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Bedwetting is quite common in school-age children: they can’t control it, and most grow out of it. In the meantime, there are things you can do to help your child feel better about this issue.

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About 20% of five-year-olds wet the bed; by the age of 10, about 5% do it. Only 1% of 15-year-olds are still wetting at night.

 

Bedwetting facts

  • Bedwetting is sometimes called nocturnal (night-time) enuresis. Childhood bedwetting is common in many families.
  • Most children stop daytime wetting by about three years of age, and stop wetting at night by the time they’re five. Most preschoolers still wet their bed from time to time though.
  • A lot of children grow out of wetting the bed by the time they start school, but some primary school-aged children still wet the bed.
If your primary school-aged child wets the bed, chances are he’s probably not the only one in his class or among his peers who’s doing it.

Why does bedwetting happen?

Bedwetting is nobody’s fault – it isn’t caused by laziness or done to get attention. Chlidren who do it just don't have the necessary control, and don’t wake up when their bladders are full.

Many children who wet the bed seem to sleep more heavily and be harder to wake than other children. This means they’re not able to wake themselves when they have a full bladder.

There can be medical causes, so it's a good idea to have a check by your doctor. A lot of children who wet the bed produce more urine at night than others, because of a low level of a hormone that controls how much urine is made while they’re sleeping. Others have bladders that just can’t hold a lot.

Bedwetting often runs in the family – you might find that dad, mum, an uncle or aunt used to wet the bed, and might still have to get up at night to go to the toilet.

Sometimes children who wet the bed stay dry when sleeping in a strange place. This might be because they’re worried about sleeping in the strange place, so they sleep more lightly. When they’re at home and relaxed again, they often go back to wetting the bed.

Some children who have been dry might start wetting the bed again if something happens to make them very stressed – for example, a family break-up or starting school, or if they’re not well. In this case, the bedwetting will usually stop when the child feels more secure.

If a child who has been dry starts to wet the bed again, it’s important to have a medical check to see whether there’s an infection or other health problem.

What parents can do

  • Reassure your child that bedwetting is normal, that there is nothing to be ashamed about, and that she will grow out of it. It might help her to know if someone else in the family used to wet the bed.
  • Try to have your child drink more fluids during the day, and less at night. Soft drinks that contain caffeine aren’t a good idea. This is because they increase the amount of urine produced, so children need to go to the toilet more often.
  • Remind your child to go to the toilet one final time before bedtime.
  • Give your child some simple explanations for bedwetting. For example, ‘When you’re asleep your brain isn’t getting the message that you need to go to the toilet, so you don’t wake up’. Or you could say, ‘Your bladder, where your wee is stored, hasn’t grown enough to hold in all the wee at night, but this will change as your body grows’.
  • While most children who wet the bed ‘grow out of it’, their self-confidence can be harmed in the meantime. If bedwetting seems to be causing stress or worries, do what you can to make your child feel better. Let him know the bedwetting will stop in time so it won’t become an added worry. When children stop wetting, their self-confidence usually returns.  
  • Some parents find it helpful to take their child to the toilet two or three hours after the child goes to sleep. This doesn’t work for everyone.
  • To help save washing:
    • cover the mattress with a plastic or waterproof sheet
    • put plastic over the bottom sheet and a piece of towelling on top of the plastic
    • put thick underpants or ‘pull ups’ on your child.
  • Leave a soft light on so it’s easy and ‘safe’ for your child to go to the toilet.
  • Make sure your child has a shower in the morning to feel fresh and clean and not smelly to others, which can sometimes lead to teasing by other children.
  • Give your child lots of encouragement, especially after accidents. Children need to feel loved and lovable.
  • Older children are able to help by changing their beds and putting their wet sheets and clothes in the laundry.
  • Alarm systems help many children who are about seven years old or more. 
  • Check with your doctor if:
    • your child is still wetting in the day by school age
    • your child who has been dry starts wetting again for more than one or two nights 
    • you or your child are becoming very upset by the bedwetting
    • you have any other concerns about bedwetting.  

School camps and sleepovers

Children often worry about wetting the bed at school camps or at sleepovers, and might try to avoid going. Children should be encouraged not to miss out on these fun times.

If your child is very anxious about camp or sleepovers, there’s a hormone medication (which is sprayed into the nose) that can decrease the amount of urine produced at night. See your doctor a couple of weeks before the camp or sleepover to see whether this might help your child.

Remember that teachers are used to dealing with these situations without embarrassing the child. Have a private discussion with your child’s teacher about how the bedwetting can be managed, then talk with your child about what to do if it happens at camp.

If your child is going on a sleepover in someone else’s home, discuss with the parent how to best manage the bedwetting. Let your child know they can talk to the adult of the house privately if they have an accident.

Night time ‘pull-ups’ might help. There are also ‘nappies’ for older/bigger children.

What not to do

Don’t punish, criticise or tease your child, and don’t let others do this to her. This can make her tense and anxious and make the problem worse. 

It’s not a good idea to make young children clean up after themselves, as they might see it as a punishment for something they have no control over. Children often feel sad when they wake up in a wet bed, and the last thing they want to do is upset you.

Keep in mind that behaviour change programs, such as star charts, won’t work because your child can’t control the bedwetting.

If your child is over seven

  • If the bedwetting isn’t too worrying for your child or you, you might be happy to just wait until your child grows out of it. But many children hide their distress, so think about trying something to help.
  • If your child is over seven, a bladder training program and/or a bell or alarm program might help. These programs are often successful. You can find out more about them from your local community health centre, pharmacy (chemist) or doctor.
  • Other treatments, such as medicines and hypnosis, might help.
  • It’s important to use a treatment that doesn’t add to your child’s discomfort or embarrassment.

Reminders

  • Reassure your child that bedwetting is common and nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Don’t punish, criticise, tease or offer rewards for something your child can’t control.
  • Get a medical check-up to be sure there’s no physical cause.
  • Consider using a bladder training or bell/alarm program if your child is over seven and anxious.
  • Help your child feel as comfortable as possible about going to school camps and sleepovers.
Bedwetting is something children can’t help, and they almost always grow out of it.
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  • G.B. Marshall, J. Trinder, J.C. Bornstein (2009). Treatment of Bedwetting (nocturnal enuresis) in Australia and New Zealand with the bell-and-pad apparatus. Autonomic Neuroscience, 149(1-2), 12 August 2009, pp123-124. 

    Glazener, C.M.A., & Evans, J.H.C. (2006). Desmopressin for nocturnal enuresis in children. In The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 2. The Cochrane Collaboration. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    Glazener, CM, Evans, JH. (2004). Simple behavioural and physical interventions for nocturnal enuresis in children. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The Cochrane Collaboration. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    Glazener, CM, Evans, JH, Peto, RE (2005). Alarm interventions for nocturnal enuresis in children. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The Cochrane Collaboration. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    Moulden, A. (n.d.). Primary nocturnal enuresis. Melbourne: Royal Children's Hospital.

    National Kidney Foundation (n.d.). When Bedwetting Becomes A Problem. Retrieved 10 March 2006 from http://www.kidney.org/atoz/pdf/bedwetting.pdf.

    Oberklaid, F., & Efron, D. (2002). Controlling the alarm on enuresis. Australian Doctor, 8 March, 45.

    Rushton, H. (1997). Pediatric urology. Pediatric Clinics of North America,44(5), 1065-1343.