The majority of children are dry at night by the time they start infant school, and even those who are not quite there yet usually stop bedwetting by the age of about seven. According to NHS figures about one in seven children aged five, and one in 20 children aged 10, wet the bed.
Bedwetting or ‘nocturnal enuresis’ to use its medical term is more common in boys than girls, and can be very upsetting for both the child and his/her parents. For an older child it can be very embarrassing and cause a great deal of anxiety on school trips and sleepovers. Whilst parents may get frustrated by constantly having to wash and change soggy sheets.
There are several known causes of bedwetting – some children seem to have a small, weak bladder which is not strong enough to hold on all night, and some children are very heavy sleepers who do not wake up when they need to go to the toilet. Bedwetting has also been linked to a lack of the hormone vasopressin (also known as ADH) which slows down urine production at night. These are all causes of long-term bedwetting, but shorter episodes of bedwetting can be triggered by stress, anxiety or a change in circumstances, eg new school, house move, etc.
A child who is still regularly wetting the bed at age seven may need to be referred by their GP or school nurse to the the nearest Enuresis Clinic for professional help. On referral, the Enuresis nurse will test the child’s urine to check for infection, and then ask the parent and child a series of questions about their bedwetting and also about their drinking habits to try and identify the root cause of the problem.
The nurse may ask your child to monitor their drinking habits each day, and fill in a daily drinking chart, as it is important that the child remembers to drink plenty of liquid to train their bladder to hold onto more urine. It is advisable that fizzy and caffeinated drinks are avoided as they can actually make the child produce more urine, and all drinking should be kept to a minimum in the hour or two before bed.
Sometimes the nurse will prescribe medication to control the production of urine at night, or maybe suggest the use of an alarm which is fixed to the child’s underwear, or under the top sheet, and which sounds as soon as it gets wet to wake the child up so they can take themselves to the toilet.
It is not recommended that parents lift their children during the late evening or night and take them to the toilet while half asleep. It may seem effective and will probably reduce the number of accidents, but it is not a long-term solution and does not help the child’s bladder to learn to hold on to urine at night rather than release it.
If your child struggles with staying dry at night, you can help by not giving them too much to drink in the hour or two before bed, reducing their intake of fizzy and caffeinated drinks, reminding them to go to the toilet last thing at night just before they go to sleep, and staying positive, calm and supportive. A child who is regularly told off for wetting the bed will become even more anxious about their condition which may make things worse. So be understanding, never blame your child, and remember most children will grow out of it, and if they do not, then help is available from your nearest Enuresis Clinic.