It can be a tough time if your child is wetting the bed. They might feel embarrassed and uncomfortable, and you might be exhausted from the nightly wakeups and extra loads of laundry.
The good news is that this period won’t last forever — and we can help. We have spent hours researching bedwetting, what causes it, and the best bedwetting solutions.
With our advice for how to stop bedwetting, some trial and error, and advice from your child’s primary care physician (if applicable), bedwetting will become a thing of the past.
What Parents Should Know About Bedwetting
There are a few things you should know about bedwetting that might make you feel less alone. Plus, these stats might prepare you for the next stage of toilet training.
Firstly, bedwetting is common, even if your child is toilet-trained during the day. Around 15 percent of children wet the bed until age five (1). Between one and two percent of children wet the bed past the age of 14, and boys are twice as likely to wet the bed as girls.
To reduce bedwetting episodes, it can help to reduce drinks before bedtime, especially caffeinated beverages. It’s helpful to encourage your child to pee 15 minutes before bed, and then once more just before you tuck them in.
Another helpful way to handle bedwetting is to remain calm. If you punish your child for peeing on the bed, they can become more embarrassed, leading them to hide their bedwetting.
Instead of punishing them, encourage them to help with cleanup so they feel part of the solution. On nights they don’t wet the bed, reward them with a sticker chart or another motivating prize.
If you’re still struggling, waking your child up briefly in the middle of the night to take them to the bathroom can be helpful.
In some cases, you might need external support from your child’s primary care physician. You should contact them if bedwetting has become a sudden issue after months of no accidents. We also recommend contacting their physician if your child has signs of a urinary tract infection, is drinking more than usual, pees more often during the day, or has swollen feet or ankles.
What Causes Bedwetting?
Here are five common reasons a child might wet the bed.
1. They’re Still Young
Up until the age of five, it’s considered normal for a child to wet the bed. Experts typically recommend trying to remove nighttime diapers six months after your child is fully potty-trained. Their bladder might still be too small or underdeveloped to hold urine through the night — especially since kids at this age sleep 10 to 12 hours per night (2).
While your child might be doing phenomenal with toilet training during the day, nighttimes are much more challenging. If they’re under five, consider keeping them in pull-ups overnight.
2. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
A UTI can lead to bedwetting. You might suspect a UTI if the bedwetting is sudden, especially after months — or years — of no accidents. A UTI can make it difficult for your child to control when they urinate.
Other symptoms of a UTI include pain when urinating, needing to pee more often, painful tummy, side or back, unpleasant-smelling pee, a fever, vomiting, lethargy, and more (3). If you suspect a UTI, a doctor can prescribe antibiotics.
3. Poor Sleep
Poor sleep, sleep apnea, and disrupted sleep can lead to bedwetting. Simple disruptions, like loud noises, electronic devices, or pets, can lead to more bedwetting episodes. So make sure your child’s sleep space is quiet, dark, and peaceful.
Sleep apnea, a condition that affects a person’s breathing during sleep, can lead to bedwetting. It’s thought that this occurs because of extra pressure on the bladder due to the breathing pattern, as well as hormonal influences (4).
A doctor can diagnose sleep apnea and treat your child appropriately.
4. Stress and Fear
Stress can lead to bedwetting, even years after these nighttime accidents have ended. Whether your child has moved schools, become an older sibling, or simply had a change in routine, all these stressful factors can lead to bedwetting episodes.
5. Medical Issues
Finally, other medical issues can cause bedwetting. While we’ve already discussed UTIs, sudden bedwetting can also be caused by constipation, diabetes, a hormonal imbalance of the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), and in rare cases, a problem with the neurological or urinary system (5).
If you’ve ruled out poor sleep, stress, and age as a factor, it’s time to investigate whether there could be an underlying medical issue. Take your child to their primary care physician, who will run some tests.
Common Misconceptions About Bedwetting
There are some common myths about bedwetting. Here are 10 frequent misconceptions debunked with the truth.
1. Bedwetting Isn’t Normal
False. Bedwetting is common up until the age of five. In some cases, it is normal up until the age of seven.
In fact, a child is more likely to wet the bed if their parent wet the bed as a child (6). If both parents were chronic bedwetters, the child is 80 to 90 percent more likely to have the same issue.
2. Bedwetting Is Caused by Deep Sleep
False. If your child gets good quality and deep sleep, this is healthy and shouldn’t cause bedwetting (7). Instead, your child might have trouble rousing when the bladder signals that it needs to be emptied.
Typically, a child will still get the message, but instead of waking up and walking to the bathroom, they stir a little, still in a relaxed state, and end up peeing the bed.
It’s unlikely they will continue sleeping well after doing so. You’re more likely to find your child has poorer sleep since their sleep space is now wet!
3. Laziness Causes Bedwetting
This is a myth. No child would rather lay in their own urine than get up for a quick bathroom break, no matter how tired they feel!
If your child is waking a little and not getting up to go to the bathroom, this is usually because they have a more challenging time responding to body signals when asleep. Or, they could possibly have an ADH hormone imbalance (8). ADH slows down urine production overnight, but some people don’t make enough ADH, meaning their bladder can’t hold high volumes of urine.
4. Water Before Bed Causes Bedwetting
Limiting beverages, especially caffeinated ones, before bed can help with bedwetting. But drinking water doesn’t cause bedwetting. It’s perfectly normal — and safe — for your child to hydrate before bed and take sips of water through the night.
A healthy sleeper and toilet-trained child will simply respond to this by waking up and using the bathroom when needed. Don’t take away your child’s access to water through the night just because they are having bedwetting episodes.
5. Toilet-Trained Children Shouldn’t Wet the Bed
Myth! Just because your child is daytime potty-trained doesn’t mean they can magically make it through the night without an accident. We recommend nighttime potty training six months after your child is fully day-time potty-trained.
But even with that, it’s normal for a child to struggle with overnight bathroom trips up until the age of five.
6. My Child Wets the Bed on Purpose
Not true. A child wouldn’t wet the bed to annoy you or draw attention to themselves. It’s an accident, meaning it’s not within their control.
Bedwetting is caused by a disruption between the bladder-to-brain message, genetics, medical issues, or your child’s development. It’s not a behavioral problem.
7. Punishment Will Stop Bedwetting
False. Punishing your child for wetting the bed is not only ineffective, but it can embarrass them, knock their self-esteem and cause emotional upset. Your child can’t control the bedwetting episodes, so it’s crucial you don’t shame or discipline them for these accidents.
Be supportive during this time and aim to find a solution that works for everyone in the family.
8. Children Won’t Outgrow Bedwetting
This is a myth. Ninety-nine percent of children will outgrow bedwetting by the time they hit the teenage years. That might seem a long way away, but if you’ve ruled out every other possible cause, it might simply be a genetic thing. Your child will grow out of it when their body is ready.
9. Bedwetting Signifies a Psychological Problem
While stress can trigger bedwetting, it’s often not a sign of a deeper psychological or emotional problem. It’s more likely that bedwetting causes psychological or emotional problems, especially if you punish your child for it.
If your child has acute bedwetting accidents, supporting them through any stress they may be dealing with is essential. It’s also important to get their bladder and bowels assessed by their doctor to rule out any medical issues.
10. Kids Can Be Trained to “Hold It”
False. Toilet training doesn’t consist of teaching a child to hold it. Instead, encourage your child to respond to their body when they feel their bladder or bowels need to be emptied.
Of course, this sometimes means controlling their bladder until they can get to a bathroom. But they should never be encouraged or “trained” to hold their urine in, especially for long periods overnight. Instead, teach them how to get up, use the bathroom, and ask for help when needed before returning to bed.
Best Solutions To Stop Bedwetting
If bedwetting is an ongoing occurrence in your household, keep in mind that it’s not always a sign of any significant or underlying issue. If your child is ready and you’ve had the all-clear from their doctor, there are things you can do to prevent bedwetting.
We’ve put together a list of 10 gentle ways to stop bedwetting.
1. Discuss It With Your Child
The first step is discussing bedwetting and nighttime potty training with your child. After all, it’s quite different from daytime potty training.
Talk about how they can learn to wake up and go to the bathroom — preferably independently — when they get the urge to go.
If they do have an accident, acknowledge that it’s okay. Accidents happen. Reassure, comfort, and let them know this is normal but won’t last forever.
2. Limit Fluids (Wisely)
Water before bed isn’t the enemy. Hydration is important, and your child should have access to water through the night. But you can limit fluids — wisely — to help with bedwetting episodes.
A good rule of thumb is to stop drinking large glasses of water one to two hours before bed. Try and limit caffeinated drinks six hours before bed. Before they go to bed, encourage small sips of water rather than large gulps.
Bring your child to the bathroom 15 minutes before bedtime. Then ask them to go once more just before you tuck them in. This ensures an empty bladder.
3. Urinary Bed Alarms
Urinary bed alarms are helpful devices that have a lot of success, especially for older kids who have struggled with bedwetting for a while.
This device includes a moisture sensor and alarm. The moisture sensor is worn on the underwear or pajamas, and the alarm is attached to your child’s shirt. When the sensor detects a drop of moisture, the alarm sounds to prompt your child to get up and use the bathroom.
Research has found that urinary bed alarms have a 73 percent success rate up to six months after use (9).
4. Wake Your Child Through the Night
You might want to set your own alarm to wake up, carry your child to the bathroom, and encourage them to urinate. If you’re a late bedder, you can do this just before you fall asleep. Letting your child pee in the middle of the night, while they’re still mostly asleep, can empty their bladder and prevent accidents later in the night.
5. Rule Out Constipation
Constipation is often a reason why kids wet the bed. Since the rectum is so close to the bladder, constipation can lead to bladder issues, especially overnight. In fact, about ⅓ of bedwetting episodes are caused by constipation (10)!
Contact your doctor for treatment or change your child’s diet to help with constipation issues. You may see bedwetting episodes stopping soon after this has been resolved.
Something To Note
Constipation can also be caused by stress, anxiety, and fear. If your child is going through a hard time and suffering from constipation, it’s helpful to support them psychologically and emotionally first. This can lead to constipation relief and, therefore, fewer bedwetting episodes.
6. Easy Bathroom Access
Ensure your child has easy access to the bathroom. If the bathroom is on another floor of the house, it’s difficult for your child to access this in the middle of the night when they’re tired and desperate for the toilet.
Likewise, if the bathroom is near a set of stairs, ensure there is a stair gate to prevent any midnight stumbles. The toilet should be accessible to toddlers. And it can help if you remind your child they don’t need to flush as this can be scary for some kids during nighttime!
7. Rewards for Staying Dry
While punishing your child for bedwetting can have detrimental effects, rewarding them for it can be super motivating. When your child gets up to use the bathroom or has a dry night, reward them with stickers for their chart. When they get to 10 stickers, for example, they earn a small reward like a playdate or a trip to the park!
8. Rule Out Medical Issues
Bedwetting episodes, especially acute ones, are often caused by a medical issue. This could be constipation, diabetes, or a UTI. Take your child to their primary care physician to rule out any medical issues.
Your child might be diagnosed with secondary enuresis (11). This condition can begin six months or years after your child has been toilet trained. It simply means sudden nighttime bedwetting.
In fact, around eight percent of kids will develop secondary enuresis by the age of 10. Various medical issues, such as a bladder infection, constipation, or diabetes, can cause this.
In some medical cases, doctors prescribe desmopressin, which can help reduce urine volume overnight. This is especially useful for sleepovers or camps when your child might be anxious or out of routine.
9. Encourage Good Toilet Habits During the Day
It’s essential that your child has healthy toilet habits during the day. This will help them understand their body’s cues and familiarize them with how to use the bathroom. Generally, you should encourage your child to urinate every two hours to prevent a sense of urgency.
Once they gain confidence in using the bathroom, they will be more likely to pop to the bathroom in the middle of the night. By then, it will be second nature!
10. Waterproof Mattress Cover and Diapers
Last but not least, your child might not be ready to go through the night without diapers. Overnight pull-ups are so handy and can totally minimize midnight bedwetting dramas!
We know that your child, even as young as 6 years old, might be embarrassed to suddenly be back in diapers. But if there is a medical issue or stress that’s causing sudden bedwetting, pull-ups can really help.
It’s also helpful to get a waterproof mattress cover, pads, or pillowcases, as well as a fresh pair of pajamas your child can change into if they do have an accident.
If your child has an accident, ask them to help change the sheets in the morning. Make sure to do this in a way that makes them feel involved rather than embarrassed, as this can lead to more self-confidence.
Double up on waterproof mattress covers so you can simply strip the bed in the middle of the night — and you already have a second cover waiting for you. If you have a reversible mattress, put a mattress cover and bedsheets on both sides of the bed. If they wet the bed, remove the sheets and cover on one side and flip the mattress over. This saves a ton of time and hassle in the middle of the night!
When Should You Be Concerned About Bedwetting?
While bedwetting is a normal part of growing up, a few instances indicate a more serious problem.
1. Your Child Is Over Five
If your child is over the age of five and wetting the bed more than twice a week, call your doctor. Bedwetting can be considered “normal” until the age of 7 years old in some cases, but it shouldn’t be a frequent occurrence. So, note how often they wet the bed, which can be key in resolving the issue.
If your child has both daytime and nighttime accidents after age five, this can also be a sign of a more serious issue.
2. You Suspect a UTI
You should always call your doctor if you suspect your child has a UTI. Symptoms include painful urination, a sore tummy or back, a fever, lethargy, and unpleasant-smelling pee.
UTIs can cause acute bedwetting in 9-year-olds and 29-year-olds, so don’t feel embarrassed!
3. Your Child Is Worried
Another sign that you should seek extra support is if your child is becoming worried about it. If they’ve tried everything and still struggle with bedwetting, there might be another issue, such as a hormone imbalance.
If the bedwetting episodes prevent them from attending sleepovers or camps, they are probably desperate for a solution, too. They will want to work with you to learn how to stop peeing at night. Your primary care physician can help.
There are treatment options available if your child is diagnosed with bedwetting, also known as nocturnal enuresis. Nocturnal urination or enuresis can also be an issue in adulthood, so we want to get it under control.
Treatment options include medicines, therapies, and improving bedtime routines:
- Changing habits: Going to the bathroom a couple of times before bed and using a urinary bedtime alarm can help.
- Treating medical conditions: Treatment of medical issues, like constipation, UTIs, or diabetes, can prevent bedwetting.
- Desmopressin: This medication mimics the vasopressin hormone, which produces less urine (12).
- Oxybutynin or tolterodine: These medications reduce bladder contractions and can help kids with daytime and nighttime accidents.
- Imipramine: This medication increases brain messages to and from your bladder and has a 40 percent success rate.
- Motivational therapy: Motivational therapy is a positive way to encourage your child to use the bathroom through the night. It consists of positive rewards and reinforcement rather than scolding, punishments, and shaming.
- Therapy: If your child is going through a stressful time, trauma, or other emotional changes, talking to a therapist can help manage stress and anxiety. In turn, this can lead to fewer bedwetting episodes.
FAQs About Bedwetting
Everything You Need To Know About Bedwetting
Bedwetting is common in childhood, especially up to the age of five. In healthy kids, it can still be a problem up until age 14, but this is rare.
If your child was previously toilet-trained overnight and suddenly has bedwetting episodes, there might be another issue at play. Most of the time, this is caused by a change in the bedtime routine, too much water before bed, poor sleep, medical issues, or your child being potty-trained too young. If you suspect a medical problem — such as a UTI — take your child to see their primary care physician for support.
And remember — your child will likely outgrow bedwetting. In the meantime, it’s okay to put your child in an overnight diaper and pop on a waterproof mattress protector to make nights less stressful.