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EC Cues and Signals

In How on 3 April 2013 at 2:36 pm

Elimination communication is based on signals from the baby and cues from the carer.  Babies indicate in many ways that they need to pass urine or stools.  Signals may include squirming, grunting, crying, yawning, sudden change of expression, characteristic kicking motion, or other movement, sound or expression that you notice the baby making.  At first you may only recognize after the fact that this was in any way linked to peeing or pooping.  One fine day you will find yourself saying, “I know that look!”

The signal can also be something baby does not do.  I noticed that my daughter, at 3 days of age, would hold back some poo until the diaper was removed.   I did not think much of it at the time but in the coming weeks I noticed this quite often.  Whether I removed her diaper as soon as I heard her go or 5-10 minutes afterward, she would go some more once the diaper came off.  Even if I had not heard or smelled anything at all but was just checking, or getting her ready for bath, once the diaper came off, she relieved herself.  What I understood from this was that she did not like to pee or poop into her own clothes or into a diaper that was wrapped around her bottom.

You may wonder, are these signals or involuntary actions?   If involuntary, can it really be called communication?  I think that when we see a baby’s fussing, squirming and other actions as similar to a child’s saying “I need to go to the bathroom,” then the way we respond can help baby associate these calls for help with the resulting hygiene practices – being taken to potty and cleaned promptly.  What started as an involuntary signal gradually turns into communication.

By noticing and responding, you let baby know that you have understood.  The satisfaction of being understood is encouraging.  As baby trusts you to listen, baby communicates more.  On the contrary, if you do not listen, and baby gets no response to his cries or other indicators, baby will eventually give up signaling and accept that the diaper is the place to pee and poop and see no reason to raise a fuss about this previously disturbing event.

You can also initiate with the help of cues.  Cues that you give may include

  • a “ssss” sound
  • a grunting sound
  • sound of running water
  • removing clothes and placing baby over sink / bowl / potty
  • few drops of water on baby’s back or bottom, once s/he is seated or held over the bowl or potty.
  • A hand gesture or a phrase like “time for potty”

These signals will be gradually associated with potty time and eventually repeated back as baby gains verbal and non-verbal communications skills.  By the time our daughter was a year old, we had developed a hand signal that we used to cue and she used to tell us when she wanted to go to the potty.  It was like pulling a chain, and we sometimes accompanied the gesture with a grunting noise.

You may pick up on less articulate signals.  An older baby may resist being dressed or being taken outside when he needs to go to the bathroom.  At such times, once he has gone to the bathroom, you will find that he is no longer unwilling to get dressed or go out – in fact she may be eager to do so.

You can cue baby to go to the potty at regular times like just after waking up, before or after nursing, just before going out, just after reaching a destination, just after coming home and before going to bed.   Simply offer the potty (by putting baby on the potty, ready to go if he needs to) and use one of your sounds or phrases that you associate with potty time.  With experience you will get to know baby’s timings and can offer the potty without waiting for baby to signal.

If baby’s quieter signals go unheard, baby will eventually cry, fuss, or scream in order to be heard.   By the same token, when you and baby learn to communicate, it will serve you well not only when baby needs to eliminate, but also when s/he wishes to eat, sleep, go outside or get involved in some exciting thing that you are doing such as the laundry.  Or wiping the floor.  Which you will be doing whenever you have an ec-miss.   But who’s counting?  That brings us to the key to ec – the c stands for communication, not catches!  


Alternate names for elimination communication are diaper-free hygiene and natural infant hygiene.  Some refer to elimination timing, which is based less on communication and more on biorhythm.

Some use the phrase “infant potty training” but others say that when you don’t do diaper training, then there is no potty training.  There is just “offering the potty.”  You may also hear the phrase, “potty learning,” regardless of age.

You may also want to read these stories of infants on the potty:

Tinkle Time on the Little White Potty

Potty Time Creativity

  1. […] 4. Observe what baby does before and while eliminating.  It could be a particular expression, squirm, yawn, or gesture.  You can also make cueing sounds when you take baby to potty.  Read more at EC Cues and Signals. […]


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