We explore why kids wet their beds, bust a number of bedwetting myths and offer 5 simple solutions.
Bedwetting (also called primary nocturnal enuresis) is a common problem that younger children face at some point or another during their early years. It usually happens during the night, when the child is in a deep sleep and hasn’t fully learnt bladder control.
Waking up to wet sheets is an uncomfortable experience for both parent and child. Both usually end up with disturbed sleep and the child is often wet and cold. To make matters worse, it can sometimes feel like a child has regressed and started wetting the bed again.
For many kids, bedwetting gets better with age, but for some it can continue throughout their primary schooling years. Regardless of age, bedwetting can cause emotional issues for children so it’s important to reassure them that it’s normal.
What causes bedwetting?
Several different factors can affect bedwetting, from fluid intake, stress, health and the age of the child. The main thing for parents to remember is that bedwetting is a normal part of a child’s development.
Young children don’t always know what certain physical cues mean and can easily wet themselves during the day, let alone when they are fast asleep. They also have smaller bladders, meaning they can’t hold as much urine or for a long period, as older children can.
Some children don’t make enough of a hormone called the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which helps to concentrate urine overnight. Children who don’t make enough ADH have a lot of dilute urine and so wet the bed much more easily.
When your child wets the bed, it can be easy to feel frustrated because you’re tired of waking up in the middle of the night. You may also feel worried that this is not ever going to stop or that something is wrong with your child. Please know that this is a completely normal phase and children will eventually grow out of it. Even if it looks like they have suddenly regressed, it doesn’t mean all the toilet-training work has been lost.
In this video, paediatrician Dr Phyllis Bogopa busts a number of bedwetting myths as well as causes and solutions.
5 common bedwetting causes and solutions
Here are some things to be mindful of when considering why your child might be wetting the bed.
1. Fluid intake
Is your child drinking lots of fluids after dinner? If they are, it’s going to come out at some point. Instead, ensure your child is drinking water and is well-hydrated during the day. This way, come night-time, they won’t be as thirsty and guzzle down a big drink before bed. Try to limit their intake of fluids a couple of hours before their bedtime.
Is your child feeling under the weather? If your child is sick, they are more likely to not be fully present or have everything all under control. They may sleep a lot deeper and not wake up in time for the toilet.
If your child is sudden wetting the bed or regressed after being dry for six months, make sure your child doesn’t have a medical condition such as a urinary tract infection or diabetes.
There is also a strong link between constipation and bedwetting. If your child is constipated, they are more likely to wet the bed. If your child has a sleeping disorder, they are also more likely to wet the bed.
Family history can also play a part in your child’s bedwetting. If your child has older siblings who also went through a bedwetting phase, it is likely that they will too. If you are concerned that your child’s health issues are causing bedwetting, make an appointment with your family doctor.
Is your child stressed, worried or having negative experiences at home or school? Stress in a child’s life greatly impacts their ability to control their response to their physical body cues, not to mention their emotional regulation.
Even if your child doesn’t appear to be stressed, they may simply be hiding it well. Think about their home environment and relationships with their parents and siblings. Do they feel a deep sense of connection, love and belonging?
The school environment is also important. Consider if they have good friendships, are being bullied, made an outsider, or are feeling stupid academically for falling behind or comparing themselves to the “smarter kids”.
If a fear of the dark is causing stress, it’s a good idea to have a night light in their room to alleviate their fears and to help them see where they are going if they need to walk to the toilet in the night.
Is your child under six years old? Age has a lot to do with bedwetting. The younger a child is the more likely they are to wet the bed. They often don’t know their body’s cues for when their bladder is full. Many also don’t know how to “hold on”, resulting in more wet nights. Some children also haven’t developed the anti-diuretic hormone, which can help with dry nights.
A young child’s bladder is a lot smaller in size and less toned than an older person who has learned how to hold and release urine. By the time your child reaches school-age they would have gained more bladder control, and therefore have more dry nights.
5. Body cues
A part of toilet training can also involve assisting your child to the toilet a few hours after they have gone to sleep. This will help them learn to respond to bladder cues and wake up in the night when they need to pass urine. This short little wake-up may greatly help to reduce bedwetting.
Bedwetting prevention tools
To make life easier for you and your child moving forward, purchasing things like a bedwetting alarm or bedwetting mat can really help in making the middle-of-the-night process a lot easier.
Moisture alarms work by having a moisture sensor clipped to the child’s underwear and a little alarm clipped to the child’s top. When the sensor detects moisture, the alarm will be activated helping the child to wake up and go to the toilet.
A bedwetting mat is a cloth mat made of waterproof material that goes on top of or under the sheet. When the child does wet the bed, it doesn’t seep through to the mattress protector or mattress, making for much less cleaning.
Celebrating the wins and moving forward
Wetting the bed is an embarrassing moment for all ages. Children not only feel uncomfortable but may also struggle with being angry with themselves for doing it again. They may also feel guilty like they have let their parent down or disappointed them.
It is vitally important that parents do not make a big deal out of bedwetting. Children should never be shamed or punished for bedwetting or accused of being lazy. Nor should they ever be “taught a lesson” by putting them in a cold shower after wetting the bed. The fewer emotions connected to bedwetting the better for the child’s progression in gaining bladder control.
If your child wets the bed, do not share it with the household, broadcasting their embarrassment and “failure”. Calmly and lovingly assist them in getting cleaned and changed, and getting dry bed sheets.
If you are going to communicate anything to them about bedwetting, let it never be done with frustration, anger or a tone of voice that could make them feel in trouble. Be empathetic and let them know that this is a normal thing all children go through and that the event is totally confidential.
Celebrate with them if they are excited about not wetting the bed one night, but don’t ever make them feel they have let you down when they do wet the bed. This will not help them progress.
Bedwetting is a normal part of a child’s life and remember that it won’t last forever. If you do have concerns, it is important to visit your child’s doctor to rule out any medical issues.
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