Soggy sheets and pajamas — and an embarrassed child — are a familiar scene in many homes. But don't despair. Bed-wetting isn't a sign of toilet training gone bad. It's often just a normal part of a child's development.
Bed-wetting is also known as nighttime incontinence or nocturnal enuresis. Generally, bed-wetting before age 6 or 7 isn't cause for concern. At this age, your child may still be developing nighttime bladder control.
If bed-wetting continues, treat the problem with patience and understanding. Bladder training, moisture alarms or medication may help reduce bed-wetting.
Bed-wetting is involuntary urination while asleep.
Most kids are fully toilet trained by age 4, but there's really no target date for developing complete bladder control. By age 5, bed-wetting remains a problem for only about 15 percent of children. Between 8 and 11 years of age, fewer than 5 percent of youngsters are still wetting the bed.
When to see a doctor
Consult your child's doctor if:
No one knows for sure what causes bed-wetting, but various factors may play a role.
Several factors have been associated with an increased risk of bed-wetting, including:
Although frustrating, bed-wetting without a physical cause doesn't pose any health risks. The guilt and embarrassment a child feels about wetting the bed can lead to low self-esteem, however.
Rashes on the bottom and genital area may be an issue as well — especially if your child sleeps in wet underwear. To prevent a rash, help your child rinse his or her bottom and genital area every morning. It also may help to cover the affected area with a petroleum ointment at bedtime.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or your child's pediatrician. However, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in urinary disorders (pediatric urologist or nephrologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your child's doctor may be limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For bed-wetting, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Your child will need a physical exam. Depending on the circumstances, urine tests may be done to check for signs of an infection or diabetes. If the doctor suspects a structural problem with your child's urinary tract or another health concern, your child may need X-rays or other imaging tests of the kidneys or bladder.
Treatments and drugs
Most children outgrow bed-wetting on their own. If there's a family history of bed-wetting, your child will probably stop bed-wetting around the age the parent stopped bed-wetting.
Generally, your child will be your doctor's guide to the level of necessary treatment. If your child isn't especially bothered or embarrassed by an occasional wet night, home remedies may be the ideal treatment. However, if your grade schooler is terrified about wetting the bed during a sleepover, he or she may be more motivated to try additional treatments.
If you try a moisture alarm, give it plenty of time. It often takes at least two weeks to see any type of response and up to 12 weeks to enjoy dry nights. Moisture alarms are highly effective, carry a low risk of relapse or side effects, and may provide a better long-term solution than medication does.
Sometimes a combination of medications is most effective. There are no guarantees, however, and medication doesn't cure the problem. Bed-wetting typically resumes when the medication is stopped.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Here are changes you can make at home that may help:
Many people are interested in trying alternative therapies to treat bed-wetting, and several therapies, such as hypnosis and acupuncture, appear to be somewhat effective. However, other therapies currently don't have evidence to support their use.
Be sure to talk to your child's doctor before starting any alternative therapy. Some treatments can be just as powerful as prescription medications or surgeries. Make sure the alternative therapies you choose are safe for your child and won't interact with other medications your child may take.
Coping and support
Children don't wet the bed to irritate their parents. Try to be patient as you and your child work through the problem together.
With reassurance, support and understanding, your child can look forward to the dry nights ahead.
Last Updated: 2011-10-12
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