Should We Use Pull-Ups or Underwear For Potty Training?

Pull-Ups Make Life Easier, But May Not Be Right for Your Toddler

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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 underwear. 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 of 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 daycare? 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?

Some children display signs of potty readiness very early on. But, while your young toddler may like using the potty and is happy to sit there when you suggest it, your child may be too young to have full control over their functions and could get upset when they wet themselves. Pull-Ups could be a good option to use at least in the beginning.

Here are a few reasons they might work well:

  • Training pants are a clear step away from "baby" diapers and toddlers generally love the idea of being a big girl.
  • If your toddler is already motivated to potty train, the Pull-Ups likely won't be a crutch, just a safety tool to prevent your child from getting upset over messes.
  • Absorbent training pants prevent messes around the house until your child is fully trained is a big help to parents, as well. 

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 toddlers pull these up like underwear, they still have the feeling that they have progressed out of baby diapers and into big kids' pants.

Cotton Underwear: Is It Time to Make the Change?

Other children aren't ready to start training until after they are two years old, or even older. Even then, some parents find they have trouble motivating their toddlers. They may not respond well to reward charts or praise. This attitude can make using Pull-Ups the wrong decision (at least for daytime training). While some children will feel the wetness or realize they are starting to urinate and make a beeline for the bathroom, others are quite fine with sitting in a soaked or soiled training pants as long as you don't take them away from their toys.

Cloth training pants that absorb some of the wetness, but then make the transition to regular boys' underwear, may be the right choice for these toddlers. When accidents occur while wearing thin cotton underwear, they have no choice but to stop playing and get cleaned.

That alone should help motivate your otherwise engaged child to recognize the signs they need to use the potty.

Many parents choose to use disposable training pants at night but during the day, regular underwear can be a better choice, depending on the child:

  • 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. 
  • Some toddlers need a little push. If you are sure that a child is developmentally 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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