Myths, facts and history of bedwetting
Bedwetting has been a common problem in children and, to some extent, adults throughout history. During this time many myths and misconceptions to explain it have emerged.
Many parents believe that children wet the bed because they are stressed or worried, or in some cases simply out of laziness*. These misconceptions affect the way the bedwetter is regarded and treated.
But bedwetting is, in most cases, not a psychological or behavioural problem: it is a recognised medical disease with more than 5 million children throughout Europe suffering from it. Yet, bedwetting can be treated simply and effectively, saving the sufferer and their familiy a great deal of anguish.
Most children are dry during the day by the age of three, but bedwetting up to the age of five is not unusual. Children over the age of five who have not become dry at night and continue to wet the bed at least three times a week are considered to suffer from bedwetting. This condition can be treated with medicine or conditioning (alarm) therapy.
* Survey conducted by the UK-based charity ERIC (Enuresis Resource Information Centre)
Causes of bedwetting
- The kidneys produce more urine than the bladder can hold
- Most bedwetters have well functioning bladders and normal sleeping patterns, but they do not wake up when their bladder is full
Impact of bedwetting on the child and on the family
Children with bedwetting often feel angry, moody, ashamed and bewildered. They find it embarrassing and uncomfortable and they think they are the only children who do it.
This isolation makes them feel inhibited and they avoid taking part in any activities that mean they have to stay away from home overnight, such as school trips and sleep-overs at friends’ homes for fear of being discovered.
If childhood bedwetting is left untreated, it can become harder to control and the sufferer can grow up to be an adult bedwetter who can develop problems forming close relationships for fear of being exposed.
Parents also suffer and alternate between concern for their child and exhaustion from having their sleep interrupted and having to clean bedclothes frequently.
Sometimes parents can become annoyed by it all and come to believe that their child is doing it deliberately.
Kanitkar M. Ramamurthy R. Bedwetting – Silent suffering: An approach to enuresis and voiding disorders in children. Indian J Pediatr June 2013. 80(6):488-491
Advice for parents
The first thing to realise is that bedwetting is nobody’s fault, and it is nothing to do with the way a child has been ‘toilet trained’.
If you are worried about bedwetting, please consult your family doctor. They can rule out the rare cases where the condition has an underlying illness such as diabetes, an infection or abnormalities in the structure of the urinary system, and initiate appropriate treatment and counselling.
Before consulting a doctor, this should be tried:
- Encourage the child to drink more during the day – some children drink little while at school and then make up for it by drinking in the evening
- Fluid intake should not be limited during the day, the child should still be encouraged to drink seven to eight cups of fluid
- Avoid drinks containing caffeine (such as tea, coffee and cola) in the evening as caffeine leads to increased urine production
- Don’t drink within two to three hours of bedtime
- Empty the bladder twice just before going to bed (about five to ten minutes apart)
- Make it easy for the child to reach the toilet from the bedroom and encourage the child to return to their own bed
- Record wet and dry nights – reward dry nights but don’t blame wet nights
If this does not solve the problem, talk to your doctor and tell him/her:
- if your child has always wet the bed, or if he/she has recently started
- if your child produces large wet patches
- if either parent also suffered bedwetting
- if you think your child’s school work or behaviour has suffered
Many cases of bedwetting are simple to treat and can be improved in a couple of months with the correct approach, encouragement and treatment, rather than possibly dragging on for years without change.
Children require a great deal of patience and, above all, they should not be criticised, punished or blamed which can make things worse.
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