be ‘free’ but also gives you a chance to watch them and see what they do before they’re going to ‘go’. Choose a designated area, like the kitchen or outside in the garden (good fertilizer), where a mess won’t be a big deal. Most babies, especially those who wear disposables have no idea what it feels like when they go. They can’t see it, they can barely feel that they’re wet because the diaper keeps them so dry. Keep the potty nearby, if they go, just say, ‘Oh, you’ve gone wee, here next time, sit on the potty, this is where we go wee, etc’ (without startling them). Babies understand way more than you think! Plus, imagine how annoying wearing a diaper would be ALL THE TIME, imagine if you always had to wear a maternity pad, it would certainly get uncomfortable.
  • Get them familiar with where the pee and poo comes out.  Talk to them about it. Again, if they’re constantly in a diaper, they might actually not even know what goes on ‘down there’.
  • When they do a wee (a lot of babies will go right before they get in the tub, or as you stick their toes in the water), make a little ‘pssss’ sound and just tap lightly where it comes out. This is usually the technique reserved for younger babies, but would also work on the older ones too, or if they can understand, just tell them with words.  The next time you sit them on the potty, you can make that cue sound, ‘pssss’. Also, you can explain what just happened, then maybe show them the potty, or if they’re keen, sit them down on it for a second or two, say, ‘next, time you have to go, you can go here‘.  Or, just tell them ‘pee‘.  You know best how to communicate with your child, so however they understand.

Open Door Policy

  • Take your baby to the toilet with you, show them what you do. What is especially helpful is if there is an older sibling who is being potty trained, or already potty trained.


  • Half of the time, it’s us, the parents, who don’t know when their baby is eliminating. Watch for signs… Obvious signs are for the poos.  or example, when my daughter was nine months old, if she had to do a poo, and she was sitting in her high chair (food in food out.. obviously), she would lean back and make a funny face with a double chin and wouldn’t accept any food. I would take her to the toilet, she would poo, and then, we were both eating again!

Equipment and Location

  • To a baby, a big toilet can seem scary! You can buy a cheap plastic potty for under $10.
  • You don’t have to limit yourself to the potty! Sinks, bushes, showers, the garden,,, all of the places are acceptable!
  • Choose a place that is quiet and comfy. Don’t be afraid to put it next to their bed or even in the middle of the living room.  Even the bathroom floor and be scary for them, so choose a nice spot. Next the change table is ideal. I used to put our potty right on a table next to where I changed Margo, so I didn’t have to bend down. You can keep a towel or waterproof mat under the potty too.
  • Buy some cheap reusable training plants, like padded undies. They prevent a little mess, covers them up a bit and makes it easier to take on/off. Plus would feel so good after always having to wear a thick, padded diaper. In America, you can buy Gerber brand, size 2T and 3T, in Australia, Best and Less sells them in size 1 and 2.

Margo on her ‘table potty’. You have to watch them closely if they want to jump off, but it does save your back a bit.

It’s all about timing!

  • After a nap or sleep. Just after waking (don’t wait too long, but don’t yank their clothes off right away), talking gently, just sit them on the little potty. As a baby gets older, their bladders and bowels are able to hold for longer and you will find that they often wake up dry. Try the little tapping in the spot where the wee comes out and make the ‘psss’ sound. Or, if they’re old enough to understand, just talk to them about it.
  • When they look like their about to do a big poo (without panicking) take them to the potty.  Ok, I know, it could be a bit messy, but very quickly, they will learn that you are going to take them. The #2s are sometimes the easier ones to catch.
  • Before you leave the house, just let them sit on the potty for a second or two, even if they don’t go after many attempts, once they get used to this potty idea they will get into the habit.

Cloth Diapers (if you’re really not into letting them wear the training pants around the house)

  • Okay, I know if you’ve been using disposables all along, you don’t want to invest in cloth diapers and you have no idea what to do! Well, you would only need a few, put them on the baby around the house, they will know RIGHT AWAY when they’ve gone. If you buy the kind that are prefolds or terry cloth, you can use them later for rags. There are numerous websites that sell modern cloth diapers (or MCN, modern cloth nappies in Australia). Here, I did a bit of research, for friends in America, you can order prefolds here, or I think my mom said you can buy them in Target for cheap.  In Australia, you can buy cheap terry clothes from Big W.  You can also buy cheap one-size fits all ones off eBay, or if you want to go classey, just do a search for ‘cloth nappies’ or ‘cloth diapers’ depending on what you call them in your country and you will find multitudes of online shopping sites.

Embrace a Little Mess

  • I know, it all sounds a bit messy, but better to have a little one year old mess to clean up than a three-year old dump, if you get what I’m saying.  Better now than later.

Trust in Your Instincts

  • You know your baby better than anybody. Trust that you understand when they need to ‘go’.  You will see that in a very short time, you will become in tune with their elimination needs.

Saves YOU Time

  • When I used to tell people I was taking my baby to the potty, they had this image that I spent hours a day holding my baby’s bottom over a bucket just to see when they would go. NOT TRUE! When Margo was out of diapers at 12 months, I can’t imagine anything saving me more time. Again, better to deal with it sooner than later.

Could Be Why They’re Waking at Night!

  • Babies (or anyone) won’t pee in a deep sleep. It’s actually a reason why they often stir at night, is when they have to go. A lot of nights when Margo was around 12-18 months, the only reason she would wake was because she had to go pee! So, I had a potty next to the bed, as soon as I took her, she was back asleep. Even if a baby uses a disposable diaper, they still may feel uncomfortable with a big wee in there. You may want to try it once they get used to using a potty.

Keep a Potty in the Car

  • I still use our potty in the back of the car, and my older one is 5  It just provides some continuety in the ECing when you’re out and about.
Car Potty

Back of the car, after the markets.

Trouble shooting

Sometimes children resist sitting on the toilet/potty, even if you know they have to go. When this happens, it’s generally because they are too tense and have some emotional things going on. Could be overstimulated, over tired, frustrated, etc. To remedy this, I highly recommend reading a little bit about how tantrums and crying can help release tension and will allow a child to eliminate easily, without resistance.

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