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Still with diapers at night? Timing nighttime potty training right

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Inside: When is the best night time potty training age and how to drop night diapers.

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Your child won’t learn how to hold a spoon in the same way at the same time as your friend’s child. Your child won’t drop naps in the same way, at the same time, as his sibling (though wouldn’t that be nice!).  But somehow, many moms seem to think dropping the night diapers, when to do that, what’s a signal to start...there’s this thought that the process should look the same for all toddlers.

The reality is overnight potty training looks different for every toddler.

Some toddlers DON’T even need to potty train at night time.

Many toddlers DO need to be nudged along with taking away the night diapers (or they’ll keep using them.)

So let’s reveal the truths and the myths around night time toilet training, so you can feel more confident on how to drop the night diapers.

Because as an Oh Crap Potty Training consultant, I’ve helped thousands of families along their night training journey. While I've noticed patterns for sure, each case looks a little different. Jamie’s chapter on Night Training in Oh Crap Potty Training follows her work with thousands of families taking the jump with their toddler going diaper-free at night.

You don't want to treat your toddler dropping diapers at night as an afterthought.

Because then you could be stuck with either seeing endless wet beds. Or feeling lost on how to time pulling the night pull-ups.

How to know when to drop the night diapers

Right now, your toddler is still in pull-ups (or cloth diapers) at night, and you're wondering how to go about taking away those diapers. (To be clear, pull-ups are the same as diapers in our book.)

Here are 3 tips for nighttime potty training to get you started.

(And I'm going to debunk a couple overnight potty training myths for you, because that's always fun.)

1. Truth: Every child's night time toilet training journey is going to look different.

Read that over a couple times and let it sink in.

Because you're likely on Instagram, Pinterest, in moms' groups, and you're likely hearing a lot of noise about potty training — and tricks that will magically potty train your child. I can tell you as a mama who personally night trained two kids (where each night journey looked wildly different) and as a certified potty training consultant — the transition to going diaper-free at night looks different for every child.

Yes, there are strategies, there are solutions, and there are clues you should be looking for.

But first, it's important to recognize that there's no *box* that your child is going to fit in.

Every child's nighttime potty journey will look a little different related to:

  • their sleep patterns

  • their natural ability to hold and consolidate

  • their fluid intake

  • their pee patterns in the day

And the list goes on.

2. Potty Training Myth: Every child will naturally learn to hold their pee through the night on their own, in their own time.

The key phrase here is *every* child. This statement above is *not true* because that's not what will happen for *all* children.

Many children will need some kind of nighttime potty training in order to be able to adjust to holding and consolidating through the night.

Keep in mind that generations ago, there weren't super-absorbent nighttime pull-ups in any possible size, making it oh-so-convenient to keep your toddler in diapers overnight. So toddlers got nudged along earlier in the process of learning how to hold and consolidate, or hold their pee, for longer stretches overnight.

Are you waiting to yank the diapers because you heard your child's bladder naturally can't hold it till age 4 or 5 or 6? What is the right night time potty training age?

Are you waiting for your child to say they're ready to let go of the pull-ups at night?

Here's what we know about how night time toilet training happens for a child.

The first side of potty training (daytime) is what we're all familiar with. Thinking about how to teach your child to catch their pee and poop in the potty when the sensation strikes.

The other half of potty training is the natural process of holding and consolidating.

That is partly why nighttime potty training will look different for every child (see point #1). The process of holding and consolidating looks different for each child. That's physical.

Part of that is related to your child's natural pee patterns.

Think on this. Does your child pee 3 times in an hour or 3 times per day?

In Oh Crap Potty Training, we suggest waiting to jump into nighttime potty training until your child is able to hold their pee in the daytime for 2-3 hour stretches. If your child is still in the stage of peeing 4 times in an hour, then it will be too difficult to jump into overnight potty training.

timing nighttime potty training
Timing is key in nighttime potty training

On the flip side, some children naturally move through holding and consolidating quite soon into the process.

You'll start noticing dry diapers upon wakeup from nap, or even notice dry diapers in the morning.


Some mamas wonder if their child will verbally express,

Hey mama, I don't want those pull-ups at night anymore.

If you're waiting on that, you could be waiting forever.

That being said, it also could happen! It did actually happen to me and a smaller sampling of parents I've worked with. So it is possible that your child will feel so much pride in being able to use the potty during the day, that they will resist putting on overnight pull-ups or cloth diapers.

If your child does signal that to you, then what should you do?

Follow their lead. Drop the pull-ups at night.

How to know when to drop the night diapers

For the child who's waking up with a string of dry diapers and for the child who says they don't want to wear their nighttime's why you want to drop the night pull-ups.

If you keep putting your child in the nighttime diaper then what will happen?

They will use it. Because it's there. (Can't fault them, you know?!)

And then you've missed your magic window.

What about the timing of nighttime potty training?

When is the best time to drop the night diapers for a child?

If your child is under 3 years of age, and you're not thrilled with the idea of nighttime potty training, go ahead and wait it out.

It's possible you may not even need to potty train at night! (Win win!) It's possible, and does happen, that your child may naturally hold and consolidate all on their own.

After a few dry diapers, you yank the nighttime pull-ups, and there you go. (But don't forget to prep the space for your diaper-free child at night.)

It really is that easy sometimes.

This is especially true with children who run more like a camel in their pee patterns, and are already peeing just a handful of times in the daytime.

If your child is approaching age 3 with no signs of holding and consolidating at night, then we suggest attending to overnight potty training. Why is this so?

What's special about this age for night time potty training?

The child's bladder is being formed at this time. If your child is not naturally starting to hold and consolidate their pee, and you do nothing to help the process, the muscles may atrophy.

There's been a spike in bedwetting issues, and children ages 5, 6, and 7 still wetting the bed. Most of us who are in our thirties and older were potty trained in the generation where our parents did not even know of day and night potty training. Around age 2, the diapers (which were not super leakproof and therefore not so convenient) were tossed altogether, day and night.

One simple thing you can do? Make sure you're helping your toddler settle in to bed...

If bedtime feels like a disaster, that can affect your child being able to hold their pee (when a child is running shaved on sleep.)

Here's a book we love to calm down in the evenings when the kids are all wired. When my kids were younger I would lead them through the poses in Good Night Yoga. Now that they're older (and readers) they take turns leading us through during bedtime. We don't do it every evening, but it's a bedtime ritual that's always had a sweet calming effect over the years.

Note: There are other causes for bedwetting (including OT issues) that are separate from typical nighttime potty training. If you suspect something with your child, seek out medical support. But in typical cases, bedwetting can be avoided if you attend to night time toilet training so your child adjusts to holding and consolidating for longer stretches overnight while diaper-free.

Prep your child's bedroom for night training.

3. Truth: It's easier to see dry beds when you prep your child's sleeping quarters.

So you've read the nighttime potty training chapter in Oh Crap Potty Training. You've monitored fluids. You're ready to start. Now take a look at the sleeping quarters of your child.

Is your child in a crib? Nighttime potty training will be hard when your toddler is still sleeping in a crib — tough on your back, abs, and all trying to lift a sleeping toddler out of a low-setting crib to set on the small potty in the middle of the night. I experienced this personally, and it's not a process I ever recommend.

It's best to jump into nighttime potty training when your child has transitioned to a bed, or if you're bed-sharing, that works out well, too.

Here's more on timing the switch from crib to a toddler bed.

Related: Make sure you think about safety-proofing your toddler's room (and the stairs) before you switch over from a crib to a bed. Some kids respond well to a color-changing nightlight alarm, knowing they can't get out of the bed until it's the green light.

Before stepping into night training, you want to have a couple thick diaper changing pads, something expansive and absorbent that will be a protective layer if there is an accident (so you can quickly get your child back to sleep in a dry bed).

Place one on top of the sheet so it's under your child when you go to tuck your child into bed. Then have at least an extra pad or two handy for nightly wakeups.

In the beginning, there will likely be misses and accidents. Padding the bed right makes that easier.

So instead of re-making a bed, sheets and all, in the middle of the night, you want to have something to easily place over a wet spot as a cover. (Keep in mind, you'll also want to protect your toddler's mattress with a waterproof ​mattress cover.) Another idea: Jamie also recommends a fleece blanket as an easy top layer to put on the bed if your child has had an accident.

Related: If you're looking for more night time toilet training tips, I shared 10 tips for nighttime potty training. And you can also get free nighttime potty training tracking guides by signing up here! Post it on your refrigerator so you're prepped and ready for this big step!

Looking for more support? Jamie has a night training course and I work with parents one-on-one through nighttime potty training.

Because dropping the nighttime pull-ups takes more than wishing on some stars.

It doesn't typically work when it's just an afterthought.

But your toddler's bed staying dry overnight can happen when you're prepared with the right expectations.

Illustrations: Citrus and Mint Designs


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