If you have a kid who wets the bed, you may be wondering if there’s an underlying psychological issue. Why do kids wet the bed? Is it because they have some hidden trauma affecting their bladder control? Here’s what you should know about bed-wetting and how to support a child who can’t seem to wake up dry.
Common Causes of Wetting the Bed
It’s very common for kids to pee in their beds at night. According to Mayo Clinic, “Bed-wetting — also called nighttime incontinence or nocturnal enuresis — is involuntary urination while asleep after the age at which staying dry at night can be reasonably expected.” Don’t be alarmed. In fact, at any given time, about 5 million children (in the US alone) have problems with bed-wetting. Not surprisingly, there are many potential reasons some kids can’t stay dry overnight.
Here are some possible factors:
- Hormonal factors (specifically an insufficient amount of antidiuretic hormone which reduces urine production in the kidneys).
- Genetics (bed-wetting tends to run in families).
- Abnormalities in the ureter (in girls) or the urethral valves (in boys).
- Drinking too much water before bed.
- Difficulty waking from sleep when the bladder needs to be emptied.
- Urinary tract infection.
- Spinal cord abnormalities.
- Slowed development of bladder control.
- Underlying medical conditions (such as a small bladder or constipation).
- Big life changes or excessive stress.
At age five, approximately 15% of kids tend to wet the bed according to the Nationwide Children’s Organization. Boys are two times more likely to have bed-wetting problems than girls. As kids grow older, most have fewer instances of waking up wet. By the time they reach age 14, only 1-2% of kids still struggle with nighttime bladder control.
What Can You Do to Help Your Child?
Waking up wet can be traumatic for any kid, so resist the urge to scold your little one for wetting the bed again. They aren’t doing it on purpose and need your support and understanding. Reassure them that they haven’t done anything wrong and help them understand that many children wake up wet in the night. Soothe them instead of punishing them and remind yourself that their body may not yet have the physical maturity required to remain dry through the night.
You can also try the following to support your child through this challenging stage of life. You can take many steps to help them, depending on the underlying issue. If you’re looking at their water intake or drinking habits, consider:
- Urge your child to drink more water in the morning and early afternoon instead of in the evening.
- Eliminate any caffeinated beverages from their diet. Caffeine has a diuretic effect on the bladder.
- Don’t restrict water to your child all day long. Insufficient fluids can lead to the development of a bladder infection, which can be an underlying cause of bed-wetting.
If your child’s bedwetting is suspected to be tied to their behavior, you can:
- Make sure your little one is using the bathroom frequently. Holding urine during the day can lead to urinating more at night.
- If your child is afraid of the dark, they may avoid getting out of bed to use the bathroom. Consider putting a nightlight in the hallway so your child can see where they’re going.
- Make sure going to the bathroom is the last activity your little one does before climbing into bed.
- If they wake up in the night, lead them to the toilet and encourage them to go. Keep in mind that intentionally waking your child to use the bathroom at night has not been shown to cure bed-wetting.
If you’re exhausted by constantly waking in the night and cleaning up wet bedding, take comfort in knowing most kids grow out of this behavior by the time they reach age seven. If your child doesn’t grow out of it by then, or shows other symptoms of an underlying problem, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
The American Family Physician Organization says administering bed-wetting medication from your pediatrician should be your last resort, “Medicines aren’t a cure for bed-wetting. The medicines work in two ways. One kind of medicine helps the bladder hold more urine, and the other kind helps the kidneys make less urine. The medicines may have side effects.”
Signs It’s Time to See Your Doctor
Take your child to the pediatrician if you notice that her nighttime urinating is accompanied by other behaviors or problems, such as pain while peeing, sudden bed-wetting after months of staying dry, swelling in the ankles and feet or snoring loudly at night. There may be a treatable medical condition at the root of the cause.
Wetting the bed is something many kids and parents go through. The key is to face the challenge together, with plenty of support, encouragement, and patience until the phase passes.