What Parents Should Know About Kids and Bedwetting

Liza Aguiar, MD
What parents should know about bedwetting.

For some kids, sleepovers at a friend’s house or nights at summer camp are as much a part of childhood as school. While they are meant to be fun, these activities can cause anxiety for a child who wets the bed.

Bedwetting causes

There doesn’t seem to be one central reason why kids wet the bed. It’s usually a combination of factors that contribute to the condition. A child may:

  • be an especially sound sleeper and not able to respond to signs that occur during the night
  • have a slightly smaller bladder capacity than his or her peers
  • have a family history of bedwetting and constipation
  • be triggered by stressful events, such as starting school or a family divorce

Because bedwetting often resolves itself, decreasing gradually over time, it’s perfectly reasonable for parents to choose a watch and wait approach. A bedwetting assessment can sometimes prompt a screening for a more serious underlying medical condition.

When to see a specialist

Although most kids start to stay dry through the night at about age three, it is not out of the ordinary for kids to continue to wet the bed during the night after that point. In fact, up to one third of five- to six-year-olds and approximately 10 percent of seven- to eight-year-olds still experience nighttime bedwetting.

In some cases, treatment may be the best course of action. It is worth exploring options with a specialist if your child:

  • wets the bed after age seven
  • wets the bed again after six or more months of staying dry at night
  • has a history of urinary tract infections, blood in the urine, or kidney problems

Treatment options can range from behavioral modifications to prescription medications. Bedwetting alarms, while inconvenient, are a primary means of getting to the source of the problem. They are effective at conditioning the brain to wake up at night to pee, particularly in the case of older kids.

Medications can also be a short-term option for kids who may be nervous about attending sleepovers with their friends or overnight camps. If the medication is stopped however, the child will likely still wet overnight. It’s important to note, though, that medications will not help identify the root of the problem.

Whichever route you choose, it will require patience and commitment from the whole family. But there is typically a light at the end of the tunnel. As I often tell parents, “I’ve never sent a bedwetter to college. It does go away!”

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