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Wet bed blues

If your child has trouble staying dry through the night, chances are good he or she will outgrow the problem.

It seems we start wishing for it almost as soon as our baby is born: the time when we no longer have to change diapers or wash wet sheets.

Most kids are toilet trained when they are 2 to 4 years old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). But even after they've mastered daytime toilet training, many kids will need extra time to stay dry at night all of the time. Bedwetting (called enuresis) affects 15% of 5- and 7-year-olds, according to the AAP.

Causes of bedwetting

Bedwetting may occur for many reasons. For example, the child may be a deep sleeper and not wake up to the feel of a full bladder. Or the child's bladder may not be big enough or mature enough to hold urine all night.

Medical problems, such as constipation (which can put pressure on the bladder), can also contribute. So can being overly tired or stressed out. In some cases, a kidney or bladder problem may be the cause.

Family history may also play a role. According to the AAP, most kids who wet the bed have a parent who had the same problem as a child.

When to seek help

If your child starts wetting the bed again after being toilet trained for six months, talk to a doctor. These symptoms are also reasons to talk with your child's doctor:

  • Pain, burning or straining during urination.
  • A very small or narrow stream of urine, or dribbling that is constant or happens just after urination.
  • Cloudy or pink urine; or bloodstains on underpants.
  • Wetting during the day as well as the night.
  • Urinating after a strain, such as coughing or lifting.
  • Poor bowel control.

What you can do

If your child's bedwetting is not caused by a medical problem, the best cure may be time. Bedwetting tends to drop off as a child's body matures, according to the AAP.

In the meantime, your child needs to know that he or she is not to blame. He or she will also need lots of support. You can reward your child for nights when he or she does not wet the bed. But never punish a child for wetting the bed.

The AAP says to keep these tips in mind when dealing with bedwetting:

  • Be sensitive to your child's feelings. Don't make a big deal out of bedwetting. Also, set a no-teasing rule in the family.
  • Take preventive steps. For example, limit fluids before bed and make sure your child uses the toilet just before bed. You can also try waking the child to use the toilet one to two hours after he or she goes to sleep.
  • Use a plastic mattress cover to protect the bed.
  • Let your child change the sheets and blankets. This will teach responsibility and help the child avoid embarrassment. However, don't do this if your child sees it as a punishment.

If your child still isn't staying dry at night after you've tried these tips for one to three months, your child's doctor might recommend that you try a bedwetting alarm.

Medicines are available to treat bedwetting in older kids. They almost never cure the problem, though they may help a child go to a sleepover or camp, according to the AAP.

Talk to your child's doctor

If you or your child has questions or concerns about bedwetting, consult the child's doctor. Also talk with your child's doctor before your child starts any bedwetting treatment program. Many products or programs falsely advertise costly "cures" for bedwetting, according to the AAP.

Reviewed 11/21/2022

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