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Why Is My Child Wetting the Bed and What Can I Do to Help?

Oops! They did it again. Your child wet the bed. You’ve tried every trick in the book, yet it seems like nothing is helping stop your child’s bedwetting.

It can be frustrating for you as a parent—the constant washing of bedsheets and pjs—but bedwetting, also called nocturnal enuresis, can be frustrating, not to mention embarrassing, for your child too. They may feel embarrassed, anxious and develop low self-esteem.

“Embarrassment and social discomfort can hugely affect children, especially older children,” said Russell Horton, DO, a physician with Banner Health Center in Queen Creek, AZ. “Potential sleep disruptions can cause a variety of behavioral issues, but the biggest problem is usually the interference with social interactions with peers, like sleepovers and camps.”

All you want is for your child is to grow up happy and healthy, so what can you do to help? Read on to learn more about bedwetting, its common causes and how to cope with and treat it.

How common is bedwetting?

Although you may not be sharing your child’s bedwetting woes with other parents, it is very common. “About 15% of children under 5 years of age in the U.S. are wetting the bed, some still do it at age 7,” Dr. Horton said. “This can even persist in 1% to 2% of teenagers.”

Bedwetting is also more common in boys—occurring twice as often to boys than girls.

What is causing my child’s bedwetting?

“Almost all bedwetting is caused by a simple delay in the maturation or development of the urinary system,” Dr. Horton said.

It could be that your child’s bladder has less space in the bladder at night, their kidneys make more urine at night, or they simply are unable to wake up during sleep to go to the bathroom.

“Bedwetting can also be hereditary, meaning if you have a family history of bedwetting (such as one or both parents), then it’s quite likely their children will be bedwetters too,” Dr. Horton said.

Other possible causes for bedwetting are:

“Bedwetting is associated with conditions like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), although it’s not clear that these condition cause bedwetting,” Dr. Horton said.

How to help your child cope with bedwetting

Prolonged bedwetting can have a significant impact on your child’s emotional and physical well-being, and it can be made worse when the family doesn’t cope well. Yelling, blaming, embarrassing or belittling your child won’t fix the problem—it may even make it worse.

“When helping your child, it’s important to stress that this is common in many children and they have done nothing wrong to cause this,” Dr. Horton said. “Children will heap blame on themselves so parents should work to make sure their children understand that they are not to blame. Stress and disrupted sleep due to anxiety can make this worse.”

Here are some tips to help your child cope with bedwetting:

  • Celebrate their efforts, even when it doesn’t work as planned.
  • Avoid discussions of bedwetting in front of their peers and siblings.
  • Make cleanup easy by keeping an extra pair of sheets and pajamas nearby and a protective cover on your child’s mattress.

Tips for helping your child stay dry at night

When trying to help your child avoid bedwetting there are some easy things you can do to help:

Drink most fluids before 5 p.m. Have your child consume most of their fluids in the first part of the day. Try to avoid drinks containing caffeine (such as coffee, tea, sodas), sugar and citrus, especially in the second half of the day.

“In general, your child should have 80% of their fluids during the day, and about 20% of their fluids after 5 p.m.,” Dr. Horton said. “However, if your child participates in after-school sports, hydration is essential. Avoid water about an hour before bed.”

Treat signs of constipation. If constipation is contributing to your child’s bedwetting, work with your child’s health care provider to achieve regular stools. Proper hydration and fiber intake, as well as physical activity, might be helpful in getting regular bowel movements.

Keep with a regular bedtime routine. Often, children are deep sleepers because they’re not getting enough sleep. A regular bedtime routine and sleep patterns will enable your child to be well rested.

Teach healthy toilet habits. Get your child on a regular bathroom schedule, going every two to three hours and right before bed.

Don’t wake them at night. Waking your child up at night to use the bathroom can lead to sleeplessness and frustration for you and your child.

Are medications and bedwetting alarms helpful?

Bedwetting alarms and medications are effective treatments if the above actions aren’t helpful after three to six months.

“The choice of which method one uses depends on what will work best for the family and the child,” Dr. Horton said. “Often consultation with a pediatric urologist can help sort out which is the best option for each patient.”

There are two medications that have been approved for the treatment of bedwetting: imipramine and desmopressin.

When to talk to your child’s health care provider

While many kids who wet the bed will outgrow it on their own, it’s always OK to ask questions of their health care provider.

“I would encourage parents to bring up bedwetting with the provider if the child is starting to have any negative effects like behavioral changes, loss of self-esteem, avoidance of social situations and any other concerns,” Dr. Horton said.

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