If you're pregnant and have a toddler, chances are you're tempted to start potty training soon. We don't blame you: Teaching your child how to use the toilet before the baby arrives means fewer diaper changes for you and your partner. But approach the process knowing this isn't the easiest time to potty train.
"It's okay for parents to try, but they shouldn't be surprised if their child regresses back to having accidents [after the baby arrives]," says Mark L. Wolraich, M.D., professor of pediatrics at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and editor-in-chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Toilet Training. "Changes in routine, such as moving or [gaining] a new member in the family, can cause the regression. Their best attempts may still result in two children in diapers."
Still, it's not impossible -- we know parents who have done it successfully. Boost your chances of getting your toddler potty trained before baby number two arrives on the scene with these smart strategies.
The biggest factor that will make or break your child's potty training success is her readiness.
"It's important for parents to read how interested and capable their child is," says Dr. Wolraich. "Parents need to watch for when their child seems to know that she is having a bowel movement or peeing, is interested in going on the potty, and is capable of pulling off her clothes."
Your kid may also show readiness by saying she wants to use the potty and wear underwear, and has the ability to follow your instructions.
Even more important might be age. A study from researchers at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Medical School found that that ideal age to begin potty training for most children was between 24 and 32 months of age. Kids in that age range tend to be developmentally ready to toilet train but not so old that they're more likely to resist. Age was more important to success in potty training than any other factors the experts measured, including the potty training method.
"Our main [motivation] was just getting potty training out of the way," says Meg Gray, of Herndon, Virginia, who potty trained her 2-year-and-7-month-old son while she was 30 weeks pregnant. "He was ready and very interested in the potty, so we figured if we could train him now, it would be one less thing to worry about with an infant in the house."
Even though your due date is looming, you'll want to start slow. To spark interest, Dr. Wolraich suggests first getting a toddler potty, talking about going, and maybe even letting your tot see other kids -- such as cousins of the same sex -- go to the bathroom.
The process can take time, so don't expect to start when you're eight months pregnant and to have your child potty trained by the time you deliver.
"Personally, I think four to five months before baby comes, when you're in the glorious second trimester, is a perfect time to potty train your little one," says Michelle Rabe, of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, who potty trained her first child while pregnant, and is now potty training her second (who just turned 2) at 20 weeks pregnant. "This allows you and your little one to tackle this big feat while you're feeling at your prime. Starting months before delivery gives the child enough time to grasp the concept and do well."
We all know that kids can pick up on stress, and as soon as a toddler senses potty training is stressful, he may start to lose interest. So even though you might be starting to get overwhelmed by all the things you have to get done before the new baby arrives, don't let it affect the potty training process.
"I think the best thing we did to eliminate stress was to not force it," says Gray. "We started a couple times. The first time, he did okay, and then woke up the next day and asked to wear a diaper. We waited another month to try again, and this second time he took to it like a pro."
Keep the process fun. "Parents should think of themselves as enablers to help their children reach the goal with encouragement, but not pressure them," says Dr. Wolraich.
Some parents like to use rewards such as stickers or M&Ms, but experts are conflicted about whether they're effective or detrimental. You can find other ways to turn potty training into a game, such as using a special potty song or reading a favorite book during bathroom time. Even putting food coloring in the toilet bowl could help.
"Food coloring added excitement for my son," says Rabe. "I would surprise him with a color, allow him to pick the color, and sometimes to mix colors. Potty training was the first time I went through an entire box of food coloring!"
While having Baby push on your bladder and having to hit the bathroom more often might be annoying, it could actually be beneficial to the potty training process if you're inviting your toddler in with you.
"The benefit of my being pregnant was that I was using the bathroom a lot more," says Gray. "I had a very consistent potty audience."
You might also talk up the fact that your child is becoming a big brother or sister -- big kids use the potty, and this is a time for transformation and joining their ranks.
"For some children, that can be a motivating force, as will seeing peers use the potty," says Dr. Wolraich.
Gray also agrees that other kids and adults can be big motivators: "I think that having the resources of day care helped a lot. I know I won't always be happy about peer pressure, but in the case of potty training, it was very beneficial for my son to be around other children who used the potty."
Remember: Your child is prone to regression -- especially after the baby is born and her world is turned upside down -- so once she's on a roll with potty training and then has a few accidents, it's nothing to worry or get angry about.
"Back off for a while," says Dr. Wolraich. "The potty control will return once the child is used to the changes of a new sibling. Remaining positive and understanding will help the child not be embarrassed."
It's okay to take the month off and then try again the following month, as Gray did.
If you successfully potty train before the baby arrives, you may make things easier for yourself during the newborn period.
"After the baby, your main focus is survival and taking a daily shower, not introducing a new milestone like potty training," says Rabe. "With lack of sleep and your state of mind after the baby comes, patience can run low."
But if it doesn't happen, it's not like this is your last chance. How many 6-year-olds do you know who aren't potty trained? None? Don't worry. Your child will get there.
"It's helpful to think of potty training as an important developmental milestone and to enjoy your child reaching that achievement. Whether it's at 18 months or 2 years or even 3 won't matter much in the long run," says Dr. Wolraich. "It is important to remain positive and patient."
Copyright © 2015 Meredith Corporation.
All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.