bedwetting bw

The Bedwetting Blues

Waking up wet in the morning is a common problem for many children.  In addition to being confusing and embarrassing for children, bedwetting can be a frustrating experience for parents and caregivers. Despite numerous studies, the cause of bedwetting, also called nocturnal enuresis, is still unknown. There are many theories that exist based on observations of children that have nighttime wetting.  The majority of children who wet the bed are found to be deep sleepers and have an increase in urine production overnight.  Other conditions, such as constipation, may factor into bedwetting.

The good news is bedwetting is not a serious medical condition.

Helpful information about bedwetting:

  • Bedwetting is not a disease. It is involuntary urination while asleep.
  • Bedwetting runs in families.
  • Boys are more likely to struggle with bedwetting than girls.
  • As children get older, bedwetting improves.
  • By age 15, 99% of children have stopped wetting the bed.
  • Many children may fill and empty their bladders 2-3 times per night.

Although there is no cure for bedwetting, taking a few simple steps can help. First of all, make sure your child urinates before he or she goes to bed at night. It is also helpful to limit the amount of liquid your child takes in before bed.

Some parents attempt to wake their children and help them go potty during the night to prevent bedwetting. A few children may respond to this, but do not be discouraged if this does not help to keep them dry.

Some children will respond to a bedwetting alarm.  The alarm consists of a clip-on sensor that attaches to the child’s underwear.  When the child begins to urinate, the alarm is activated and sounds a loud alarm or vibration in an attempt to wake up the child.  The bedwetting alarm works to condition the brain to respond to bladder messages during sleep.  It often takes two or more weeks for the child to wake to the alarm.  During this time, it is important to wake your child as soon as you hear the alarm and help her to the bathroom.

DDAVP (desmopressin) is a medication that is sometimes used in children with bedwetting to decrease the amount of urine production overnight.  Desmopressin does not always work for every child.   It is important to limit the child’s intake of liquids before bedtime.

As always, it is important to discuss concerns with your primary care physician. While bedwetting is not considered a serious medical issue, you may be referred to a pediatric urology specialist for an evaluation to determine your child has no other urological problems.

Remember that children who wet the bed do not do so purposely. It is a common misconception that children who wet the bed are “just lazy,” which is simply not true. They are asleep – bedwetting is involuntary, much like snoring.

Be patient with your child and never punish them for wetting the bed. Always be supportive and explain that bedwetting is a normal part of childhood.

Cheryl G. Baxter, CPNP
Cheryl G. Baxter is a member of the Section of Pediatric Urology at Nationwide Children's Hospital. She completed her master’s degree in nursing and advance practice at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Her previous experience includes pediatric primary care, neonatal nurse practitioner, ICU staff and chief flight nurse. Cheryl joined the Urology division in 2007. She is a full-time pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in pediatric urology problems such as urinary tract infections, overactive bladder, and other disorders of the bladder and bowel. She has lectured at a local and national level on pediatric urology topics and is active in the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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