Starting within the first three months...
Newborns tend to sleep a lot, move very little, feed and pee very frequently and overall are very sensitive to change. Being vulnerable and very new to this world they are keen to communicate when they need something, hence cries come easily.
It's a great age to start toilet learning as they're very sensitive to feeling wet, are learning the norms of life for the first time, and can only focus on one thing at a time. They also don't move much (limiting mess). Plus, you are observing them all the time.
Some newborns may be uncomfortable with the new sensations as their gut starts to work. They may cry because they feel the urge to go, are going, or have gone and feel wet. It is up to you to support them (via trial and error) to be comfortable. Be there for them, let them know you're aware of whats going on for them and are looking for ways to help them.
Many people don't feel confident holding a very young baby over a potty and would prefer a nappy to start with - that's entirely ok. Even just teaching them the sound association in this age will pay off when you are ready for Step 2 later.
Step 1 - Learn to communicate about toileting
Observe baby during nappy-free time while wearing cotton training pants, so you can immediately see any wetness and they can feel it too. Try it full-time for a day or two, or on and off over a week or so.
Respond by making a simple sound for the duration of their pee or poo, so they learn to associate this with the muscles they're using at that time. Once finished, acknowledge what happened for them in a relaxed and friendly tone, e.g. "you’ve peed, that must feel good".
You can acknowledge and reflect anytime you can clearly recognise a pee/poo happening
A popular sound for pee is 'pssss'. Some like to add a separate sound for poo like 'mmh mmh'.
After a quick gentle clean, consider what you've learned. Were there any specific behaviours beforehand? How long since the previous pee or poo? How does that relate to when they last ate or drank? Note down the time if that helps.
The intention of this O-A-R preparation is to build your confidence in understanding what your baby's normal rhythms are and whether they are giving off any signals beforehand.
It is common to notice that pees are more frequent in the mornings than in the afternoons/evenings, but plenty of detail varies baby to baby. However, don't feel discouraged if you aren't seeing any signals as you can just rely on timing for Step 2 if need be. This preparation phase is equally important (if not more) for your baby to learn the associations between their action of peeing or pooing, that wet feeling, and your chosen sound, so they are best able to participate when you cue them Step 2 to actually use a potty/toilet. The stronger you build this foundation for yourself and your baby the easier toileting together will be, and if you run into difficulty you can return to this step anytime (or see Help or FAQ's).
Understanding what you want from each other is a critical step for working together - or in this case, learning together.
Clothing tips for toileting newborns
Dress for success- We want to reduce any friction for starting and keeping up with this new aspect of baby care. Dressing baby appropriately can only help!
If your newborn is 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 potty them without pants or nappies getting in the way. With a waterproof liner and a simple prefold cloth under them you'll quickly see and change any misses.
If you prefer a nappy on them then a T-shirt or dress/gown can also be faster and easier to use than shorts or pants.
After the preparation phase, when you are ready...
Decide when to offer
Once you are comfortable, you can start offering them a proper place to pee or poo rather than in their nappy, while always talking about it as you go to make it interactive every time. Nappies are still worn as a back-up so it doesn't matter whether it a day where you catch several pees and poos, or a day where you don't and try again another time.
The easiest place to start to practice with your baby is likely at home - a comfortable and safe space where you can get everything set up the way you want.
Deciding when to offer your baby an opportunity to toilet will rely on a combination of their behaviour and relying on common timing or your awareness of your babies timing. Try at a quiet time you deem is likely to be successful. You may like to try to catch a poo since those cues are often more obvious and the easier clean up is so rewarding. The easiest times to get your first catch is when your baby needs to pee/poo anyway. e.g.
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)
If you have observed any signals then offer if you have seen them. e.g:
Wriggling, squirming, fussiness, kicking
A pause, followed by frowning or a blank expression
A certain sound or grunts of effort
A certain expression or mouth movement
Farts (they can be a precursor signal by a minutes/hours)
Hot phantom pee feeling when they are sitting on you
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).
Hold your baby in position over a potty
Newborns like to be held close therefore a top-hat potty positioned tight between your legs as you sit is very convenient. A soft fleece cozy for the rim is gentle on their skin and warm (a cold hard surface may startle them). If you are confident holding them 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 different holds become more comfortable for you or your baby.
Positions that work well for newborns: MAKE A SEPERATE PAGE TP SHOW THE HOLDS
Get the right potty - We also want to reduce friction for you and your baby, both, by choosing the correct potty for the stage and age your baby is currently in.
You can totally just use the sink or toilet. You can put a low stool in front of the toilet if you want. You can use any mixing bowl. Or you can use a top hat potty, mini potty, or toilet seat reducer.
Hold baby in your arms with good head support on your chest and hands under thy's.
hold out with a supportive and secure in-arm hold
Little boys need some help with aiming using your index finger to point them down. At the change table or by a spare sink. Consider making a potty station, or keep a potty close by in most rooms that you spend the most time in. if you put a potty by the change station you can offer each nappy change
your baby needs to feel safe and happy to relax into it - Babies have preferences, and they change over time. Tiny changes in the position you offer to your baby to toilet can help them relax one day or another, so have a few different ones you are comfortable with so you can change your approach if needed.
Hold baby in your arms with good head support on your chest and hands under thy's.
hold out with a supportive and secure in-arm hold. Can turn sideways and nurse while on it.
Cue your offer
As you hold your baby in position, breathe in and exhale loudly 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 go. If they are looking comfortable and concentrating you can give them half a minute or so to respond. In time you will develop a feel for how long it takes or whether they will take you up on the offer. 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 they go or not. 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.
To make 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. To have a conversation with each other, through actions and words. 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". You can also announce the "finish" of the toilet opportunity for your baby to round off the routine.
You will likely be very delighted for your child when they pee or poo in response to your cue – which is great as your warmth and enthusiasm makes the process pleasant and positive – but stay in the realm of 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 it. It's a normal bodily function and the focus should stay on them. 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 cloth handy, or wash baby off in the sink (if so, take 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.
Out and about toileting
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.
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.