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Bedwetting Myths

Ten common myths and facts, about bedwetting
By: Renee Mercer, MSN, CPNP

  1. The only thing parents should do is wait for their child to outgrow bedwetting.

    False. Only 15 percent of bedwetting children stop wetting on their own within a year. That means 85 percent of all children suffering from bedwetting will not simply “outgrow” it. Because we now have safe, effective techniques to help children overcome bedwetting, there is no reason to wait for years for bedwetting to stop spontaneously. When you are frustrated with high laundry loads and making excuses to avoid sleepovers, it is time for intervention. Your child should be around six years old before starting treatment.

  2. Children with bedwetting have mental or physical problems.

    False. Only three percent of children with primary nocturnal enuresis have a physical or urological cause for it. Psychological problems as a cause of primary bedwetting are not common. Even so, children with emotional challenges can respond to treatment for bedwetting.

  3. If a child is a sound sleeper, a bedwetting alarm won't work.

    False. Children with bedwetting may have a higher threshold for loud noises than other children. Initially, the alarm is for the parents, who can then wake their child and accompany them to the bathroom. Over time, the child’s brain begins to associate the alarm noise with the action of stopping the flow and going to the toilet. Gradually, children learn to control their muscles in response to a full bladder.

  4. If children don't tell their parents that they are bothered by their bedwetting, they probably don't care if they wet.

    False. No child wants to wake up in a wet bed. As children reach school age and realize their peers don't wear disposable pants or worry about waking to a wet bed, their self-esteem and social independence are affected. By middle school, their age-appropriate social activities can be sharply curtailed. All children would rather be dry, and if given ways to control this, are very cooperative with treatments and bedwetting alarms.

  5. Bedwetting is nothing more than a pesky problem that will eventually go away.

    False. Enuresis has many serious consequences that make it a real problem. Financially, enuresis can have a huge cost. The extra loads of laundry each day can cost as much as $700 a year. Disposable pants can easily add up to more than $300 a year. Medications for bedwetting can cost as much as $4 per tablet, and even prescription co-pays add up over time.

    Emotionally, enuresis seriously impacts children and their families. Hiding enuresis from other family members and friends is painful for children. Peers and siblings can be cruel, teasing or humiliating the affected child. Parents make every effort to prevent teasing from siblings, but schoolmates are another matter. Children affected with enuresis can become withdrawn and unhappy.

    Time- and convenience-wise, enuresis has a real impact. Laundry becomes a constant, taking a huge bite of time out of a parent’s day. Tempers run short as everyone loses sleep. Packing for nights away from home quickly becomes burdensome, what with waterproof sheets, disposable pants, and extra clothing. Planning around a child’s enuresis can reduce the number of options available to a family.

  6. My child is alone in having this problem.

    False. Enuresis is an extremely common problem, and odds are that one of the adults in a child’s life has dealt with it in their own life. If a parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle with a history of bedwetting can share their memories, it would be a great comfort to the child. It can be very calming to learn that a respected and admired adult has gone through the same. Also remind children that, in a class of 25 8-year-olds, at least one or two other children wet the bed.

  7. Bedwetting occurs because children are left in disposable pants too long.

    False. Most children are toilet-trained between ages two and four. There are generally three types of children when it comes to nighttime dryness:

    • Those who spontaneously become dry at night.
    • Those who begin with an occasional dry night, progress to more dry nights than wet ones, and achieve complete dryness without intervention, usually by age six.
    • Those who have had very few, if any, dry nights in their lives. These children may wet no matter where they are, how much their fluids are restricted, or even if their parents take them to the toilet during the night. Using disposable pants in this group can decrease parental frustration until a treatment program is in place.
  8. I need to restrict privileges or punish my children so they will become dry quicker.

    False. Remember, children do not consciously control their bedwetting. Punishing children for an activity that they have no control over is counterproductive. Deal with the wetting in a supportive manner, such as having your child help you make the bed or do the laundry. This should be viewed as sharing in household tasks, not as punishment.

  9. Puberty will end bedwetting.

    False. While it's true that the number of children with bedwetting decreases with age, a small percentage of 18-year-olds continue to experience nocturnal enuresis. Puberty does not cure bedwetting, and there is no reason to wait until a child approaches this age before attempting treatment.

  10. Medication is a sure cure for bedwetting.

    False. Although medications such as DDAVP (desmopressin) or Ditropan (oxybutynin) work well as an adjunct to therapy and in instances where a child has to be dry for a short time, use of medication alone rarely helps children permanently overcome bedwetting. When the medication is stopped, wetting returns in 80 to 90 percent of those treated. Children who use alarms are nine times more likely to become dry and stay dry than those who use only medication.