Tummy Times / Why Does my Toddler Have to Poop in the Middle of Mealtime? 2021.03.16

Why Does my Toddler Have to Poop in the Middle of Mealtime?

Melanie Potlock

If your child is managing regular bowel movements at the same time most days, try not to give the time in the bathroom much attention while he’s on the potty.

As a parent, you’ve got to be wondering: “What’s up with the mid-meal potty breaks? Didn’t my toddler just go this morning?” 

Although it can be frustrating to stop in the middle of a meal and take a toddler to the bathroom, it’s part of how little bodies work. Thanks to a reflex that we all have called the gastrocolic reflex, when food enters your toddler’s stomach, a release of hormones tells the GI tract to get to work and start making room for new food.  That means it’s time to poop!  As we grow, we learn to regulate our bodies & although the reflex is still ready when we need it, it no longer activates every time we eat.

We always want to respond to a child’s need to visit the bathroom or it may lead to constipation. But, if your child is managing regular bowel movements at the same time most days, try not to give the time in the bathroom much attention while he’s on the potty. Why? Because we don’t want bathroom time to be more fun than eating time.  Kids can learn to do the bathroom business and get right back to the table.  We also don’t want a pattern of bathroom breaks to create a pattern of avoidance since kids this age are moving through a developmental phase of pickier eating.

By age two, growth slows down considerably as compared to the first 23 months of life.  That means less appetite for new foods and more interest in running about, playing in other rooms, and forgetting the fact that we were just in the middle of lunch!  Toddlers are easily distracted, but there are specific strategies that help them stay on task at mealtimes.

Here are three tips to help your toddler stay focused at the table, even when nature calls:

  1. Mark the beginning of the meal. When we sing a song, say a prayer, or simply hold hands and take a deep breath together, we are establishing a comforting routine. Toddlers thrive on routine and of course, comfort!  Marking the beginning of the meal with a simple routine signals everyone that this is a special time to day when we are all together at the table.
  2. When your child indicates they need to go potty, be casual about it. If they can go on their own and wash their hands afterward, respond in a calm, concise manner: “Go ahead sweetie, as soon as you get back to the table let’s talk about what park we are going to after lunch.”  Giving your toddler an incentive to return (the fun of the park) will help her maintain focus on returning to the table.  If your child needs assistance in the bathroom, go quietly and business-like, and engage more once back at the table.
  3. Mark the end of the meal. Again, a song or routine is helpful to signal “all done” but always have everyone conclude the meal by taking their plates to the counter.  Even toddlers can do that, although they might need a bit of help reaching the taller counters in your kitchen.  When plates are on the counter, the kitchen is closed.  It’s time to head off to the park, snuggle for a story or have some quiet time in another part of the home.  When kids are on a regular schedule for meals and snacks, their bodies learn to adjust to natural rhythms of hunger, rest and yes, even regular bowel movements. 

    Our bodies like to be in sync throughout the day.  As your toddler grows, the gastrocolic reflex will settle down and the need to be excused from the table won’t last long.  In the meantime, parent mindfully to help your toddler return to one of the best times of the day – the joy of being together at mealtimes.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP

International speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers, and school-age kids.

BIOGRAPHY:

Co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, is an international speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers, and school-age kids. She is the co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, (2016). The tips in her latest book, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes(2018) are based on the latest research and Melanie’s 20 years of success as a pediatric feeding therapist.

Melanie’s advice has been shared in a variety of television and print media, including Huffington Post and Parents Magazine.  Visit her at www.MelaniePotock.com for more articles, professional tips, and helpful videos to raise your adventurous eater!

RESOURCES

Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating
Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong, Healthy Eating Habits (Holistic Baby)

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