Having slept with four ec’d babies, I’ve done my share of being wee’d on, and it taught me some basic truths about wet beds and night time potty training.
This is the biggie:
Night time nappy free is not like daytime nappy free.
During the day, wet pants mean something. They’re cold and uncomfortable. And if you have a child commando in fleece trousers they must feel horrible when they’re wet! With no pants at all, your toddler can look down and see the wee forming a puddle around their feet. Cause and effect. Perfect conditions for learning.
But in bed, being wet is something else entirely.
It’s warm, it’s comfortable, and there’s nothing to see.
From personal experience, I can tell you that in body temperature bedding, body temperature wee feels neither hot nor cold. It’s invisible to your body’s sense of touch. Infeelable. And by the time it’s soaked into clothes or bedding so there’s no splashable puddle, it’s actually quite difficult to identify that everything is wet.
If you’ve ever woken with a soaked shirt for other reasons, this will make intuitive sense.
For example, When I was breast feeding for England, I could wake up absolutely drenched in milk (waterproof mattress protectors are great for that, btw). Yet it was never the wetness of my shirt that woke me up – that was always something I discovered once I was awake.
I’ve slept in heat waves and under ridiculously heavy duvets and woken soaked in sweat. The wetness of my shirt didn’t wake me then, either.
And… I’ve been comfortably lying with a sleeping baby on my chest, under a blanket, and not been able to tell whether I’d been wee’d on or not. I was awake and I was suspicious – but I had to really put some effort into finding out.
A baby (or toddler, or child) who is going to ‘learn’ to be dry at night needs to respond to THE ACT of needing a wee or doing a wee. They can’t rely on the aftermath or their environment to program their brain.
So if your child is going to wee without noticing you might as well use nappies and save yourself oodles of stress and washing.
And yet! There are times when it makes perfect sense to take away nappies at night.
When To Go Nappy Free At Night:
1) When you’re potty training. Properly potty training. Going for the finish line and teaching your child to notice every single time their bladder sends a message. Here, being nappy free at night is ideal because it consolidates what’s going on in the daytime. You want the night brain to respond in the same way as the day brain, rather than learning to ignore that message at night.
Bladder: Come in Brain, Come in Brain, We have a situation.
Brain: Hold on Bladder, let me check whether it’s safe… Yes, we have a nappy. I repeat, we have a nappy. Let loose.
If that happens a few times, the brain will switch from high alert to its familiar autopilot:
Bladder: Come in Brain, Come in Brain, We…
Brain: Never bother me again after 6pm. Empty at will.
For most children, when this happens they’re reverting to a lifelong ingrained subconscious habit, which it’s then very difficult to jolt them out of.
Had your chance… missed it.
[Old habits die hard, and some children trigger the old autopilot at night in certain circumstances.
– Some might wet wearing knickers, but be dry with a bare bum.
– Some will wet with a bare bum but be dry wearing knickers.
– Some will be dry for weeks, wear a disposable for 3 nights at Granny’s house and then wet the bed for three weeks straight.
With practice the brain will replace the old autopilot response with a new one: WAKE UP! And at that point it won’t matter what they wear to bed.]
2) When your child is dry virtually every night – with a bit of help from you – and it would be more comfortable and convenient if you didn’t bother with a nappy.
This is every ec-er’s dream scenario. Congratulations if it describes you
Here’s when it’s fine to use a nappy at night…
When To Use A Nappy At Night:
1) At all other times.
My experience of pottying through the night, from newborn babies to fully potty trained toddlers, is that, just like daytime pottying, it’s attitude that shapes your child’s reactions.
If you respond to a child’s signals at night, you teach them that those signals are worth listening to.
And that has nothing to do with what they’re wearing.
Bedwetting Alarms and Pre-emptive Parents
Do you know about bed wetting alarms? They’re one of the solutions offered to older children (age 5+) who are chronic bedwetters. They’re wired into the child’s pants and the instant they get wet a loud alarm goes off – waking the child up. The child’s brain learns to anticipate the alarm – just like Pavlov’s dogs – and soon the alarm is redundant.
(This won’t work for all causes of bedwetting. If there’s no bladder-to-brain signal to detect: i.e, the bladder is spasming involuntarily, or being squashed by chronic constipation – the alarm isn’t going to help. However, if the signal is there, but is being ignored – they can work like a charm. An alarm charm…)
When a parent reacts to their child’s night time signals, they’re acting much like the alarm. Only better. Because the alarm goes off as the child starts to wee, whereas a parent can wake the child when they notice the signal before the wee starts. This is usually a shifting of position.
This teaches the child that the bladder’s signal matters and it’s one of the reasons I’m a huge fan of the pre-emptive wee.
A well timed pre-empt teaches a child to respond to their bladder.
I know, I know – your health visitor told you not to lift your child because it will prevent them from becoming dry-through-the-night of their own accord. Let’s think about that for a minute…
Unsurprisingly, wetting a nappy at night is not a pre-requisite for night time dryness. However, what they’re saying does stem from research into how the bladder works.
You’ve probably read about the hormone ADH (Anti-diuretic hormone / Vasopressin) that regulates how your body deals with water in the blood. More ADH = more reabsorption of water in the kidneys = more concentrated urine = less liquid in the bladder.
As the bladder fills at night, it triggers a surge of this hormone to slow down urine production. “Can we get through the night without overflowing? Let’s give it a go…”
Lifting isn’t ‘recommended’ because if you help a child to empty their bladder before the hormone is triggered, the body doesn’t ‘learn’ to slow urine production at night, and the child isn’t able to go a full 12 hours without needing to wee.
BUT, the hormone has to be triggered well before the bladder is full to capacity because urine production doesn’t stop altogether, it only slows down. Once the bladder is full to the brim, it’s going to empty involuntarily regardless of hormone concentrations – and by then the time for homeostatic ‘learning’ has passed. Whether that bladder empties into a potty or a nappy makes no odds to regulation.
That’s when a well timed pre-emptive offer can actually help your child to gain bladder control at night.
If you see your toddler signal in their sleep, and you know they’re going to wee in the next few minutes (because they always do) you can teach them to respond to that signal by helping them use the potty.
Days, months, or years down the line, hormone regulation should take over (or their routines will change) and they won’t be holding 210ml of wee at 9:30pm. Then, maybe they’ll make it through the night without needing to wee. But until then, it’s really really useful to have taught them to respond to a full bladder by waking up rather than rolling over.
Why Pre-empts Worked Out So-Very-Well For Me
My kids woke in the late evening to wee for years. From about 15 months, when they’d call for me, to age 3 when I’d nip upstairs to be on standby when I heard them trot across the landing, to age 6 when they could come down from the top bunk, go to the toilet and get back up again without having any memory of it at all.
If we had been waiting for them to be ‘dry through the night’ thanks to the hormone alone – I would have a 7 year old in nappies! Yep, she would have been wearing nappies more than 5 years longer than she did.
For all my four children, that evening pre-empt was always the biggest wee of the day. By a long way. It could be three times the volume of normal daytime wee. With that much urine in the bladder at 10pm there was no way they were going to make it until morning. Especially when they were breast feeding multiple times a night.
So What Do Nappies Have To Do With It?
Well, not much actually…
If you teach your baby to respond to a full bladder using an evening pre-empt, it will make no difference whether they’re in a nappy or not.
That’s because they’re not checking what they’re wearing when they process a signal from the bladder.
They’re practicing waking up instead.
Bladder: Come in Brain, Come in Brain, We have a situation.
Brain: Sound the mummy alarm!
Voice: MUMMY! MUMMY!
In Summary: It’s Fine To Use Both Nappies And A Potty At Night
I’ve washed a lot of sheets.
I’ve washed puddle pads and muslins. I’ve washed pillowcases stuffed with terry nappies and wool blankets. I’ve washed duvet covers and waterproof sheets.
And do you know what’s much easier to wash than any of those things?
I could be just as vigilant and have far less clearing up by using Flaparaps all night than going full on nappy free, so frankly I wouldn’t recommend anything else 😉
Having said that…
If you have a baby who doesn’t move all night and manages not to wet the blanket when they wee, than nakedness and a waterproof sheet (cotton covered pul or lanolised wool) might work wonderfully!
But if you’re sick of having duvets hanging over your doors, either invest in Flaparaps or use whatever nappy you have to hand.
No-one needs to add ‘deal with wet bed’ to their baby’s morning routine.
(See The Born Ready Quick-Start Guide to Night time Pottying to get started / decide whether night time ec is right for you.)
The Comments: Your Turn!
You know more people read the comments than the article, right? Get stuck in!
Fabulous post! Very reassuring and I love your logical thinking and fun style! Just what I am going through with my two year-old daughter she usually has a 9.15-9.30 wee which is rather heavyweight despite several wees before bed. If I miss it, she usually soakes herself. Then she might have a wee during one of her bfeeds (2-4 times at the moment!) and then in the morning. We use flaparaps sleeping nappies and I don’t think we are ready to go nappy free. I do the same with my son, (5) pick him up towards the morning if he stirs when I touch him and his willie pointing to potty 😉 when does one sleep is my only question 😉