Information on the causes and prevention of bedwetting children.
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- What is Bedwetting?
- Diagnosing Bedwetting
- What Causes Bedwetting?
- Help for Bedwetting
- More Information on Bedwetting
What is Bedwetting?
Children vary greatly in their ability to control their bladders at night. While most children stop bedwetting between the age of three and five years old, some may only reach this developmental stage much later.
It is quite normal for a child under the age of five to wet the bed occasionally, and boys often take longer than girls to become dry at night. ‘Accidents’ do happen and should be dealt with kindly and sensitively in order to prevent emotional pain, low self-esteem, and shame. Children who wet their beds should never be punished.
Although bedwetting is generally not a cause for great concern, it can be a strain on both parents and children, and as children get older, the problem tends to be associated with emotional stress.
If your child does wet the bed far beyond what is considered age-appropriate or starts wetting the bed after long periods of "dryness", it is advisable to seek a professional opinion to determine the underlying cause.
Approximately 20 percent of children over the age of five still wet their beds, and boys are generally more affected than girls. While most of these children will grow out of this phase before they reach puberty, a select few suffer from bedwetting (also called nocturnal enuresis) right through their teens and even into adulthood.
Adult bedwetting or even bedwetting that continues through the later years of childhood and adolescence can be extremely distressing and may lead to emotional and personal problems. Research also shows that bedwetting beyond the average age of nighttime bladder control is likely to run in families.
There are many ways to help your child if bedwetting is a concern, so explore the treatment options to determine which would best suit your child.
When Should I Worry About Bedwetting?
By age 7, most children who still wet their bed begin to feel embarrassed and ashamed about their problem. It may become limiting, as these children will often avoid partaking in certain activities like sleeping out or camping, for fear that they might wet their bed. At the same time, it may also become a struggle for parents dealing with continuous bedding changes, wet mattresses, and an anxious child. There are many treatment options that can be explored should bedwetting be a concern.
Contact your GP or complementary health professional if bedwetting is regular and persistent or if a child suddenly starts wetting the bed again after a long period of nighttime dryness. Your child should then be evaluated and you will be advised of the appropriate steps to take.
What Causes Bedwetting?
Bedwetting is usually caused by an immature bladder or the inability to wake up due to very deep sleep states. In both cases, this is typically something your child will grow out of in time as the bladder matures and the mind becomes more sensitive to the bodies’ cues to wake up. If your child is older, yet still experiences bedwetting at night, food allergies may be to blame. It is important to take note of what your child eats before he or she goes to bed, as the reaction typically occurs within a few minutes to a few hours.
Help for Bedwetting
Your doctor will begin by getting a detailed history of your child’s bedwetting, as well as any other symptoms that might be experienced. Depending on the circumstances, a full medical check, including urine analysis and blood tests, may be done to rule out medical conditions such as diabetes or a urinary tract infection. If your doctor suspects a physical abnormality, an X-ray or scan of the kidneys and bladder may be done or you may be referred to an urologist for further testing. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause and the seriousness of the problem.
A number of treatment options are available to help treat bedwetting, including behavioral changes, moisture alarms, drug treatment and psychotherapy. Pick a treatment option that best suits your child and family.
Because most children grow out of bedwetting by themselves, sometimes simple behavioral and routine changes may be enough to break the bed-wetting cycle. Try limiting fluid intake before bed and ensuring that your child makes a trip to the bathroom and empties his or her bladder right before lights-out. During the day, encourage your child to urinate only when he or she really needs to. This will help to stretch the bladder so that it can hold more urine.
There are a variety of bedwetting alarms that can be bought at most pharmacies. These devices have moisture-sensitive pads that can be slipped into your child’s pajamas or bedding that sound off an alarm as soon as moisture is detected. In many children, this is enough to wake them as they begin to urinate, and they can then quickly get to the toilet. In very deep sleepers, a parent may need to go wake the child on hearing the alarm. The body soon learns that wetting the bed means waking up, and so it begins to wake up by itself. These devices have been very successful, and although they may take up to 12 weeks to show positive results, they have a good long-term effect with a very low relapse rate.
Some health care practitioners may prescribe various drug treatments to help prevent bedwetting. These medications are somewhat controversial as some have very serious side effects and most only offer short-term immediate relief. Once medication is stopped, bedwetting usually returns.
It is strongly advised that you thoroughly research any prescription medication and its side effects before agreeing to drug therapy, especially in the case of young children.
Psychotherapy and parent counseling can be very helpful in cases of persistent bedwetting. Intervention may range from simple behavioral modification programs to play therapy in cases of underlying depression and anxiety.
More Information on Bedwetting
Tips for Concerned Parents
- Never punish or shame your child for wetting the bed. Be patient and kind, and show that you understand that it is not their fault. Show them that you are keen to help them with this problem. Added stress and anxiety will only compound the problem and may even increase the chances of a bedwetting episode.
- Give your child the encouragement and self-reliance they need to motivate themselves. This will increase your child’s willingness and determination to stay dry all night on their own terms.
- Implement good bedtime habits by limiting fluid intake at night, and ensuring that children empty their bladders before bedtime. If bedwetting occurs consistently at about the same time, wake your child just before this time for a trip to the bathroom.
- Talk to your child about any fears, worries, and feelings of anxiety. You may find that your child is feeling insecure or anxious about something that needs to be addressed. Reassure children that there is nothing wrong with getting up in the night to use the toilet and discuss ways of making this less intimidating. Consider leaving the corridor and bathroom light on, or leave a "bathroom buddy" soft toy waiting outside the bedroom door to accompany worried children to the bathroom.
- Plan ahead for nighttime accidents. Cover your child’s mattress with a plastic covering and make sure that spare linen and pajama’s are readily available. When bedwetting happens, get your child to take some of the responsibility by helping you change the sheets and put the wet items in the wash.
- Praise dry nights, concerted efforts and any help your child gives after the bedwetting. This will give your child a sense of control and pride in staying dry.
- If you have other children, make sure that they do not taunt and tease the bedwetting sibling. This added "ammunition" can make your child very vulnerable to the emotional problems of poor self-esteem and shame that you are trying so hard to avoid. Make the whole family aware that it is not the bedwetter’s fault.
- Pull-up disposable underpants are a short-term option and can be especially useful for hassle-free family holidays or if your child wants to go to sleepovers without the risk of wetting the bed. These can be used discretely, and may offer your child added self-esteem. It must be noted that while pull-ups may be convenient, they often do not solve the long-term problem!