The Evolution of the Back Up

A great reason to start Elimination Communication is to decrease reliance on diapers, right?  Let’s take a look at how the back up can become more minimalist over time and with practice.  The goal is to eventually eliminate back ups entirely, but what’s the progression from full-time diapering to undies and clothing? 

1.  Diapers – At first, at least with a baby in the 0-6 month age range, you’ll likely be diapering close to full-time.  Baby goes so frequently and hasn’t consolidated his pees.  You are just learning his signals and rhythms and figuring out how an EC practice fits into your life.  

You’ll decide whether cloth or disposable diapers are the best fit for you and your baby.  Things to weigh are 1) how baby responds to the feedback of a wet diaper, 2) convenience, both in regards to cleaning and diaper changes, 3) performance and 4) environmental impact.  The list goes on and on why one may be preferable to the other, but I think I hit the top ones.  

AIO, Hybrid, Cloth with a Booster – so many cloth diapering systems to choose from

2.  Sumo-style diaper – This style provides a lot of feedback to the parent.  It is the happy medium between a diaper and naked.  

The sumo-style diaper can be styled many different ways, but a common way is to use a prefold secured with a diaper belt.  The benefit of this set up is that the parent can typically see when the baby is peeing or moments after a baby has peed because the diaper becomes visibly wet.  (Typically, you would use this set up without pants on top.)  The sumo-style diaper is for parents who have a general sense of their baby’s signals and rhythms, but are interested in learning more about baby’s signals and rhythms.  When the diaper becomes wet, you can ask yourself, “What was baby’s body language, verbal signal or mood right before peeing?”  You can also figure out natural timings this way.  For example, baby nursed at 10:00 a.m. and peed in the sumo style diaper at 10:20 and 10:30.  This would tell you that baby eliminates roughly 20 and 30 minutes after nursing and that he hasn’t consolidated his pees, thus the two back to back pees.  

A sumo-style diaper will likely not contain a full pee, so this style is great if you’re closely watching your baby and don’t mind cleaning up a mess or if baby’s elimination is fairly predictable.  If the latter is the case, then the diaper is there “just in case” you miss the pee/poop.

Baby-in-Sumo-Style-Diaper-for-Elimination-Communication
“Baby Boy” sporting a Sumo-style diaper. The diaper belt is a Prana headband. Get creative!

3.  Training pants (aka trainers) with or without pants – You and baby are moving along the EC diapering continuum.  Go Diaper Free reports that EC’d babies often are daytime potty trained somewhere between 10-17 months, and training pants can be an effective tool in the months leading up to this.  You’re catching the majority of baby’s pees and poops and have a good rhythm of trust and communication established.  Different parents certainly feel differently about how many accidents or misses a day is acceptable, but if you’re feeling a budding confident about the progression of EC, I would recommend trying training pants.  

Training pants are similar to undies, but have several absorbent layers in the crotch.  Like the prefold, the training pants likely will not contain a full pee.  But they are great at catching a pre-pee or a partial pee.  Also, if you are catching poops consistently, but pees are hit or miss (and you don’t mind cleaning up pee misses), training pants might be the right choice for you baby.  Training pants aren’t diapers, and many babies/children respond positively to this change.  Babies/children (see how I’m shifting to calling your baby a child?  That’s because he’s growing up!!) certainly will feel wetter when they pee in training pants than a diaper.  The child’s pants may get wet too.  Some kids will dislike this scenario.  Others won’t mind in the least, but you won’t know until you try, right?  Also, a kid who is in training pants can often be expected to help clean up the mess.  This isn’t a punishment, but rather a teaching of cause and effect.  

There are a couple of variations on the training pants set up.  If you’re using training pants at home, but don’t feel as confident going out in them, you can 1) put a diaper cover or a wool cover over to waterproof the set up, 2) wear two pairs of training pants – twice as absorbent as one!

Tiny-Undies-Training-Pants-for-EC-and-Potty-Training
Families love Tiny Undies Tiny Trainers 
for both EC and potty training

4.  Commando (pants without undies) – This progression isn’t rocket science.  Your child is getting it!  You’re tired of diapers, and your baby’s elimination is fairly consistent.  To wrap up EC, you may want to do a short stint, roughly a week to a month, with your child going commando.  Sometimes the fitted nature of undies feels a bit too much like a diaper.  Going commando sends the message that the diaper days are over.  Some kids feel comfortable eliminating in a diaper, but receive a lot of negative feedback (pee/poop running down the leg) when wearing only pants.  

This is what commando looks like! You could never tell.

5.  Undies and pants – Ta-da!!  Diapers are a thing of the past.  You’re ready to show your child that he is a big kid, wearing big kid underwear, and that you TRUST him.  

Once you get to commando and undies, there’s no going back to diapers.  Ever.  (Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.)  You might need to put on a diaper cover or wool soaker shorts over undies or training pants for a long car ride, but you don’t regress to the convenience of diapers.  If you do, it sends a mixed message to your child.  It says you don’t really trust his ability to communicate his potty needs.  It contradicts your statement that you’re living in a diaper-free world now.  

Okay, so he’s missing the pants. But, hooray, he graduated to undies.

This progression is intended to give you some ideas as to how to move away from diapers.  It works for a lot of kiddos and families, but by all means, follow your intuition and consider your child’s needs and preferences.  

When you move to another back up, stay with it for a week or so at a minimum before declaring that it is not working.  It does take some time to settle into a new backup and its benefits (and even consequences).  Consistency is key.  Frequent changes in routine can make it harder for the child to progress.  

Please let me know what your child’s progression out of diapers looked like.  Your input is valuable to our community.  There are so many ways to move from EC to potty independence!

4 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Back Up”

  1. My son is 16 months and we’ve been practicing pretty much full time EC since he was 6 weeks. He’s one of those babies that I could never figure out his signals, just depended on timing. He doesn’t care at all about wetness. Right before he started walking at about 14 months, misses went from occasional to always. I totally backed off at that point and now we’re back to catching most poo’s and after-waking pees, but always because we’re attentive to his rhythms or facial expressions for poo’s. He’s never signaled. Our back-ups have been essential in non-summer months. We started with cloth diapers or an unfolded cloth diaper underneath him, progressed to Born Ready’s sumo style Flap-a-Wrap and Tiny Trainers (sometimes with cover sometimes not). I highly recommend both. They’re super convenient.

    TBH, we haven’t “progressed a whole lot since he was about 6-9 months. It gets a little disheartening sometimes since we started so early but when we focus on the communication, always talking to him about saying Mama when he needs to go poopoo or talking him through a diaper change and the difference between feeling wet and dry, every time, I feel better about it. We chose this journey not so we could have our kid out of diapers “early” (as awesome as that would be) but so that we could understand his rhythms, establish communication, and have a longer, slower toilet training method. It’s the journey, not the destination, right? 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jillian! Your son sounds so much like my first son. He didn’t signal much for pee. He didn’t squawk about a wet diaper. He was SO consistent for poops, though, and that kept me motivated to continue even when progress was slow. There is SO much going on developmentally between 9-18 months that it’s hard to see forward momentum with Elimination Communication. But then one day, you realize there hasn’t been an accident in a couple of days or your child starts telling you he needs to go. And then you realize there was learning happening all along.
      I wasn’t familiar with the Born Ready Flaparaps until your comment. I went to the Born Ready site and read all about them. Then I went to the Born Ready store, and they’re closing. So sad. I wonder if there is a comparable product out there?

      1. Little bunny bear has a pattern for a wool drop flat nappy & sometimes also ready made ones to buy. Her shop is on Etsy shipping also from the UK.
        There is also a drop flap cover from Petit Lulu though flaparaps were better quality they can be a good readymade option

        1. Thanks for sharing, Kate. I never used this minimalist design, but in hindsight, I wish I did. The Flaparaps and Petit Lulu are wonderful for quick diaper changes (for mobile babies) and frequent checks/changes for EC’d babies. Plus, you gotta love Little Bunny Bear, her creativity and products, and her support of those who want to make their own diapers.

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