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Diaper free before 2- Our journey

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Sharing how we went diaper free before the second birthday without using rewards or potty training!



"Wearing diaper really became a problem for sleep, as it is very common that babies and toddlers have a hard time going to sleep because they need to poo."

If you´re a parent of a toddler, the thought of moving away from diapers and potty training probably has crossed your mind. Keep reading to see what we did to transition out of diapers, following our child´s lead. Please note that I am not an expert on this topic, this is simply my personal experience with it the first time based on my beliefs and values around parenting!


Also: I personally really dislike the word *training* anytime we talk about children and their development, so I am choosing not to use it for what we did and call it "diaper free journey/moving on from diapers" instead because I genuinely believe there wasn´t any kind of training in the sense of me making him do something he would not have been ready for, involved. Before I talk about our journey, I want to address three common themes that come up all the time when we see content around using the potty or toilet.


Readiness

Looking out for signs of readiness, is usually the first step that is suggested when it comes to moving on from diapers. Signs of readiness usually include: Showing interest in using the toilet or potty, being aware of wearing a diaper (like pulling the diaper off) and signaling that they need to pee or poo. I believe every child is different and some children might not show any of these signs at all!

I personally find the concept of readiness a bit misleading: How can they every be ready for something they have never been exposed to? What if the child really dislikes wearing a diaper or has trouble having a bowel movement with a diaper on, but doesn´t show any of these signs? (which was us in the beginning) Should we then NOT try to go diaper free eventhough it would help?

I think what is possibly more important than signs of readiness in my opinion, is exposing a child to peeing or pooing without a diaper on without any presssure or expectation, at any age really.



Reward

This is a hot topic and I found there to be a lack of nuance in the potty training world! Rewards are either used quite commonly such as giving the child some candy or toy when they went on the potty OR totally demonized where even a moment of shared joy and "good job" is considered a mistake because bowel movements are just normal, nothing good or bad, which is true! As someone who saw their child really struggling to have a bowel movement with the diaper on, I could not stop myself from having moments of excitement when he was using the toilet effortlessly and yes... I probably also said "great!" and "well done" very frequently! I do think it is ALWAYS about expectations and context. I disagree with the concept of only using rewards in order to have them successfully use the toilet or bribing them to use it. However, I do not believe we are harming them by having moments of shared excitement when we support this process by following their lead and providing them with a pressure free environment, which is where the last theme comes in for me.


Time

I would personally shy away from any professional that guarantees a child will be diaper free in X amount of days or weeks. Just like with sleep, there should never be a guarantee or strict timeline because every child is SO different and a stranger on the internet can and should never make any promises to you how long it will take your child to use the potty successfully or sleep through the night, for that matter. I personally would not have pursued to go diaper free this "early" but it was clear that my son did so much better without them.


Now that we have address this, how DID we move on from diapers?

"After he got his first shots he was really upset and in pain, so I decided to give it a try and covered the floor in garbage bags and gave it a go holding him upright, pulling his knees towards his body."

The baby stage

I first started exposing my son to going without the diaper when he was around 2 months old, but not with the idea to stop diapers at all!

My midwife told me in the early newborn days, when he had normal newborn tummiy issues while getting used to breastmilk, that it helps a lot of babies feel better when they aren´t wearing a diaper and are held in a supportive way by the parent when they need to poo. After he got his first shots he was really upset and in pain, so I decided to give it a try and covered the floor in garbage bags and gave it a go holding him upright, pulling his knees towards his body (I did also use the toilet but newborns often like to be carried around to be soothed so I needed a more flexible solution!). Although messy, it worked like a charm and he felt better very quickly without medication. I continued to do this any time he had any sort of tummy issue with great success. He was very much happily wearing a diaper for the most part of the baby stage from then on and it was convenient for us to use them. There was a period at around 6 months where his bowel movements became quite regular, so I sat him on the potty for a lot of them, which worked well for a short peiod of time, but then he was very over it, so I stopped!


"He was so upset any time he needed to have a bowel movement, it took him at least 20 minutes with lots and lots of crying. He was super afraid of going in the diaper! "

Starting our diaper free journey

We really ran into trouble around 10-12 months, a notorious stage for refusing to lie down to get changed for most babies. He was so upset any time he needed to have a bowel movement, it took him at least 20 minutes with lots and lots of crying. He was super afraid of going in the diaper! Wearing diaper really became a problem for sleep, as it is very common that many babies and toddler have a hard time going to sleep because they need to poo. It became very obvious when he needed to poo, he didn´t eat a lot at mealtimes, he wanted to be picked up and tried to kind of crawl up on me and he go very upset at some point. It might be important to note that he never had any type of food intolerance of constipation at all, he just had a very hard time with the sensory experience of going with the diaper on!

So I decided to take his diaper off and set him on the toilet hoping that will help him. There was still a lot of fear and it took quite some reassurance from us but we successfully managed the transition away from diapers for pooing after a couple of weeks. I want to emphasize that there were still tears and he was upset becaus he was so scared of having a bowel movement. My husband and I continued to reassure and normalize his experience and always emphasized that we would just try it out. We never forced him to sit on the toilet or sat him on his potty when he was refusing. He also needed a lot of hugging and physical comfort before and after which we always provided and ultimately helped him feel very comfortable with using the toilet.Just sitting him on the toilet reduced this whole ordeal to around 5 minutes max.! So if your child seems currently upset with the diaper on when they need to go, this might very well be worth a try if you are up for it!

He was not fully verbal yet, but he was able to let me know when he needed to go.Both my husband and I got really good at reading his signs which were not always very obvious. It took us a while to connect all the behaviors like reduced appetite and clinginess to the need to have a bowel movement!

This was the first big step towards going diaper free, but I had not desire to explore fully stopping using them at that point. He always nursed a lot and had a lot of liquids, the idea of not having a diaper for peeing felt overwhelming and frankly not doable with my child!

"We kept the potty on display and asked him frequently if he needed to go.The first 3 days there were no accidents!"

Taking the final step

He was halfway out of diapers for at least 6 months before we took the last step to help him go diaper free.Three weeks ago it was very hot and he wasn´t wearing any clothes anyway so I randomly decided to offer the potty to him and simply told him he could use it whenever he needed to pee. To my complete suprise he did exactly that and was VERY excited about it and again we shared that moment of excitement! I did not do any kind of preparation for this other than obviouly always having him with me in the bathroom as most parents are familiar with...;-)

We kept the potty on display and asked him frequently if he needed to go.The first 3 days there were no accidents! I should add that he is home with me and is taken care of by my family when I work, which made this possible. A child that goes to the nursery will probably have to wear a diaper as the staff won´t be able to support them this early in the process. He needed to pee often and little in the beginning but very quickly started to hold his urin for 1 hour or more, it was a surprisingly quick process! We went out without a diaper on the first day and only had one accident out of the house while he was distracted.

He very quickly refused a diaper for naps and we managed to be dry during naps within a week with one or two accidents. He is currently still wearing a diaper at night reluctantly but seems to be waking up dry most mornings. We are simply not in a place to support this final step during the busy summer weeks or feel the need to remove the diaper completely for now, but we do believe he genuinely will not need it anymore even at night soon. Going diaper free was a gradual process that took several months and ended up happening quite quickly in the end, taking only 2 weeks to be fully diaper free during the day.

Our journey was very unique and you might not relate to all of what we experienced!


Here is what I would like you to take away from our journey!

  • Expose your child to diaper free time often and try out the potty or toilet without any pressure when you feel it is a good time


  • Read books and /or talk about using the potty/toilet in a positive, non-judgemental way


  • Going diaper free is a process that is unique to every child and deserves to be treated that way. If you are looking for help with this I´d look for individualizes support that takes into account their temperament and where they are currently (you might want to look for "toilet learning" and "elimination communication" for babies if you are looking for a responsive and individual approach to this! )


  • If your child seems upset having a bowel movement with the diaper on, try sitting them on the toilet or potty and calmly support their emotions with your presence and reassurance


  • I would not put your child on a specific timeline when it comes to going diaper free


  • Every child is so different and making these changes should respect their pace too


  • Make time on the potty or toilet a positive experience where they feel supported


  • Once you remove the diaper fully you really have to be prepared for them to reject it and be in a place where you can support this transition with sufficient time and energy!


  • Controlling their bladder is a process! They might need to go very often in the beginning before they are able to hold their urine for a long period of time.


  • We have never used diapers to be safe, once he was out of them we relied on communication and his body language to have him use the toilet or public restrooms, which worked very well


  • When you are out and about and have started the diaper free journey, always bring extra pants and underwear and diapers just in case.


  • Trust your child when they say they need to use the bathroom, in the beginning it might be 3 times within 10 minutes, go every time and sit with them even if they don´t need to go (mine did though!)


Lastly I want to share some changes I have seen in my son, since going diaper free and how it can affect sleep!


Changes

  • his bowel movements have significantly increased! Eventhough he was not pooing in the diaper anymore for months before going diaper free. Something about not wearing a diaper made his bowel movements even more regular and improved his digestion. Overall his body really benefited from going diaper free


  • He uses the toilet now by himself a lot and feels in control of this process which gives him a lot of confidence


  • Tantrums have decreased since he can use the toilet by himself! Which could be due to the sensory difficulties he had with it

Sleep


  • Waking up during the night and asking to pee can be common and happened to us. Even though he was wearing a diaper, he was not aware of it at night

  • Toddlers might wake early from their nap or at night with the same desire to use the toilet or when they had an accident. Try to ask them to use the toilet before their nap and avoid a lot of fluids before going to sleep (like a big glass of water). Feeding to sleep does not affect his ability to stay dry for naps for us! So keep doing that if it works for you and possibly offers a feed earlier as well should they take a lot of milk right before going to sleep

  • The experience of using the potty or toilet can affect their sleep and cause more nightwaking as with any new skill for a short period of time

  • If your child really does not want to wear a diaper for their nap, I´d suggest prepping your sleep space with disposable changing mats and using a mattress protector underneath it as well and giving it a go. It might help them learn to control their bladder quicker and reduce power struggles with the diaper before naps!


Whenever you choose to start moving away from diapers I hope you can do so without much pressure and comparison and can find an approach that honors your child´s uniqueness, temperament and pace! It really is just another step towards independence and they should always feel safe and supported by us parents to confidently make this transition!


UPDATE:

2 short weeks after posting this we did start transitioning away from diapers overnight as well and are now complete diaper free! Like I said I would have liked to hold on longer to them overnight but we had so many big emotions around it every night and he woke up dry most mornings anyway. There have been a couple accidents but overall it's been a very smooth transition.







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