Alivia Munro has been daytime toilet trained since she was 22 months old, but it wasn’t until she was almost four that she attempted the switch to underpants at night. The milestone couldn’t come soon enough for her mom, Natasha Munro, who was expecting her second baby. They ditched Alivia’s nighttime diaper shortly after her little sister arrived this past spring. Since Alivia was a potty pro during daylight hours, Munro figured night training would be a cinch. But it hasn’t gone as planned.
“We’ve been failing miserably,” says Munro, from Redwood Meadows, Alta. “Alivia is such a sound sleeper that when I get up with the baby, she’s often already peed the bed.” Now, Munro and her husband trade off night-feeding their baby and stripping Alivia’s sheets.
Read more: The challenges of nighttime potty training>
Nighttime dryness usually happens naturally sometime between the ages of four and five, but it can happen earlier or later (into grade school). A child’s bladder needs to have matured enough to hold urine overnight, or the bladder-brain neural pathway must be sufficiently developed to send a signal that wakes her up to go pee. In general, boys can take longer to toilet train than girls because “the plumbing is a little bit more complicated,” says Alyson Shaw, a paediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. And, not surprisingly, kids who wet the bed longer tend to be deep sleepers, like Alivia.
As with daytime training (which comes first), look for signs of readiness before suggesting underpants at bedtime, says Shaw. If your kid wakes up dry every morning for a week or so and is willing to give it a try, go for it, she says.
That’s exactly how it happened for Calgary mom Jessica Harcombe Fleming and her daughter, Felicity, who’s now four. When Felicity was three she had a series of dry nights. “We figured her bladder was mature enough,” says Harcombe Fleming. “Her dad suggested she didn’t need her training pants at night. She agreed.” To set her up for success, they didn’t encourage drinks after dinner, but let Felicity have water if she was really thirsty. They also had her go pee when she brushed her teeth and again right before lights out. Felicity’s parents invested in a waterproof mattress cover and put a potty chair in her room to make it easy for her to go in the night. After three months, she’d only had two or three accidents.
Felicity recently had several wet nights that coincided with her mom’s return to work after maternity leave (her little brother, Remington, just turned one), but such backsliding is normal, says Shaw. Potty training usually happens in fits and starts and regression can be expected, especially during times of transition or change. Shaw does recommend speaking to a doctor if a child has been dry for a long period—say, six months—and then starts having accidents, as it could be a sign of a urinary tract infection.
Ditching diapers at night hints at easier times to come for parents, so waiting—sometimes years—can be hard. But it’s something parents can’t control. Because staying dry overnight is a purely physiological achievement, it can’t be taught in the same way the daytime skill is, says Shaw. Taking away diapers cold turkey, or carrying a slumbering child to the toilet at 10 p.m. for a final visit, won’t speed up the process.
You can get sneaky to keep the momentum going, like Munro did: Alivia isn’t physically mature enough to stay dry all night, but Munro didn’t have the heart to put her back in diapers after touting diaper-free nights as a “big girl” thing. So she got training pants that look like underwear to bridge the gap. “I know we should have waited, but I was so fed up with diapers,” says Munro. “We’re not there yet, but I know dry nights will happen eventually.”