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Bedwetting

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Why does my child wet the bed?

In most cases, the exact cause of bedwetting is not known. But many possible causes exist. Your child’s bladder* might be too small. Or the amount of urine produced overnight is too much for your child’s bladder to hold. As a result, your child’s bladder fills up before the night is over. Some children sleep so deeply that they don’t wake up when they need to urinate. Others simply take longer to learn bladder control. Many children wet the bed until they are 5 years old or even older.

Drawing of a mother tucking in her sleeping son. 

Bedwetting often runs in families. If both parents wet the bed as children, their child is likely to have the same problem. If only one parent has a history of bedwetting, the child has about a 30 percent chance of having the problem. Some children wet the bed even if neither parent ever did.

A child who has been dry for several months or even years may start wetting the bed. The cause might be emotional stress, such as the loss of a loved one, problems at school, a new sibling, or even toilet training too early.

Bedwetting is not your child’s fault. Children rarely wet the bed on purpose. You can help your child by learning about the different causes and treatments for bedwetting.

Drawing of an unhappy boy holding his backpack. 

*See the Pronunciation Guide for tips on how to say the underlined words.

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How can I help my child stay dry?

You can take several steps to help your child stay dry. Make sure your child drinks enough fluids throughout the day. A child who doesn’t drink enough during the day may drink a lot before bedtime, causing wetness at night. Talk with your child’s doctor about how much your child should drink each day. Have your child avoid drinks with caffeine, such as colas or tea. Drinks with caffeine speed up urine production. Give your child one drink with dinner and explain that it will be the last drink before going to bed. Make sure your child uses the bathroom just before bed. Many children will still wet the bed, but these steps may be helpful.

Drawing of an African American family at dinner. 

Children may feel bad about wetting the bed, so letting them know they are not to blame is important. Bedwetting is not a behavior problem. Scolding and punishment will not help your child stay dry. Be supportive. Praise your child for dry nights.

Most children grow out of bedwetting. Some children just take more time than others.

Drawing of a father talking with his daughter in her bedroom. 

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Should I take my child to see a doctor?

Children younger than 5 do not need to see a doctor for bedwetting. Many children do not stay dry at night until age 7. A single episode of bedwetting should not cause alarm, even in an older child.

If your child is 7 years old or older and wets the bed more than two or three times in a week, a doctor may be able to help. If both day and night wetting occur after age 5, your child should see a doctor before age 7.

Drawing of a woman on the phone. 

The doctor will ask questions about your child’s health and the wetting problem, conduct a physical exam, and ask your child for a urine sample. The doctor will look for signs of health problems that can cause bedwetting, including the following:

  • fever and bacteria in the urine—signs of infection
  • weight loss—a sign of diabetes, a condition where blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high
  • high blood pressure—a sign of a kidney problem
  • poor reflexes in the legs or feet—a sign of a nerve problem
  • a hard mass that can be felt in the stomach area—a sign of constipation, a condition in which a child has fewer than two bowel movements a week and stools can be hard, dry, small, and difficult to pass
  • swollen tonsils, mouth breathing, or poor growth—a sign of sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing stops during sleep

Drawing of a mother and son talking with a doctor. 

The doctor may also ask your child about changes at home or school that may be causing emotional stress. In most cases, the doctor doesn’t find any specific cause for bedwetting. If a health problem is found, the doctor will talk to you about treatment options. If your child is stressed, the doctor may be able to give your child strategies for dealing with the stress.

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What treatments can help my child stay dry?

Treatments for bedwetting include bladder training, moisture alarms, and medicines. Talk with the doctor and your child about which ones to try.

Bladder Training

Bladder training can help your child hold urine longer. Write down what times your child urinates during the day. Then figure out the amount of time between trips to the bathroom. After a day or two, have your child try to wait an extra 15 minutes before using the bathroom. For example, if a trip to the bathroom usually occurs at 3:30 p.m., have your child wait until 3:45 p.m. Slowly make the wait time longer and longer. This method helps stretch your child’s bladder to hold more urine. Be patient. Bladder training can take several weeks or even months.

Drawing showing a hand writing in a record book. 

Moisture Alarm

A small moisture alarm can be put in your child’s bed or underwear. With the first drops of urine, the alarm triggers a bell or buzzer that wakes your child. Your child can then stop the flow of urine, get up, and use the bathroom. Waking also teaches your child how a full bladder feels.

Drawing of a boy awakened by a moisture alarm. 

Medicine

Medicine is available to treat bedwetting. The medicine used most often slows down how fast the body makes urine. Though medicine for bedwetting works well, wetting often returns when the child stops taking the medicine. If this occurs, keeping the child on medicine for a longer time may help.

Drawing of three pill bottles. 

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Eating, Diet, and Nutrition

Eating, diet, and nutrition have not been shown to play a role in causing or preventing bedwetting in children, though making sure your child drinks enough throughout the day and avoiding caffeine intake may be helpful.

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Points to Remember

  • In most cases, the exact cause of bedwetting is not known. But many possible causes exist.
  • Many children wet the bed until they are 5 years old or even older.
  • Scolding and punishment will not help your child stay dry.
  • Children younger than 5 do not need to see a doctor for bedwetting. If your child is 7 years old or older and wets the bed more than two or three times in a week, a doctor may be able to help. If both day and night wetting occur after age 5, your child should see a doctor before age 7.
  • Treatments for bedwetting include bladder training, moisture alarms, and medicine. Talk with the doctor and your child about which ones to try.
  • Most children grow out of bedwetting naturally.

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Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

What are clinical trials, and are they right for you?
Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are right for you.

What clinical trials are open?
Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.

This information may contain content about medications and, when taken as prescribed, the conditions they treat. When prepared, this content included the most current information available. For updates or for questions about any medications, contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration toll-free at 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332) or visit www.fda.gov. Consult your health care provider for more information.

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Pronunciation Guide

bladder (BLAD-ur)

caffeine (KAF-een)

constipation (KON-stih-PAY-shuhn)

diabetes (DY-uh-BEE-teez)

sleep apnea (sleep) (AP-nee-uh))

urinate (YOOR-ih-nayt)

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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Stuart Bauer, M.D., Harvard University; Stephen Koff, M.D, The Ohio State University

Shirl Lyn Woods, Johns Hopkins Hospital for facilitating field-testing of the original version of this publication.

This information is not copyrighted. The NIDDK encourages people to share this content freely.


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June 2012