Friday, November 27, 2009

ECing in a Northern Climate

Where I live we spend more time in winter than any other season, so one of the things I’m frequently asked about is how to practise Elimination Communication (EC) when it gets chilly out. Many parents wonder if it makes sense to practise EC in this climate. Historically, infant pottying has been practised in climates more harsh and severe than where I currently live. Inuit mothers of northern Canada carried (still do!) their babies around a special babywearing jacket called an amauti, and early Europeans were surprised to find the mothers and babies quite dry. Children in Tibet and northern China are EC’d; mothers there have adapted methods and clothing to practise EC quite comfortably in the cold.

So how do we practise infant pottying when the weather gets chilly? A major concern is clothing, and how to make it practical and warm. If your baby is still in the “in arms” phase you can carry her skin to skin, and use your carrier and a cardigan or loose sweater to keep you both warm. Tibetan children and infants wear a type of split crotch pants that work wonderfully. Many mothers modify existing pants, or sew their own from patterns found online. Another option is to leave the bum bare when indoors and keep the baby warm by using a long warm sweater or dress on top and baby legwarmers, or even long socks on the bottom. There are a vast array of patterns to buy for your babe. This style of dress will allow for easy removal of a diaper, if you are using one. Loose waisted pants that are easy to pull up and down work well too. Most of the moms I know have found that as long as the torso and feet are warm, the rest of the baby is too.

Now that the baby is dressed, we can go out and EC while traveling in the winter. Both of my children have spent a lot of time traveling by car in the winter and we are used to making potty stops on the road. We often have a potty with us in the car, so that baby can pee in the warm and I can dump it out afterwards. (I keep a jar of scented baking soda handy to freshen the pot between washes.) A baby can also be pottied onto an already wet diaper from your wet bag. As a last resort in really cold weather we just pee outside. Sometimes I sit us in the car and just point the “peeing parts” out the door. If we are walking or hiking in the winter we usually use a pocket diaper as back up, unless I am carrying the baby and using a good babywearing jacket.

Public pottying in the winter can be a bit more of a hassle, as there is often so much more clothing (and possibly a diaper) to remove. This makes it especially important to pay attention to early signals and intuition when you are out and about. Not wanting my baby to be cold and wet in winter forced me to pay really close attention to her when we were away from home. This is how I discovered the feeling of Danica’s stomach muscles tightening against my back that signalled a need to pee. I also really noticed the squirmy on your lap/try to jump out of your arms signal too. I would often remove all of the clothing and leave it on the change table, while I peed my daughter, then return to the change table to replace everything. Even if I had missed the pee, I would still offer a peeing opportunity; just in case. This has been the start of quite a few EC conversations with curious strangers.

In the fall, I often hear from moms who tell me their baby who pottied fine all summer is suddenly refusing the potty. It can be hard to make the connection between a potty strike and the change of seasons when you are in the middle of it. So the first thing I ask moms with an October potty problem is about the temperature of their potty, or the house in general. Babe might just need some coaxing and patience to “warm up” to the idea of peeing when it’s not as warm as he’s grown used to. Or sometimes all the extra clothing and undressing, need to be adjusted to. Even my big kids need some time to adjust to seasonal clothing changes. A warm potty cover often works wonders to solve the problem of a warm tush on cold plastic. This is especially true if the baby is doing things like standing or back arching when placed on a cold pot. Many moms also find that they can keep their potty warm by resting it on the heat register when not in use.

The biggest tip I can think of for diaper free success in cool weather is to try and expose as little of your baby to the cold, but to also be slow calm and gentle about it. No one appreciates a sudden burst of cold on their body, especially upon waking. At night time we try to keep the potty as close to the sleeping area as possible. Our youngest liked to sleep nude in our bed on a sheepskin mat, so when she woke at night to pee, I would wrap her in a small blanket I had stashed nearby and pee her on the fleece covered potty which I placed on the bed. She would often fall asleep while peeing, and I would just tuck her back in, dump the pee into the diaper pail next to the bed, and go back to sleep myself.

Winter EC can be easily managed by making a few adjustments t your babies’ clothing and routine, but it is important to remember that having a diaper free baby shouldn’t fill your house with extra stress. So if you and you little one are having trouble finding your potty stride in the cold, relax, take a break, change a few diapers, and try again later. The most important thing is the relationship you build with your child.

Lee-Ann Grenier is an at home mom who also works as a lactation and parenting educator. She really enjoys talking to expecting and new parents about birth, breastfeeding, gentle parenting, babywearing and Elimination Communication.


  1. I enjoyed this article! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. What a lovely post! Thank you!
    May I ask two questions?
    How warm is you bedroom (ours is about 18 Centigrade, so we don't sleep naked)?
    And what do you mean by this: "I also really noticed the squirmy on your lap/try to jump out of your arms signal too."? Often our 16 week old daughter lies on my knees with just a cloth between her legs and I am not noticing any signals when she is on my lap, so I am really interested in understanding what you mean by "squirmy"!
    Thanks ever so much!

  3. Happiness is a warm potty! I take the shock myself and put the cold potty against my own belly in the middle of the night to warm it up before putting my 6 month old on it. (Works great...except for the time I forgot to empty the pee first!) — Caren

  4. thanks for this post. it's realy interesting to hear how you have done it in the winter.