Montana Lower’s daughter Blue is just nine months old, but according to her mum she is almost toilet trained and barely needs nappies.
“She hasn’t done a poo in her nappy since she was two weeks old. We go through about two nappies a day — one at night and just one in the day,” Ms Lower said in a special report by ABC Gold Coast reporter Gemma Sapwell.
The ABC report said Ms Lower is part of a small but growing number of Australian parents using what’s called the elimination communication method, or EC, to reduce their reliance on nappies — disposable and reusable.
Edwina O’Connell, who runs EC workshops on the Gold Coast and in northern New South Wales, says the method relies on parents looking for subtle cues from their baby indicating when they need to go to the toilet, and responding accordingly.
“Elimination communication is a bit of a silly name, but it’s accurate in that it is about communication,” Ms O’Connell said.
“It’s just about looking at your baby and seeing when they’re about to go and responding to that, by holding them over a toilet or potty.
“There are a bunch of signs a baby gives when they need to go — they might go still or quiet, or with my son he’d shake his fist, and then if you’re responding the cues get stronger.”
Montana Lower says at nine months old, baby Blue is close to being toilet trained. (Supplied: Montana Lower)
Ms O’Connell said while she was initially sceptical about the method, she found it worked effectively with both her children, with eye contact being key.
“It sounds far-fetched for some people, but it does actually work. Babies have a natural instinct not to want to soil themselves,” she said.
Ms Lower said Blue started off by making different faces or giving a yell when she needed the toilet and it progressed from there.
“At four months old she was tapping her nappy and grabbing her potty to bring it close when she wanted to go,” she said.
“They’re so much more conscious than what society would have you believe.”
Ms O’Connell said her Nappy Less website had received more traffic in recent weeks, which she attributes to people being home during COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s definitely gaining in popularity, some people are saying ‘we’re in lockdown, let’s do this’,” she said.
US Celebrities such as Alicia Silverstone and Mayim Chaya Bialik promoting the method have also led to a spike in interest, and the elimination communication Australia Facebook group has close to 3,000 members, who regularly ask each for tips and advice.
EC proponents say the method works best when it has support from relatives and the community (Supplied: Jaspa Bampton)
Ms Lower, who is based in northern New South Wales, said since sharing her EC experience with her 170,000 Instagram followers there had been a number of converts.
“The EC community is definitely growing, and through my online community I’ve had thousands of people reach out and say, ‘I’ve given it a go and it’s been such a positive experience’,” she said.
No perfect time to start
Previous research by the University of New South Wales found that there was little benefit in starting toilet training before 18 months of age to achieving independent toileting.
The study said that did not detract from the “obvious hygiene and empowerment benefits” claimed by EC practitioners.
Paediatrician and public health physician Sharon Goldfeld from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute said whenever a parent decided to begin the process it was important they did not feel judged.
Find more local news
“I often have parents come to me and say ‘my child hasn’t toilet trained and I’m really worried’ — there is a lot of pressure on parents around toilet training, but I say to parents there’s no relationship between the age of toilet training and other outcomes in life,” she said.
Ms O’Connell agrees even for parents doing EC it’s important they do not fixate on eliminating nappies too early.
“If you’re wanting to graduate to total independence quickly you’re probably setting yourself — and them — up for disappointment, stress and tears,” she said.
“It’s not about focusing on the end goal, it’s about focusing on communication and connection.”
With the Boomerang Alliance calculating Australians use 3.75 million nappies a day, Ms O’Connell said she’d had interest from Tweed and Byron Shire councils wanting to know more about how EC might reduce plastic landfill.
“There were a lot of complaints from parents when waste bins here went to fortnightly pick up, because with a few children that can be hundreds of nappies and council’s would love to reduce nappy landfill,” she said.
Parents using the EC method often take a small potty wherever they go.
With countries increasingly phasing out single-use plastics, and Vanuatu recently becoming the first country in the world to ban disposable nappies, advocates believe the movement has potential for further growth.
“I’m trained as an environmental engineer; I did a lot of reading about what is better between disposable and reusable nappies and there are arguments against both, so we decided why don’t we do neither,” Ms Lower said.
Not only for ‘Earth mothers’
Whatever age a parent decides to start toileting, EC advocates say they hope people will keep an open mind, because the method is most effective with community support.
Ms O’Connell said she wanted to change the perception of EC, which some people regarded as an option only for parents who didn’t work.
“I’m not an Earth mother or anything, and I was working four days a week when I first did it,” she said.
“This is the opposite of regimented potty training and there are so many benefits: you stop changing nappies, you’re not dragging around a nappy bag, you’re saving money not buying nappies, and you have a really good connection with your child as well.”
SheSociety is a site for the women of Australia to share our stories, our experiences, shared learnings and opportunities to connect.