Life Without Disposable Nappies – Part 2: How To

♥ by Eva & Julien

After the introduction to this topic (see “Life Without Disposable Nappies – Part 1: Intro” if you missed it), we now want to tell you more about the practical approach. So how does it work?

EC is not difficult, but it takes time and patience. You need to be really present around your child, and watch its expressions and behaviour more than you would do otherwise. This also immensely helps bonding with your child. After a while, you will be able to recognise patterns as to when it is time for your little one to eliminate. Please note that EC is NOT potty training! EC doesn’t involve any rewarding, for example, when the baby has successfully done its business into the potty, and certainly no pressure nor punishment! You just do it as naturally as you’d nurse your baby. You read the signals, you hold your baby over the potty, it eliminates, and that’s it. If you misread the signals, no worries. You just put the clothes back on, and no drama. If you missed the signals or your baby didn’t signal a pee, no worries. You change your child, all good. If it goes on the floor (oh, summer time is great to do EC), you smile, you clean, all fine.

But how to start?

The best thing to do is to start as early as possible, ideally right at or a couple of days after the birth. But if you find that too early, take some weeks to get to know your baby, or some months. You start with EC when you feel ready. Some parents even start at six months. After that it’s also possible, but it’ll be a bit more difficult. And if you don’t feel ready at all, just start and the feeling ready will come.
You can start by offering your baby the potty in standard situations, or you just take the nappy off, rest your child on a towel and observe it (or both). You will notice that babies have their own rhythm to eliminate, that they’ll eliminate in certain situations (the so-called standard situations) and that most of them signal it in a certain way (it’s also true that some babies don’t signal or very little; in this case you can always stick to the standard situations). The rhythm, situations and signals will change over time, but if you communicate with your baby, you’ll always catch up. You’ll get used to the rhythm and at some point just know that your baby needs to eliminate. And you’ll subconsciously recognise the signals. Sometimes it’s also by sheer intuition – you just know that your baby has a need to eliminate and you act on this impulse.

Standard situations are for example:

  • after waking up
  • before/while/after nursing/feeding
  • after taking baby out of the baby wrap or car seat
  • after a bath
  • before leaving/after arriving at home
  • when changing baby

Common signals are:

  • baby starts to whine/cry
  • restlessness/increased wriggling or activity, or the opposite – baby freezes, stares into space
  • grimacing
  • making bubbles with the mouth
  • farting
  • baby starts to wriggle in the baby wrap, wants to get out
  • certain noises

Okay, so you’ve recognised a signal. But how do you help your baby to eliminate now?

There are several ways in which to hold your baby. Generally, it’s important to hold your baby in a way that you don’t pull on any limbs, that it’s not in an upright sitting position and that it’s back and head are supported.

The very first step is to undress your baby and take the nappy off (if you’re using a backup – a lot of parents aren’t). I know, d’uh, but I thought I’d mention it.
If you want to hold your baby over the potty or the sink, you can either rest its back and head against your chest and support the bum and legs with both hands. Or you rest it on one arm, with your hand supporting the bum, and you hold the legs out of the way with the other hand. I personally prefer the second option for really young babies. When your baby gets older (and heavier) and has a better head control, you’ll most probably automatically switch to the first option.
When you nurse, you clamp the potty between your thighs before you start nursing and then you put the baby in nursing position and adjust it so it’s bum is over/on the potty).

Some parents also like to sit with their baby on the toilet. You can do that either the right or the wrong way round. You rest baby’s back against your chest and support the bum/thighs with your hands. Make sure that whatever it needs to eliminate goes in the toilet 😉 This works well with babies who don’t pee like a fountain. Otherwise it can get messy. But try it, maybe it works just fine for you.

It can also help to make a certain sound, like a trigger sound, when the baby pees or poops, but you don’t have to. For pee, you can make a “sssshhhh” sound, like running water, or “mmmhhh” for poop, like when you press. You can also say “pee” or “poo”, or anything else you see fit. We used to say “Pipikacka” (German for both). Some people also blow on the back of the head or kiss it. Something we’d recommend though, is to signal. You can use the signal for pee, poop, or potty. We used the latter, since babies do know that they need to eliminate, but they can’t yet say for sure what it is, so we thought the general sign for potty works best. It’s truly amazing to see how a four-months-old baby is already able to interact with you.

Ideally, your baby will do what it has to do. You clean it with a little bit of water, put the clothes back on, et voilà!

We recommend that you don’t reward your child when it successfully eliminated, because it might end up to try and go to the toilet just to please you/be rewarded, which would then be potty training, and that is not what elimination communication is about (the word “communication” is really important). You’ll most certainly feel happy and proud, though, that the communication works so well between you and you can express that, of course. You can say, “look, this was great team work” or “I’m happy you could relieve yourself, you surely feel better now”. I remember someone saying once, “just imagine you’d see your partner on the toilet, and go – oh, wow, you just peed, that’s so great!” It would just feel completely wrong. It’s really only about communicating with your baby and reacting to its needs.

There is one catch if you want to call it that: With almost every new thing your child learns, the signals are likely to change, or it might be so busy discovering the world around it that it’ll simply be too busy to communicate or signal. In these “phases”, most of what your child eliminates will go in the backup or on the floor. That’s perfectly normal and don’t get upset about it, because the communication will come back. Sometimes children won’t communicate for months, and then one day totally out of the blue they’ll bring you the potty and tell you that they need to pee now. As with everything else child-related, time and patience are the key to success.

Now there is one important thing left to mention. So you might be completely convinced of EC, and you really want to do it, but you just aren’t in a position to stay at home with your child all day and your nanny doesn’t want to do EC and in the kindergarten nobody’s ever heard about it. But you still want to do it. Don’t worry, there’s something called ‘part-time EC’. It basically means that you do EC with your child when it’s at home/with you, and for the rest of the time you use washable nappies. This way, you can still keep up the communication with your child, and if you also use washable nappies it won’t forget how it feels when it needs to eliminate. At least in Germany most kindergartens don’t have any problem with using washable nappies, and if yours doesn’t know the concept yet, then usually there’s room for discussion and finding a solution. Don’t be too shy to ask, usually people are way more open to this topic than one might think.

Basically, that is all there is to it. You might be wondering now if there is any special equipment that you may need to do EC, how it works exactly with washable nappies or where you can find more information about this exciting topic. I’ll try and cover all this in parts 3, 4 & 5.


  1. Hey Eva, loved your post. I do this with our little one, too. But I started really late with 8 months. However I am proud that part time EC works 1-2 times per day. The day care unfortunately don’t want to try it, neither will that accept washable nappies. But now at least he “tells us” when he’s done his business in his nappy, not bad with 18 months I find. Lots of patience needed… but such great little rewards we get.
    Happy travelling and happy New Year!


    1. Thank you so much, Pia! We really appreciate this feedback. It’s so great to see that more and more families do EC. We hope one day it’ll be just as normal as putting disposable nappies is now. It’s a shame, though, that the day care is so narrow-minded. We think it’s getting better, but then seeing how difficult it is to get a place from what we’ve heard, you can’t choose either… Anyway, it’s an amazing success for you already and you can be proud of your little one 🙂 Happy 2018 for you guys, too!


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