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The Basics of Bedwetting


Child development baby sleeping

Child development baby sleeping (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For parents, it isn’t always easy to tell when you should be concerned about your child’s behavior and when it is just a normal part of their development.  Bedwetting is definitely one of these circumstances.   If your child starts to wet the bed or continues to have problems with bedwetting after they start school, you may be wondering whether or not this behavior is normal.  Understanding the basics behind this behavior is the first step to helping your child.


It is very common for children to wet the bed, especially while they are potty training.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, 14% of preschoolers wet the bed a few nights a week and 21% of them do so once a week or more.  For school age children, 4% wet the bed frequently and 7% have problems once a week or so. Being able to exert control over the bladder all night is the final potty training phase and children reach it at different ages.  Many doctors don’t even consider bedwetting to be indicative of problems until after age 7.  This means that occasional or even frequent bedwetting should not really be cause for concern until after this age.


There are two kinds of bedwetting.  The first, called primary bedwetting, occurs when a child continues to have bedwetting episodes and has never gone for more than six months without an incidence of bedwetting.  The second kind, referred to as secondary bedwetting, occurs when a child has had dry nights for more than 6 months and then begins to wet the bed.  Because secondary bedwetting can point to other problems, both medical and psychological, if your child is experiencing this type of bedwetting, it’s time to discuss the problem with your doctor.


There are some things parents can do to help their child through this phase.  Most bedwetting incidents occur in the first few hours of sleep so making sure the child goes to the bathroom before bed is one way to help them have a dry night.   For a child with a chronic problem, including a trip to the bathroom as part of their bedtime routine can be beneficial.  You can also limit the amount of liquids your child has in the hours leading up to bedtime. 


If they generally wet the bed at the same time each night, you can try waking them up prior to that time to use the bathroom.  There are also some treatment options involving medication, but this option seems to help only while it is taken and doesn’t seem to help the child develop better control over the long term.  Discuss the potential side effects of medication with your doctor so you can weigh the potential psychological benefits of dry nights against the side effects and effectiveness of the medication.


Helping your child through this stage is crucial to their overall development.  You may decide to use disposable underpants, bedliners, or devices that signify moisture by setting off an alarm to alert your child that moisture has been detected.  It is important to remember that your child is not intentionally misbehaving by wetting the bed and that punishment will not help to resolve the issue.  Avoid making your child feel ashamed or defective and try to remember that in most cases the problem is a temporary one.   Patience and understanding are the best gifts you can give your child as you both cope with this problem.


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