Starting in the playful imitation phase...
Clothing tips for toileting newborns
If your newborn is happy lying down the easiest thing is to only dress their top half and use a blanket to cover their lower half so you can easily pick them up and hold them over their potty without messing about numerous times with pants or nappies. With a waterproof liner and a simple prefold cloth under them you'll quickly see and change any misses.
If you prefer full clothing and a nappy on them to catch misses then a dress or long night-gown with elastic at the feet can also be faster and easier to use than shorts or pants.
After the preparation phase, when you are ready...
Decide when to offer
Hopefully you have picked up a signal or two from your observations (be mindful these will likely change over time). But if not, you can be just as successful by relying on your awareness of your babies timing and wait for signals to appear later in life. Try at a quiet time you deem is likely to be successful, then try again one more time. You can stop anytime. However, once you've had your first 'catch' you'll likely be keen to keep going. You may like to try to catch a poo since those cues are often more obvious and the easier clean up is so rewarding.
Deciding when to offer your baby an opportunity to toilet will rely on a combination of these two things, unique to you and your baby:
Wriggling, squirming, fussiness, kicking
A pause, followed by frowning or a blank expression
A certain sound or grunts of effort
A certain mouth movement
Farts (they can be a precursor signal by a minutes/hours)
Small pees (a warning pee before a real pee)
Phantom pee feeling when they are sitting on you
Looking at or moving towards the potty in the room
Trying to get your attention somehow
Simple sign language (if it has been learned)
Verbally saying so (once able)
Looking down at their groin/legs or clutching there
Immediately after waking up from a sleep/nap
Immediately after nursing/eating a meal
Immediately after taking the baby out of a sling/stroller/seat
Immediately after taking their nappy off (nappy change)
Before leaving home
Before or after a bath
These can be thought of as 'transitional moments' and work well due to physiological and psychological reasons for you and your baby, as well as convenience. Most babies toilet frequently in mornings (e.g. every 10-30 mins) and less frequently in afternoons/evenings (e.g. every 1-2 hrs).
When you are ready, announce your intention with the hand-signal and words you have chosen in Step 1 of the preparation phase.
Hold your baby in position over a potty
Choose your potty carefully. It must be comfortable for you and for your baby to be able to relax. For newborns who like to be held close a top-hat potty held tight between your legs as you sit is very convenient. Some come with a fleece cozy for the rim to be soft (and gentle on the skin) as well as nice an warm (feeling a cold hard surface may startle). If you are comfortable over a sink or toilet (or even a bowl/bucket) that can work well too. Try a few different holds to get confident with and stay open to trying new positions as your baby's body develops and certain muscles get stronger and different holds become more comfortable for you or your baby.
Positions that work well for 9-18 month olds:
Hold baby over the seat facing you, or with you nearby as required for safety, and using a seat reducer if required.
Baby can sit on the potty with or without support from you, as needed.
Cue your offer
As you hold your baby in position, breathe in and then exhale loudly - as a prompt to help you and your baby relax into each other - and then make your cue sound for 5-10 seconds to let baby know that now is a good time to release. If they are looking comfortable and concentrating you can give them up to half a minute or so to respond. If they're squirming or upset, stop and offer again another time - they obviously don't want to go right now for some reason. It doesn't matter if your baby goes or doesn't go. You have offered the opportunity and that won't be lost on your baby. Keep a relaxed attitude and start small - offer a few times a day and then build on that.
Remember you are both learning. Repeated experiences strengthens the association for them between the sound, the position and the sensation in their body as they pee or poo. With a bit of practice you as the caregiver will also develop a feel for how long it takes or whether they'll take you up on the offer.
With the intention of staying relaxed and making the experience enjoyable and engaging for your baby, talk to them about what's going on throughout the hold. Acknowledge if they are peeing or pooing to help them keep their awareness on what's happening and mix in some loving words of encouragement and other positive vibes.This is your quality time together so you can make it fun in your own way. The aim is to have a conversation with each other, through actions and words, and see what happens. It is important to remain matter-of-fact and supportive in either eventuality. Some useful things to say could be "look you've peed, you've got the hang of this" or "looks like you don't have to go just now, we'll try again later" or similar. You can also announce the "finish" of the toilet opportunity for your baby to round off the routine of the experience.
You will likely be very delighted for your child when they pee or poo in response to your cue – which is great, your warmth and enthusiasm makes the process pleasant and positive – but I urge you to stay away from overenthusiastic praise or special attention (such as rewards from you). Stay in the realm of affirmation and positive reinforcement rather than praise. None of this is to be done to please you. The urge to eliminate is not something someone can control, so it makes no sense to praise or reward someone for having this urge and acting on it. This is a normal bodily function achieved by your child and the focus should stay on them. It is not special, nor taboo. Consider how you react to other daily activities - just as we don’t usually reward our children for eating or sleeping, going to the toilet is a matter-of-fact process that you do all your life.
Have a wet-wipe or wet cloth handy, or wash baby off in the sink - taking extreme care to keep the temperature comfortable and not too hot (risking burns) or too cold (discomfort leading to a negative association with the process). If using a potty, dump the contents into the toilet, wash in the sink and have a towel set aside to wipe dry ready to use again.
Newborns love to be held close and comfortable, so baby-carrying using a stretchy wrap is a great way to support them. When you are carrying your newborn in quiet alertness close to your body you get very attuned to their movements and can quickly recognise an 'I need a toilet' squirm to get out of the carrier. Their instinct is to be off your body and out of fabric to pee or poo (to avoid soiling their nest). You may even experience a phantom pee (hot sensation as if you're being peed on, but aren't). If either occurs its a good time to offer a toilet, as well as anytime you take your baby out of the carrier. There are many types of carriers and you may prefer different ones for different activities. Personally, I preferred a Tula Explore for longer walks; a moby wrap for cosy time at home; and a woven ring sling for out of the car and popping into a shop and back again.
Out and about with a newborn
Some newborns are quickly comfortable outside the womb and ready to face the outside world, and others are very sensitive and require a lot of planning on how to protect them from over-stimulating when away from the comfort of home (this is where babycarrying works wonders as they can snuggle tightly into their protector).
In the same way that you – when planning an outing – take into consideration when your child might be hungry or sleepy, you'll gradually develop an awareness for when and where you can offer an opportunity to eliminate. It can help to plan what type of clothing they could wear to make it easy for you since facilities vary widely. You may like to start by just offering a toileting opportunity at transitional moments like when you are leaving home or arriving anywhere, or at any time you might be near a bathroom by chance. You may choose to take a potty with you or just have a well practiced hold you can use over any toilet or sink.
Keep an eye on whether they seem to be sensitive to toileting somewhere new, or if they are just tense the first few times, or if it is no issue. Once you are both confident toileting out and about there is often much less to carry than with a nappy-wearing baby. In the rare instances that there is no bathroom nearby but you know your baby has to go you could cue your baby in their nappy and then find a place to change soon afterwards.
Night-time with a newborn
How you approach night-time is likely linked to where and how your family sleeps. Being well rested is vital, so make the night-time choices that work for you.
Newborns pee frequently and are generally sensitive to a wetness so if you aren't able to change their nappy or potty them frequently at night then you'll want a feel-dry nappy to improve your chances at long stretches of sleep. See our information on nappies here.
A fact worth knowing is that babies, like adults, produce anti-diuretic hormone in their sleep to keep them dry. The urge to pee comes on very soon after waking (even if ever so slightly). Therefore, newborns often become restless in the night from that uncomfortable urge to pee/poo or to eat. Their shifting and squirming before waking is your opportunity to help your baby relieve themselves quickly before they've even fully woken up.
Interrupted sleep is a way of life with babies, so if you are going to be up anyway you could give night-time toileting a go. Surprisingly, the lack of distractions can make night-time toileting easier than in the day. All you need is a potty, wipes and stock of nappies (for misses) next to their bed and a dim night-light to see what you are doing.
By putting a bit of cloth inside to reduce splash or limit any mess if it is accidentally knocked over in the dark.
Eventually, you may become confident enough to let them sleep without a nappy (on a liner and waterproof pad) to make night-time access faster and easier.