Don't let a wet diaper disturb your baby's sleep

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

wet diaper is a surprising top cause of night wakings. With the easy solutions below you can help your baby sleep through the night in spite of nappy-wetting. This includes using the right size, extra layers, overnight diapers, cloth diapers and timing your diaper changes right.

The reason wet diapers wake up your baby is twofold:

Baby in wet diaper

  • the moist, soaked or leaking diaper simply feels so uncomfortable that it causes the wake up directly
  • or, a baby who doesn't easily self-soothe to sleep yet, will find it extra hard to go back to sleep when half-waking up (as happens several times each night in between sleep cycles) and sensing some discomfort

It's true that diapers these days are extra absorbent and should prevent leaks. Overnight diapers even promise full overnight protection. And still any diaper can get wet or overfull, leaving your baby or toddler uncomfortable.

This can happen at all ages (newborn, baby, toddler) and is totally normal whether or not your baby drinks shortly before bed or through the night. Whether they drink formula or breast milk or eat solid foods.

After all, a healthy baby will pee and have bowel movements both daytime and nighttime. So we can't completely prevent leaks and wet itchy diapers.

Luckily, we can prevent your baby's waking because of wet diapers:

  1. Use the right-size right-fit diaper for your baby

  2. Use an extra layer or booster pad

  3. Experiment with overnight diapers for extra protection

  4. Try cloth diapers

  5. Change right before bedtime

  6. Do not change at night feeds when not really necessary

How to keep your baby from waking with wet diapers

If your baby wakes frequently with a moist, wet or dirty nappy and/or soaked clothes, check and try the following:

1. The right-size right-fit diaper for your baby

The best way to keep your little one as dry as possible is to use the right type of diaper. All babies are different so there is not one brand and model that will be best for all.

So, observe your baby and experiment. Try out different brands. Often absorbency increases with price but that does not mean that the most expensive are best.

If you find you need the most expensive ones for overnight, you'll likely still be good with cheaper ones for during the day.

Mother and baby wearing top and diaper

Absorbency goes hand in hand with a secure fit too, and a slightly different model can make a huge difference. Choose your baby's diaper size based on the manufacturer's guidelines.

But it's worth experimenting here too. Some babies will do better with a size up or below their 'official' size. As your baby grows, they'll move on to the next size, but may also shift to a different model as their best-fit.

2. Experiment with overnight diapers

Most brands now offer overnight diapers or nighttime diapers. Many parents find these work like magic, yet for others, their baby doesn't fare well at all with them.

A good overnight diaper is highly absorbent, fits snugly and keeps fitting snugly in spite of moving and wriggling at night, and is still completely comfortable for your baby.

The idea of an overnight diaper is that it holds liquid for longer, usually thanks to highly absorbent materials. (Please look for brands that use natural plant based materials as much as possible and avoid chemicals as a way to absorb more liquid).

Even more important than absorbency, is how well the overnight diaper fits your baby AND keeps fitting well through the nights, even if your baby wriggles, moves about, gets fed, held or carried etc. It's the lasting and snug fit that'll determine how leak-proof the diaper is.

3. An extra layer or booster pad for baby's diaper

If your baby's best-fit nappy isn't enough, there are 2 quick-fix things you can try:

  1. Wrap around an extra layer. Super easy and you don't need to go out and buy anything: simply wrap an extra absorbing layer around your baby.

    This way, if the diaper leaks, you win some time before your little one's clothes and covers get wet. And it can be enough to get a few extra hours of sleep.

    Use cotton cloth or a well-absorbing towel for this. Remember to fix it safely: tuck it in around the diaper, ensure that it can't get away and make sure your baby still lies comfortably.

  2. Use a booster pad, sometimes called a "baby diaper doubler". This way your baby's fav diaper will absorb more and can last long enough to safeguard your nights.

4. Cloth diapers

Cloth diapers, or reusable nappies, can offer amazing absorbency and usually have the perfect fit to keep dry. They're also more economical, i.e. cheaper, and eco-friendlier than disposable diapers and disposable nappies.

Ring of reusable cloth diapers

photo courtesy by tiffanywashko

Many moms have reported to me an important increase in comfort AND sleeping when they started using reusable nappies.

If you've been using disposable diapers, and find that your baby often wakes up at wet or irritated or uncomfortable, a reusable cloth diaper is definitely worth the try.

The may be just what you need to help your baby with sleeping through.

5. Change right before bedtime

Do a diaper change right before bedtime, even if the previous one has not been on for long. Ideally, changing diaper will be part of your bedtime routine, one of the last things you do before bed.

Not all babies like being changed. Yes, for some it's even a nightmare. If that's your little girl or boy, try and change things up a bit.

A different spot, a toy they love right next to the changing table, some silly music on and then soften down to peaceful music. It can be anything you both enjoy really.

Anything that distracts a bit and still allows you to pamper your baby and help her gently wind down. This gives a more peaceful start of the night which makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep for longer stretches.

Small baby sitting on knees holding thumbs up

6. Don't change at night feeds when not really necessary

Many new parents are advised to change diapers at each feed. This might be a good idea in general but it's better to be more relaxed about it at night.

Changing after a nightly feed will wake up both you and baby completely. This makes the waking longer than necessary and makes it harder to fall asleep again.

So, unless their diaper is almost full or quite moist already: don't change your baby at each feed.

Of course, observe and experiment here too: if you don't change after feeding, and then your baby wakes up all wet half an hour later, you haven't really won much. So next time around this hour, do change and see if you get a longer stretch after that.

If you do have to change, stay in the same room if possible. Keep lights dim and interact minimally with your baby.

All of this helps to keep the waking as short and boring as possible which makes it easier to fall asleep again right after.

In all, making sure you have the best fitting and best absorbing nappy and change into it at the right times can be as simple as it is helpful to get the best sleep for you and your baby.

Diaper Questions and Answers

Why does my baby keep waking up with wet diapers?

Even if you do all you can to keep your baby dry, invest in overnight diapers, cloth diapers or booster pads: your baby might still wake up wet and uncomfortable.

  • You may not yet have found your baby's best-for-everything diaper.

  • Your baby might be very sensitive to even a slightly moist diaper, have sensitive skin and be irritated by the least bit of wetness-feel.

  • Or your baby may move quite a lot while sleeping and loose the leakproof fit.

Most of all, it'll be important to combine optimizing your baby's diaper with no-tears self-soothing practice. That's because when self-settling is easier, the diaper discomfort won't lead to a full waking up.

Will an overnight diaper help my baby sleep through the night?

It can help but there's no guarantee.

Overnight diapers promise to offer true overnight protection. That 'should' keep your baby comfortable for 8 hours or more. And it's important to maximize your baby comfort.

But other factors play too when it comes to sleeping through the night: your newborn or young baby may need one or several nightly feeds, they may wake frequently because of other discomforts, your toddler may be struggling with new sleep patterns, etc. So it'll be important to also support your baby with those sleeping skills.

Baby girl in crib with flower decoration

Is a wetness indicator useful?

Diapers with a wetness indicator typically have a line in the front that will change color when your baby's diaper isn't nice and dry anymore.

The wetness indicator can be useful to avoid changing needlessly or half-opening the diaper to check. And this can be helpful, especially when you're both sleepy and to avoid a full wake-up.

It doesn't seem like a must-have feature to me though. I'd personally rather invest in a better fit and absorbency, than a fancy color-changing line.

At what age do wet diapers cause a baby to wake up?

Waking due to wet diapers happens to newborns, younger and older babies, and toddlers.

More than age, it depends on individual sensitivity (some have more sensitive skin than others, or are simply more easily irked), timing (when was the last change, how many wet diapers in a night) and also on how big the leak is.

Article Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD - Founder, senior sleep consultant

Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 15+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.

Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books. Also, Baby Sleep Advice was awarded "Most Trusted Infant's Sleep Solutions Company 2023" in the Benelux Enterprise Awards 2023.

Heidi continually conducts personal research and participates in continued education and in that way stays up to date with current scientific and pyschosocial infant care.

Association of Professional Sleep Consultants

She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.

As well as the award-winning baby sleep programs, Heidi offers popular 1:1 consults and easy-access 30-minute SOS Sleep sessions.