Why Does My Child Wet the Bed?

February 06, 2019 3 min read

My son is 7 years old and wets his bed every night. His dad remembers wetting the bed at that age. I allow our son to wear disposable pants to bed to make my life a little easier. What causes bedwetting and are we contributing to it? Of note, his 5 year old sister is dry at night.

Bedwetting is nobody's fault. 

Bedwetting is defined as involuntary release of urine during the night in a child 5 years or older.  The key to this definition is involuntary.  Your son does not know when it happens and certainly is not doing it on purpose.  It doesn't happen because you are a "bad parent or because your son is lazy.  He would most certainly prefer being dry at night over having a wetting accident.

Bedwetting runs in families. 

In fact, after comparing the frequency of millions of genetic variants in thousands of DNA samples from bedwetting children, specific genetic variants have been identified that increase the risk of bedwetting. The genes implicated by this are known to function in deep brain areas responsible for regulation of day-night rhythms, urine production and sleep. This supports that bedwetting is linked to physiological mechanisms rather than being caused by psychological problems.

The risk of bedwetting 5-7 times higher among children with one parent suffering from bedwetting, 11 times higher if both parents were bedwetters.  We also know that boys are twice as likely as girls to suffer from bedwetting, but girls have more daytime wetting.

Bedwetting does not seem to have a psychological cause. 

Emotional well-being can be affected by bedwetting, however. Self-esteem, social independence and even school performance can decrease with bedwetting.  The good news is that these can sky rocket when bedwetting ends. Even children with emotional challenges can respond to and feel good about bedwetting treatment. 

Disposables do not make your child wet at night.

Children who do not have bedwetting have a dry pull-up in the morning.  They either sleep dry until the morning or get up if they need to use the bathroom. Children with bedwetting have a soaked pull-up in the morning.  It is okay to use disposables to decrease your laundry and make him more comfortable.  If you begin to see dry pants some mornings, you can do a trial of regular underwear, with a waterproof pad under him.  If he progresses to more dry nights, great!  If not, he will need some additional help.

There are multiple causes of bedwetting.

Heredity, decreased arousal from sleep in response to a full bladder, small bladder capacity, constipation, and high nighttime urine production have all been identified as causes of bedwetting.  Because we know no single, simple cause, we have no single, simple cure.

Help is available.

There is no need to wait longer before you offer your son some help.  Waiting years for him to "outgrow it doesn't benefit anyone.  Make sure he is not constipated and that he drinks at least 6 cups of fluid during the day.  Moving daily fluid intake earlier in the school day helps him process it during his waking hours.  He should feel the urge to use the school bathroom at least twice during the day.

Bedwetting alarms continue to be the first line treatment for helping him put together the brain-bladder connection of waking when he needs to use the bathroom.  Moisture sensing bedwetting alarms are much different than setting an alarm clock or walking him to the bathroom when you go to bed.  Know that he will not jump out of bed the first night but that, with your assistance, he will begin to associate the feeling of a full bladder with the bedwetting alarm sound and getting out of bed.  Research shows that 80% of children can successfully stay dry after correctly using a bedwetting alarm.


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