Do you need pull-ups for potty training?


(I know this because I have a 100% potty-trained kid (he was 2.5 when we trained) and we didn’t use pull-ups.

At all.

Not one time.

(If you’re on a budget, I can hear you breathing a sigh of relief already. lol. Don’t fret! You can likely potty train your child for the price of one potty, 10 pairs of underpants, and a couple of loads of laundry. And it’ll be quicker without pull-ups too! You do NOT HAVE TO shell out hundreds to thousands of dollars on training pants in a process that will be drawn out for the next six months.)


So anyhow, what I’m saying is NO, you do not need pull-ups for potty training, they are not an essential potty training item!

But I think a much more important question is this:

Do pull-ups hinder potty training?

Well, I sure think they could… and even though I’m just a mom with a potty-trained kid, there are certainly experts out there who agree with me on this one.

And actually, multitudes of other moms will tell you that using pull-ups is a bad idea, too.

I want to say quickly that I am NOT boycotting pull-ups, and I do think there’s a place for them… but that place is NOT in potty training! (I will share below exactly how we potty trained without pull-ups.)

As for where we DID use pull-ups:

It was only AFTER day time potty training was complete, we started using them as “big boy pants” at NIGHT.

It’s important to understand that many toddlers are not developmentally ready to wake up when they sense that their bladder is full or hold their urine for 10 or 12 hours, making nighttime potty training a little more elusive than day time training. In fact, most children’s systems don’t mature enough to stay dry all night until at least age 5, 6 or even 7. Nighttime potty training is often futile, and that’s no fault of the parents or the child. (Source).

So, once we knew that our son FULLY understood that we don’t go anywhere but on the potty, we “rewarded” him by telling him he never had to wear baby diapers again, and he got to wear cool looking “big boy pants” at night.

He rarely wakes up wet, so we can often use one pair of pull-ups 2 or 3 times, which does really keep the cost down.

So I DON’T think pull-ups are all together terrible and I do buy them – but there’s a number of reasons I would never use pull-ups to potty train – but let’s start with the most basic reason why not to use pull-ups.

Ask yourself:

How are pull-ups different than diapers?

Well, they’re more expensive for one.

And they generally have bolder prints (and the back is marked “back” on some).

Oh, and you don’t HAVE to lay the kid down to put them on. You can “pull them up”. I guess that’s where they got the cute name. (But the KID can’t usually pull them up by themselves – they aren’t actually all that easy to get on!)

They leak a little sooner than a diaper might leak – they are not AS absorbant.

However, the differences between pull-ups and diapers end there.

The feel like diapers when they’re dry.

They absorb pee like a diaper.

They prevent feeling wet and uncomfortable, like a diaper.

They allow mom and dad to be a little lazy with potty training – because they are a diaper.

I can’t see anything here that’s helping with potty training… but

why are pull-ups bad for potty training?

Because they are confusing.

Kids are super smart. Kids at potty training age have brains that are WIRED for learning. This is when they’re learning MACHINES!

But if you’ve ever spent any time with a toddler, you know that they understand things more easily that are presented to them in black and white terms.

Good vs. Bad.

Happy vs. Sad.

Think about this- without being able to demonstrate a difference to them, why was it ok to pee in a diaper but it’s not ok to pee in a pull-up?  (Which feels and acts just like a diaper.)

WHY bother to go to the potty when there’s literally no consequence for peeing in the pull up?

And making them feel bad shouldn’t be a consequence! (Any parent who thinks belittling a child for having an accident in a pull-up when they’ve used a diaper all their life should be ashamed of themselves!)

There is a natural consequence to peeing your pants when you’re NOT wearing a diaper, however, and that is that you get wet and uncomfortable.

Therefore, it’s easy to demonstrate (and understand) a “good vs bad/ happy vs sad” situation between having an accident in your pants and getting to the potty on time.

Not confusing your kid will make potty training MUCH faster.

What is the point of pull-ups?

HONESTLY, the point of pull-ups is to help diaper companies continue making money off parents who know it’s time to transition away from diapers, but don’t really know how.


I’m sure there was a marketing guy who’s sole job was finding a way to maintain the revenue from parents who were about to STOP buying diapers – and he did a FANTASTIC job… because parents are busy, and it sounds EASIER to not have to deal with the messes that will inevitably happen when you leave diapers cold turkey.

Potty training feels daunting the first time you do it… moving to disposable training pants is a smaller step for the PARENTS to take.

Pull-ups make it feel easier for mom and dad. 

potty training without pull-ups

If you agree that pull-ups are probably not the best route for potty training, you might be wondering how to potty train without pull-ups.

This is what we did:

  • We talked about learning to use the potty for a few days before we started. When we changed his bum we would say “in two more sleeps, you won’t have diapers anymore and you will try to go poop on the potty!”
  • We kept the potty in the kitchen and talked about it a lot.
  • We took him to the bathroom with us, and showed him that we were using the potty.
  • We prepared OURSELVES for the week to come – embracing that messes were going to be a part of the process.
  • We planned it for a summer week where we could be outside a lot (LOL).
  • We planned to be AT HOME for at least 4 days.
  • We bought LOTS of underpants (I think maybe 14 pairs)
  • We woke up on potty training day, took off his diaper and told him that big boys ONLY wear diapers when they’re sleeping, and he was a big boy now!
  • We made a FREAKING HUGE DEAL about the potty and the underpants
  • We NEVER shamed him for peeing. At every accident, we said in a very neutral tone “when we have to pee, we go to the potty. It’s not good to pee in our pants.”
  • We NEVER put another diaper on him during the day. When we did have to go out, I accepted that accidents would happen, I packed extra pants + underwear. I also put a puppy piddle pad in his car seat to protect it. (He never did pee in the car seat.)
  • We let him get out of bed to pee as. many. times. as required. (I think this maxed out around 4 times per evening.) We didn’t say “just stay in bed and pee in your diaper”. We praised him for NOT peeing in his diaper. Remember, when you’re introducing new rules, you HAVE to prevent confusion.
  • The first day he peed in his pants about 8 times and pooped twice. He didn’t make it to the potty once.
  • The second day, I put him on the potty AS SOON AS he woke up – and had a DANCE PARTY when he peed.
  • Then I gave him chocolate. I told him that big boys get a chocolate treat every time they pee on the potty!
  • The second day, every time he started peeing, I rushed him to the potty. If we got even a little pee in the potty, he got a treat.
  • Same on the third day.
  • By the end of the third day, he was announcing that he had to pee, and dancing around in a panic, and we started making it to the potty on time now and then.
  • At the start of the fourth day, we could see that he was getting it, and that he needed more motivation to try harder to get to the potty EARLY, so we told him there’s only chocolate treats if we get ALL the pee in the potty. (I think you have to monitor your own kid and make the choice for yourself if changing the rules is a good move or a bad move.)
  • By the end of about a week, he was 100% trained! (We had some struggles with pooping that lasted a full two weeks, but I’ll write all about that another day.)

I think the most important thing we did was going cold turkey from diapers to underwear, and accepting that it would be a little messy.

If you’re ready to start potty training I STRONGLY encourage you to try this route! (I do want to warn you that CHOCOLATE treats may not be the ideal reward for a potty training toddler – the extra sugar turned our awesome toddler into a terrible-twos disaster, and we are thinking about using stickers next time haha.)

(Perhaps for children with developmental difficulties, the situation might call for training pants.)

This forum is a few years old, but MANY moms here share a similar sentiment about potty training with pull-ups, and even make statements like ” It took forever to potty train my son, once I decided no more pull-ups during day at all took a week of accidents and he was trained.”

Not surprising!

Related: How to Get a Toddler to Eat Vegetables 
Related: Why Our Toddler Goes to Bed at 10 pm 

What do you think? Do pull-ups prolong potty training in your opinion?

potty training mistakes

do pull ups hinder potty training?

potty training without pull ups