Bedwetting in children: causes and treatment tips

31 October 2019

If you’re getting up most nights to change your child’s wet bedsheets, you will understand just how tiring bedwetting (also known as nocturnal enuresis) can be. The constant laundry and disrupted sleep can start to get you down.

However, if your child is over the age of five, bedwetting can become something of a worry, too. Questions will probably be swirling around your head in the early hours of the morning: why is it still happening? Will they ever ‘grow out’ of it? And what is the most positive, gentle and proactive way to support them to become dry during the night?

To help tackle the issue of bedwetting in children, we speak to two experts – Dr Kishore Tewary, a consultant paediatrician at Spire Parkway Hospital, Solihull, near Birmingham to help explain the reasons why your child might still be wetting the bed and what you can do to help them:

What age do most kids stay dry at night?

By the age of five, children can usually expect to be night-dry. ‘If it doesn’t happen there is no need for panic,' says Dr Tewary, 'but it would be sensible to take your child to a doctor or school health nurse, to see if interventions are necessary. I would advise parents to take action before the child reaches seven years old.’

‘About 10 per cent of children at age 10 years and two per cent of pubertal age can still be wetting the bed at night,’ he adds. ‘It is important that a medical or urological cause is ruled out if they are still wetting after the age of five.

'If the child is dry for six months and then starts wetting again, this is classified as secondary wetting and medical or urological causes need to be investigated. However it is often brought on by stressful situations. Again, support and encouragement from parents can help.’

The emotional aspect of bedwetting

Dr Tewary suggests having open and honest conversations with your child about bedwetting, explaining to them that it is not their fault and discussing potential interventions with them.

‘We encourage parents to discuss the problem with the child in a positive and non-discriminating manner,’ he says. ‘They should explain that it is not the child’s fault and also discuss how the situation could be improved with certain interventions – if you are doing something different, then it is important that your child knows why.

'Be positive and reassuring throughout the process, and also encourage your child to take ownership of cleaning and changing bed linen, under supervision and with support of parents.’

Do children grow out of bedwetting?

Unless there is a medical or urological cause for bedwetting, most children do grow out of it.

Why do some children wet the bed?

There are three main reasons why children wet the bed. These include:

  • Their bladders don’t stretch enough to hold all the urine produced during the night.
  • They produce too much fluid at night.
  • They don’t wake up when they need to empty their bladder.

All these reasons are treatable, However, bedwetting can also be caused by an underlying health condition, such as severe constipation or Type 1 Diabetes.

Some of the symptoms of these conditions may include: 

  • Constipation and bedwetting

If bowels become blocked because of constipation, they can put pressure on the bladder, which can lead to bedwetting. Children should empty their bowels at least four times a week, so keep track of whether it’s less than this.

  • Type 1 diabetes and bedwetting

If your child is bedwetting but also seems more tired than usual, has lost weight and seems unusually thirsty, it’s worth taking them to the GP so urine and blood tests can be carried out to check for Type 1 diabetes.

Bedwetting treatment tips

To support your child if they wet the bed, it’s common for parents to lift their child out of bed during the night and take them to the toilet while still asleep. However, while this will achieve dry sheets, it doesn’t cure the problem.

By lifting, carers are deciding when their child should go to the toilet, rather than the child realising that their bladder is full.

Instead, establishing healthy bladder habits during waking hours is the best way to help your child combat bedwetting. He suggests you try the following:

  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids during the day.
  • Ensure they go to the toilet just before they go to sleep, to make sure their bladder is fully emptied.

Bedwetting and medical help

For most children and young people, bedwetting can be successfully treated. 'There are several strategies that can be implemented to help,’. ‘Firstly, it’s important to try to find out what’s causing the bedwetting and ensure there are no underlying health issues.'

If there are no underlying health concerns, and if the healthy bladder habits (above) aren’t working, the following treatment options are recommended:

  • Bedwetting alarm

The first line of treatment, especially if your child is a heavy sleeper, is to try a bedwetting alarm, which attaches to your child’s night clothes. If the sensor on the alarm gets wet, it sets off the alarm, waking your child.

Over time – and it can take time – the alarm aims to teach your child when they need to wee and therefore wake up to empty their bladder. When the alarm sounds, it’s important for your child to turn it off themselves, go to the toilet and change their own clothes.

  • Medication for bedwetting

If a bedwetting alarm fails, further treatment could include medication, such as desmopressin. Desmopressin effectively switches off the production of urine, so it’s important to take the medication about an hour before going to bed and not have anything further to drink before going to sleep.

Q: How quickly could I have a consultation and how much would it cost? 

A: It depends on the availability of the consultant you wanted to see, but we pride ourselves on getting you fast access to diagnosis and you can often get a consultation within 24/48 hours. Initial consultation fees vary by consultant, but around £175 is a reasonable guide.

Q: If I need surgery, how quickly could I have it?

A: We have no waiting lists at Spire Parkway, but again, it depends on the availability of the consultant you wanted, but as a guide, and subject to your pre-operation assessment, between one and two weeks. 

Q: I don’t have health insurance, can I self-pay? 

A: Yes, you can. Our self-pay team can talk you through this and explain the finance options that are available, should you wish to explore them. Call 0121 704 5530 or send us an enquiry.

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