Childhood bedwetting: nocturnal enuresis



Many young children wet their bed. Some children wet the bed every night and some wet the bed only occasionally. Bedwetting, also called nocturnal enuresis, is a very common, normal behavior that most children experience at some point in their young lives and outgrow by the age of six or seven.

Unfortunately, some children don’t outgrow bedwetting until well into adolescence and in some instances, even into adulthood. There are many reasons a child may wet the bed ranging from family history to genetics to physical and psychological issues.

Genetics, gender and bedwetting

A child’s genetic family often plays a significant role in bedwetting. An estimated 75% of children whose parents wet the bed when young will most likely wet the bed themselves. Also, if a child has a close relative other than a parent who wet the bed as a child, that child is at greater risk for bedwetting. A child’s sex can also factor into whether or not he or she will wet the bed. Research has shown that boys are much more likely to wet the bed than girls, about twice as often.

Physical issues and bedwetting

There is a wide variety of physical issues that can cause a child to wet the bed. As with adults, some children don’t produce enough ADH, the anti-diuretic hormone that helps slow down the production of urine when a person is sleeping. In addition, a child may be suffering from a health issue such as diabetes. In some instances, a child’s bladder has not fully developed and is too small to hold a lot of urine. Constipation is another possible cause. If the bowels fill up, pressure can be put on the child’s bladder and may lead to some bedwetting.

Some children sleep very soundly and don’t wake up during the night, even when they have to use the bathroom. Also, in rare instances, there may be a structural problem with the child’s urinary or neurological system that is causing the involuntary urination.

Psychological issues and bedwetting

Emotional problems such as anxiety and stress can cause a child to wet the bed. Relocating to a new town, a new school, problems in the family or ridicule from other children can all cause stress for a child. Children who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have a higher incidence of wetting the bed. In fact, bedwetting can be a significant indicator that a child is suffering from one of these disorders.

Tips for parents

Children who frequently wet the bed can experience extreme embarrassment and emotional suffering, especially if their friends find out. Fortunately, most children do outgrow bedwetting.

If your child does wet the bed, a few simple common sense suggestions may help. Make sure your child doesn’t drink anything close to bedtime and also make sure he or she goes to the bathroom just before bedtime. Be sure to let your child know that most all kids wet their bed every now and then, that they aren’t the only one. Most importantly, never yell at your children or criticize them for wetting the bed.

If your child is suffering emotionally or isn’t showing any signs of outgrowing the problem, you should definitely talk to your child’s pediatrician. In some instances, an underlying physical or emotional problem may be going on that needs to be addressed.


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    • Linda Cann Pearson

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