Cloth diapers can be a pain. Disposables empty your wallet and fill the landfill. So how about no diapers? Sounds pretty good, huh?

Some parents do make the diaper-free baby fantasy a reality. It’s called elimination communication, and you can do it, too.

The premise is that babies, straight out of the womb, communicate their need to go before they do it. By paying attention to your baby’s natural timing and cues, you can figure out when they need to go and actually put them on the potty.

Elimination communication, or EC, has many benefits beyond just reducing the hassle of diapers. In fact, the diaper-free baby website lists 75 benefits, from reducing diaper rash to traveling light. Some parents also enjoy the new channel of communication it opens up between them and their babies.

Here’s how to get started.

1. Pay attention

Try to take note of when your baby goes. Newborns often poop while they’re nursing. Everyone, including babies, goes soon after waking up. Paying attention to your baby’s timing will give you your best tool for elimination communication.

Beyond timing, babies will often give you a subtle indication that they need to go. The most common signal that your baby may need to pee or poop is sudden fussiness. Most parents are familiar with the prelude to a poop: farting, straining, or grunting. Sometimes your baby will cry if their belly is uncomfortable.

Since the “tells” for pooping are more obvious than for peeing, some parents practice a part-time form of EC where they still mostly put their baby in diapers. They try to “catch” their baby pooping. The reward is not having to change those messy diapers.

Catching when your baby goes pee is, of course, a lot harder. Babies’ signs that they’re about to pee tend to be a lot more subtle. Some babies will get quiet and very still for a moment, and then shiver.
If they’re eating, sometimes they’ll start and stop what they’re doing because they have to go. I know one child whose only “tell” was that her eyes got red right before she peed.

Many parents swear they feel a “phantom pee” before their baby is about to go. They claim to sense a warm wetness, even though the baby hasn’t done anything yet. Some parents never figure out a sign for pee and just go by timing.

2. Cue the action

Come up with an audible cue that your baby can learn to associate with elimination. Most parents come up with one for pee. It’s often something like “pssssssh,” and a separate one for poop.

It should be a distinctive sound you can make without using your hands. Start out by making that sound whenever you observe your child going. After doing that for a few weeks, try sitting your baby on the potty and making those sounds, and see if they respond. Even if nothing comes out, you might see them tense up their stomach muscles, as if pushing down.

Tiny babies can’t sit up yet, so you’ll want to lean their backs against your chest. If you’re using a standalone potty (try the Baby Bjorn or the Potty Bowl), you can sit behind them on the floor.

Otherwise, you can sit backward on the toilet and hold your baby under their thighs. Keep their back against your belly so their bottom is hovering over the toilet bowl. When your baby is able to sit up, you can graduate to a baby seat on the toilet.

3. Training for parents

When I was starting out with my newborn, I would take advantage of the otherwise-annoying habit babies have of peeing as soon as you take off their diaper. I would open my baby’s diaper, but keep it under him (with a washcloth at the ready). I’d wait for him to pee. That was the best way I had to learn his cues and teach him what my “pssssh” sound meant.

Many parents find that they pick up on the cues faster if they let their babies be naked as much as possible. This also facilitates trips to the potty. Baby leg warmers are very popular among the EC crowd as a pants substitute.

Don’t expect to catch every pee. Even the most committed EC-ers miss some. They just clean it up and use the miss as an opportunity to try to discern a clue they might have missed right before it happened. If you’re planning to let your kid go without diapers most of the time, you might want to think about rolling up the carpets.

It’s important to remember that elimination communication isn’t really potty training for babies. Think of it this way: Tiny babies can’t control their muscles well enough to hold back for long periods, but they can learn to control them well enough to release the muscles at will.

That’s what happens when you put them on the potty and cue them. But you need to do it often, because you can’t expect them to hold it if they have to go. If anyone’s getting trained here, it’s the parent.

Next steps

If this system seems a little extreme or goofy, consider this: Experts estimate that about half of all babies worldwide are using the potty by their first birthday. This is likely thanks to some variation of elimination communication. In the United States, most children aren’t potty trained until age 3.