Bedwetting

Back

Introduction

Bedwetting

Bedwetting is common in young children, but gets less common as children get older.

Most children respond well to treatment, although they may still wet the bed from time to time.

This page covers:

Treatments you can try at home

When to see your GP

Bedwetting treatments from your GP

Causes of bedwetting

More information

Bedwetting treatments you can try at home

It's best to try a few measures yourself first, such as:

  • not giving your child anything to drink in the hour before bedtime
  • making sure they have a wee before going to sleep

See some more self-help tips for bedwetting.

You could also consider buying a bedwetting alarm.

Reassure your child. It's important for them to know they haven't done anything wrong, and it will get better.

Don't tell them off or punish them for wetting the bed as this won't help and could make the problem worse.

When to see your GP

Bedwetting is only really a problem if it begins to bother you or your child. It's not usually considered a problem in children under five.

It's a good idea to speak to your GP if:

  • your child has any other symptoms along with bedwetting, such as pain when weeing, fever or constipation
  • your child has suddenly started wetting the bed after they've been dry at night for a while 

Lots of families first get medical help when the bedwetting affects a child's social life - for example, if they don't want to do sleepovers in case they wet the bed.

Bedwetting treatments from your GP

Your doctor may recommend a bedwetting alarm. These are moisture-sensitive pads your child wears on their night clothes. An alarm sounds if they start to wee.

You may be able to borrow an alarm from your local incontinence or enuresis clinic.

If an alarm doesn't work or isn't suitable, medicines for bedwetting may help. Medical treatments aren't usually recommended for children under five. 

Read more about treating bedwetting.

Causes of bedwetting

There's usually no obvious reason why children wet the bed, but it could be because your child:

  • produces more wee than their bladder can cope with
  • has an overactive bladder, meaning it can only hold a small amount of wee
  • is a very deep sleeper, so they don't react to the signals telling their brain their bladder is full

Bedwetting often runs in families.

Constipation is often linked with bedwetting. Sometimes treating constipation is all that's needed to treat bedwetting.

Occasionally, bedwetting is triggered by emotional distress, such as being bullied or moving to a new school.

In rare cases, bedwetting may be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as type 1 diabetes.

Read more about the causes of bedwetting.

More information

ERIC, The Children's Bowel and Bladder Charity, is a UK-based charity for people affected by bedwetting. Their website has useful advice for both children and parents.

ERIC has a helpline on 0845 370 8008 (Monday to Thursday, 10am to 2pm) or you can email helpline@eric.org.uk.

Causes

Causes

Bedwetting is not your child's fault, and there's often no obvious reason why it happens. In many cases, bedwetting runs in families.

Sometimes there may be more than one underlying cause.

Having drinks before bed

Drinking lots of fluids in the evening could cause your child to wet the bed during the night, particularly if they have a small bladder.

Drinks containing caffeine, such as cola, tea and coffee, can also increase the urge to wee.

Not waking during the night

Once the amount of urine in the bladder reaches a certain point, most people wake up as they feel the need to go to the toilet.

But some younger children are particularly deep sleepers and their brain doesn't respond to signals sent from their bladder, so they don't wake up.

In some children, the nerves attached to the bladder may not be fully developed yet, so they don't send a strong enough signal to the brain.

Sometimes a child may wake up during the night with a full bladder but not go to the toilet. This may be because of childhood fears, such as being scared of the dark.

Underlying health condition

Bedwetting can also be caused by an underlying health condition, such as:

  • constipation - if a child's bowels become blocked with hard poo, it can put pressure on the bladder and lead to bedwetting
  • a urinary tract infection (UTI) - your child may also have other symptoms, such as a fever and pain when they wee
  • type 1 diabetes - other symptoms of this include tiredness and feeling thirsty all the time 

Emotional problems

In some cases, bedwetting can be a sign your child is upset or worried. Starting a new school, being bullied, or the arrival of a new baby in the family can be very stressful for a young child.

If your child has started wetting the bed after being dry at night for a while, there may be an emotional issue behind it.

Treatment

Treatment

Most children stop wetting the bed as they get older, but there are a number of treatments you can try in the meantime.

This page covers:

Self-help for bedwetting

Bedwetting alarms

Medication for bedwetting

Self-help for bedwetting

These measures may help prevent bedwetting.

Offer plenty of drinks during the day

Make sure your child has enough to drink during the day - see guidance on how much fluid your child should be having. It's best to avoid drinks for an hour before bedtime.

Avoid drinks that contain caffeine, such as cola, tea, coffee or hot chocolate, because they increase the urge to wee.

Encourage regular toilet breaks

Encourage your child to go to the toilet regularly during the day. Make sure your child has a wee before going to bed and can get to the toilet easily during the night.

Try a reward scheme

Bedwetting isn't something your child can control, so rewards shouldn't be based on whether they wet the bed or not.

Instead, you may want to give rewards for things like:

  • having plenty of drinks during the day
  • remembering to have a wee before bed

If your reward scheme isn't working after about a week, it's best to stop and try something else.

It's important not to punish your child or withdraw treats if they wet the bed. This could put them under more stress, which could lead to more bedwetting, not less.

Tips for managing bedwetting

  • Make sure your child has easy access to the toilet at night. For example, if they have a bunk bed, they should sleep on the bottom bunk. You could also leave a light on in the bathroom and put a child's seat on the toilet.
  • Use waterproof covers on your child's mattress and duvet.
  • Avoid waking your child in the night or carrying them to the toilet, as it's not likely to help them in the long term.
  • Older children may want to change their own bedding at night, so make sure they have clean bedding and nightclothes handy.

If you or your child are finding it difficult to cope with bedwetting, talk to your GP.

Bedwetting alarms

If self-help tips don't help, a bedwetting alarm is usually the next step.

A bedwetting alarm has a sensor attached to an alarm. If the sensor gets wet, it sets the alarm off and wakes your child up.

You can also get vibrating alarms for children who have impaired hearing.

Where can you get bedwetting alarms?

Bedwetting alarms aren't available on the NHS, but you may be able to borrow one from your local enuresis or continence clinic. Your GP can tell you more.

You can also buy bedwetting alarms. ERIC: the Children's Bowel & Bladder Charity sells them for around £40-140, depending on the type. Or you can buy one elsewhere online.

How do they work?

Over time, the alarm should help your child to learn when they need to wee and wake up to go to the toilet.

It may help to reward your child for getting up when the alarm sounds and remembering to reset the alarm.

Bedwetting alarms usually need to be used for at least four weeks. If there are no signs of improvement after four weeks, speak to your doctor.

Bedwetting alarms aren't suitable for every child - for example, if they are sharing a room with a sibling.

Medicines for bedwetting

If a bedwetting alarm doesn't help or isn't suitable, treatment with medicines is usually recommended.

Your GP may suggest a medicine called desmopressin. This helps reduce the amount of wee produced by the kidneys. It's taken just before your child goes to bed.

If desmopressin or a bedwetting alarm (or a combination of both) doesn't help, your child may be referred to a specialist, who may recommend other medicines.

You can read a summary of the pros and cons of the treatments for bedwetting to compare the different treatment options.