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Bedwetting (nocturnal enuresis) can be worrying and frustrating, but it's common for children to accidentally wet the bed during the night. The problem usually resolves in time.
Bedwetting is common in young children but it gets less common as a child gets older.
In the UK, it's estimated that about:
- 1 in 12 children wet the bed regularly at four and a half years old (regularly is defined as at least twice a week)
- 1 in 40 children wet the bed regularly at seven and a half years old
- 1 in 65 children wet the bed regularly at nine and a half years old
About 1 in 100 people continue to wet the bed into adulthood.
Bedwetting is slightly more common in boys than girls.
When to see your GP
Bedwetting is only really a problem if it begins to bother the children or parents. Only rarely will this be considered a problem in children under 5 years old. Many families first seek treatment when the bedwetting affects a child's social life (for example, preventing sleepovers).
Medical treatments aren't usually recommended for children under five (although exceptions can be made if a child finds bedwetting particularly upsetting).
If your child frequently wets the bed and finds it upsetting, speak to your GP for advice.
Read more about the symptoms of bedwetting.
Why does my child wet the bed?
There's usually no obvious reason why children wet the bed and it's not your child's fault. In many cases, the problem runs in families.
Bedwetting could be caused by your child:
- producing more urine than their bladder can cope with
- having an overactive bladder, meaning it can only hold a small amount of urine
- being a very deep sleeper so they don't react to the signals telling their brain their bladder is full
Constipation is frequently associated with bedwetting, especially in children who don't wet themselves every night. In these cases, bedwetting may happen during the night when the child has not had a poo during the day. Sometimes, treating constipation is all that's needed to treat bedwetting. Untreated constipation makes any treatment of bedwetting much harder.
Occasionally, bedwetting can be triggered by emotional distress, such as being bullied or moving to a new school.
In rare cases, bedwetting may be the symptom of an underlying health condition, such as type 1 diabetes.
The recommended plan is usually to try a few measures yourself first, such as limiting the amount of liquid your child drinks in the evening, and making sure they go to the toilet before going to sleep.
Reassuring your child that everything is okay is also important. Don't tell them off or punish them for wetting the bed as this won't help and could make the problem worse. It's important for them to know they're not alone, and it will get better.
If these measures alone don't help, a bedwetting alarm is often recommended. These are moisture-sensitive pads a child wears on their night clothes. An alarm sounds if the child begins to pee. Over time, the alarm should help train a child to wake once their bladder is full.
If an alarm doesn't work or is unsuitable, medication called desmopressin or oxybutinin can be used.
Most children respond well to treatment, although bedwetting sometimes returns temporarily.
Read more about treating bedwetting.
Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (ERIC) is a UK-based charity for people affected by bedwetting. The charity’s website provides useful information and advice for both children and parents.
ERIC also has a telephone helpline – 0845 370 8008, open weekdays from 10am to 4pm.