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Nighttime Potty Training Woes

Nighttime Potty Training Woes

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

My four-year-old has been happily out of diapers during the day since she was two-and-a-half but we cannot get her out of diapers at night. She desperately wants to be completely diaper-free and I know most of her friends have been dry at night for a long time but I’m really struggling to know how to help her.

The problem is she just doesn’t wake up if she needs to go. For pooping (not that she does it very often at night) she can wake up and go to the bathroom and put herself back to bed no problem, but for peeing her body just stays asleep. We tried going cold-turkey on diapers a few months ago but after three or four nights of having to change sheets at 3am I gave up and put her back in a diaper.

I would probably be OK with just waiting it out and keeping her in diapers indefinitely, but she is really upset about this and aware that her friends don’t need diapers anymore so I thought I’d ask if you have any advice.

Thanks
L

We’ve touched on this topic before, and so there’s probably a huuuuuge wealth of advice and helpful suggestions back in the comment sections of older posts, but I think it’s worth going over again.

Staying dry at night is a completely separate, whole other “thing” than potty training during the day. For the majority of children, the ability to stay dry at night comes later. “Later” can be a couple weeks, months… or years. It’s not a question of practice or motivation. It’s a physiological development — the brain and the bladder finally sync up and wake the rest of the body up in time to get to the bathroom. If she’s a naturally deep sleeper, this task is even more difficult.

Many, many children struggle with enuresis (bedwetting) long, long after potty training. And it’s just…one of those things. You don’t know whether it will stop next weekend or next month or next year. Most kids outgrow it, and it’s up to the parents to stay calm and collected about it — no yelling or scolding, recognize that this is something she CANNOT help or control, and let her know that she is normal and wonderful and this is really okay and not forever.

Usually, yeah, some kind of absorbent pant at night is the easiest solution, while you wait for your daughter’s body to make the development leap. I can guarantee she’s NOT the only four year old on the playground who isn’t staying dry yet, no matter what the unofficial peer pressure survey suggests. (It’s so common that most doctors and experts don’t even classify it as a problem worth dealing with until the child is six or older. Under five? Keep ‘em in diapers and give ‘em more time. No shame, no biggie. So normal.)

But since she’s sensitive, yes, you definitely want to keep this positive and make sure she’s not feeling shame or sadness about it. Does she view Pull-Ups as something that’s not quite a diaper? Could you make a switch in brand or color and simply present them as “bedtime pants” rather than a “diaper” that she wore as a baby?

If that still bothers her, invest in a bedwetting alarm. I have heard very, very good things about them and they seem to work for the majority of kids who use them. (Commenters? Specific brand/model recommendations?)

Other things that can factor into bedwetting (beyond an immature bladder), are constipation and too much to drink too close to bedtime. Keep an eye on the poops and see your doctor for a laxative recommendation if needed — constipation puts pressure on the urinary tract so it’s very common for constipated (chronically or one-time) kids to have accidents at night. Watch her liquid intake during and after dinner and try to scale back on a lot of drinks of water right at bedtime. (And obviously, one final good pee right before bed is a MUST.) The longer her bladder takes to fill, the more likely she’ll be further along in her sleep cycle and able to make it until morning until she has to go again.

Good luck!

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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Comments

  • Kate

    We call the pull ups  “nighttime underwear” and that seems to help make a distinction. I don’t know how much she’s wetting at night but I saw these in Target the other day and they might be worth a shot. They’re regular cloth underwear with a disposable pad to absorb accidents. 

    https://www.goodnites.com/our-products/goodnites-trufit/

  • Karen

    My daughter pee trained at three but still soaked pull-ups at night until well into 4. Around 4.5 they weren’t as soaked, so we just went to underwear and had her pee before bedtime, Around 11 pm, before we went to sleep, one of us would lift her out of bed, sleep walk her to the toilet and sit her on it. She’d sleepily pee and then we’d walk her back to bed.

    We have not had a single wetting incident unless we forget to take her to the bathroom. She is five now and out of laziness, I’ve not been taking her to pee and we’ve had no accidents so hopefully that ship has sailed. Good luck! 

    • Clover

      We tried the sitting little one on the toilet before we went to bed trick, but ours would always wake up (I think because we were doing this in winter and it was chilly once we pulled kiddo out of the bed covers).

      We had success doing a second toilet trip before kiddo’s bedtime instead. We did a routine of toilet, brush teeth, PJs, reading time for 10-15 mins and then toilet again, bed, song, light out.

      The second toilet trip always produced a bit more pee and fully emptying the bladder that way did the trick.

  • Susan

    My 4.5 year old daughter has been potty trained since 2.5 and is still wearing pull-ups at night. Her MD said to not worry until about 6. All the same things Amy said. 

  • A

    I kind of have to disagree on two points.

    1. Those alarms don’t do anything but wake up the rest of the house. If you’re a deep enough sleeper to pee yourself, you’re a deep enough sleeper to snooze through the alarm.

    2. Even at age 6, the doctor isn’t going to worry or do anything about it. Some people just pee the bed. For a long time. My 9-year-old nephew still wears pullups at night.

    I absolutely agree with the idea that this has nothing to do with potty training. The kid’ll grow out of it, eventually. Just don’t make it a big deal, keep buying pullups, and have extra sheets handy.

  • KW

    I could have written this letter myself. Every pediatrician I’ve talked to has said the same thing as Amy, no big deal. I wouldn’t worry about the diaper(especially since I found XL cloth diapers so it doesn’t even cost us anything – pull ups are expensive!), except that I was concerned that it might create a habit of peeing at night instead of waking up but our ped said that’s unlikely. o

  • KW

    Baby prematurely hit send for me, thanks baby! Our son is sometimes a little bummed about wearing the diaper but we just keep telling it to him straight. This doesn’t change the fact that he’s a big boy who goes to preschool, rides a bike like a champ, is an awesome big brother, etc. Sometimes even big boys have to wait for their body to develop and someday his will wake up to use the potty at night, just like mom and dad do. No pressure, no shame, just the facts. (FWIW – He prefers the cloth diapers to pull ups, I have no idea why.)

     I’m glad to see from other comments that there is a light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel and I’m not the only one!

    • Tasterspoon

      Yes, KW, what are the XL cloth diapers? Same situation as OP, and my nearly-4 daughter violently objects to pull-ups because she finds them scratchy. Are they diapers or more like training pants? I’d optimistically prefer something she can remove herself should the situation arise…but her pees are pretty voluminous.

      • Kate

        There are a couple of brands that make bigger sizes. We like Super Undies because they’re stuffable so you can adjust the absorption and they’re less bulky than some other brands. 

         http://www.superundies.com/

      • KW

        Kate, those look great, maybe I’ll get some of those next time around if I need them (oh please let me not need them!)

        I have these:
        http://www.alvababy.com/baby-big-size-cloth-diaper-c-97.html?zenid=7b811db9c6efbd820b1dc895287b964f

        They’re a cheapo Chinese diaper, my 48lb 4 year old who wears 5/6 is able to wear them. I stuff them with a large prefold and hemp insert. They leak on me from time to time, maybe once every couple weeks, but I ordered them when I was buying the baby diapers because they were so cheap and I figured, why not give it a try. Good luck!

  • KW, can you tell me about these XL cloth diapers? My 3yo is NOT going to use the potty, she was in cloth but outgrew them last year, she wears size 5T clothes…

    • Kate

      There are a couple of brands that make bigger sizes. We like Super Undies because they’re stuffable so you can adjust the absorption and they’re less bulky than some other brands. 

       http://www.superundies.com/

    • KW

      Kate, those look great, maybe I’ll get some of those next time around if I need them (oh please let me not need them!)

      I have these:
      http://www.alvababy.com/baby-big-size-cloth-diaper-c-97.html?zenid=7b811db9c6efbd820b1dc895287b964f

      They’re a cheapo Chinese diaper, my 48lb 4 year old who wears 5/6 is able to wear them. I stuff them with a large prefold and hemp insert. They leak on me from time to time, maybe once every couple weeks, but I ordered them when I was buying the baby diapers because they were so cheap and I figured, why not give it a try. Good luck!

  • Julie w

    Our son was somewhat upset about his nighttime pull-up. While we could talk ourselves blue in the face about how his body wasn’t ready yet, he only believed the pediatrician. So if the anxiety is high it might be worth scheduling an appointment

  • Kimtoo

    Throwing another possibility out there- I firmly believe my 4.5yo’s daughter’s bedwetting is related to her sleep apnea.  It’s a bonafide symptom.  She  sleeps so deeply even during naps that I’m constantly shoving waterproof pads under her – she’ll fall asleep basically anywhere. It’s more common in young children than you might think. So if your kid is showing other signs, such as snoring, that might be worth a look too. If not for the OP, maybe for other people dealing with the issue.

  • Maggie

    What worked for us was the night time trip to the bathroom. Carry her in, tell her to go, carry her back to bed. She never really woke up completely, and the 11 pm pee ended all bedwetting. If we forgot to take her, then her bed would be wet by morning. By 5 she didn’t seem to need to go every night, and we were able to stop.

  • Stephanie

    For what it’s worth, I think it’s perfectly normal for a four year old to still need some kind of nighttime protection. However, if she’s really upset about it, the bedwetting alarm really worked well for us.(Seriously, under a week, and he was dry at night.) Our son was six, not four, and it’s been years, so I may be wrong, but I think it does work better for older children. Their bodies just need to catch up, and it won’t really work well until that happens.
    I like Amy’s suggestion of special pull-ups or something and just calling them bedtime undies or something.

  • IrishCream

    Another vote for the late-night potty trip. My daughter barely woke up when we carried her in there (in fact, one night she was so deeply asleep that she fell right off the toilet when my husband let go of her…whoops!), but she always had a full bladder. It was part of our adult bedtime routine for about six months, until we heard her get up to take herself to the bathroom at night. We stopped when she was four, but one of my nephews needed it until he was six or seven…every kid is different!

  • Breezy

    Just throwing in a comment based on personal experience – both my brother and I wet the bed regularly until about age 11. This was in the late 80s-early 90s. My parents tried everything (waking up at midnight for a sleepy visit to the bathroom, restricting fluids, etc) and nothing worked – until one day it just stopped, forever. We were (and are) both deep sleepers. Most kids, including my own, grow out of it faster.

    When goodnights came out, it was a game changer. There are now a lot of products out there that are almost indistinguishable from underwear. Hopefully your daughter will find something that makes her feel comfortable … and yes, definitely other 4 year olds out there with the same thing going on!

  • Karen

    I thing the biggest thing here is communication.  Since she can’t stay dry then you know the diaper is a must.  I would keep the diapers on her until she can stay dry and explain to her that diapers are not just for babies.  Tell her that she is not the only 4 yr old that wears a diaper to bed and that there are even older kids that still wear diapers to bed.  The more you communicate with her the better and let her know that soon she will be dry and not need diapers anymore but until then get her to understand the positive of wearing the diapers of keeping her dry and bedding dry at night.

  • stephanie smith

    I have been a parent 21 yrs and still have a 4 yr old at home plus have spent my life in infant/child care and infant/child education and the ONE thing you can’t seem to find anywhere anymore –since the invention of Pull ups — is that you may want to FILL your child (not toddler) ‘to the brim’ with water just before they go to bed and THEN wake them before you go to bed to put them on the potty. Once their body starts getting the idea that a full bladder is painful and the relief they feel from going, they will turn this into their own habit. I found this info. on the fledgling internet in 1996 or so and can’t find the site nor the info anywhere and it solved our child’s nighttime solid sleep/bedwetting in three nights. Pediatricians are not always correct nor educated on this subject.