What’s inside this article: An overview of the two types of bedwetting, common causes, emotional effects, and tips for parents so they can help their child overcome bedwetting and feel better about themselves.
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Do you have a child over the age of 5 who still regularly wets the bed? The actual medical term for bedwetting is nocturnal enuresis.
Nocturnal enuresis is a relatively common medical condition involving involuntary urination at night while sleeping, in kids old enough that they should be able to control their bladder (usually age 5 or 6).
Although kids usually outgrow bedwetting on their own, it can be extremely embarrassing for kids and stressful or worrisome for parents.
There are two types of nocturnal enuresis:
- Primary enuresis: This is when a child has never had bladder control overnight. This doesn’t mean they’ve never had dry nights – but that they haven’t consistently had dry nights.
- Secondary enuresis: When an individual did have bladder control overnight, for a period of at least six months, but now wets the bed again.
Causes of Bedwetting
There are many possible causes of bedwetting. Identifying those factors may help you reduce or eliminate the problem.
1. Medical Causes
There are several medical reasons for wetting the bed. It’s important to discuss this issue with your child’s physician – especially if this is a new problem.
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): A UTI makes it more difficult for children to control urination. Signs and symptoms may include bedwetting, daytime accidents, frequent urination, red or pink urine, and pain during urination. A doctor can check for a UTI using a urinalysis.
- Diabetes: Sometimes bedwetting is the first sign of diabetes. Especially for a child who’s usually dry at night. Other signs to watch for include passing large amounts of urine at once, increased thirst, fatigue, and weight loss despite a good appetite. Since most children with diabetes receive their diagnosis in the emergency room, if you do have concerns, bring them to your doctor’s attention right away.
- Sleep Apnea: Sometimes bedwetting is a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea – usually due to inflamed tonsils or adenoids. Snoring is another sign of sleep apnea.
- Constipation: If the bowels are backed up, this can put additional pressure on the bladder, reducing bowel control. If your child has chronic constipation, the muscles that control urine and stool elimination can become dysfunctional.
If there are no medical causes for bedwetting, fortunately, there aren’t any health risks. However, there are often emotional effects – which can be equally harmful. Children may feel anxious, embarrassed, and have low self-esteem.
This can impact their schoolwork, friendships, sleep, and behavior.
The brain produces a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) that decreases urine production at night.
If your child is or recently has gone through a growth spurt, it’s possible that they temporarily aren’t producing enough ADH. The brain may need a little bit of time to catch up and increase ADH production before your child regains nighttime bladder control.
Inability to Recognize a Full Bladder
The interoceptive system is one of the eight senses. It controls our ability to recognize internal body signals like hunger, a full bladder, nausea, thirst — as well as emotions and self-awareness.
Many children have poor interoceptive awareness, especially those with Autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorder.
You can see some signs of poor interoceptive awareness and how to help here.
Your Child’s Diet
You might be surprised to learn that some of the foods your child’s eating may be contributing to their bedwetting.
If your child regularly eats the following foods, eliminating them from their diet may reduce bedwetting.
I recommend keeping a food journal as well as a bedwetting log to help you see if there are any patterns between your child’s diet and when they wet the bed.
- Chocolate: Chocolate and other foods containing caffeine, which is a diuretic, can cause excessive urination. If your child’s eating chocolate or other foods containing caffeine, they may be more likely to wet the bed.
- Bubbly Drinks: Carbonation may increase the stimulation of the bladder, leading to increased urination and bedwetting.
- Red Food Dye: Consuming red dye 40 affects the metabolism of other nutrients and affects brain functioning. These effects may lead to bedwetting. It also leads to pediatric hyperactivity and learning issues. Also – it’s not only red food that contains red dye, so check your labels. Learn more here.
- Food Allergens & Sensitivities: Sometimes, food sensitivities can cause spasms in the bladder, leading to bedwetting. Common culprits include peanuts, eggs, soy, dairy, and gluten. This is another reason why keeping a food journal is a good idea; it can help you identify these sensitivities and make dietary adjustments.
What Should You Do If Your Child’s Wetting the Bed?
Never Punish Your Child
Bedwetting isn’t intentional or something that your child can control. You should never punish your child or make them feel ashamed for having an accident.
Reassure them that it isn’t their fault, and work on identifying that cause or contributing factors so you can help them.
Visit a Doctor
Rule out or treat any medical causes of nocturnal enuresis. Your child’s doctor should complete a physical exam and urinalysis, looking for potential causes.
Keep a Food Journal
Keep track of your child’s food intake over several weeks to help you identify any food sensitivities that may be contributing to your child’s bedwetting.
Make adjustments to avoid possible triggering foods and continue monitoring to see if dietary changes help.
A randomized controlled study determined that 76% of children using a bedwetting alarm achieved 14 consecutive dry nights.
The children involved in the study, without the alarm, averaged 11 wet nights over a 14 day period. Indicating these alarms may be quite effective for managing bedwetting.
Bedwetting alarms sense moisture and wake children up using sound or vibration. Over time, this helps kids learn to recognize a full bladder, wake up, and go to the bathroom independently.
“Peejamas” are a discreet alternative to Pull-Ups, Goodnights, or other disposable diapers.
They look like regular pajamas but are made from absorbent fabric that locks away moisture keeping your child and their bed dry.