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Bedwetting can be a worrying and frustrating, but it's extremely common for children to accidentally wet the bed during the night. The condition will often resolve itself in time.
You may hear your doctor refer to bedwetting as nocturnal enuresis.
Medical treatments aren't usually recommended for children under the age of five as it's common to wet the bed at this age (though exceptions can be made if a child finds bedwetting particularly upsetting).
Bedwetting usually only becomes a concern in children who are five years of age or over and who are wetting the bed at least twice a week.
Although bedwetting doesn't pose a threat to a child’s physical health, it can have a considerable psychological impact on their self-esteem and confidence, particularly in older children.
So if your child is experiencing frequent bedwetting and is finding it upsetting, it's recommended that you contact your GP for advice.
Bedwetting can also be a frustrating and upsetting problem for parents, not only coping with its effects on the child, but having to deal with the practical and financial consequences, such as continually washing bedclothes.
Reassuring your child
Reassuring your child that everything is okay is very important if they regularly wet the bed. Your child should know that:
- it's not their fault
- they're not alone
- it will get better
You should also never tell off or punish a child who wets the bed. Not only can this cause distress, it's also likely to make the problem worse.
There's no single approach to treating bedwetting, but in most cases the recommended plan is to first try a combination of self-help techniques, such as restricting the amount of liquid your child drinks in the evening (avoid drinks with caffeine in them, such as cola, because caffeine encourages the production of urine).
If this doesn't work, a bedwetting alarm is often recommended. They're moisture-sensitive pads that a child wears on their night clothes. An alarm sounds if the child begins to pass urine.
Over time, the alarm should help train a child to wake up once their bladder is full or helping them hold on to their urine during the night.
For children who don't respond to an alarm, or for those who are unwilling or unable to use one, a medication called desmopressin can also be used.
Most children respond well to treatment, although the bedwetting sometimes returns temporarily.
Read more about treating bedwetting.
Why does my child wet the bed?
In rare cases, bedwetting may be the symptom of an underlying health condition, such as type 1 diabetes (which can cause an excessive production of urine) or constipation (if the bowels aren't fully cleared it can place pressure on the bladder).
Secondary bedwetting, where bedwetting begins after a long period of dryness, can be triggered by some type of emotional distress, such as being bullied or moving to a new school.
However, in the majority of cases, there's no clear reason why a child wets their bed. It could be due to your child:
- producing more urine than their bladder can cope with
- the bladder is overactive or ‘irritable’ meaning that it can only hold a small amount of urine
- their bladder is being very deep sleeper and not reacting to the signals telling their brain that their bladder is full
Bedwetting can also run in families. In about half of cases, one of the child’s parents (usually the father) had a history of bedwetting as a child.
Read more about the possible causes of bedwetting.
How common is bedwetting?
Bedwetting is a common condition in young children but it gets less common as a child gets older.
In England, it's estimated that:
- 1 in 6 five-year-olds regularly wets the bed (regularly is defined as at least twice a week)
- 1 in 10 seven-year-olds regularly wets the bed
- 1 in 14 10-year-olds regularly wets the bed
- 1 in 100 18-year-olds regularly wets the bed
Bedwetting is slightly more common in boys than in girls.
Types of bedwetting
Bedwetting often falls into two distinct types. These are where the child:
- has wet the bed (or their nappy) every night or almost every night since birth – this is known as primary nocturnal enuresis
- begins to wet the bed after a period of at least six months of persistent dryness – this is known as secondary nocturnal enuresis
Bedwetting can also be classified as:
- monosymptomatic – night time bedwetting is the only symptom
- polysymptomatic – a child has other symptoms, such as a frequent need to pass urine during the day or a sudden and urgent need to urinate
Read more about the symptoms of bedwetting.