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Parents Ditch Diapers for Au Naturel Toileting Trend

By Amy Zimmer | April 18, 2013 7:09am
 Sarah Longwell-Stevens' son when he was 2-months-old being "ECed," held over a sink to go to the bathroom.
Sarah Longwell-Stevens' son when he was 2-months-old being "ECed," held over a sink to go to the bathroom.
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Sarah Longwell-Stevens

GREENPOINT — Pardis Partow decided to give her year-old son, Parker, some diaper-free time at home — much to the consternation of her Yorkshire terrier.

Because of Parker’s terrible diaper rash, the Bedford-Stuyvesant lawyer-turned-Reiki healer became interested in “elimination communication” — or EC, as it’s called— responding to her son’s cues for when to go to the bathroom instead of having to rely on a diaper.

The hope is for the parent to “catch” pees and poops — whether atop open-cloth diapers, toilets, sinks or behind the multitude of parked cars on city streets.


But as Partow learned, often there are “misses.”

“I kept seeing him leave a trail of pee,” Partow, 41, said of her son. “The dog looked at me and said, ‘This isn’t fair. Why can he do that?’”

Partow shared her experience with a group of nearly a dozen moms sitting with their babies last month at an EC meet-up at Greenpoint’s Caribou Baby.

The boutique, which recently began hosting the meet-up regularly on the second Tuesday afternoon of each month, advised participants to come prepared. “Please bring your own potty (if you'd like) and a towel or blanket to catch any spills. There will also be access to a restroom.”

EC parents make “sisss” sounds or grunt noises when they see their babies going to the bathroom, and over time the kids start to associate those sounds with feeling relieved, explained Sarah Longwell-Stevens, an early childhood educator and postpartum doula who led the meet-up and brought a small portable potty for her 1-year-old daughter.

Once that association is made, the parents can hold their kid over a toilet when making the noise to cue an "elimination," she said.

“The other day we accidentally left the house without putting her in a diaper before going to a restaurant,” Longwell-Stevens said. “We peed her on the sidewalk, but she wouldn’t go. Then we tucked a pre-fold [cloth diaper] under her [at the restaurant table]. We were in a place where we didn’t want her to go and we didn’t want people talking about it.”

New York City has some advantages for EC practitioners, Longwell-Stevens explained.

Besides parked cars giving them cover, babywearing helps since not only are children less likely to go to the bathroom while being held in a carrier, but their parents are more likely to “tune in” to them when they are close, she said.

But EC can be harder to do in a place where few people have private outdoor space.

“Sometimes the thrill of being able to go outside and pee is just what [babies] need,” Longwell-Stevens said. "In the suburbs people set up potties in the trunk of their cars. That made me jealous.  But in New York no one cares what you are doing.  You can hold your baby to pee pretty much anywhere.  Especially since few people would have any idea what you are doing.”

With the warmer weather coming, Caribou Baby’s owner Adriane Stare — who held her bare-bottomed baby Loren atop a cloth diaper as she whispered “sissss” to him to cue a pee during the discussion — told the group she’d soon open the center's backyard to let babies roam diaper-free outside.

It’s not always easy to read a child’s cues, Stare explained, but she thinks it’s easier than having to “wrestle” a baby through every diaper change, “or worse, the challenge of wiping a messy toddler poop out of their little buns versus catching that stinky poop in the toilet.

“It's all work in the end, and it's all relative,” noted Stare, who like many ECers does not go diaper-free 100 percent of the time. “It just depends on what kind of work appeals to you more.”

With her newborn, “the hard part is simply getting clothes off of the kid quickly enough to catch a pee or poop before it goes in the diaper," she said.

“When kids get older, it can be challenging to get them to stop for a second to potty. They much prefer to pee on the floor and continue crawling or toddling on their merry way.”

But for many parents who practice EC, potty training is virtually non-existent, Stare added. “The trajectory from in-diapers to out-of-diapers is a very natural, gradual process.”

Some elimination communication adherents are hoping to increase the dialogue about the approach.

To raise awareness of EC, the first-ever diaper-free week is being held from April 21 to 27, spearheaded by Andrea Olson, author of “EC Simplified: Infant Potty Training Made Easy.”

Six months ago Marija Mikolajczak, who runs an online shop EC Wear — which sells, for example, split pants that enable babies to use the toilet or go diaper-free without having to remove layers of clothes — started an informal industry association for people who run businesses related to the practice, most of whom like herself are EC-practicing moms running small-scale operations.

Mikolajczak, who recently moved to Connecticut from Astoria and has a Brooklyn factory making her EC goods, did elimination communication everywhere she went with her son, now 6.

“We would get off the subway, I would take him into the toilet," she said. "Sometimes there were times it was hard to find a public bathroom in New York. Asking to use bathrooms helped me get over shyness." At parks and playgrounds, “finding a little area of grass or some bushes was good. I’ve not owned a dog in the city, but I can relate.

“I would try not to have him pee on the sidewalk,” she added. “I would try to find a drain pipe… on the corner of streets.”

She never felt out of place in Astoria, where residents hail from all around the world and may be familiar with EC, Mikolajczak said.

When Koyuki Smith taught EC workshops at the Upper East Side's now-closed Metro Minis (now an online shop), parents wanted guidelines on how to do it. 

“They think there’s going to be an assembly booklet like with a crib,” said Smith, a doula who lives in Harlem and has a 5- and 2-year-old.

“EC just means you’re giving the opportunity to pee or poop outside their clothing,” she explained, noting the approach constantly shifts as kids get older.

“Children are covered up to their waist literally minutes from the moment they’re born,” Smith added. “We actively encourage children to ignore elimination. … EC makes you think a little more carefully about it.”

Kaitlin McGreyes, an Astoria resident who started practicing EC with her 9-month-old son Cesar as a newborn, said it led to using fewer diapers — a big help since she uses cloth that needs washing at the Laundromat down the block.

But in the beginning, she got peed and pooped on a lot.

“At 2 weeks old I set up a little Tupperware container near our diaper-changing station," said the special-education teacher, who now stays home with her son. "When I was nursing him, he had a big fart and I rushed him to the potty and held him over it.” 

It worked.

“I had never been so proud,” she said. “I love that I can tell when he needs to go and have an idea of what might be bothering him.”

McGreyes doesn’t always like talking about EC and “explaining ourselves to skeptical family members or non-believing acquaintances," she admitted. "I just don't feel like seeing any more eye rolls in my direction."

She still puts a diaper on Cesar whenever they’re out of the house and more than half the time at home.

“My mom has a term for me,” McGreyes said. “She says I am crunchy, not crazy.”