Bed-Wetting in Children

Nighttime bed-wetting during sleep is more common in young children than you might think. Most children outgrow this type of bed-wetting, medically known as nocturnal enuresis, by the time they turn 5 years old, but in some cases, it may continue at any age. Bed-wetting isn’t a medical condition; however, it's one that can be challenging for parents and embarrassing for children. Find out what can cause bed-wetting and how to manage this period in children’s lives.

What Is Bed-Wetting (Nocturnal Enuresis)?

When wetting of the bed happens in children only during sleep, it’s officially called nighttime incontinence or nocturnal enuresis, or, more commonly, bed-wetting. This involuntary urination happens while your child is asleep. A familiar morning scene in many households may include wet sheets and pyjamas, and an ashamed child. But know that this doesn’t mean your efforts with toilet training have gone down the drain—this is a normal part of your child’s development! There are a number of ways you can manage these bed-wetting incidences. Your best approach is to practice patience and understanding with your child, and then follow up with solutions, of which we have many.

How Common Is Bed-Wetting in Children?

All children wet the bed and have “accidents” at some point during toilet training. Assure yourself—and your little one—that this is a normal, expected part of the learning process! Additionally, bed-wetting may occur even after your child is toilet trained, which usually takes place between the ages of 2 and 4. After successful toilet training, bed-wetting may still occur up to two or three times a week. However, it typically becomes less prevalent and eventually disappears altogether, often at around the age of 5. But since every child is different, your little one may or may not fall within this typical bed-wetting age range. And although it may feel defeating if your toddler started wetting the bed again after potty training, remember that it’s normal and something you can manage. Bed-wetting can even continue for some children after 5 years old. Statistically, bed-wetting affects

  • 1 out of 4 children at 5 years old

  • 1 out of 5 children at 7 years old

  • 1 out of 20 children at 10 years old.

Bed-wetting is more common than you might think, and particularly more prevalent in boys than girls. On top of that, it’s typically hereditary, usually passed down through the father. So, whether you’re wondering how to help your child stop wetting the bed at age 3, 5, or 7, know that you’re not alone.

Bed-Wetting (Nocturnal Enuresis) Causes

Bed-wetting isn’t fully understood by medical professionals. But in general, it’s believed that children require time to develop bladder control at night. This involves controlling the nervous and muscular systems in order to subconsciously suppress the sensation of a full bladder. And in some cases, the psychology of bed-wetting comes into play, as stress or emotional distress can trigger nocturnal enuresis. In general, bed-wetting isn’t something any child can willingly stop, but there are some reasons your child may be wetting the bed:

  • They are a deep sleeper and have trouble awakening when their bladder is full

  • Their bladder is small or hasn’t developed sufficiently to hold urine for an entire night

  • They may not have yet learned how to hold and empty their bladder (the communication between the brain and bladder may still be developing)

  • They produce too much urine at night due to a lack of the antidiuretic hormone, which slows urine production when sleeping

  • Constipation may be putting pressure on their bladder, leading to bed-wetting

  • Being overly tired

  • A medical problem like diabetes mellitus or a urinary tract infection

  • Emotional distress caused by an upsetting incident or major life change or stress, such as a new sibling, a move, or divorce

  • There’s a family history of bed-wetting

  • If your child suffers from sleep apnea, in which their breathing is interrupted during sleep, they may be more likely to wet the bed

  • If your child has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they are more likely to wet the bed.

In Summary

There are many possible reasons your child is wetting the bed, including an underdeveloped bladder, an inability to hold urine, sleeping very deeply, producing too much urine at night, constipation that causes pressure on the bladder, emotional distress, or a medical issue.

Solutions for Managing Bed-Wetting With Your Child

Perhaps you’re wondering how to help your child stop wetting the bed. If and when your child wets the bed, it’s best not to make a big issue out of it. Remember that it’s involuntary, so although you might not be able to stop it from happening, there are some ways to help manage it.

To start, respond in a calm, low-key manner, and know that your child isn’t wetting the bed on purpose. Here are 10 additional tips for managing bed-wetting with your child:

  1. Don’t punish or blame them

  2. Help them feel less embarrassed or ashamed after the incident by reassuring them that accidents happen. Explain that bed-wetting isn’t their fault, it happens to all children, and it will go away in time

  3. If bed-wetting runs in the family (for example, if a sibling or a parent has been a frequent bed-wetter), let your child know in order to make the situation feel more relatable

  4. Consider putting your child back in training pants designed for older kids or using a plastic cover over their mattress to make cleanup after a bed-wetting incident easier

  5. Consider letting your child help change the sheets after a bed-wetting incident; however, if they interpret this as punishment, don’t force it

  6. Establish a no-teasing rule with other siblings

  7. Pay attention to your child’s urine and bowel movements throughout the day

  8. Encourage your child to use the toilet before their bedtime routine and just before falling asleep; and have them avoid drinking a lot of liquid

  9. Wake your child up a couple hours after going to sleep and encourage them to use the toilet

  10. Reward your child for dry nights with positive reinforcement and offer loving support after wet nights.

In Summary

The key to managing a bed-wetting incident with your child is not to scold them or make them feel ashamed. Instead, remain calm and help them understand that it was an accident, that it happens to many children, and that it will go away with time.

To manage your child’s bed-wetting, pay attention to their urine and bowel movements during the day, encourage toilet use before bedtime, consider putting them in training pants at night, and use a plastic mattress cover, among other things.

RELATED ARTICLE

Potty Training
Potty-trained toddlers and accidents

Signs That May Indicate It’s More Than Just Bed-Wetting

If your child still has frequent bed-wetting occurrences six months to a year after toilet training, it may be related to a medical condition. If you notice any of the following signs in your toilet-trained child, consult their healthcare provider:

  • Wet underwear, pyjamas, and bed sheets even when your child uses the toilet on a regular basis

  • A change in urination frequency or the amount of urine produced

  • Straining, pain, or burning sensations during urination

  • A narrow/small stream of urine or dribbling after urination

  • Pink or cloudy urine, blood stains in their underwear or pyjamas

  • A red rash in the genital area

  • Hiding wet underwear

  • Urinating after coughing, running, or lifting

  • Wetting during the day and at night

  • A sudden change in mood or personality

  • Poor control over bowel movements

  • Problems with walking, such as an off-balance gait, which may indicate neurological problems.

In Summary

Consult your child’s healthcare provider if you notice any change in their urination, such as the amount, the colour, a weak stream, pain or burning during urination, or dribbling after urination. Other signs warranting a call to their provider include a genital rash, poor control over bowel movements, mood changes, and wetting day and night, among other things.

Seeing Your Child’s Healthcare Provider About Bed-Wetting

If your child older than 5 years old is still experiencing bed-wetting episodes, even after trying the different methods mentioned above, consult their healthcare provider for guidance. The provider may ask you questions about the bed-wetting incidents to determine if the episodes are related to stress, a family history of bed-wetting, drinking too much fluid or eating salty food, or if there’s anything unusual about your child’s urine.

Medical Tests for Bed-Wetting (Nocturnal Enuresis)

In some cases, your child’s healthcare provider may want to run tests to see if there’s an underlying cause for the bed-wetting. If the provider suspects a urinary tract infection, they may order tests to check your child’s urine and potentially prescribe antibiotics. To rule out an abnormality in your child’s bladder or kidneys, the provider may order X-rays of your child’s bladder and/or ultrasound of their kidneys.

Treatment for Bed-Wetting (Nocturnal Enuresis)

In some cases, your child’s healthcare provider may recommend simple home treatments, such as discouraging your child from drinking liquid two hours before bedtime. If constipation is an issue, the provider may recommend treatment for that. However, there are some other treatments that can help manage bed-wetting at any age.

Bed-Wetting Alarm

One option that may help your child if they’re still wetting the bed after one to three months of no success: a bed-wetting alarm. Your child’s provider may recommend using this device, which includes a moisture-sensing pad that goes on either the bedding or your child’s pyjamas. The bed-wetting alarm works by awakening your child as soon as it senses wetness. However, the device isn’t foolproof; many children sleep right through the alarm. You, as the parent, may need to step in and wake up your child when you hear the alarm. When used according to the provider’s instructions, the bed-wetting alarm may help condition your child to wake up when they need to use the toilet. It works for more than half of children using it, but it may take at least four months of use to reach success.

Medications

Oral medications prescribed by the healthcare provider are also a possibility for older children; these work in about half to two-thirds of children who use them. Side effects are rare, but relapse rates are high. However, these medications may come in handy when used occasionally for specific situations, such as sleepovers and summer camp.

In Summary

If your child is still experiencing bed-wetting after the age of 5, it’s best to consult their healthcare provider for guidance. The provider may want to run some tests to rule out a medical condition. Depending on your child’s age, the provider may recommend treatment that includes the use of a bed-wetting alarm or prescription medication.

FAQS AT A GLANCE

There are many different reasons your child could be wetting the bed. These may include:

  • Sleeping very deeply and being unable to wake up when the bladder is full
  • The bladder is small and still developing
  • Too much urine is produced at night
  • Constipation may put pressure on the bladder
  • Emotional distress or stress from sudden family changes
  • The bed-wetting runs in the family
  • Your child has a medical condition that may increase the chance of bed-wetting.

In some cases your child’s bed-wetting may indicate a medical condition. If you see any of the following signs, consult your child’s healthcare provider:

  • A change in the amount urination
  • Straining, pain, or burning during urination or dribbling afterward
  • Pink or cloudy urine or blood-tinged underwear
  • A rash in the genital area
  • Urinating after an activity like running or lifting, or even after coughing hard
  • Wetting throughout the day and night
  • Off-balance walking.

Yes, stress can cause your child to wet the bed. Emotional distress after an upsetting incident or stress from a new sibling in the family, a divorce, or even a move may cause stress that may lead to bed-wetting, especially after a period of dryness.

The Bottom Line

Bed-wetting has happened to just about everyone—even you when you were a child! It isn’t uncommon for children between 2 and 4 years old to experience bed-wetting during daytime and nighttime toilet training. Most children outgrow bed-wetting around the age of 5, but for some, bed-wetting may continue. There are many reasons why your child may be wetting the bed, some of them having to do with a developing bladder, an inability to hold urine at night, or an overproduction of urine in the evening. Sometimes a medical condition or emotional distress could be the cause. Children who have sleep apnea or ADHD are more likely to wet the bed. Bed-wetting can also be hereditary. If your child does wet the bed, instead of punishing them, reassure them that it was just an accident, and that it has happened to everyone. To make future incidents less messy, you might consider putting your child in training pants and/or using a mattress cover. Before putting your child to bed, encourage them to use the toilet, and ensure that they drink less liquid in the evening. If you’re concerned about your child’s bed-wetting, consult their healthcare provider for guidance. Tests may indicate that the bed-wetting is due to a medical condition. The provider may also decide to prescribe medicine to help or recommend the use of a bed-wetting alarm to help condition your child to hold their urine. Rest assured that, sooner or later, every child will outgrow bed-wetting. In the meantime, download our Pampers Club app to earn rewards for all those training diapers you’ll be using!

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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  • Book: Caring for your baby and young child, birth to age 5, Sixth Edition Paperback – November 2, 2014 by American Academy of Pediatrics (Author)
  • Healthy Children: Bedwetting
  • Mayo Clinic: Bedwetting