Misconceptions about bedwetting

Bedwetting, also known as nocturnal enuresis, is just a part of growing up for some children. But this isn't the case for every child. For some kids, bedwetting can be a very negative experience. Unfortunately, bedwetting is often misunderstood, leading to common misconceptions about the condition.

The most common misunderstanding is that the child can control what is happening. Bedwetting is involuntary. Children don't purposely wet the bed, and it's not the child's fault.

Reasons why bedwetting occurs include the following:

  • deep sleep: Deep sleepers don't respond to nerve signals from the bladder that tells them it's time to wake up and urinate.
  • small bladder: Urine that is produced during the night may not be held by a child's small, developing bladder.
  • chemical messenger imbalance: Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) levels work as chemical messengers in the body, and ADH levels increase at night to tell the kidneys to produce less urine. Some children don't produce enough of this chemical messenger.
  • medical conditions: Bedwetting may be a sign of medical conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnea, and urinary tract infections.

There are many possible causes for bedwetting. It's important to understand that bedwetting is not the child's fault. If bedwetting is a concern, your child's doctor can help you figure out what's causing it and suggest treatment options.

See our section on bedwetting and its effects on your child so that you may better understand what your child is going through.

Bedwetting and its effects on your child

Bedwetting can be more than just a little embarrassing. Bedwetting that cannot be attributed to any sort of physical cause (e.g., such as urinary tract infection) usually doesn't pose any long-term health risks. However, it can have a real impact on a child's self-esteem, relationships with friends, and school performance.

In a study comparing the stress of significant life events in a child's life, the distress a bedwetting child feels is comparable to that of trying to get good grades and being teased by others. Only divorce and parental fights ranked higher in terms of stress levels in a child's life.

Bedwetting can lead to behaviour problems because your child feels guilty and embarrassed. Children who wet the bed may be withdrawn the next morning or feel they have no control over the problem.

In school, they may have lower social skills and performance than other children. A child suffering from bedwetting may exhibit more aggressive behaviour, trouble paying attention in class, and poor self-image.

Bedwetting children are in constant fear of being found out and teased. They dread situations when they must sleep away from home, such as family vacations or sleepovers. Out of fear of being discovered, many bedwetters are anxious about staying away from home or having friends stay over. In one study, children who wet the bed were asked what the best thing would be about staying dry all night. Many answered that the best thing would be being able to have friends stay over at their house or being able to stay over at their friends' house.

Bedwetting children should grow up having as normal a childhood as possible and not have to suffer from the shame, guilt, and embarrassment that can lead to low self-esteem. As a parent, your first step in helping your child is to realize what he or she is going through. Remember that bedwetting is not your child's fault.

Make informed decisions regarding your child's health by learning about what you can do for your bedwetting child to help them manage bedwetting and avoid the negative impact it may have on their life. You may also want to check out "Treatment options for bedwetting," where you can learn about available treatment options for your bedwetting child and how you can help them return to normal childhood activities, like sleepovers and summer camp.

Coping with bedwetting: what you can do

Bedwetting can be hard on your child. It can affect your child's self-esteem, relationships with others, and school performance.

Here are some tips that you can use to help your child cope:

  • Don't punish your child for wetting the bed. Making your child feel guilty through punishment is not going to help the situation, and it doesn't benefit anyone. It is important to reassure your child that bedwetting is no one's fault.
  • Get your child involved in solving the problem by including him or her in treatment decisions, changing the wet bed sheets, or placing wet clothing in a specific place. This also teaches your child about responsibility, which can help your child feel more in control of the situation.
  • Ensure your child limits drinking large amounts of fluid before dinner and bedtime and uses the toilet right before going to bed. Also, limit your child's caffeine intake (e.g., soft drinks). Caffeine acts as a diuretic, which increases the amount of urine that is produced.
  • Let your child know that bedwetting is common and happens to a lot of kids.
  • Let your child know if there is a family history of wetting the bed. Your child may feel better knowing someone that he or she trusts also went through the same experience.
  • Be prepared for your child's questions by finding out as much information as you can. Talk to your doctor; they will be able to advise you about possible treatment options, as well as where to get appropriate information.

Treatment options for bedwetting

Bedwetting is a medical condition that can be treated. If your child wets the bed, be sure to make an appointment to see their doctor to rule out other causes, such as a urinary tract infection or diabetes. Although some children outgrow bedwetting on their own, others may benefit from treatment, especially if bedwetting has a large impact on their life.

One study showed that treating children who suffered from bedwetting improved the children's self-esteem. Treatment improved children's perception of their own intelligence, physical appearance, and popularity. Parents in the same study felt their children's behaviour improved.

Treatment options for bedwetting include behavioural therapy and medications.

Behavioural therapy

  • Motivational therapy, which provides emotional support by removing the shame or embarrassment your child feels.
  • Behavioural conditioning, such as using a moisture alarm. This alarm connects to a moisture-sensitive pad that is attached to your child's pyjamas or bedding. Once it senses the first signs of wetness on the bed, the alarm goes off - alerting the child and parent.
  • Bladder training, such as encouraging your child to wait longer to urinate during the day. This may help your child's bladder hold more urine at night.

Bear in mind that these methods may take some time (weeks to months) to work.

Medication therapy

Your doctor may recommend medications to help with bedwetting, such as desmopressin. Desmopressin acts similarly to a natural messenger in the body that helps your child control the amount of urine that is produced as they sleep.

Non-bedwetting children have enough of this natural messenger, whereas bedwetting children may not have enough. By helping to control the amount of urine produced during sleep, desmopressin reduces the chances that your child will wet the bed.

This medication is available as a regular tablet or fast-disintegrating tablet for bedwetting, and it should be used together with non-medicinal therapy, such as motivational counselling and bladder exercises. The fast-disintegrating tablet is an option for children who can't swallow pills. The fast-disintegrating tablet melts in the child's mouth and can be swallowed without water. It can begin to work within one hour of taking the medication.

Desmopressin can be used on a daily basis to help your child manage bedwetting. Others use it on an occasional basis and find it especially useful during social events such as sleepovers, camping trips, and family vacations.

If your child has a small bladder, oxybutynin, which belongs to a family of medications called anticholinergics, may help reduce bladder contractions and increase how much urine the bladder can hold. It is available as a syrup and regular tablets.

Treating bedwetting can have a positive influence on your child's life. The frustrations and embarrassment of bedwetting can be overcome with the help of an effective treatment plan. Speak to your doctor to learn more about how to manage your child's bedwetting.