Nutritional Considerations in Potty Training

Toddler Feeding

What does potty training have to do with nutrition?

When we started potty training, I really didn’t expect nutrition and feeding dynamics to play such a large role! I mean, we all know that what goes in must come out, but potty training really felt like a separate domain of parenting. But as we went along I realized just how many places these two topics overlapped.

We used the “naked weekend” method, a.k.a. you hunker down for up to four days with your pantsless child and throw diapers to the wind. Specifically, we used the method outlined in the book “Oh Crap” by Jamie Glowacki and it worked well for us. Having been through it, here’s my best advice related to managing food and feeding during potty training. This advice is specific to the naked weekend method, but I’m sure you can gather some tips no matter what potty training method you select.

What your child eats and drinks

Of course, it helps to offer extra liquids when you start potty training. More liquid = more opportunity! But I also didn’t want to push beverages on my toddler or offer juice, which we don’t normally have at home. I made sure her water cup was available in every room and offered it a little more often than normal. We also offered one additional cup of milk (she usually has two 8 oz. cups each day) and snacked on fruit like melons and jarred mandarin oranges, plus the occasional popsicle.

Pictured up top are 100% prune pouches. I don’t offer pouches often but I keep these on hand as an option when I suspect my kid may be constipated because prunes are a good source of both fiber and sorbitol, which is a naturally occurring laxative. I can’t say for sure that they always work, but I don’t see any harm in offering them. She didn’t display any signs of constipation that weekend but she enjoyed a few of these anyway. My hope was that they would help keep things “easy” for her if you catch my drift…

What does potty training have to do with nutrition? Here's what a dietitian mom thinks! Click To Tweet

If your child has ongoing issues with constipation, potty training will likely be more difficult. It can help to take a look at their overall diet and offer additional sources of hydration (water, milk, fruit, small amounts of juice) and fiber (whole grains, fruits and vegetables). The author of “Oh Crap” swears by coconut and avocado to get things moving. I haven’t tried them for that specific purpose but I’ll say they could be worth a shot if your child is struggling. It’s also worth noting that in Glowacki’s book she mentions that often when a child is having an issue with poop, there’s a food allergy involved. I don’t have any experience with this personally so I can’t vouch for it, but it’s something else to explore.

Say no to food rewards

I remember very clearly the food reward my own parents used – rainbow sprinkle nonpareils! Random, huh? I believe they let me pick it out myself… I turned out okay (I think?), but for my own kids, I am very against using a food as a potty training reward. I’ve worked very hard to establish desserts as just another food. I don’t withhold or use them as bargaining chips for any other reason, so potty training was no exception. In any case, the “Oh Crap” method discourages using any type of reward so as to circumvent potty training power struggles (which sounded fantastic to me). We ended up chanting my daughter’s name and dancing around after each successful potty trip, which was reward enough for her!

Plan simple family meals

THIS is the one I didn’t see coming. When you’ve got a naked, as-yet un-potty-trained toddler running around, you’ve got to keep a very careful eye on that child, which leaves very little time for anything else. My husband was also keeping an eye on her, of course, but with a baby also in the mix, I quickly realized that my normal meal prep was NOT going to happen. Plan on ordering a pizza or defrosting a simple freezer meal (like my red wine chili).

Parent with authority

As I was reading “Oh Crap,” I realized how much of the advice overlapped with the best practices of child feeding. We know that an authoritative approach to feeding is the best way to help kids learn to self-regulate and enjoy a variety of foods. Think of authoritative feeding as allowing flexibility within clearly defined limits. “It’s time for lunch so we’re going to stop playing and sit at the table. Do you want carrots or apples with your sandwich?” would be an example of authoritative feeding, while “You’re not leaving that table until you finish lunch!” would be authoritarian feeding and “What do you want for lunch? A sandwich? Cereal? Pasta? Okay, here’s your pasta. Oh you want a sandwich now? Okay, I’ll go make it” would be permissive feeding.

Now move that authoritative style over to potty training and you might find yourself saying something like, “It’s been an hour since you last used the potty so it’s time to try again. Do you want to use the little potty or the big potty?” As it happens, research shows that an overall authoritative style of parenting style is best for children so it isn’t really surprising that this would be the best approach to potty training, too.

Bonus advice for breastfeeding moms

Breastfeeding mamas, this one’s for you! Many families have kids two to three years apart, so it’s not uncommon to be potty training a toddler with a breastfed baby in the house. In my case, my baby was six months old and my breast milk supply had pretty much regulated, so I wasn’t using nursing pads anymore. But when we started potty training, my empathy for my toddler in her struggle to learn this new skill was flying high, which resulted in unexpected letdowns throughout the day! I didn’t have any nursing pads left so I found myself stuffing paper towels into my bra. Just something to consider if you might be in a similar boat…

Well, that’s what I learned about how food and potty training intersect! Do you have any specific questions? Let me know in the comments!

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