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It was the same thing every night for six months straight. Starting when he was about 18 months old, Melissa Rose’s son Calder would wake up with a leaky diaper and pee-soaked pyjamas. This meant many, many middle-of-the-night pyjama and sheet changes. “It was a difficult time, sleep-wise,” she says, ruefully.
As toddlers get older and sleep for longer stretches at night, their diapers naturally have to hold more liquid. Going up a diaper size to accommodate a kid’s changing weight and body shape usually does the trick to stop the leaks, which is what worked for Kim Latimer when her son Jack was waking up with wet PJ waistbands at around 18 months old. Her friend took things a step further: “She actually doubles up on diapers, and cuts a slit in the outside of the first one so that the overflow can soak into the second one, but we didn’t have to go that far,” she says.
Before you MacGyver the diaper, you could try switching brands to see if there’s a slightly different fit that better suits your little one, or try a nighttime diaper, which is extra absorbent. For tummy sleepers, you can put the diaper on backwards to try to absorb more pee, and for boys, gently position the penis down when you put on the diaper. Some parents tuck a maxi pad into the diaper to soak up pee.
If you use cloth diapers, adding one or two hemp or cotton inserts (also known as doublers or boosters) can help. Karla Falk found that a wool diaper cover worked well at night for her daughters around age 1, because wool naturally repels moisture. “I’d take off the wool cover in the morning and the cloth diaper would be soaked inside, but the bed was dry,” she says. Wool covers, purchased where you buy cloth diapers, can also be used over disposables.
If a quick fix to the diaper isn’t enough to stop the leaks, look at how much your toddler is drinking, and when. Rose and her husband, Pete, tried a variety of things to stop Calder’s leaks, including preemptive diaper changes in the middle of the night and the maxi-pad trick to increase absorbency, but they found reducing the amount he drank after 5 p.m. the most effective.
Calgary paediatrician Lane Robson agrees your toddler’s liquid consumption habits can make a big difference. “If you’re asleep for 12 hours, and then don’t drink very much in the first part of the day, waste products build up in the blood,” he explains. “When children finally do start to drink, usually later in the day, the kidneys work overtime to process the unnecessary chemicals and this increases the amount of pee made during the evening and overnight." Think of a busy toddler who can’t be bothered to drink much in the morning, but is extra-thirsty in the afternoon and evening. His suggestion? Kids should “wake up and catch up” in the morning, which means drinking more water earlier in the day.
Of course, if you’ve ever tried to get a busy toddler to stop and drink, you know it’s not an easy feat. “It was very hard, as the only time he sat still long enough to drink anything was when he was tired at the end of the day, so it took a lot of time and patience to wean him from that habit,” says Rose. They made sure to offer Calder lots of liquids at breakfast, and asked daycare staff to keep his own familiar water bottle available throughout the day, not just at snacks and meals. Eventually, their persistence paid off. By age two, Calder was drier at night and the Rose family was back to less laundry and more sleep.
Expert Tip Staying hydrated earlier in the day can help prevent bedtime water gulping. If it’s hard to get your toddler to drink a lot of liquids earlier in the day, offer foods that have high water content, like cucumbers, celery, watermelon, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, grapefruit and strawberries.
A version of this article appeared in our September 2016 issue with the headline "Super soaker," p. 52.