What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is when children who are 5 years old or older can’t control their bladders, so they wet themselves during the day.
Urinary incontinence is common. About 1 in 10 children who are 5-6 years old wet themselves during the day.
Causes of urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence has many causes.
Sometimes urinary incontinence happens because children’s nerves or urinary tracts haven’t developed typically.
Sometimes urinary incontinence happens because children have overactive bladders. This means their bladders don’t store urine the way they’re supposed to. This can make children suddenly feel like they have to do a wee, so they wet themselves.
Other children have underactive bladders. This means they can’t empty their bladders fully when they go to the toilet, so wee leaks out at other times. Children can develop an underactive bladder if they regularly delay going to the toilet, and their bladder stretches over time.
Type-1 diabetes can cause children to drink a lot and then wee a lot. This can cause children to wet themselves during the day.
Stressful life events – like starting school, the birth of a new sibling, or parents separating – can make it hard for some children to focus on going to the toilet by themselves. They might accidentally wet themselves as a result.
Children with developmental delays might take longer to become dry during the day.
Symptoms of urinary incontinence
The main symptom of urinary incontinence is children accidentally wetting themselves during the day.
Children who have daytime wetting often also experience bedwetting at night.
If your child wets themselves during the day, it can be uncomfortable and upsetting for them and worrying for you. But treatments and support are available. It’s best to start by speaking to your GP.
Medical help: when to get it for children with urinary incontinence
You should see your GP for advice if your child is older than 5 years and:
- is experiencing urinary incontinence more than once a month
- has never had a period of daytime dryness.
Your GP might start by doing a physical examination of your child’s tummy, lower back and genitals. The GP might test your child’s urine or organise an ultrasound of their tummy to check their kidneys and bladder.
The GP might also suggest keeping a diary of when your child wees, and working on healthy toilet habits. If this doesn’t help, the GP might suggest medicine.
The GP might also refer your child to a urologist or other specialist.
Treatment for urinary incontinence in children
There are many treatment options for urinary incontinence. The right treatment for your child will depend on what’s causing the incontinence.
Healthy toilet habits
The first step is likely to be ensuring that your child has healthy toilet habits.
This involves explaining to your child how their body stores and gets rid of wee. It also involves encouraging your child to:
- drink fluids regularly throughout the day
- go to the toilet regularly
- recognise the signs of needing to do a wee
- go to the toilet when they need to wee, rather than holding on.
Your child might also be asked to wee at particular times throughout the day.
While your child is working on their toilet habits, you and your child might need to keep a diary that records:
- how often your child goes to the toilet
- how long your child goes between wees
- how often your child wets themselves.
You might need to speak to your child’s teacher about letting your child go to the toilet during class. The teacher might also be able to help your child fill in their diary.
In some cases, the doctor might prescribe medicine to treat daytime wetting. The type of medicine depends on the cause. Your doctor can explain why medicine is needed and whether it has any side effects.
Other treatment options
Depending on the cause of your child’s urinary incontinence, there are other treatment options. These treatment options are for more complex cases of incontinence, and your GP will usually refer you to a specialist for advice about these options.
If you and your child’s doctors think the urinary incontinence is related to stress, you can ask your GP to refer your child to a local psychologist or counsellor. Or your child might be able to talk with a school counsellor. Your child could also call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.