Bedwetting in children: what should parents do?

bedwetting in children

Bedwetting in children – it’s not something we tend to talk about openly, but did you know that bedwetting in children is a lot more common than you may think? While at the time you may be wondering if your child is the only one wetting the bed, you are certainly not alone – it’s just that bedwetting in children is something we parents tend to keep hush-hush…alone with many other things!

In fact, from 5 to 7 million kids wet the bed some or most nights – with twice as many boys wetting their bed as girls. After age 5, about 15% of children continue to wet the bed, and by age 10, 95% of children are dry at night.

My daughter is still within the bracket of those who children who are not dry at night – now at five years old and that’s why I really wanted to get some open dialogue going around bedwetting in children going here today, and to do that, I’ve invited Alice Stephens from The Bedwetting Doctor to answer some of the questions that I know so many parents want to have addressed when it comes to bedwetting in children. So here goes:

How common is it for children to wet the bed?

Bedwetting is very common – in the UK, around half a million children aged between 5 and 19 wet the bed regularly. The likelihood of bedwetting decreases with age – around 20% of 5 year olds still wet regularly, this decreases to around 1 in 12 children aged 9.5. Still, you might be surprised to realise that this means that at least 1 child in every primary school class is still wetting the bed regularly at night.

What causes bed wetting in children at night?

Unless there is an underlying medical cause, bedwetting usually occurs when children have not yet formed the link between their brain and bladder whilst they are sleeping. This developmental link, which tells the brain to recognise the feeling of a full bladder when sleeping, simply can take longer to develop in some children than others.

How should parents handle bedwetting in children?

The important thing to realise is that bedwetting is not your child’s fault. They have no control over their bedwetting, and often will feel very upset to wake up to soaked sheets. Although you might feel frustrated that they are wetting the bed, it’s important to not lose your temper. Instead, take positive action to help treat their wetting and praise and encourage them through the treatment process on their way to achieving dry nights.

What mistakes should parents avoid when their child is wetting the bed?

The most common mistake that we see parents making is to restrict their child’s fluid intake. Although it might seem that limiting your child’s drinks might help their bedwetting, it actually has the opposite effect. Instead, make sure that your child drinks plenty of fluids throughout the day (water is best) to help strengthen their bladder. An hour or two before bed, you can limit how much they drink and just let them have small sips if they are thirsty, rather than big gulps.

Parents also often “lift” their child to the bathroom during the night. It’s important that your child wakes up to a full bladder, and so lifting them whilst they are asleep to empty their bladder is not beneficial in the long term.

Many parents wonder when their child will stop wetting the bed – what’s the answer here?

In the same way that some children take longer to learn to walk or talk, others take longer to learn to be dry at night. Bedwetting is perfectly normal below the age of 5. However, once a child is 5 years old, action should be taken to tackle their bedwetting. The sooner that their bedwetting issue is treated, the greater the chance of long-term success. Tackling bedwetting at an early age will also reduce the negative emotional and social impact that bedwetting can have on a child as they get older.

Bedwetting in children

What solutions are there to help beat bedwetting?

Bedwetting alarms are recommended by UK Guidelines as the first line treatment for bedwetting in children age 5 and over. A bedwetting alarm works by waking the child up as soon as they wet the bed. This helps to speed up the development of the link between their brain and bladder, by helping them to wake up when their bladder is full. Initially, the alarm will wake them up as soon as they start wetting, helping them to recognise the feeling of a full bladder. They should then learn to wake up when their bladder is full but before they wet and be able to take themselves to the bathroom. Eventually, they will develop the ability to sleep through the night with full control of their bladder.

My own daughter is five and is still in nappies at night – if we took them off we know she will wet the bed. What would be your advice here?

Wearing nappies at night sends a message to your daughter that it’s “ok” to wet. Instead. explain to her the importance of being dry and night and make sure that she is motivated to learn to stay dry. It is likely that she will wet the bed initially after removing her nappies, so waterproof bedding can be very helpful at reducing laundry loads! Keep a progress chart and set up a reward system to encourage her to reach dry nights with the help of a bedwetting alarm.

What are your five top tips you’d like to share with parents whose child is wetting the bed?

1. Don’t panic – bedwetting is extremely common and so you are not alone! Just because it isn’t often talked about, doesn’t mean that others aren’t going through the same thing.
2. Take action – the sooner bedwetting is treated, the better the outcome. Not only in terms of the effectiveness of the treatment, but also in your child’s own self-esteem and the social and emotional impact bedwetting can have.
3. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water – the exact amount required varies according to a child’s age, physical activity, weather etc, but it’s important to make sure that your child’s bladder is strong and can retain fluids.
4. Praise and support your child – bedwetting is not their fault, so don’t tell them off or blame them for wetting the bed.
5. Motivate and encourage – use a progress chart to keep track of dry and wet nights (free progress charts are available to download from our website). Also set up a reward system for positive action that’s taken towards their bedwetting, such as wearing their alarm or remembering to go to the toilet before bed.

If you had to give a pep talk to my readers to take away with them right now on the subject it would be:

Bedwetting is treatable, so do not worry. If your child is age 5 or over and wetting the bed, it’s important to take action. Bedwetting is very common, but don’t just leave it, do something about it!

Although bedwetting can leave parents feeling frustrated and children feeling bad, what is a relief to hear is just how common it is, and that it’s something that many parents have had to or are dealing with right now. My own daughter is a very deep sleeper and so my hunch is that she is just not getting those signals at night, and this is the current parenting challenge we’re working on – how to help get night time control.

Does your child wet the bed? Are you concerned about your their bedwetting? What do you think about the insights and advice offered above? Do leave a comment and share.

11 comments

  1. Our almost four year old is dry during the day but still wears pull ups at night. We are going to tackle getting him our of nappies at night too, so this is a very timely post.

  2. OK. I used to wet the bed, until I was around 10 years old. I never got told off, but I found it a HUGE embarassment and chose not to go on sleepovers etc. My parents took me to the GP, when I was around 6; I was referred to the hospital. I remember having to be checked ‘down there’ for any problems; I was sent home with some kind of purple dye that I had to sit in, which stained my legs and I tried to cover it up during PE lessons. I remember having the mesh ‘alarm’, where I was supposedly going to wake up when liquid triggered a pad I was lying on. I was a heavy sleeper – the alarm woke my parents. Never me. Some nights I remember trying to stay awake, because it only happened when I was asleep. I used to cry if I knew another appointment was coming up. It was horrendous, and all the fuss made me feel like a freak. I never let my friends play in my bedroom, because one asked what the machine was and I was too embarassed to answer. Do I wet the bed now? Of course not – I grew out of it. When my children had ‘accidents’, as all do, I didn’t make an issue of it at all. Like me, they grew out of it. Children develop at different rates. I don’t believe in ‘treating’ the issue – helping yes by leaving night nappies off, but I don’t approve of the alarms, nor hospital involvement. I can honestly say that it ruined my primary age as I lived in fear of ‘what were they going to do next’.

    • Hi Tracey thanks so much for taking the time to write such a detailed reply – I have to say it really made me sit up and listen. You don’t normally hear what it’s like from a child to go through this and it’s terrible to hear how it made you feel. It’s certainly made me consider our approach with our own daughter who is still in pyjama pants at night….we are still taking a wait and see approach and after everything you’ve said, it’s made me feel like perhaps this may the best approach for us but everyone is different and I know some people have had huge successes with the alarms…horses for courses! Talya x

  3. Our son hasn’t been in nappies at night since he was 3.5 but occasionally wets the bed. I never give out to him as he always apologises. He’s generally good at waking but sometimes he doesn’t.

  4. This is great advice. I kept my nearly four year old in pull ups until we had 3 months of no wetting the bed. She normally wakes up in the night once to go to the toilet. We have a waterproof cover on her mattress just in case! Kat x

  5. Great tips here and I realise I made several of the common mistakes when I was night toilet training my four year old, luckily for us though they weren’t mistakes at all and he’s been dry at night for months now. Bed wetting is really common though and should definitely be spoke about more so parents feel confident to ask for advice xx

  6. Brilliant advice and very useful for parents. All kids are so different when it comes to this, my son wet the bed longer than my girls did. However even my ID twins didn’t potty train at the same time

  7. I have a 6yr old and a 4 year old. The 6 year old (boy) is still wetting the bed at night. The 4 yr old practically trained herself at night. When I travel, people are so afraid their beds are going to be ruined, they make us take air mattresses, and our own pee covers. Of course, I offer. But my family looks at me like I am failing my child in some way by not training him to go to the bathroom at night. He doesn’t know he has to. He wakes up, and barely notices if is diaper is wet. He is completely trained during the day. How do I deal with family who thinks all the potty training advice they give will work? I have tried everything except the alarm pad. We have awakened him an hour after bed time… This can trigger night terrors which are another horror story altogether. I have tried having him practice walking to the bathroom with his eyes closed three times before bed. I have tried waking him up early. I have tried giving him new pajamas, and telling him they needed to stay dry if he wanted to wear them again. I have tried no night time diaper. It doesn’t work. It won’t until that signal is triggered in his brain at night.

    • I totally relate to everything you are saying. Since we I wrote this post we have started with the bedwetting alarm. It’s going to be a slow process and we are only three days in but it has made her more aware and has already changed some habits of hers but I think it’s going to take some weeks for her brain to make the connection. I know some people just say leave it so it depends how you feel about the whole thing. I have no wise words to offer on this yet only empathy!

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