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Should we use Pull-Ups or underwear for potty training?

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Question: Should we use Pull-Ups or underwear for potty training?
I'm about to start potty training my 25-month-old granddaughter. I can't decide if I should start by using disposable training pants like Pull-Ups or move her straight into the panties. Which is best?
Answer: Many people have strong opinions about what toddlers should wear during potty training. In the end, though it's a very personal decision and you should use whichever option (or a combination of the two) that works best for the individual child and you. The pros and cons to using Pull-Ups (and other brand name disposable training pants like Easy Ups by Pampers) will depend on your child's age and personality as well as the situation (is she in day care? do you need her to be trained for school soon? etc.) and your own ability to manage accidents.

You may not actually know which option is best until you get started with toilet training. However, here are a few things to consider.

Disposable Training Pants: When Are They a Good Fit?

My daughter displayed signs of potty readiness very early on. We started potty training at 16 months. But, while she liked using the potty and was happy to sit there when I suggested it, she was too young to have full control over her functions and would get upset when she wet her cotton pants. Pull-Ups were the perfect option for her to use at least in the beginning.

I found they worked well in our situation for several reasons:

  • They were a clear step away from "baby" diapers and she loved the idea of being a big girl.
  • My toddler was already motivated to potty train, so the Pull-Ups were not a crutch for her, just a safety tool to prevent her from getting upset over messes (which she did not like).
  • The fact that the absorbent training pants prevented messes around the house until she was fully trained was a big help to me, as well. At the time, I had a newborn, making it harder to clean multiple accidents daily (which is common during those early days of training).

Even if you decide to use regular underwear from the start, you might consider using disposable training pants or pull on diapers like Little Movers by Huggies. Since a toddler pulls these up like underwear, she would still have the feeling that she had progressed out of baby diapers and into big kids' pants.

Cotton Underwear: Is It Time to Make the Change?

My oldest son is very different from his sister -- and during potty training that was especially true. He wasn't ready to start training until about 30 months old. Even then, he was not very motivated. He never responded well to reward charts or the "you're such a big boy" praise we'd lavish on when we managed to get him to use the potty. This attitude made using Pull-Ups the wrong decision for him (at least for daytime training). While my daughter would feel the wetness or realize she was starting to urinate and make a beeline for the bathroom (if only to finish up or allow us to change her there), my son was quite fine with sitting in a soaked or soiled training pant forever as long as you didn’t take him away from his trains.

We switched him to cloth training pants that absorbed some of the wetness, but then made the transition to regular boys' underwear (compare prices).

In my son's case, it was never a matter of not being able to know when he had to go or not being able to control it long enough to get to the bathroom. Instead, he just didn’t want to stop playing. When accidents occurred while wearing thin cotton underwear, though, he had no choice but to stop playing...and he'd have to stop playing for quite a long time since I now had to clean the toys and the play area. After a week of dealing with this frustrating fact (peepee on the floor disrupted the playtime) he finally got motivated to use the potty on his own.

We continued to use disposable training pants at night but during the day, regualr underwear was a better choice, and I recommend that approach in the following circumstances:

  • If your toddler is old enough to be able to tell you when she needs to go (or go on her own) and doesn't need constant reminding, she's probably ready for underwear.
  • Dealing with messes is not a big deal. Accidents can upset a sensitive child, so you may want to use something with extra absorbency if your child is upset by them. You also need to be free to clean up any accidents that are inevitable at the start of potty training. With my oldest in preschool I had more time to clean up then when I had two children home.
  • Some toddlers need a little push. If you are sure that a child is developmenatlly ready to toilet train, but just doesn't want to give up the convenience of using diapers, introducing underwear that is exciting (we used superheroes) and requires using the toilet if he wants to keep them can be a good motivator.

Another factor to consider when choosing between disposable training pants and regular underwear is cost. Pull-Ups and similar brands can cost more than baby diapers so they can be expensive compared to a few pairs of cotton underwear. But the money saved may not be worth it if your child isn't comfortable or you're not able to manage the accidents that might occur.

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