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Nighttime Potty Training

Nov30

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Hi Amy-

You’ve helped me before when we were potty training our daughter and about to head out on a trip (Potty Training and Travel).  Now that our daughter has been potty trained for about a year, she is STILL peeing in pull ups during naps and nighttime.  It’s driving me insane.  In the last week, four nights in a row the overnight pull up exploded and all those stupid gross gel crystals were EVERYWHERE.  Its creating way too much laundry and cleanup, and that gel crap irritates my daughter’s skin.

So how how how in the world do we get her to stop peeing overnight?  During naps?

She is occasionally dry when she wakes up from a nap, but usually that’s when I have to actually go in there and wake her up for some reason.  Which is telling me that when she wakes up on her own, she’s peeing then.  I’ve considered putting her back in cloth diapers (which we used when she was small) for naps, but that requires me to have to actually dig out the box they are in.  Plus I’m wary that she’d be annoyed by the wetness and just not sleep, and I need that naptime!

Her bedtime is 8pm, so should we stop allowing drinks at 7pm? 6pm?  I have no idea. Do we wake her in the middle of the night to go pee on the toilet? Cloth diapers overnight?

Do I just wait this whole thing out?  And in the meantime do tons of laundry and keep throwing my money away on stupid pull ups?

Thank you!

You don’t mention how old your daughter is right now — doing some rough math from the column you mentioned would put her at two and a half? ish? — but for the record, I have read statistics about kids and overnight bladder control and…well, they aren’t the most encouraging thing for those currently in the waiting-to-ditch-the-pull-ups trenches. Basically, it can take until age five or even six, for some kids. (Thank you, Google, for here it is: 66 percent of children under three can control their bladders at night; approximately 85 percent of children under six can do so, which means about 15% of five-year-olds will still have accidents in bed and that’s perfectly normal — their bodies just haven’t yet developed the necessary link between bladder and brain that will wake them up when they have to go.)

So a year after daytime potty training, at still under three years old, sounds pretty normal to me. Noah didn’t overnight potty train until closer to three and a half. It happened much earlier with Ezra, at just under three, but I don’t think it was because of anything we *did.* His body and brain were ready — not to mention he VERY QUICKLY figured out that potty breaks were an acceptable stalling technique at bedtime and would come out of his room over and over again to go and go and go so once he went to sleep, there was NOTHING left. And then Noah would wake up and climb out of bed to use the bathroom and Ezra figured out he should follow suit.

BUT. Since you suspect your daughter is actually staying dry while she sleeps but is waiting until she wakes up to go, perhaps it is worth seeing if you can gently encourage her to break that habit. Personally, I would definitely ditch the pull-ups. They aren’t serving their intended purpose here, which is to mimic underwear that can contain the occasional accident but still allow the child to, you know, pull them up and down by themselves. Your daughter is using it as a straight-up diaper, and they aren’t diapers. Obviously. They explode and leak and cost a ton more money than your average disposable diaper, so you’re basically throwing money at something that’s not at all appropriate for what it’s being used for. The marketing has us all trained to think that all potty-training kids should wear pull-ups, when really, they serve a specific purpose for a specific segment of potty-training kids, and that’s it. (They’re great for a kid who consistently pees in the potty but is maybe delaying the pooping part, for example, or as a back-up during long car rides.) But if your kid isn’t actually treating them like underwear at least some of the time, why bother?

So there are two possible approaches here: One is to go cold turkey and see what happens. Is she going after she wakes up simply because she can go in pull-ups? If she realizes that oh no, there’s nothing to prevent a full-on bedwetting disaster, will she get up at use the potty? I’m on the fence about this one for you since it doesn’t sound like the exploding leaky pull-up disasters bother her all that much, but I offer it up because that is what worked for us with Ezra, who was pulling a similar my-bed-is-cozy-I-don’t-feel-like-getting-up routine in the morning. Once we removed the safety net, so to speak, he figured it out real quick.

The other is to put her back in the cloth diapers and see what happens. Noah night-trained fairly soon after I got fed up with pull-ups and started putting him in the one-size cloth diapers (but of course that could have just been a coincidence given his age). Your daughter might object to the “babyishness” of them and make a concentrated effort to prove she doesn’t need them. (I’d implement a sticker chart or token system at the same time, giving her a goal of keeping the diaper dry for a certain number of naps, then nighttime.) She might not notice the difference until she goes and be bothered by the wetness, as you fear, but which will bother you more — a temporary nap interruption for a few days? Or continuing on your current course of leaks and laundry?

If absolutely neither of those things happen, then you have your sign that she most likely just isn’t physiologically ready to night potty train. Which is fine! Put her in something that won’t leak at night for your sanity’s sake and revisit the topic in a month or two.

No matter what, it IS a good idea to limit liquid intake before bed — at least an hour, maybe two. Always make her use the potty as close to bedtime as possible, and then strictly enforce the no-drinks policy after that, since it will give her the best chance at success. If she has a consistent waking time, set your alarm for about 10 or 15 minutes before and wake her up and escort her to the potty, to help her break that going-after-waking habit. Lots of praise and encouragement. Remember: Nighttime potty training is a COMPLETELY different animal than daytime potty training, since you’re relying on an important physiological development instead of just your child’s temperament and interest in being a big kid. It WILL happen, I promise.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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18 Responses to “Nighttime Potty Training”

  1. Olivia Nov 30 at 11:50 am Reply Reply

    We are going to go for potty training over the holiday break with my 2.5 yr old. I’m hoping that since she has woken up with dry diapers over night and during naps for over a year (it’s usually 30-60 min before she pees after waking), night time accidents won’t be a problem. 

    Are those special pants for older bed wetters a better option than pull-ups?

  2. Ashley Nov 30 at 12:14 pm Reply Reply

    When my 2.5 year old trained this summer I was on the fence about night time. Her diaper was always super soaked in the morning. But a couple months later we just thought we might as well try it. So we talked about it for a couple days ahead of time then did it. No diapers at night. And you know what? No accidents. What? I guess she knew that she couldn’t pee, so she didn’t. She can even hold it for an hour or two after she wakes up. It’s ridiculous.

  3. Jeannie Nov 30 at 12:30 pm Reply Reply

    Not to freak out the OP but my son didn’t give up the nighttime diaper until he was almost 5. Yeah, there was definitely some aspect of his peeing upon waking just because he could, but there was also just plain old he wasn’t ready physiologically. I’d say get out the diapers. Either she just isn’t ready and then the diapers will stop your leaking issue, or she’ll balk at the “baby-ish” aspect and stop peeing at nap time: it’s win-win either way!

    And don’t push it. From what I’ve read that’s just the best way to make her anxious and delay the process even more.

  4. Megan Nov 30 at 12:36 pm Reply Reply

    We seem to have just mastered this hurdle. My daughter potty trained at 28 months – in a day. She was fine at naps. And she was good at night if we woke her at 11 or so. And we did that for a while – I was up with a new baby, it was no big deal. But once he started sleeping through the night, I wanted to go to bed earlier. And when we started waking her earlier, we had a ton of accidents.
    So…I kept putting her in underwear, with a pullup over the underpants. So if she wets, she feels it and would let us know, but I didn’t have to change the sheets. I also put a baby potty in her room at night, in case she woke up and needed to go. And I encouraged her to use that. For the past two months, she’s been almost entirely dry overnight – an occasional accident after a big night out or something – so I told her about a month ago, when we rean out of pullups – I would get her the movie Cars (she had Cars pullups). We’re only a couple of nights into no pullups and last night she got up, went in the bathroom and then got back into bed. If I were you, I would go cold turkey at naps (remaking the bed isn’t a huge deal for me in daylight) and try the undies/pullups at night. Good luck!

  5. Michal Nov 30 at 1:11 pm Reply Reply

    If you decide to put her back in diapers…Huggies makes a slip on diaper. My 3 yo wears those. The convenience of pull ups with the staying power of diapers. She just isnt physiologically ready to be dry at night. They are cheaper than pull up too!

  6. sonja lange Nov 30 at 1:11 pm Reply Reply

    just fyi, my two oldest boys were 7 before they were completely night trained, it was a long road, but the doc said it can just take some kids awhile for their little bodies to make that leap so we waited and changed pullups and sheets forever…good luck!

  7. DMD Nov 30 at 1:54 pm Reply Reply

    I was going to mention the same thing as Michal – the Huggies pull-up diapers! We use them when we’re out and about because my son refuses to lay down on a changing table. He holds his head up and strains his neck – even if I cushion it. And I don’t like carrying around heavy cloth diapers. Anyway … she may leak through those Huggies ones because they’re not as absorbent as regular disposables, but waaaaaay better than pull-up crystal-explosions (and cheaper, too!).

  8. Michelle Nov 30 at 2:41 pm Reply Reply

    Pampers has overnight diapers than I used at night. My youngest son potty-trained really early at 22 months but is just now able to make it through nap dry at 28 months. He woke up dry this morning but I don’t plan on trying the night train him until he is waking up dry at least 50% of the time. My older son was potty trained and dry at naps by 2.5 but he was a little past 3 when he finally night-trained.

    Definitely try having your daughter potty right before naps and bedtime. Can you just plan on waking her up gently about 5-10 minutes before she would have on her own? I would probably wait until she doesn’t need pullups/diapers at naptime before I tried to night train but YMMV.

  9. Sarah Huckablog Nov 30 at 10:14 pm Reply Reply

    Oy. Yeah, so my kid that turned five in August? Still wet 9 out of ten nights. He potty trained during the day and even naps at about 2 1/2. So. FOR OVER HALF HIS LIFE?! Wet the bed. We buy the goodnight things because that is the only thing that contains the pee. Dr. says it is normal so we still make him pee if he wakes up, and cut drinks two hours before bed……no such luck. I am choosing not to worry about it and hoping he does not go to college in pull ups.

  10. Liz Nov 30 at 11:43 pm Reply Reply

    We are in the middle of this right now. My daughter, who is now 3.5 yrs, day trained at 27 months. She still slept in a crib so we kept the diapers on for nap and night. After we moved this summer, she graduated to a big girl bed and was in pull-ups for nap and night still. I started to get really fed up with it about 3-4 weeks ago since it seemed like she could probably hold it but was choosing not to. She was also refusing to pee before bed because she knew she’d be wearing a pull-up. So we went cold turkey. At naps she is fine. For the first few weeks I had to change her sheets in the middle of the night, every night. What a pain! Now, for the most part, she is dry in the morning except for an accident here or there. I limit her liquids for the last few hours of the day and she has to go pee before she gets into bed. Tonight she sat on the potty for almost an hour before she peed–we were having a battle of the wills I guess. I stuck my ground though.

    Changing the sheets was/is so annoying and a ton of extra laundry but it was worth it in the end. My babysitter told me that going cold turkey is what they did with her little sister and she got it after 2 weeks because she didn’t like waking up wet anymore. Made sense to me. However, I do understand that perhaps not all kids are ready to stay dry at night so I encourage you to explore all your options. My MIL is always telling me how my husband and his siblings all took a really long time to night train, up to 5 and a little beyond.

  11. Francesca Dec 01 at 6:30 am Reply Reply

    When my younger sister was daytime-potty-trained, the most effective way of making sure she didn’t wet the bed at night was my parents half-waking her and taking her to the bathroom just as they went to bed. Didn’t interfere with her sleep much either. Worth it as a part-time solution?

  12. MLB Dec 01 at 10:46 am Reply Reply

    My son who turned 5 in May still wets the bed. I talked to his doctor and was also told the issue is how we choose to manage it, that it’s maturational and there is nothing we can do to speed it up. I’ve known of 7 year olds that have issues with this. Every kid is different though and if you want to try no diaper at night go for it. Every once in a while we try my son out with underwear for the night and do that until he goes through a wetting process again. It’s trial and error and is usually different from the daytime training.

  13. K Dec 01 at 12:35 pm Reply Reply

    I’m sure you can tell by the comments that there is no one way to do this since kids are so different in terms of developmental readiness for potty training. I’ll just add my experience, your mileage may vary. My daughter started going poop in the toilet on vacation around 28 months, so we decided to move forward on potty training the next weekend. Our daycare provider suggested two things – potty training in three days, and NO pullups or diapers, even at night/nap. We thought she must be crazy. But we decided to try it. It worked for my daughter. We have never put her in a diaper or pullup, went cold turkey on everything, and she only had accidents that first week or two, and not very many at that. We do cut off all liquids after dinner (around 6:00 pm, bedtime is at 8 pm). She has to go potty before bed. Same thing with naps – no liquids 1-2 hours before. Then we take her potty as soon as she gets up. Maybe the method works, or maybe we just got REALLY lucky. But, remember, even adults differ in how long they can go between trips to the bathroom, so there may be physiological reasons too.

  14. Jillian Dec 01 at 4:49 pm Reply Reply

    My newly 4-year-old son still wears a pull-up every night, and wakes up wet every morning. For our family, that $1/day pull-up habit is buying us a good night of sleep. We struggled for years to get him to sleep through the night, and that’s the priority for us. Part of his bedtime ritual is drinking a glass of water in bed right before he lays down. If he wanted me bake him a cake every night I’d probably do it if it meant he’d go to sleep and stay asleep. I cannot even imagine waking him up to take him to the potty. Crazy talk. We’ll worry about nighttime training some other time. I’d put him in a SCUBA suit if it would buy me eight hours of sleep.

  15. Kari Weber Dec 02 at 12:37 am Reply Reply

    My son, Zach is 6 1/2. First, he potty trained late… Between 3 and 4… But still wets the bed. Finally, we  had enough of the Pull ups expense and decided to go cold turkey. He just is a deep sleeper and seems to not wake up.  My tip: waterproof pad (not mattress cover, just the like 3 by 3 foot square pads you buy in a pack of two at Babies R Us…) fitted sheet, water proof pad, fitted sheet, waterproof pad, fitted sheet, etc. I put like at least four sheets on at once. The good thing? If they wake up in the middle of the night wet, it is easy to strip the sheets… Second, if you strip the bed in the morning and then forget to wash or remake the bed, you are not surprised with an unmade bed at bedtime.  Zach still wets the bed a few times a week, but it IS getting better. 

  16. Penny Dec 02 at 6:10 pm Reply Reply

    I just wanted to add, that sometimes it’s a developmental issue. I was probably 10 or so before I would/could wake up to go or hold it through the night. I was medicated to help, as was my sister.  Please be sure not punish your child and remember that sometimes it’s a developmental delay. I know no one has said anything about punishing for this, but there are other readers out in innerweb land. FWIW, I was typically developing in every other way, but bladder control was poor. 

  17. madhu Dec 05 at 6:04 am Reply Reply

    i’m in the process of night training my 2.4 yr old and i do sort of semi-wake him up at around 11.30 in the night for him to pee. he doesnt need to wake up completely…and once he does that mid night loo trip…he is dry till morning.

    we havent reached the stage where he can get up himself and go and pee….but i think he’s a lil young for that. So right now loo breaks have to be pre-emptive

  18. erin Dec 22 at 12:07 am Reply Reply

    my daughter turned 3 in september and has been potty trained since right around that birthday. i just went cold turkey and put her in panties all the time until she got it, took her to the potty every 1/2 hour. we had tried using pull ups at 2 1/2 or so, and it became something fancy to pee in and never go to the potty. so it was a messy 2 weeks, and then 1 more for poop, but so worth it now. she potty trained at night at the same time. after dinner i cut off all fluids except for water, and that seems to do it, she’s only wet the bed 2 or 3 times since and always when she had been given something sugary to drink late. i was putting her in diapers at night for the first month, but when she’d wake up dry i figured what’s the point.
    on the other hand, i have a friend with all boys, and they would all wet the bed, up to the 5 yo if she didn’t put a pull up on during naps and bedtime. i totally see the worth in not washing 3 sets of sheets every day and every night. so you do what works for you.

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