Does Your Child Still Wet the Bed?

Accidents will happen but there are simple ways to cope

Kids bed wetting

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Bedwetting—nocturnal enuresis—is common among kids. Five to 7 million children in the United States don't always make it through the night without having an accident. This may come as a relief if you have a child who's still soaking his sheets even though he's totally dry during the day. In fact, the average child can't stay dry through an entire night until he's 4 or 5 years old. After that, though, most kids outgrow bedwetting: While 15 percent of 5-year-olds wet the bed, only 3 percent of boys and 2 percent of girls are still wetting the bed by age 10.

Even though nocturnal enuresis is rarely worrisome, it can do a real number on how a child feels about himself. Studies show just one bout of bedwetting per month can cause a child's self-esteem to take a nose-dive. 

Why Do Kids Wet the Bed?

There are four main reasons a child may continue to wet his bed beyond age 5.

  • Mom and/or Dad were bedwetters. If both parents wet the bed as kids, there's a 77 percent chance a child will do the same. If only one parent was a bedwetter, the probability a child will follow suit is around 44 percent. 
  • Smaller-than-average bladder. A child who physically can't hold as much urine as other kids is more likely to be a bedwetter. 
  • Lower-than-average levels of vasopressin—a hormone that helps to regulate the production of urine during the night.
  • Deep sleep. Some kids simply snooze right through a middle-of-the-night urge to pee.

Dealing With a Bedwetter

A child who's still wetting the bed past age 6 is likely to be embarrassed about it, especially once he begins sleeping over at other kids' homes. Here's where you can step in. Start by reassuring your child that wetting the bed is a normal part of growing up and he'll eventually outgrow it, but there are things you can try to make that happen sooner. Then give any or all of these strategies a few dry runs to see if they help:

  • Waterproof his bed. This won't stop him from wetting it, of course, but it will make accidents easier to deal with and, hopefully, less embarrassing. Protect the mattress directly with a waterproof mattress pad or a zippered mattress cover. You also can spread a waterproof mattress overlay on top of the sheets. (No more remaking the entire bed!) 
  • Keep an eye on your child's fluid intake around bedtime. Limit how much he drinks as well as what he drinks. Caffeine can act as a diuretic, so make sure your child doesn't drink or eat anything with caffeine in it in the evening. 
  • Help him keep his bladder empty. Remind him to make a pit stop before he goes to sleep. Get him up once more before you hit the sack, but try not to make a big deal about it. Keep the lights low and get him in and out of the bathroom quickly and quietly so he's able to drift back to sleep easily. 

When All Else Fails

For some kids, bedwetting can be remarkably persistent.

If by age 8 your child still rarely makes it through the night without having an accident, talk to his pediatrician about other tactics you might try.

Tactics include:

  • Using an enuresis alarm, a device attached to a child's underwear or a mattress pad that's designed to wake him up as soon as he begins to wet the bed. It has sensors that trigger a sound or set off a vibration. Some research has found enuresis alarms have high success rates after several months. 
  • A once-nightly-dose of DDAVP (desmopressin). This medication works like the hormone vasopressin to decrease the amount of urine produced at night. As a treatment for bedwetting, it's usually given once a day, just before bedtime. It comes as a tablet to be swallowed or as a nasal spray. 
  • Taking Tofranil (imipramine). It's not clear why, but this antidepressant has been found to help around half of kids dealing with nocturnal enuresis. One drawback: Once a child stops taking this medication, chances are good he'll go back to wetting the bed.
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