Bedwetting in under fives
Up to the age of five, wetting the bed is normal. It usually stops happening as your child gets older without the need for any treatment.
- up to one in five five-year-olds wet the bed
- 1 in 20 10-year-olds wet the bed
- about 1 in 50 teenagers wet the bed
- 1 in 100 teenagers continue to wet the bed into adulthood
Bedwetting happens when your child makes more wee (urine) at night than their bladder can hold, but the feeling of having a full bladder doesn't wake them up. Children don't wet the bed on purpose - it happens while they're sleeping.
Most children only learn to stay dry through the night after they are potty trained and dry most days, give or take the odd accident. Young children often don't wake to the feeling of a full bladder like most older children do. This is a skill they learn gradually.
Bedwetting can run in families, and boys are more likely to wet the bed than girls. The medical name for bedwetting is nocturnal enuresis.
It can be messy and frustrating for both you and your child. Try to deal with bedwetting in a positive and calm way, just as you would with problems you face during the day.
How to deal with bedwetting
It may be helpful to get advice about your child's bedwetting from your health visitor, or the school nurse if your child goes to nursery or has started school.
If your child is under five, you don't need to see your GP about their bedwetting unless:
- it happens a lot and is upsetting them
- they are constipated
- they have also started wetting themselves during the day, but had been dry most days for a while
- they go to the toilet a lot during the day (for example, every hour), they can't hold on for even a few seconds or minutes, doing a wee is painful, or they're weeing less than four times a day
If you do see your GP, they may make several suggestions, including trying changing your child's toilet habits. They may also suggest using a reward scheme like a star chart.
This way, you can encourage your child to use the toilet before bed, or to drink plenty during the day - something some children find quite hard.
Don't reward your child for a dry night or punish them for wetting the bed - bedwetting is not something they can control once they are asleep.
If these tactics don't work, there are other options. Your GP may recommend using a bedwetting alarm if they think your child will be able to learn how to use one.
They sometimes also prescribe medicine that may help reduce the amount of wee your child's body produces at night.
Your GP may ask you to keep a diary of how much your child drinks and when, when they go to the toilet and any bedwetting to help them understand where a change of routine might help.
Find out more about treatments for bedwetting.
Other causes of bedwetting
Some children wet the bed because there is something else wrong. Chronic (long-term) constipation is a common cause of bedwetting and soiling in young children.
Other underlying causes of bedwetting include diabetes, a urinary tract infection or problems in the family, such as bereavement. Your child may need to see a specialist about these problems.
Find out more about the causes of bedwetting.
Stay calm when your child wets the bed
Your child may feel ashamed of their bedwetting, so it's important to show that you don't blame them. Bedwetting isn't something they are doing deliberately. Don't punish them for it, as that can add stress to an already difficult situation.
You may find getting up in the night to help your child and seeing them upset quite stressful. Changing the sheets during the night and washing them the next day is a lot of extra work and will add to your laundry costs, so it's not surprising that some parents feel resentful.
Try to stay calm. If you're finding it hard to cope yourself, you could talk to your GP, health visitor or school nurse.
Bedwetting and anxiety
If your child has been dry at night for more than six months and then starts wetting the bed, this is called secondary bedwetting. This kind of bedwetting often starts when your child is worried or anxious about something.
It might follow a change in your child's routine or environment, such as the arrival of a new baby, moving house or starting nursery. It might be linked to stress in the family, such as bereavement or you and your partner separating.
If you think this might be a reason for your child's bedwetting, you may feel guilty about it. But your child's bedwetting isn't your fault and there are things you can do to help them. This may be giving them practical support to help them stay dry at night, or reassurance to help them cope with change.
You can get advice from your health visitor or GP. They may refer your child to a specialist if further help is needed.
Practical tips to cope with bedwetting
Food and drink
Giving your child less to drink during the day isn't the way to cut down on their bedwetting. If you do, your child's bladder will adapt to hold less wee and won't learn how to cope with the amount of fluid your child needs to stay healthy.
- Your child should have six to eight drinks during the day, starting with a drink with their breakfast. By 5pm, they should have had at least five drinks.
- Children who go to nursery or school should have at least three drinks during the school day. If you're worried your child may not be drinking enough, talk to the staff.
- Don't give your child drinks like tea, cola or hot chocolate before bed - they contain caffeine, which can make your child's body produce more wee during the night.
- Give them their last drink of the day 90 minutes before they go to sleep - this should be a small drink. Don't leave a drink by their bedside when you put them to bed.
- Your child should eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Using the potty or toilet
- Encourage your child to go to the toilet regularly during the day.
- Encourage your child to do a wee to empty their bladder before settling down for the night - it should be the last thing they do before they go to sleep.
- Make sure the potty or toilet is easy to reach - you could leave your child's trainer seat on the toilet overnight.
- If you have bunk beds, use the bottom bunk so your child can get out easily.
- If your child is afraid of the dark, put a dim night light by their bed or leave the bathroom light on.
If your child wakes up at night and it's not because they can feel they have a full bladder, ask them to go to the toilet anyway.
Some people wake their child to go to the toilet or put them on the potty or toilet while they are still sleeping, but this isn't a good way to learn how to stay dry through the night as it doesn't teach them how to wake up to a full bladder.
- Protect your child's mattress with a waterproof cover and consider using a waterproof duvet cover or tuck-in bed pads - they cover part of the bottom sheet and are easy to remove for washing.
- Keep a supply of clean bedding handy for changing the sheets in the night.
- Rinse your child's bedding in cold water or mild bleach before washing it as usual.
More information and support
You may also find it useful to talk to other parents who have been affected by bedwetting. ERIC has a message board for parents.
- ERIC: information for parents on bedwetting
- ERIC: kids area for young children
- ERIC: leaflets and resources
NHS Choices links
- Bedwetting in older children and adults
- Constipation in young children
- How to potty train
- Potty training problems
- Moving your child to sleeping in a big bed
- Sleep problems in children
Article provided by NHS Choices
Record managed by Oxfordshire Family Information Service