The topic for our DiaperFreeBaby meeting this Friday (where I hope to see you!) is babywearing and elimination communication. I thought this would be fun to talk about, partly because I’ve been thinking about babywearing lately as I anticipate doing it a lot again soon, and partly because even though plenty of people practice EC without ever wearing their babies (and vice versa), the two skills do support each other a lot. I’ve heard plenty of stories of moms who suddenly gained an instinctive, intuitive awareness of their babies’ need to pee after wearing the baby for a few days. I’ve used babywearing as a tool to increase my own EC awareness, and I’ve used EC as an excuse to wear my baby more. But, fun as it is to combine wearing your baby with going diaperless, there are some (rather obvious) pitfalls. I’ve been thinking about how I can avoid at least some of them with the next baby. So here are my tips for EC’ing while babywearing.
1. Get more than one carrier. More than one good carrier. If your baby is particular about how she’s worn–like my daughter was–then you’ll need more than one of her favorite carrier. I did not have this when my daughter was an infant. Because good carriers, unfortunately, are expensive. And the only carrier my daughter liked was the Maya wrap ring sling–which, at $60, is a very reasonably priced carrier, but not one that I particularly wanted to buy twice. My husband simply couldn’t understand why I might need a second carrier identical to the first. This led to quite a few afternoons of hastily washing the carrier on the fastest setting, putting it out on the porch to dry (because I didn’t have a dryer!), and walking around with a crying baby in my arms until I gave up and put the damp carrier back on so she could go to sleep already.
For this next baby, I’m better prepared. I have two wraps and two soft structured carriers. But only one mei tai, only one pouch, and only one ring sling. This makes me a little nervous. I may buy another ring sling just to be safe.
2. Use back-up. Or at least padding. I say this a lot in workshops and presentations, but let me reiterate: diaper free doesn’t have to mean diaperless. Seriously. You can practice EC full-time and still have your baby in diapers all the time. It’s okay. If you have only one carrier and that’s the only place where your baby will sleep, it’s really ok. But although I did often put my daughter in the carrier without a diaper actually on her, I would almost always put a cloth prefold under her bum. This was usually sufficient to protect the carrier, and it was really easy to switch out without even having to take her out at all. Which is convenient if your baby pees but you don’t think he’s quite done with his nap yet.
3. Take advantage of the opportunity to observe. The great thing about babywearing–and one of the main reasons it makes EC so much easier–is that it puts you in such close contact with your baby. It makes it really easy to notice subtle signals, movements, and expressions that you might otherwise miss. When my daughter was sleeping in the carrier, I would know the second she stirred, and if I took her out right then and offered the potty, she always peed. When she was awake, I would sometimes feel her kick or tense her abdomen in a way that I knew meant she needed to potty. Her signals were much more obvious when her body was so close to mine.
4. Stop thinking about it and relax. I think this will be a lot easier to do with my second child (but isn’t that true of everything about parenting?). With my daughter, I was fascinated by the concept of EC, even after I was well into the middle of doing it. Quite honestly, I rarely stopped thinking about it. In many ways, I still haven’t stopped thinking about it (hence this blog!), but of course I don’t spend all my time wondering if my daughter needs to pee like I did when she was a baby. There’s nothing wrong with obsessing about EC if you’re enjoying it; if you’re thinking about it because you like it and it fascinates you, then it’s no different from obsessing about how beautiful your baby’s sleeping face is or counting her toes over and over and over (and haven’t we all done that?). But if you’re thinking about it constantly because you’re worried that your baby is about to pee on you, then not only are you not having fun with it (which is one of the most important keys to EC success), but you’re also limiting your ability to hear your baby’s communication. Because–and I know this sounds crazy, but it actually works, and it’s amazing when it does–you thinking about pee is sometimes actually a signal from your baby that she needs to pee. And this kind of intuitive signal happens most frequently when you’re wearing your baby. Probably it’s really just that you subconsciously notice a slight kick or a tension in your baby’s body, and you translate that into “she’s uncomfortable–maybe she needs to pee” without noticing your thought process. (But then again, maybe your baby psychically communicates her need to pee by sending a telepathic message into your brain. Whichever seems more plausible to you. Stranger things have happened!) Either way, though, if you’re constantly thinking about EC in a way that’s stressful or worried, then you’re going to miss that subtle signal. And the great thing about babywearing is that it enables you–and even encourages you–to do your own thing while being with your baby. When you’re babywearing, you can go about your daily life and think about other things. You’re still with your baby, but you don’t have to be focusing on her, playing with her, entertaining her, and thinking about her constantly. You can think about a conversation with a friend, the dishes you’re washing, or even the blog article you’re writing–but because you’re still so physically close to your baby, you can do those things while still maintaining a close attention to your baby’s needs. And this mindset of focusing on something else while subconsciously paying close attention to your baby is the ideal mindset for EC. It sets you up to stop watching constantly for signals and to only notice when something is a little off–which is the most likely time for a successful potty opportunity. When you’re wearing your baby, you can go for a long walk with a friend and talk about something interesting and adult. Then suddenly, something will happen–you won’t notice exactly what–that draws your attention to your baby. She wriggles a little in the carrier and looks at you with an expression you recognize. “She might need to pee,” you think, and you pull her out and step to the side so you can hold her over the grass, all while keeping up the conversation with your friend. Sure enough, she pees, and you put her back in the carrier and keep walking.
Mind you, that’s never happened to me. Not quite so perfectly, anyway. But I’ve heard stories. And if you ever do have a moment when you’re so perfectly in tune with your baby that you catch a pee like that, in the middle of a conversation with a friend, then please, consider yourself an EC genius. In fact, consider yourself supermom. Your friend will think that anyway. And you deserve it.