‘Smug Mum’ is an insult that seems to be bandied around a fair bit, something that seems to be particularly aimed at people that follow attachment parenting, or who breastfeed, or stay at home. I certainly wasn’t feeling very smug when I hadn’t washed or dressed for days on end, pacing the kitchen with a baby strapped to my chest. A baby who hadn’t stopped feeding for the past six hours, and yet still wouldn’t put on weight. Who hadn’t slept more than twenty minutes in a row, and when she finally would sleep I’d be desperately trying to express, to get just a few drips out. There was nothing smug about how I was feeling. I’d look out of the kitchen window and see other mothers walking past, with their baby blissfully sleeping in their pram, wearing proper clothes, clothes that didn’t look like you could get a boob out of easily, with their hair brushed, and their make-up done. They looked pretty smug to me at that point. But of course that’s the problem with mothering behind closed doors, parenting in a bubble rather than a village. We see snap shots of motherhood; on Instagram, Facebook, through the windows of our kitchen, and we make assumptions about other people’s lives, their experiences, their feelings.
I had never heard of Elimination Communication before I had a baby. It’s something I came across whilst reading more about attachment parenting as I tried to find ways to survive my nuclear bomb baby. I thought it was all about getting your baby out of nappies whilst they were still barely holding their heads up, about spending every second scrutinising your baby for signs that they might be thinking about pooping at any moment, about being perfectly in tune with your perfect baby at all times. I thought it was the ultimate Smug Mum move, and something that was totally unachievable for any normal human being.
At around eight months old my second baby got terrible nappy rash. We left his nappy off and put him to play on towels on the floor. In his first days it had seemed that the second I took his nappy off he would wee on me, and whenever I took a nappy off it would always be soaked, so I had the idea that babies literally spent their whole time weeing, like it was a constant open tap pouring out of them. I thought that if we left his nappy off the whole house would be urine soaked in seconds, dripping down the walls. And then, after two days with no nappy and towels everywhere, I realised that actually it was only every few hours. We had a potty lying around that my daughter had never used, and out of interest I sat him on it. He seemed very happy sitting on there, and after a couple of goes he did his very first wee on the potty. We all cheered him on!
I started reading more about Elimination Communication, got hold of a book called The Diaper Free Baby. It emphasised how this didn’t need to be an all or nothing approach. That you could still use nappies and the potty from any age. I learnt that it was more about finding ways to communicate with your baby, and learn their habits and routines. And anything that meant less poopy nappies, less wriggly nappy changes, and less sore bums, well it was worth a try. Particularly since he looked so proud of himself sat on the potty.
So, in essence, Elimination Communication is a massively annoying and smug title for something that I now understand most mothers had been doing for centuries, until that particular whisper got lost, and all we heard was disposable nappies and toddler potty training, with star charts and pull-ups. Its simply about providing opportunities for your baby to do their wees and poos on a potty instead of in a nappy. There are certain key times when they are most likely to do that, when they’ve just woken up in the morning, or after naps. When they have finished a feed or got out of their high chair. When they first come out of the sling or their car seat or pram. Just before or after a bath. And then there may be other times that you realise is particularly common for your baby. So at those points, you sit them on the potty. And see what happens. To helps the process along, and to emphasise the communication aspect of the process you talk to your baby, “You’re sitting on the potty, oh you’re doing a wee wee” and you make a special noise, we used “psh psh psh” for wees and “puh puh puh” for poos. And we used a hand signal which stood for potty. Every time he sat on the potty, and every time he did anything on it, we use the noises and the sign.
Within a matter of days we were regularly getting wees and poos on the potty, all through the day. We’d keep his nappy off in the house, with baby legs on to try to stop him freezing.
We had remarkably few accidents, and the ones we had were pretty easy to sort out. Easier than the pooey nappies for sure. It quickly became second nature. There is lots of talk in Elimination Communication about also being able to recognise your baby’s ‘signals’, signs that they need to go. I have to say I never really found myself picking up on these too well, maybe he just didn’t give them out, maybe I was not attentive enough, but just offering the potty at key times meant we were catching most of them.
There were definitely times that it didn’t go so well. We started it just as he started crawling, which probably wasn’t ideal as he was often too distracted to want to sit down for very long. We did sometimes have to get inventive with ways to distract him long enough to actually go, and he’s still a fan of a little reading material on the pot!
Sometimes it would be impossible to distract him, and sometimes there would be little tantrums, and definitely sometimes we would give up on it all together. We had a kind of rule that if we’d had more than three accidents in a row he’d just go back into nappies for the rest of the day. We were using nappies always when we left the house, and nappies overnight. And we still do this more than a year later. We do find nowadays though that those nappies are dry when we take them off more often than not, and he is now asking to take them off and go for a wee pretty often. I can’t remember his last pooey nappy and he rarely has accidents. Nowadays we don’t sit him on the potty at all, and rarely ask him if he wants to go, we just have potties in every room and let him get on with it by himself, and he does. It’s so cute when he toddles off with his nudey bottom and sits himself down. Once I was on the loo myself with him playing in the kitchen. Then he bumps on the bathroom door, and carries in his little potty with a special present for me. I may have felt just a teeny bit smug at that moment!
For us, with this particular baby, Elimination Communication hasn’t felt like a challenge, it hasn’t felt like a symbol of perfect motherhood, or being perfectly attuned to my perfect baby. It has felt like something that happened pretty accidentally, which ended up making our life easier, and that we all got along with. It wasn’t a fight or something that I had to worry about and stress over. And that’s pretty rare when it comes to me and motherhood. So I have definitely embraced it, and look forward to the end of nappies all together. I definitely see that possibility coming our way soon. Nothing really has come easily to me as a mother, it’s strange that something I thought was the preserve of the very smuggest of mothers, was actually one of the few things that has.