Wondering if you need pull ups to potty train your toddler?

The great news is, you absolutely don’t.

Pull ups are another baby product, kind of like follow-on milk, that you just don’t need to spend your money on.

And more than that, using pull ups to potty train your child during the day can actually hinder the process.

A pull up is really close to a nappy, with new designs meaning the absorbency is so good your toddler will feel wet for just a few seconds before its magicked away.

The trouble with this is, to your child nothing has changed. You’ve decided that potty training has begun, but if they’re still wearing what is effectively a nappy your toddler won’t have fully received the message.

Just because your toddler can pull them up and down like a pair of underwear, doesn’t mean they will.

Actually all they will do is realise that they don’t need to bother putting a pause on playtime to use the toilet, they can just go while they carry on playing as usual.

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Do pull ups hinder potty training?

Using pull ups for potty training can mean the process takes way longer, and is way more frustrating for you.

By using a pull up in the day you’re giving your child mixed messages. We want you to use the potty, but you’ve got a nice and easy safety net right there.

When your child is busy playing, they will choose the safety net every time. Playtime is just way more interesting than sitting on a toilet.

If you allow your child to experience what happens when they wet themselves, with all the mess and soggy feeling it entails, they will realise that it’s time to take it seriously.

It’s also important for your toddler to help with the clean up, bringing their dirty clothes to the washing machine, washing their hands and just generally witnessing the consequences of what happens when they have an accident. This means they want to avoid it happening again in future.

Now having said all of that, if you want to use pull ups for whatever reason – maybe you’re not quite ready for full blown potty training but want to test the waters (so to speak) – then give them a go. You may also need to use one in circumstances such as a very long car journey or flight where you’re concerned your child won’t manage to hold it.

Be warned though that your child may get into the habit of holding their business until the pull up is on, then let go once its on.

But if you’re looking to get started with potty training with a view to getting it done as quickly as possible, it’s best to go cold turkey from anything resembling a nappy and that includes pull ups.

Potty training is a bit of an all or nothing process.

It’s also worth mentioning that when it comes to potty training, many children won’t be dry at night until they are four or five. For this reason lots of parents use a pull up at night, and we’ll talk about when you can ditch those later in the article.

How to potty train without pull ups

How to potty train without pull ups How to potty train without pull ups

So how do you potty train without pull ups? Quite frankly, you brace yourself for a fair few accidents and remind yourself daily that they will eventually learn to use the toilet.

If your child is genuinely ready for potty training – and you can check out this post on signs you started potty training too soon here – then they will pick it up within a week.

Here are a few tips for getting potty training done without pull-ups:

Speak to your child

Have a chat with your toddler before you get started with potty training and during.

It’s important to normalise the conversation about it and get your child excited about it. It’s also worth letting your child watch you use the toilet and talk to them about what you’re doing.

Buy loads of spare underwear

Stock up on underwear before you get started. The best thing to do is to get your toddler involved in picking out underwear they like.

This way they will be excited to wear them and engaged in the process of learning to use the potty.

Have a potty in a convenient place

If your child isn’t keen on interrupting play, place a potty in the room where they are playing so they don’t have to move far.

In rooms where the floor is carpet, you may want to put a waterproof mat or folded shower curtain down underneath the potty just in case there are any spills.

Help them reach the toilet

As well as underwear and a potty, it’s also a good idea to get a toilet seat and step so they can use your toilet.

You may find your toddler actually prefers using the big toilet, as it means they’re copying you. As with so many new things, your child will be so much more responsive to trying something that they’ve already seen you do.

Enlist the help of Alexa

If you have an Amazon Echo device, or just your smartphone, try setting a regular alert for every 20 to 30 minutes reminding you to put your toddler on the toilet. The Alexa voice alert is good, because you can tell it to speak directly to your child “(child’s name} do you need to toilet?”.

One mum found it worked wonders, according to this report on Heart. https://www.heart.co.uk/lifestyle/parenting/mum-amazon-alexa-potty-train/

Put them on the toilet all the time

Try to remind your child frequently to try going to the toilet.

You’ll know potty training has been a success when they take themselves off to the toilet without you having to remind them.

Go out less

Block off an entire week where you won’t venture far from your home.

This way if there are any accidents you can cope with them way easier than when you’re out and about.

If you do have plans to go out, get a portable potty such as the Potette (I’ve had one since potty training my first daughter and it’s brilliant). They fold up really compact so you can fit them into a large rucksack of changing bag when on the go. I keep ours in the car at all times just in case.

Stay calm

If and when there are accidents, try to keep your cool.

The worst thing you can do is create anxiety and negativity around the process of using the potty.

Remain positive and upbeat when your child does manage to use the potty, but keep calm when they don’t quite make it. Tell them not to worry, but that next time they need to remember to wait until they can get onto the potty or toilet.

When to stop using pull ups at night

Many parents continue to use pull ups at night after daytime potty training has been a success.


With my first daughter we found that she was dry at night consistently as soon as she was potty trained.

Other parents find it takes a little longer. This is often a physical thing that the child will just grow out of, as this Baby Sleep article explains.

Some children will still wet the bed on occasion up until age six and even beyond.

This BBC article says most children are not dry at night until around 3.5 years to four.

So for this reason many parents choose to use pull ups overnight after their child is potty trained, which generally happens at around 2.5 years.

If you want to ditch the pull ups at night, try the following things:

  • Remember to put your child onto the toilet right before you’re going to tuck them in.
  • Don’t restrict their fluids in the evenings, especially in summer when they may need extra water by their bedside.  But do keep an eye on how much they drink after 6pm, especially milk which tends to work its way through the system a little slower than water.
  • Keep an eye on the pull ups in the mornings and see how heavy they are. If they are virtually dry, then try ditching the pull ups for a few nights and see what happens.
  • Remember to put a waterproof mattress cover underneath your child’s bedsheet, just to ensure any accidents don’t soak through to the mattress which would be a pain to clean.
  • Keep your cool if there are any accidents. Make nighttime bedding changes quicker by having spare sheets close by in your child’s room.

Final thoughts on pull ups

Pull ups are an extra expense you can totally avoid having to fork out for!

But it’s not just about the money. Using pull ups during potty training can really delay the whole process and confuse your child. The best thing to do if you want to start potty training is be consistent, which means ditching any nappies and anything remotely like them.

So go straight from nappies to big kid underwear once your child is ready for potty training.

Remember to keep the process positive and fun as much as possible, then your child will be happily nappy-free in no time.

Are pull ups bad for potty trainingAre pull ups bad for potty training
Are pull ups bad for potty training?Are pull ups bad for potty training?