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Bedwetting: 5 Common Reasons Why Children Wet the Bed

Feb 06, 2018
Child in bed.

It may be an inconvenience for parents, but bedwetting is a common problem in children. Some children struggle to stay dry throughout the night from the day they are born and others are able to stay dry for several months, or years, and begin wetting the bed again.

Who Wets the Bed?

Approximately 15 percent of children wet the bed at age 5. That number decreases with age occurring in only 1-2 percent of children age 14 and older. Boys are twice as likely as girls to wet the bed. It happens more frequently in children with developmental delays and emotional and behavioral difficulties.

Why do kids wet the bed?

Children wet the bed for numerous reasons – here are a few of the most common:

  • Time. Some children need extra time to develop control of their bladder.
  • Genetics. Children who wet the bed tend to have a parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent who wet the bed until a late age, suggesting a genetic component.
  • Sleep. Children whose sleep is disturbed by snoring, television or pets, and children who are deep sleepers are more likely to wet the bed.
  • Stress or life changes. Going through big changes like moving or a new sibling, or other stressors, can lead to children wetting the bed after being dry for a long period.
  • Medical. Medical reasons such as having a urinary tract infection (UTI), constipation, or differences in the way the body is built or functions – like a small bladder or making too much urine – could be the cause. In addition, Type 1 Diabetes can also first show up as bedwetting along with increased thirst and urination.

What Can I Do About It?

Approximately 15 percent of kids who wet the bed learn to stay dry through the night without any intervention; however, the longer the bedwetting has been happening, the less likely it is to get better on its own. Here are a few things parents can try:

  • Reduce drinks before bed and eliminate caffeinated drinks. Caffeine makes kids need to pee more often.
  • Encourage children to use the bathroom 15 minutes before bed and again right before bed. Some children pee just enough so they no longer feel the urge, so they may not be emptying their bladder.
  • Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Remove electronics and pets from your child’s room.
  • Do not punish your child for accidents as this can increase stress, feelings of shame, and teach kids to hide their bedwetting. Instead, have your child help with clean up as much as they are able.
  • Keeping track of dry nights can be helpful to motivate and reward children. It also helps keep track of bedwetting to know whether it is getting better or worse and identify patterns. If your child is hiding their bedwetting, you can give two stickers for dry nights, one for telling the truth about the wet night, or none for hiding or lying about it.
  • Waking children before you go to bed or in the middle of the night to use the restroom can be helpful. If the bed is wet when you wake them, wake them earlier. If they wet the bed after you wake them, wake them later. You may need to adjust to find the right time.

Bedwetting Alarms

Bedwetting alarms typically clip to your child’s underwear or have a pad for your child to sleep on. When the clip or pad gets wet, the alarm sounds or vibrates, which teaches your child’s body to wake up when they need to pee. In order for this to work, your child actually has to wet the bed repeatedly so their brain can learn to wake up to pee. This means you should not use the strategies above when starting the alarm.This option should be a last resort given the time and disruption it can cost, but research shows that, when done correctly, it is the most effective method of teaching children to stay dry in the long term.

Consulting the Doctor

You can also discuss use of medication to stop bedwetting with your child’s doctor. Medication works well for some children, but they often start wetting the bed once they stop. Medications may be a good idea to use strategically such as during sleep-overs.

Contact the pediatrician if your child:

  • Suddenly starts wetting the bed or having daytime accidents after being consistently dry for at least six months, particularly if there are no recent changes or stressors.
  • Snores loudly or has pauses or gasps in breathing most nights.
  • Complains of a burning sensation or pain when urinating.
  • Has to pee more often.
  • Is drinking or eating much more than usual.
  • Has swelling of the feet or ankles.
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Cody Hostutler, PhD, is a licensed pediatric primary care psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University. He obtained his PhD at Lehigh University.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.