Yes! You CAN potty train a newborn
New to Elimination Communication (EC)? Start here. Then read on to learn about newborn Elimination Communication and all there is to know about this amazing stage in your baby’s life!
Starting EC with a newborn can seem overwhelming! However, it’s often the easiest time to begin for two reasons:
- Newborns have an instinct not to soil themselves
- Newborns pee and poop a LOT
If you wait until your baby is older to start, your child has been conditioned to pee and poop in a diaper (a habit which must be un-learned) and your child may not pee or poop as often. Older babies are also much more distracted by crawling, walking, or whatever skill they’re currently working on. Starting EC with older babies is absolutely possible, but it requires a different strategy.
Newborn Elimination Communication can be as simple as holding your baby over the toilet at every diaper change. Because newborns pee and poop so frequently, you’ll have dozens of opportunities to try every day. And since newborns instinctively pee and poop the second their diapers come off, you’ll likely have success using this strategy alone. You may even be surprised to find that your baby starts holding it for the potty after only a couple days of this!
If you’re considering starting EC with your newborn, I encourage you to take the leap! As I always say, there are no rules to EC. You can offer the potty as much as suits your lifestyle and parenting philosophy and you can always do more or less. Babies are smart and adaptable and won’t be “confused” if you only offer the potty sometimes and use a diaper the rest of the time.
Ready to get started? Read on!
I’m on my third EC baby, and with each one we started earlier. My first we started at 6 weeks, my second started at 2 weeks, and with baby A we made it a goal to start from birth.
One reason to begin at birth is to catch the meconium. Catching the meconium seems to be an elusive, glittering EC trophy because you get to avoid scraping the black tarry substance off your baby’s bottom and you don’t have to worry about it staining your cloth diapers. Of course, baby A passed her meconium before we left L&D, so we missed it. But at least it didn’t stain her cloth diapers!
If you manage to catch your baby’s meconium, that’s awesome! If you miss it or don’t feel up to trying to catch it immediately after birth, don’t feel bad. Remember, there are no rules to EC.
Getting to Know Your Baby
You’ll spend the first few weeks of your newborn’s life getting to know each other. You’ll learn his hunger cues, his sleep cues, and his pee/poop cues. By simply paying attention to your baby, you can begin newborn Elimination Communication before you ever bring out a potty. Does he tend to pee or poop right after a feed? Or does he like to nap first and then go? What kind of face does he make when it’s time to poop?
You can do this kind of casual observation from the comfort of your couch or bed. Once you’re up for it, simply switch from reacting to a dirty/wet diaper to anticipating it. Great times to offer the potty are after feeds, naps, and prolonged sitting in the car seat, bouncer seat, stroller, etc. Or, if you can’t discern any pattern or cues, simply start offering the toilet at every diaper change. Newborns are basically pee/poop factories, so even with dumb luck you’ll eventually catch something.
Whether it’s successful or not, each potty trip is a learning opportunity for both you and baby: You learn his timing/cues and he learns to wait until he’s offered the potty to go. Eventually you will fall into a rhythm. Both of my boys were almost completely “poop trained” by two months old.
Observations of My Baby
We started baby A when we got home from the hospital at a couple days old. We took her potty when we felt up to it and simply observed her in a diaper the rest of the time. This kind of casual, stress-free approach allowed us to learn a great deal about our daughter’s timing and cues. Now that she’s a couple weeks old, here are some observations we’ve made about her:
- She usually likes to feed right when she wakes up, but if she refuses to latch, squirms, and makes a “poop face,” it’s time to go.
- She tends to pop on and off the breast and squirm if she needs to pee or has a wet diaper.
- Like all my babies, she needs a pottytunity first thing in the morning.
- Sometimes she will poop a little bit into her diaper. When we hear that happen and take her immediately to the toilet, she will usually poop a lot more.
- Like all my babies, she needs time on the toilet to be completely finished. Usually, she’ll let me know she’s done by starting to fuss. If she fusses as soon as I hold her over the toilet, this means she either doesn’t need to go or she has a more pressing need like hunger. We never force her to stay on the potty if she’s upset.
- We have less success with pottytunities when she’s cluster feeding, having a growth spurt, or during the “witching hour”. We have the most success in the morning when everyone is happier and more alert.
Where to Poop, Where to Poop…
One of the great things about newborn Elimination Communication is how flexible the process is. You can do as much or as little as you like, and you can use pretty much anything as a potty, from an actual toilet to a bowl from the kitchen. Your main goal is to recognize your child’s instinct not to soil herself; along the way, your child will learn to wait for your cue to go. At this age, it doesn’t really matter where the actual event takes place.
Let’s go over some of your choices in detail:
The Toilet: For those who think poop is yucky.
This is me! I think poop is yucky and I want as little contact with it as possible. Toilet poops = one flush and it’s gone!
We keep a changing pad in a bassinet in the bathroom so that the toilet is nearby for every diaper change. The bassinet is roomy enough to hold extra Flappy-Nappy diapers and inserts, wipes, extra outfits, and other essentials. The pad is also a comfortable spot for baby A to enjoy some diaper-free time after she uses the toilet.
Baby Potty: For those who’ve got one and want to use it.
Your newborn won’t be able to sit unassisted on a baby potty for months, but if you don’t want to sacrifice a kitchen bowl for the cause, the baby potty was made to take one for the team. As an added bonus, the splash guard can help with aiming, especially if you’ve got a little boy. I keep one baby potty in the living room and another one in the car for traveling.
Top Hat Potty: For those who want to be LEGIT.
This device was designed for EC. Like the name suggests, this little potty is shaped like a top hat. You put the narrow end between your knees with the opening facing up and then hold baby over it. If you want to be extra fancy, you can even buy a cozy seat cover for it.
The Sink: For those who think poop is yucky but have bad backs.
If this is you, you might appreciate using the sink because you can remain comfortably standing before rinsing the yuckiness down the drain. Your baby can also entertain herself by watching herself in the mirror. The only problem with this is that it only works when your baby is exclusively milk fed and her poops are liquid. Oh, and if you’ve got ancient plumbing in your house like we do, proceed with caution. If you’re worried, you can always put the potty in the sink to catch any poops.
An Open Diaper: For those who don’t make it to the potty on time.
Remember, there are no rules to EC. If your baby starts going during a diaper change, make your cue noise and just let her go into the open diaper on the changing pad. You’re still respecting your child’s needs and learning from the experience. It also makes cleanup easier if the poop goes out into the diaper and not smeared all over baby’s bum—just be ready to point your baby’s penis down into the diaper if you’ve got a boy. This is also a great option if your baby tends to protest being held over the potty or toilet. Some babies just don’t like the Newborn Elimination Communication Hold, and that’s OK. Work with the baby you’ve got!
A Bowl, Solo Cup, Bucket, etc.: For those who want to try Newborn Elimination Communication from the comfort of their couches without buying anything special.
You are the true EC warriors.
Newborn Elimination Communication: How to Begin
Unless you’re using an open diaper while your baby lies on the changing pad for pottytunities, you’re going to want to hold him over your chosen receptacle in the Newborn Elimination Communication Hold. The newborn EC hold puts your baby into a comfortable squat while supporting his head and back against your chest.
With his back supported against your torso, grasp one leg in each hand by the thighs so that he is in a squatting position in your arms. Hold him over the potty of your choice. If you’ve got a boy, free up one of your fingers to point his penis down into the potty.
When using the sink as a potty, simply stand over it with him in this position. For bowls, potties, or other freestanding receptacles, place the potty on your lap, the floor, or bathroom counter. Then, hold baby over it. If you’re using the toilet, you can sit backwards on the toilet with him between your legs so that everything lands in the toilet. You can also kneel or squat on the floor beside the toilet as you hold him over the bowl.
Whenever you begin the pottytunity, make your chosen cue noise. Usually this is a “pss pss pss” sound. You can use the same cue for pees and poops or have a distinct cue for each. It’s also never too early to start talking to your baby about the process: “You went pee! Now you’re going poop.” Many parents also use the ASL sign for toilet before, during, and/or after the potty trip. Different people have different philosophies on whether you should praise a baby for using the potty, so use your own discretion on that.
Newborn Elimination Communication at Night
Should you do EC at night? This really depends on your child and your philosophy about sleep. Newborn babies wake frequently to feed because their tummies are very tiny and milk is digested fast. Likely this means that you are already up a lot at night for feeds and/or diaper changes. Depending on how you feel about sleep, you might feel one of two ways about nighttime EC:
- You are already sleep-deprived enough as it is and don’t have the capacity to worry about nighttime EC. OR
- You’re already up doing a diaper change in the middle of the night anyway, so you may as well offer the potty while you’re at it.
For my first and second babies, nighttime EC seemed like more of a hassle than it was worth. Sleep was our priority and both of our boys didn’t seem to mind using a diaper at night. We didn’t worry about nights until we were ready to tackle night training when our boys were close to two years old.
Baby A is a different story! She absolutely does not like having a wet diaper and will try to hold it at night until we offer the potty. We discovered as soon as we brought her home that if she fusses at night but won’t accept the breast, she needs to pee (and sometimes poop). Dad will take her to “change” her diaper and discover that it’s completely dry! Then she will pee as soon as he holds her over the toilet. We have had many mornings where she has woken up with a totally dry diaper that never needed changing in the night. In her case, offering the potty at night has lead to more peaceful nights for everyone.
Tips for Newborn Elimination Communication at Night
- If you’re co-sleeping and don’t want to have to get out of bed to go potty, keep the potty and fresh diapers close to the bed.
- You can line the potty with a cloth diaper so that pee doesn’t splash everywhere and make a mess while you’re fumbling around half-awake.
- Have a nightlight on nearby so that you can see while still keeping things dark and calm. I recommend using red-colored lights because red light assists in melatonin production and can help everyone go back to sleep faster.
- If you plan to get up and use the toilet instead of a potty, keep the changing pad and extra diapers in the bathroom and have nightlights in every room and/or hall.
Some Common Concerns
My baby screams every time I hold her in the newborn Elimination Communication hold!
Some babies really hate the newborn EC hold and it’s not entirely clear why. One possibility is that you’re offering when she doesn’t need to go or needs a feed first; this problem often goes away with better timing on your part. If you’ve tried changing up your timing and she’s still protesting, try letting her lie on the changing pad over an open diaper for pottytunities. If she finds the newborn hold uncomfortable, then this may be a good solution. Keep trying the newborn hold every so often in case she outgrows this quirk; eventually she’ll get big enough to sit properly on a baby potty or toilet insert.
My baby doesn’t have any cues.
Some babies are very sneaky poopers. Many babies don’t cue at all for pee (both my boys were like this). If this is the case for you, you’ll need to rely on timing. You may find that your baby starts cueing more when she gets older.
My baby doesn’t have much of a pattern.
Timing is a great EC tool IF you have a regular pooper. At only a few weeks old, baby A still doesn’t have much of a pattern for pooping (she sometimes even poops at night). My oldest baby settled into a pattern of pooping every time he woke up by about 4-6 weeks. My second baby was an irregular pooper and still is to this day.
If you’re lucky enough to have a regular pooper, this makes EC very easy because you can rely on timing alone. You’ll need to focus much more on cues if you’ve got an irregular pooper like my second son. If you’re struggling with cues AND timing, then it’s best to stick to easy catches for now: After sleeps, after meals, after prolonged sitting (car seat, stroller, baby carrier, etc.), and after diaper changes.
How do I wipe my baby after using the toilet?
When your baby is bigger, you can lay her tummy-down across your lap after using the toilet and wipe her bottom that way. When she’s even bigger, she can wipe it herself! In the meantime, it can be helpful to have a changing pad near your potty of choice. We keep our changing pad next to the toilet and transfer baby A there for wiping after going potty. To prevent unpleasant drips between the potty and the changing pad, I keep a small stack of cloth wipes nearby that I can hold under her bottom when we’re going back and forth.
My baby ONLY poops while breastfeeding!
First, keep in mind that every phase in your baby’s life is just that—a phase. Your little one will not poop while feeding forever. If you aren’t stressed about it, you can use this phase as a chance to just communicate—make your cue sound when she’s going poop and talk to her about it. You can also try offering a pottytunity right before/after nursing to see if that helps. Some moms keep a potty right beside their preferred nursing spot and offer while the baby stays latched to the breast. This can take a bit of nursing gymnastics; a top hat potty can really help and you will definitely want easy-open Flappy-Nappy diapers so that you can open the diaper quickly with just one hand.
You can also try gently unlatching your baby and offering the potty as soon as she starts to go. Many babies will willingly unlatch when they realize their elimination needs will be met and the breast will be offered again as soon as they’re done. Keep in mind that a successful breastfeeding relationship should be prioritized over EC; if you’re struggling to nurse, get help early and often and don’t interrupt a session to try to catch a poop unless breastfeeding is well established.
My baby only poops once a week!
I updated this article once baby A was over 6 weeks old, because it is very common for babies to start spacing out their poops at this age. Although not all babies do this (my oldest pooped after every nap like clockwork until he started solids), many babies will suddenly go several days without pooping once they hit that 6-8 week mark. Some go as long as a week without pooping!
Although this is normal, it can be frustrating when you’re doing EC. Baby A went a week without pooping at 6 weeks on the dot. I knew to expect this (my second kid did it, too), so I didn’t freak out; I just offered plenty of potty opportunities and caught lots of pees in the process. Of course, after patiently waiting for the inevitable poop, she ended up pooping in the car seat on the way home from a friend’s house–the one time we couldn’t get to her in time!
If you’re experiencing this, keep two things in mind: First, even though your baby’s poops are coming at unpredictable intervals, they will still likely come at predicable times, like after feeds, after sleeps, and after (or during!) prolonged sitting in the car seat, stroller, or baby carrier. Keep offering at those times and you will likely catch something!
Second, pay attention to cues. Baby may start grunting, straining, passing gas, making a “poop face”, popping on and off the breast, etc. When you offer the potty, give baby plenty of time to go as it can take a minute to get going and then work through a poop that’s several days in the making.
Don’t feel bad if you miss a few poops. Remember: Celebrate the catches and don’t count the misses!
How do I dress my baby to make Newborn Elimination Communication easier?
For all ages and stages of EC, I recommend using Flappy-Nappies and Chappy-Nappies for reliable diaper backups that open quickly when it’s time to go potty. Flappy-Nappies are drop-flap style diapers that open from the front or back; Chappy-Nappies are crotchless pants that you can attach the diaper to. Gowns are also a great option for easy diaper access specifically for newborns; gowns allow much more room for bulky cloth diapers than zippered footies.
That’s about it!
Did you do EC with a newborn? Do you have questions about EC for a newborn? Let us know in the comments!