20 answers

Pooping in Her Sleep?

Okay - this will be a bit detailed and graphic (poop-wise); I apologize in advance.

So my very intelligent and tenacious little daughter has been potty-trained for a few months now. She started pooping in the toilet very young and then it took quite a while to learn to stay dry. She is now 2 years and 9 months old and, until two weeks ago, had been totally potty-trained (no day-time accidents) for about two months. Then we took a trip to Idaho (4-hour car drive)and suddenly she started waking up from her naps and in the morning with a FULL pull-up of poop. I chocked it up to changes in her schedule and the stress of being away from home and figured it would stop when life got back to normal. But that was two weeks ago and she has still not had a normal poop in the toilet.

My first instinct was that she was "holding back" but shouldn't that lead to constipation? When she does finally go in the diaper (here's the gross part)it is NOT hard or "constipated-looking". It is QUITE the opposite. Does that happen? When I ask her about it she says her body hasn't learned to not go poopoo when she's sleeping (this is what I told her for why she has to wear a pull-up even tho she now goes potty in the toilet). Is it possible for her to actually have a BM while she's sleeping?

My sister suggested Miralax in the morning but I hate the idea of medicating her (even over the counter) especially since her poop is already so loose I'm afraid something making it looser would cause an even worse mess, and possibly in her underwear.

Any suggestions? She is so smart I feel like we should be able to reason it out with her but I also don't want to beat it into the ground or give it too much attention. Do I need to just be patient and trust she'll want to start pooping in the toilet again soon? Help! I'm so tired of nasty, runny, "big-girl" diapers!!

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What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Try cutting back on juice and up her fiber. When she eats fruit, feed her the peel too when appropriate. This should firm it up a bit.

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Hi, I would not give her anything over the counter until you talk with her doctor. Giving her a stool softener would cause more problems. A change in the consistency of her bowl movement means something is going on. Call her doctor. - S.

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More Answers

You are describing a change in bowel movements. The medical community advises consulting with your doctor in such cases. Such a change can mean that there is something that needs treatment. Only a medical person can determine that.

I definitely would not assume that she is holding back. I see no reason in your description for her to do that. Of course it's possible for her to have an actual bm while she's asleep. That is what is happening. At 2 1/2 her body is not fully mature; so I would assume that it's doing what it has to do. Many toddlers are not "poop trained" at that age. It's possible that because the poop is loose her body cannot hold it until later. My concern would be the diarrhea. There are several causes for it.

I have had IBS and my bowels would leak every once in awhile at the most inappropriate times. I definitely was not constipated. And I did not have a way to control it.

You need to talk with a doctor.

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I don't know all the details of what is possible, but i can tell you that my daughter occasionally pooops in her diaper during naps. She has been poop trained for the potty for 6 or so months, but still, every once in a while, wakes up from a nap with poop. I don't think she is holding back, or deliberately pooping her diaper, but rather that she just sometimes goes in her sleep.

I'd just keep on doing what you're doing. Encourage your daughter to try and poop before naps and bedtimes, and leave it at that. (You could also try separating meals and bed by a bit more time, if they are close together now.)

Doesn't seem like the miralax is necessary (to the contrary, actually), but if you do decide to do something like that, you could throw a couple of prunes onto her plate for breakfast.

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Hi M.,

I'd have to agree wholeheartedly with the possibility of parasites. I have friends whose children regularly contract giardia when visiting Idaho and Montana. I don't know why, and I'm not saying anything about those states in particular, but it just happens.

check out this info and see if it looks right:

Other than that, yes, it is possible for little kids to have a bowel movement in their sleep. If the runny stool continues, call your doc and ask what you can do (if you need to bring in a sample, etc.) But no, it doesn't sound like a behavioral issue. Esp with what you are describing. Kids can make themselves constipated, but they cannot conjure up diarrhea out of being just plain contrary!

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My best guess is that she may have picked up a parasite. Based on the runny mess. I don't know where you live, but I know a doctor you could see. We had experience with parasites and diaharea. My friend's two year old (about five years ago) was going in his pants all the time, and I suggested she see the naturalpathic doctor I was seeing. Turns out, I was right. He had a parasite and she was able to get it cleared up with out "medicines". I went for about a year with this kind of problem(diahrea, mostly when I had eaten any sugar, milk, or cheese. Parasites thrive on that stuff- -I didn't know that at the time, so I was living on Kaopectate), and the reg. Dr. could not figure out what the problem was.
I highly doubt that it is because of routine change. Email me and we can discuss the type of Dr. to see. It could be a serious problem that can be cleared up pretty easily!

1 mom found this helpful

Try cutting back on juice and up her fiber. When she eats fruit, feed her the peel too when appropriate. This should firm it up a bit.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi, I would not give her anything over the counter until you talk with her doctor. Giving her a stool softener would cause more problems. A change in the consistency of her bowl movement means something is going on. Call her doctor. - S.

1 mom found this helpful

I would go talk to your doctor, or you may be able to just talk to the nurses over the phone. Sometimes with constipation you can have loose stool sneaking around the blockage, but it sounds like she has a full pull-up in the morning, so the amount of it sounds more than what you usually get with constipation. I wouldn't give her Miralax until you talk to the doctors/nurses or you may have a bigger problem on your hands. And yes, kids can poop in their sleep. If it's got to come out, it's got to come out. (I am a pediatric nurse, but in oncology so I don't know a lot of these common things with kids!) I know it's frustrating you, but you'll figure it out!

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Ditto on the mirlax - don't use it unless you've talked to your doctor - in our house it is miracle drug so I wouldn't worry about for her age you have talked to your dr.

I do think to look at parasites - so I'd take her in or at least call. It does amaze me how often kids come back from a vacation with different toilet issues. So hopefully it will work out good - but I think calling and taking her in is key here.

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I don't think that it is necessarily that she is constipated. I think that she got her routine screwed up and now she is just too busy to go so she holds it, but when she sleeps at night she relaxes and it comes out. PERIOD!
I may be wrong but that is what it seems to me.

I have a little girl that does that... or did that too.
But in her case she did hold it for days then it hurt so when she relaxed at night, she would go. I think that yours may be doing the same thing, just not the constipated part.

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Your daughter may be constipated and the loose stool is seeping around the hard obstrution. This actually happens a lot with children. It may have started on the trip or after because she didn,t go at regular times like at home. When she is asleep and relaxed the loose stool just seeps out and she has no control. This may not be the problem but very well may be. She needs to be checked by a MD and they need to actually rule out obstruction not just look at her and say she will be o.k. This happens to kids when they are awake also,much older even, they have loose stool that they cannot control because they are very constipated. If indeed this is her problem it can be serious.I am sure it is embarassing for her to0 and I am near positive it has nothing to do with behaviors.

I don't know about pooping in their sleep. I would tend to wait it out, and definitely not give her a laxative. I would sit her on the potty before her nap and wait for a while to see if she can poop, but I can't say I have actual experience with this problem.

However, our DD occasionally suffers from very soft stool, started when she went on antibiotics and has persisted on and off. Adding acidophilus to her food, or feeding her a yogurt like Activia, helps regulate her.

I am not sure what is going on with your little one, but I would suggest taking her to the family doc...I have had a little problem with my older son having poop problems as diarhea for the last eight months and they just finally got it figured out...they said it is something called Toddler's diarhea and it can last until they are five...it could be something more serious, or less serious...I would definately give the family doc a call. :)


I first must strongly suggest you not use a laxative on a child this young without talking to your doctor first. Children's insides react differently to medications than our do.

As for your thoughts about her "holding it back" it is quite possible she is holding it back and when she is relaxed and asleep, nature is doing what it does.

I suggest you do a pooping retrain. Figure out when she normally poops, which in usually after a meal, then take her into the bathroom and try to get her to poop there. Use rewards or reminders. If she poops at night mainly, do this before bed. Use the potty time as a relaxing time with either a story or music.

Sometimes kids have set backs when their schedule is off. As a parent coach, I always suggest parent go with their first instincts, which in your case was her holding it back, then we figure ways around the issue.

I hope this helps.

R. Magby

My son was doing the same thing - it was like once he got off his poop schedule and had one poop in his pull-up he "forgot" how to poop in the toilet....kinda like it became a habit. We already do a sticker reward chart with him for other things so I made a new category of NOT pooping in your diaper. Whenever he gets up to go poop (and is in a underjam, which is only at night for us) and does it in the potty he gets a sticker. When he has the required amount he gets his reward. So far over the past month he has only done had one accident in his diaper. Try the stickers and see if it helps. Good luck.

Have you checked that she didn't pick up a parasite somewhere and thus has loose stools? Or maybe her molars are coming in and she's loose (this happens to my son of the same age when teething).... Check with your doctor if possible...

We travel all the time, and while most changes work themselves out in the first week or two, sometimes it can take a little longer.

Regressions in potty training are usually not conscious things, but the body's natural reaction to stress. I wrote a post awhile ago that had the whole sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous responses and how they relate to potty training/ conscious/ unconscious control... but there's still no search option on mamasource, and it's several hundred back... so it may take me a bit to find it (<laughing> even cribbed, it's super long, and I don't have the time to type it out right at the moment).

Anyhow... it's common even for 10-12yo's to regress if there's stress in their life, and travel, even fun travel, counts as stress. Light levels, pollens, polutions, soil content, water additives... these all vary rather enourmously in different geographic regions. Some people's bodies don't even twitch, others react really strongly. Most people fall somewhere in between. It can take as little as a few days for the body to adjust and process, or up to several weeks. NOT a conscious thing, just the way that we're made physiologically. Once puberty hits though, the stress response tends to change from an elimination issue to a more adrenal response. Rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, headaches, nausea, irritability, etc.

So, personally, I would drop it. Because bringing anymore attention to it than there has to be is just going to raise stress levels (from embarrassment/frustration)... which will make the process take longer.

It is possible that she is a little blocked-up from not wanting to/being able to go while you were away. Sounds backwards, but we learned the hard way that the reason my son had such loose stool all of the time was because it was what could squeeze around the blockage. Miralax can help with that but I wouldn't give it to her without talking to her DR. Could be something else completely, but figured it was worth sharing this possibility. Good luck sorting it out, and dealing with it in the meantime.

It's possible your daughter experienced constipation during your travels (very common) and as a result developed encopresis, a situation in which withheld stool causes a sort of paralysis of the colon. Normal movement stops, and the child can't even tell anymore that they need to poop, but loose stool can still leak around the blockage and out of the body.

If this is the problem, your daughter really can't tell what's going on in her little body, or have a normal movement without some intervention to correct the original blockage. It would be good to get advice from your pediatrician. Since this is a problem she really can't help, correcting or shaming her verbally would probably only complicate things for her emotionally.

Read about this by googling "encopresis in children," or read
Andrea's very informative response at this address:


When my daughter was an infant they had us give her KYRO syrup when she was constipated. It doesnt take much and it doesnt cause the cramping that over the counter stuff does. It is safe for any age. If this doesnt help I would talk to her dr. It is very normal to have watery stools when constipated. It is possible that she has a bug of sorts, or possibly a food allergy.
Now if she is intentionally doing it, its hard to tell. I too have a very smart 2 1/2 yr old and I wouldnt put it past mine to do it intentionally at times (especailly when she has a pull up on). She too was potty trained early and degressed and is having more accidents a day than in the toilet. I noticed that she is cutting her molars, and figured that is might be part of it. I also know that she gets so busy that she will "forget" to go in the toilet. I am know back to having to remind her to go potty about every hour, and make her go as she argues with me that she doesnt need to. I tell her to try for me and more times than not she does go.
I wish you the best of luck, it sounds like 2 different issues going on.

i would consult your ped. for medical advice, but i side with your sister with the miralax suggestion - it could be the case that she is so constipated that only really loose and watery stool can pass through...

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