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Why Does My Child Wet the Bed?

Bedwetting is a more common problem than some might think, with approximately one in 12 children in Ireland between the ages of four and 12 years experiencing night time bedwetting at some point.

Clinical Psychologist David Coleman spoke to some of our eumom members about some of the possible causes of bedwetting. He encouraged both parents and children to speak more openly about the condition. He also answered some of their questions.

Question: My four and half year old boy is starting school in September. We were waiting a long time for that "dry night" but when it didn’t come we decided to bite the bullet and get rid of the pull ups. We get him up at 11 every night to go. He goes and doesn’t mind it. We have some dry mornings and some not so dry. However if he does wet the bed he sleeps through it. Any suggestions, and how do we know when to stop getting him up as I don’t want to form a habit.

David’s Response: Lifting children does become something that they (and we) rely on to avoid wet beds. However, the habit it forms can be balanced against the stress of cleaning children and beds, so keep lifting until you see that he has a series of about 7-10 dry nights after lifting. Then experiment by not lifting him after 11 nights and see how he gets on. If he has wet nights again then it may be a question of persevering with the lifting for a while longer.

Question: My son will be three in September, been toilet trained for five months now, he'll be dry 3-4 nights in a row, then for some reason he won't wake and end up soaked (even with a pull-up) around 1 or 2 am...he has sensory problems so it's really annoying to him...any ideas??

David’s Response: He just may not be developmentally ready at 2 years 10 months. I'd usually recommend that you have a full week of dry nights before taking off a child's night-time nappy. Perhaps just wait for a few more months and he will be dry more regularly, but use a full nappy rather than pull ups so that he feels dry all night to avoid his sensory discomfort.

Question:  My daughter will be five in a few weeks and she still wets the bed, we stop her having drinks in the evening, take her to the toilet at about 10pm and again at 1am-ish and even then she still wets the bed and a lot some nights, it can be 2 or 3 times, any ideas??

David’s Response: That sounds like a lot of wee, such that your daughter just can't contain the volume of urine that she produces. It may well be worth talking with your GP or Public Health Nurse about possible medical interventions even though she is still only five.

Question: My boy is six, he will be seven in March and he still randomly wets the bed, he might also sleep through it… and have no idea that he has wet himself when he wakes in the morning. I know sometimes it can be stress related, as in we might have a battle before bed although I do my best not to as I know he will probably wet himself if we do. He is fine during the day, sometimes a bit lazy and waits until the last minute to go. He doesn't drink a huge amount during the day; just what I would think is normal/sufficient. It’s not a huge issue in our house anymore because it happens so often, I just get on with it and he helps me sort the washing etc while I just talk to him and explain he needs to use the loo etc... I really don't know what technique to do any more. All help is very much appreciated :)

David’s Response: It sounds like his bedwetting may indeed be stress related, since it is more likely to happen after a lot of fighting, and so perhaps rethink your bedtime routine to reduce any conflict.

Question: What do you think about the use of Desmotabs for the control of bedwetting? Could they stain teeth?

David’s Response: I don't know the detail of how the medications work as I am not a medical doctor, so definitely talk to your GP about available treatments. He or she will be able to advise if the medication is appropriate and what other side-effects (if any) they have.

Question: I'm at my wits end about my little lady wetting the bed and I'd love some help......She was toilet trained at around 2 years 10 months and took to it like a duck to dry land. We never had any problems with it, even managing to take her travelling for two months last year, staying in different beds/places most nights and she never spilt a drop. However, we were involved in a car crash last August. Myself and the two kids got out without a scratch, but my wife suffered bad back/neck injuries. She started school not long after that and by the end of September she started wetting the bed every night. At first we were upset, then we became angry and cross as it started to go on longer. This wasn't making anyone feel better so we now wake her up every night sometime between 10:30pm and midnight and bring her to the loo. Not ideal, but saves a lot tears, hers and ours. We had her checked out by the doctor, who said there was nothing physically wrong and she would grow out of it. She goes to the toilet a number of times during the day without any problem. Her diet is good, plenty of fresh fruit and veg, drinks mainly water, rarely do we give her fruit juice/fizzy drinks. She doesn't drink anything after her dinner at around 18:30. But I would say she hasn't gone a dozen nights without wetting the bed since late Sept last year. (Other than the nights we wake her up). Is there anything else we can do?

David’s Response: I think your daughter's bedwetting is related to the emotional impact of the car crash and then the pressure of starting school coinciding a few weeks later. Either you can do a lot of empathetic talking to her about the crash and what that experience felt like, or you might want to consider play therapy or another form of counseling/therapy for her.

Question: I've a girl who has just turned five. Would have been slow to toilet train was nearly two and a half. We try to restrict fluids after 6pm, we toilet her when we are going to bed. She would have been prone to constipation but we have that well managed for the last year. But we still get wet beds approx once a week.  Her weak point/time is just before waking.  Any suggestions?

David’s Response: Try waking her up a bit earlier to see if you can catch the critical time – this gives her the opportunity to get to the toilet. Or you could also try lifting her to the toilet before you go to bed as this may give her enough time to be able to sleep till whatever time she naturally wakes.

Question: My son is five since February and has never had a dry night. His pull ups are soaking in the morning. He doesn't wake up during the night even though he is soaking. What should I do? Should I start leaving the pull ups off at night and picking him up to go to toilet at 11pm whilst asleep? Or stop drinks at 6pm? Or do I wait until he has a couple of dry nights? Although I don't see this happening anytime soon. I'm at a loss as to what to do. He was born four weeks early, not sure if that would have anything to do with it. I would be very grateful for any advice.

David’s Response: I think you need to try both restricting his fluids after 6pm, ensuring he does a big wee before bed, and then also try lifting him when you go to bed about 11.30pm or whenever.

Question: I just wanted to know if bedwetting is hereditary because I had a serious problem with it. I wet the bed till I was in my early teens. We tried every method out there from getting me up, potty by the bed, stopping liquid intake, several alarms, I even went to hospital to have my kidneys and bladders tested. I now have a little girl of my own and I worry it'll happen to her now. I understand she will have accidents, every child does, but I really don't want her to suffer the way I did. It took a lot out of my self esteem and knocked my confidence for six. So all I want to know is this, is it hereditary and can I do anything to prevent it?

David’s Response: Yes there is evidence to suggest that there is a hereditary link to bedwetting. However, although having a parent who wet the bed increases the likelihood that a child will do so, it doesn't conclusively determine that a child will in fact suffer from bedwetting. There is little you can do until your child gets to the stage of taking off her nappy at night-time, but you don't need to assume the worst, she may not have a bedwetting problem.

Question: I have a three and a half year old little boy who is daytime trained for nearly a year now but I have delayed the night time training as I want to avoid bed wetting and I'm not sure how to go about the training.  My questions really are, what age is appropriate to night-time train a child? Should I lift the child during their sleep and place them on the toilet? Or should I limit drinks for a period of time before bed? And should I use normal pants or pull ups during the process?

David’s Response: Night-time training is typically not training at all, since it is more about parents spotting that their child has reached the physical maturity to contain their wee through the night. So the key indicator is that his nappy is dry for 7-10 nights in a row, while everything else about his routine (eating, drinking and bedtime) remains the same as it always has. Then just take the nappy off and go straight to PJs or pants, if that is what he sleeps in, with no interim pull-ups.

Question: My son will be five in December. He took to daytime training very quickly when he was two, but he still wets the bed at night. He is a very deep sleeper and doesn't wake up when he is wet. We take him to the toilet in the middle of the night which often helps, but he will still wet the bed approx four nights a week, sometimes twice a night. He requested to stop wearing pull ups so we use disposable bed sheets. We don't make a big deal out of it and quickly clean him up, but he still gets so disappointed in himself. Is there anything else we can do? Sometimes bedwetting requires patience as it needs children to reach a physiological maturity that comes sooner for some children than others.

David’s Response:  Perhaps focus more on helping your son with the disappointment by being both understanding and reassuring him that he is not alone. Have a look at the statistics for bedwetting at different ages to reassure yourself and him that other children also wet the bed (up to 1 in 10 children age 7 and under wet the bed, for example) and that it will eventually pass. When he is older you could consider medical treatments if it hasn't stopped, but I would suggest you contact your GP about that.

Question: Hi there, I was wondering if I could get advice from your expert on how to help my six year old with bedwetting. She can be absolutely fine for a few nights but then will wet the bed, then go great again for a few nights and wet again. If I lift her before I go to bed she usually stays dry but I don’t think that is solving anything because when I stop, we go back to the same wetting pattern. I also feel bad because I don’t need to lift her younger sister. She doesn’t get drinks before bed and goes to the toilet before bed. It’s like the need to go to the toilet doesn’t wake her up until she’s gone???? Any advice very appreciated.

David’s Response:  You could try to help her body attune to the feeling of being "bursting to go" such that her brain really becomes accustomed to that urgent feeling. So during the day ask her to wait to go to the loo until she is nearly desperate and remind her to notice that "bursting to go" sensation. Becoming attuned to the physiological signals during the day can help children to notice them at night, unconsciously in their sleep, such that they actually learn to wake up because they feel that urgency of a full bladder.

Question: Was wondering if you could put this to David anonymously.  My five year old son is due to start school in September, we started potty training at three and have still not finished.  I have tried everything, but he still soils himself.  He is hit and miss, sometimes he uses the toilet, the rest of the time he just does it in his pants.  We have tried rewards, getting upset, getting him upset, ignoring it, encouragement and at this point I just don't know what to do.  Leading on from this, he is not in any way dry at night.  I never had this problem with my first son and even went to a parental advice clinic, but still no joy.  He starts school in September, I would hate for this to be still going on, it would destroy his self confidence if this happened in public with no mummy there to help.

David’s Response:  It sounds like the potty training never worked. Perhaps stop bothering for a month and then try a full concerted toilet-training programme during the last few weeks in August. My book, "Parenting is Child's Play" can guide you in training your son effectively. It may also be that his continued soiling is linked to the attention/dynamic that has built up between you and him, particularly if he feels that you take more responsibility for trying to avoid the soiling than he does. Focus on daytime training initially, then wait to see if the night-times follow naturally. If not then follow some of the other advice I have given here specifically for the night-time.

Question: My 12 year old daughter has been wetting the bed since she was six. We've tried alarms and tablets and lifting her out and everything else! Nothing works. She was diagnosed with ADHD three years ago. I’ve read on the internet that sometimes bedwetting can be linked to ADHD. Could this be the reason she’s still wetting? And how can we help her?

David’s Response:  Yes, there seems to be a higher incidence of bedwetting amongst children with ADHD. I am not sure the evidence suggests that it is caused by the ADHD however. Nonetheless, at age 12 it is definitely worth pursuing medical intervention again and so talk to your GP about other treatments that may be available. You may find, though, that it will naturally sort itself out in the next year or so, but check out treatment options to give nature a hand.

Question: My daughter is almost 11 years old and is a constant bed-wetter.  We have tried everything from charts, to maps, to alarms, to getting her up in the middle of the night.  She has an appointment in Temple Street in November of this year.  We have recently started her on Desmotabs as she was really struggling with sleepovers etc and we were finding it very hard to keep up with the washing (and associated odours, not to mention the amount of mattresses we have had to buy!) Ideally we would like her to be dry at night without the advent of medication.  Is this a possibility, or do some children always need medical intervention? Any guidance would be much appreciated!

David’s Response:  No, children don't always need medical intervention, but at age 11 her self-esteem and her social life may be so compromised that it is really worth following through with that full medical screening in Temple Street Children's Hospital to rule out any physical cause.

If medication is recommended, and your GP or the consultant in Temple Street will know, then both you and your daughter may find that the relief it offers easily balances any misgivings you have about using medication.

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