This post was originally posted on February 26, 2016, and has been fully updated on October 19, 2021 to include an audio (Podcast) version, a video (YouTube) version, and to include some basic updates. Enjoy! xx Andrea
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When my daughter was about 9 months old, I was a sleep-deprived wreck. For the past 5 months we were taking hours to fall asleep, waking every 45 minutes with a cry and, as the morning approached, sometimes every 10 minutes. I’ve tried all the advice I could find to improve my daughter’s sleep, short of CIO, but nothing worked.
In one of the articles I stumbled upon when my daughter was around 6 months old, the author claimed that children pee in between the sleep cycles and that some babies dislike soiling themselves so much it makes them cry and fuss. I immediately felt that this could be it for us, but the idea of getting up to offer the potty at night, on top of everything else, seemed like a nightmare - and like a sure way to spend even less time sleeping. Little did I know that this was exactly what we needed to improve our sleep!
I hit rock bottom at about 9 months old, recalled this article, and tried to give it a go - figuring out the how-to’s as we went, which I’ll lay out below.
(For those that might be wondering at this point, we did not start EC until our little one was 6 months old and we started accidentally - by taking of dd’s diaper and holding her in EC hold for her first “solid food” poop - and then she never looked back. Our sleep troubles started much earlier and were not the result of practicing EC.)
Looking back at our experience, I know exactly when and what went wrong. Our problems started when I stopped changing my daughter’s night diaper based on advice I got from other mummies. They said that at 4 months children can stay in the same diaper overnight, and since my daughter was dry overnight at that time (3 months old) and I changed her diaper after the night feed, I thought their advice made sense.
My daughter started (or continued) to wake when she needed to pee/ feed, but as I did not change her like I used to, she would fall asleep nursing and wake after every sleep cycle, feeling discomfort. I would respond by breastfeeding, worried she was hungry (I was battling supply issues), and that created a never-ending vicious cycle of exhaustion. Things would get even worse for us when my daughter was going through a developmental leap, growth spurt, or teething, as that’s when babies tend to pee more at night.
Meanwhile, I labeled it a never-ending sleep regression. And naturally, having labeled it wrongly, I did not address it properly.
If you recognize yourself in our story, read on – I hope you will find a solution to your sleep deprivation. If you are lucky enough not to experience the same problems, but intrigued to know how to manage night-time EC, you will find useful tips-and tricks in continuation!
How to start night-time EC?
In our case, I started by removing the diaper cover (we used cloth diapers) to verify that my daughter is really waking before or while she was peeing. Once I confirmed my suspicions I did what any sensible, sleep deprived parent would do – went out and bought a pack of disposables diapers, hoping that the super-duper stay-dry effect would make my daughter sleep through the sensation of peeing. :) So after about a week of hoping, I had to come to terms with the fact that wet cloth diapers had nothing to do with my daughter’s waking up. It was really, and only, the sensation of peeing that was waking her up and making her/us miserable.
The next couple of nights were a bit difficult as we were all getting used to new routine and trying to come up with an approach that wakes us all up the least. Any transition or changing a habit takes about a week, and so did this. However, within the next 3 days we were sleeping 1.5 – 3 hour stretches and night pottying made such a huge difference for us! (So, of course, I got greedy and tried the ‘sposies again, hoping she’d sleep even longer, to no avail!)
After that, I was committed to night-time EC. My daughter got used to our new routine quickly, and would fall asleep as soon as I would put her in the EC-hold above our night receptacle. The whole routine was very short and we were both able to drift back to sleep quickly.
If you are wondering how to pull it off, here are the tips-and-tricks to make your night-time EC easier.
Step 1: Prepare
To make the transition to a night-time EC routine easier for everyone, plan ahead and prepare:
- Extra waterproof and absorbent layers to protect the bed.
- Put a waterproof cover over the bed, then an absorbent layer (like a towel), and then the bed sheet. And then repeat one more time. This way, if the upper layer gets wet, you can remove it and have your bed readymade.
- Fleece blanket.
- Fleece is not a natural material, and I generally do not prefer to use it. However, it can be a life saver if you are having a bad night. If the bed is wet, you can throw a fleece blanket over the wet part and it will act as a stay-dry layer, keeping the moisture below the blanket - and your bed will seem dry. This is very practical for children who have small bladders, but might not work for older kids.
- Clean diapers.
- If you are using diapers as a backup, prepare a stack of clean ones next to the bed.
- My advice would be to be brave and try to go diaper free at night as soon as you have worked out your routine, to avoid night-time diaper changes.
- Potty or receptacle you are going to use.
- We actually use a shallow washbowl, or the removable part of one of the potties we have as it is very easy to slip them below baby’s bum while nursing or holding in a cradle position.
- Check out the top hat potty here.
- Potty cozy in case your baby does not like the feel of a cold plastic potty (who could blame him!).
- Extra pajamas for you, too (at least until you have perfected your routine).
- It takes some time to learn how to aim, especially if you have a boy!
Step 2: Test what works and what doesn’t
In this stage you will need:
- It will take some time to figure out what works best for you, and then another couple of days to a week to fall into the new routine.
- I know exactly how crazy and counter-intuitive waking and getting up to offer the potty can be, and the risk of having to spend even more time putting baby back to sleep is the last thing you want to face, but you may be surprised by how easily and quickly babies go back to sleep once their needs are met!
- A dose of healthy humor.
- I am sure there will be some situations that will put a smile on your face years after you’re done with night-time EC. Like this one time, when I held dd above my flip-flop instead of our night-time receptacle and did not even realize it until I passed the flip-flop to my husband to go and empty it in the bathroom. :)
- Try different receptacles: potty, washbowl, bathtub, sink
- Try different locations: bedroom, bathroom, bed
- Try offering a pottytunity before, after, or during breastfeeding or night bottle to see what your baby responds best to.
- Often it will be easiest to offer while breastfeeding/bottle-feeding at first, which is perfectly OK. If you are uncomfortable with that, disassociate it once you have your routine worked out (or use a pacifier while pottying).
- Like with day-time EC, you can rely on generic timing, natural timing, intuition, and/or baby’s signals to determine when she needs to eliminate.
- If you are co-sleeping, you may notice that baby starts to move, kick legs, roll, or generally become restless after a period of sound, peaceful sleep – this is your cue to offer the potty.
- If baby is in another room, unless he is very vocal about his need to eliminate, you will rely more on generic timing and can offer “dream pees” (you can also use a baby monitor to listen in).
- Use the same verbal or onomatopoeic cue you are using during day-time EC and baby will respond, even in sleep.
Step 3: Stick to your new routine
When you find a system that works, stick to it. You will probably discover night-time patterns are more regular than day-time.
Sleep vs. Night-time EC: What to prioritize?
There is no right or wrong answer – choose whatever makes most sense for you and your family. For some families it is night-time EC, for others it is diapering overnight.
If your baby wakes at regular intervals, too frequently for it to be due to hunger, medical reasons, developmental leaps, or growth spurts, and if your baby becomes even more restless as the morning approaches...or if you recognize yourselves in our story...I encourage you to try night-time EC.
If you sleep well, but feel this is a logical next step for you EC – go for it! You can always change your mind if it doesn’t work for you.
If you are lucky and your baby sleeps soundly through the night and you do not want to mess with that, you can continue to diaper at night and EC during the day, guilt-free, until your toddler naturally stays dry overnight, or until you are ready to night-time potty train.
I do hope you found this article helpful. Please feel free to comment below and share your night-time EC experience! Tell us what night-time EC tricks you use that simplify your life?
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