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Bedwetting: What causes it and when to be concerned?


Bedwetting is a common problem, and affects 5-7 million kids in the U.S. each year. By age 7, about 5-10 percent of all children are still wet at night. If you're still changing the sheets every morning, here are some helpful things to know.

What causes bedwetting?

Parents often tell me their kids wet the bed because they’re lazy or too tired to get up and go to the bathroom during the night. I don’t believe kids wet themselves on purpose, especially when they are asleep. There are several factors that may be contributing to the problem.

  • Constipation - Many parents may be surprised to learn that not having a bowel movement every day can affect their child’s bladder. The colon and bladder are located near each other in the body and if the colon isn’t moving or emptying regularly then the stool can get backed up and push on the bladder. If your child’s bladder is being pushed on, then they may not be able to store urine as well.
  • Family History - Frequently, bedwetting runs in the family. However, since it’s a sensitive subject, most people don’t talk about it. So you may not know that your cousins, aunts or uncles also wet the bed when they were younger.
  • Overactive Bladder - An overactive bladder occurs when kids can’t store urine in their bladder well. They may need to go to the bathroom more often than what is considered normal, about eight times a day. Not only do they wet the bed at night, but most likely they’ll need to pee more often during the day, feel urgent every time they need to go, leak pee or have accidents during the day too.

Tips to prevent bedwetting:

Have your child practice good daytime bathroom habits. Your child should use the bathroom at least every two hours when she is awake and that means making sure she can use the bathroom as frequently as needed at school too. Encourage her to relax so she can empty their bladder. One trick is to have your child take deep breaths five to ten times after peeing, like they’re blowing out candles on a birthday cake.

You also need to watch what they’re drinking. Believe it or not, some drinks can irritate your child’s bladder, which prevents it from working as well. Avoid these drinks if your child frequently wets the bed.

  • Carbonated drinks (soda, flavored waters, diet drinks)
  • Caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, chocolate, soda, energy drinks)
  • Citrus juices (orange, lemon, grapefruit, tomato)
  • Drinks with red dye (Gatorade, Kool-Aid, other red-colored drinks)

When to be concerned:

Bedwetting is not considered abnormal until after five years of age. That being said, there isn’t a specific age when you should become overly concerned about the issue. The rule of thumb is that you should seek treatment when your child starts to worry about wetting the bed or you start to worry about the issue. That usually happens when your kiddo wants to start sleepovers or go away to camp for the night.

There are a several treatment options available if focusing on daytime bathroom habits and bladder emptying isn’t working. Consult your pediatrician if you need more help.


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Pediatric Nephrology