Bedwetting in Children

Try as they might, your child can't seem to make it through the night without bedwetting. You're frustrated, they're frustrated. You're worried that something may be seriously wrong.

Usually, bedwetting is outgrown with time and rarely is anything seriously wrong. Sometimes, though, medical help is needed. Here are some answers to many of the questions you may have about incontinence in children.

How Common Is Bedwetting in Children?

About 40% of 3-year-olds wet the bed. Experts don't fully understand why one child continues to wet the bed and another doesn't. It could be a matter of development. Sometimes a child's bladder is simply not developed enough to store urine for an entire night. Sometimes a child has not yet mastered the ability to recognize when the bladder is full, wake themself up, and get to the bathroom.

What's "Normal" When It Comes to Bedwetting?

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The range is very wide regarding bedwetting. Typically, a child becomes toilet trained between ages 2 and 4. But some won't be able to stay dry through the night until they are older. By age 5 or 6, 85% of children can stay dry, but some children still wet the bed from time to time until age 10 or 12.

Sometimes a child who has been dry at night will begin to wet the bed again. This may be triggered by family stress or school problems. As a child's systems mature, they are less likely to wet at night. By the teen years, or much earlier, almost all kids who wet their bed have outgrown the problem with only one percent or less still having issues.

Most children of school age who wet the bed at night have what doctors term "primary enuresis." They have never had nighttime control of their bladder. Family history plays a role, too, in incontinence in children. If you wet the bed as a child, don't be surprised when your child does, too.

When Should We Talk to the Pediatrician About Bedwetting?

Bring up the subject any time you are concerned about bedwetting, of course. If your child has been dry and then starts to wet the bed, tell your pediatrician right away. Your child's doctor can evaluate your child to be sure the problem isn't stress related or due to an underlying medical condition. That likelihood is small. Only 1% of all bedwetting problems are traced to diabetes, infections, abnormalities of the bladder or kidney, or another medical condition. If your child has any unusual symptoms such as burning while urinating or passing bloody urine, talk to the doctor right away.

How Can I Help the Doctor Solve my Child's Bedwetting?

To help solve your child's bedwetting, be a good detective at home. Be prepared to answer these questions:

  • Is there a family history of bedwetting?
  • Do certain conditions or foods and drinks trigger more bedwetting episodes?
  • Is your child drinking fluids close to bedtime?
  • Are there any unusual symptoms such as bloody urine?

What Happens Next to Treat Bedwetting?

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Your pediatrician may order urine tests to see if there is a urinary tract infection, which can trigger bedwetting. The doctor may also request other tests to check the health of your child's urinary tract system.

What Else Can Be Done About Bedwetting in Children?

To reduce bedwetting, your pediatrician may suggest a variety of measures such as the following:

  • Limit fluids before bedtime.
  • Use an alarm device that wakes up the child as soon as wetness is detected. This is "conditioning training," which, if used steadily and consistently for three to four months, appears to work at least 75% of the time. The devices are inexpensive and readily available and should be tried before any medications.
  • Try prescription medication that forces the body to make less urine at night. Normally, this isn't an option until the child is at least 7 years of age and other methods have failed.

How Can I Help my Child During Bedwetting Treatment?

Assure your child that bedwetting in children is common. It's nothing to be ashamed of and almost all children eventually outgrow it. Make sure siblings understand this as well. Don't allow them to tease the bedwetter.

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