Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Before reading this post, make sure you're comfortable with the word #poop, because I'm going to say it a lot. I know some of you are probably wondering why a sleep consultant is writing about poop. Well, stick with me and I'll tell you! I can't even count how many times I've heard something like the following from a client...
Bedtime was going well, but 20 minutes after we put him down, he started crying and throwing a fit. When we went in to check on him, we realized he pooped. So we went through the whole ordeal of getting him out of his sleep sack, changing his diaper, and putting him back to bed. It seems to wake him up, and then it takes him a while longer to fall asleep. This happens multiple nights a week. Why does he keep doing this?!
Pooping shortly after being put to bed is a very common thing, and I promise your child is not out to get you when he does it! If this happens to you often, there are some practical things you can do to avoid the issue and have bedtime be smooth sailing again! Also, read on to find out what to do when it does happen.
Move up dinner/snack
Have you ever had a large meal or snack right before bed? When you lay down, it just sits in your stomach like a brick. It can even cause heartburn or #reflux issues because foods and acids can come back up if they haven't had a chance to begin through the digestion process. This is no different with children. We all need time to digest before we can sleep peacefully.
Parents often like to provide a bedtime snack for their kids in hopes that it will fill their little bellies and help them sleep longer. However, if the snack is too close to bedtime, it can actually cause bedtime tummy issues. Some families also eat dinner on the later side, due to work or activity schedules, and then there isn't time to digest the meal before bed.
If your child commonly poops right after being put to bed, a bedtime snack or late meal could be the culprit. Your child is simply digesting before settling down to rest. Simply moving dinner and/or any snacks up earlier in the evening could help solve the issue. A good rule of thumb is to have all eating done at least 45 minutes before bedtime.
As a side note, this probably sounds like I'm only talking about older babies or toddlers who eat solids before bed. However, even babies only on breastmilk or formula can have tummy troubles if fed a full amount and then immediately put down to sleep. If your baby has tummy troubles or wakes up (or poops) quickly after being laid down, move the feeding up a little. A quick diaper change can wake him back up and then you can wait a little while before laying him down to sleep.
Pooping right after being put to bed can also be a sign of #constipation. The muscles in the digestive system relax during sleep. If a child is constipated, he may have an easier time getting it out once he lays down to go to sleep and things relax.
Other signs of constipation in kids are:
less than 3 poops per week
hard stools that are uncomfortable to get out
pain while going #2
If you think your child may be constipated, you can try adding more fiber to his diet. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child ages 2-19 should eat at least as much fiber equaling his age plus 5 grams. For example, if your child is age 4, you would add 4+5 to find that he should eat at least 9 grams of fiber per day.
Increasing water intake and regular exercise can also help relieve constipation. If your child shows many of the signs above, and changes in diet, water, and exercise don't cause improvement, you may want to talk with your pediatrician about other things that can help.
It is not uncommon for children in the midst of potty training to have issues with pooping on the toilet. Some children, who may be urine potty trained within days, may not poop on the potty until weeks or months later. Many parents choose popular methods where you just stop using diapers, except for at nap and nighttime. Sometimes, kids who have apprehensions about pooping on the potty will hold it until they are put into a diaper for nap or bedtime.
If you have recently started potty training, this could be the reason your child poops shortly after being put to bed. In this case, just give it some time. Continue working on #pottytraining. Make sure that trying to go potty is part of your bedtime routine before the diaper gets put on. Give him plenty of time, too, not just a minute. You may even try reading a book while he's on the potty to help him relax and take the focus off of the task. Once he masters pooping on the potty, the bedtime poop issues will likely resolve.
When It Happens
Okay, great...so we've talked about how to avoid the pooping at bedtime issue, but what should you do when it does happen? The best way to react is to quickly and quietly change the diaper and pop him right back into bed. You want to avoid making a big fuss over it, turning all of the lights on, and talking to your child through it.
First of all, if you don't give him a reaction, he won't have any reason to want to continue doing it (if the reasoning is holding it during potty training, for example). Second, if nothing else, responding quickly and quietly will encourage him, and his body, that it's still time for sleep. Throwing on the main lights and making a big fuss will only wake his body back up when it was preparing to go to sleep. This will make it harder for him to fall asleep once you put him back into bed.
If your child poops, you've changed him, and then he fusses again...call his bluff! Some kids, particularly older ones who can communicate, may very quickly learn that you will come in if they cry "poop". It is very unlikely that he pooped a second time so quickly, unless he is ill. Don't give in continuously. If you are in the middle of sleep training, just continue your training method when this happens. If you have done sleep training, and this is a new issue, it never hurts to revisit that training to get him back on track.
Bedtime potty issues are common. Moving food further from bedtime, resolving any constipation issues, and giving adequate time for potty training can help solve this pesky bedtime problem! Do you have any other tips that worked for your child?
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant