Bed wetting

by Dawn Kelly. It can be stressful for both parent and child – but with patience and support, your child will usually become dry in their own time.

Unhappy child


Childhood bed-wetting is more common than you might think. It’s estimated that 1 in 6 five-year-olds wets the bed regularly (at least twice a week). And, according to the charity ERIC (Education & Resource for Improving Childhood Continence), 14% of seven-year-olds, 9% of nine-year olds and 1-2% of teenagers wet the bed.

Also known as ‘nocturnal enuresis’ (pronounced 'en-you-ree-sis'), bed-wetting is normally just a developmental stage. It appears to be a little more common in boys and may also run in families.

Bed-wetting can occur because the child fails to wake up when signals are sent to empty the bladder. Sometimes an overactive bladder (an urge to pass urine frequently, often in small amounts) is to blame or a child has a small bladder so more urine is produced than the bladder can cope with.

For other children, a lack of certain hormones that slow down the production of urine at night-time is the cause of the bed-wetting. Other reasons might include: type 1 diabetes, constipation, a UTI (urinary tract infection) or emotional stress (bullying, parents separating, moving house/school, etc).

Bed-wetting is only considered to be a problem after the age of six. Before then, a child is not really expected to stay dry at night. However, the stress and embarrassment surrounding bed-wetting can make it seem worse than it really is. Some parents feel pressure to overcome ‘the problem' when, in fact, it's more effective to be patient and supportive and let your child become dry in their own time.

Extra information

Night-time and the lead-up to bed can be a difficult time for you and your child if they wet the bed. Creating a happy and calm routine takes away some of the worry and makes bedtime an enjoyable time. A fun bath, a bedtime story in a cosy bedroom, and a chat and a cuddle before sleep are all good ways to help you both relax.

Remember that you're not alone. Many families are going through what you're going through, and connecting with people in the same situation can be a huge help. Check out the ERIC website (See the 'Answers from the web' section). It’s a fantastic website which is packed with information and advice for younger children, teens and parents. This may help both you and your child understand what may be happening, as well as reassuring them you that there are lots of other families in the same position.

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Top tips

  • The following might help your child with
  • their bed-wetting:Drinking regularly during the day and limiting
  • the amount of liquid your child drinks in the evening (avoiding drinks like
  • cola or hot chocolate which contain caffeine as this will increase the need to
  • wee at night).Going to the toilet every night before going
  • to sleep. Before you switch their bedroom light off, ask them again if they
  • need to go one last time.Using a bed-wetting alarm which is made up
  • of either a sensor bed mat connected to a bedside alarm or a moisture-sensitive pad (attached to underwear) connected to an
  • alarm worn on their pyjama top. In both types, the alarm goes off if the child
  • begins to wee. They help train your child to wake up when their bladder is
  • full.

Expert opinion

At night, the pituitary gland produces antidiuretic hormone (ADH) that tells the kidneys to slow down the production of urine. Some children don't yet make enough of this hormone. This means their kidneys continue to produce urine at the same rate as during the day, which could be one reason why they wet the bed.

It might also be because their brain isn't responding to signals from the bladder or they may be in a very deep sleep. Either way, the child doesn't recognise that the bladder is full, stays asleep and involuntarily releases urine from the bladder.

What's important to remember is that bedwetting isn’t anyone’s fault. If it continues after the age of 6, help is available from your GP, school nurse and the childhood continence charity, ERIC.

Dawn Kelly, Baby & Child Development Expert, (RGN, RSCN, BSc, PGDipHV, PGDipEd, RNT, PGDipRes)

Parent's tale

My son toilet trained quite easily during the day when he was around two and a half, but getting him out of nappies at night wasn’t easy at all. Some nights he was OK but quite often he’d wet the bed (sometimes it’d be wet two or three times a night). I was told he’d grow out of it but it was really upsetting him so I took him to our doctor when he was five and a half. She was brilliant and although she said they usually wait until a child is 6, she was happy to start looking into how to help straight away.

We were given an alarm and asked to monitor his fluid intake and wetting. She told us to encourage him to drink as normal, but no fizzy drinks. After about 3 months things had improved but weren’t brilliant. She gave him some medicines and after just a few weeks we saw a huge improvement. He’s no longer taking any medication and is dry through the night. He’s now 7 and seems to have already forgotten all about it.

Julie, from Torquay

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