Eat Right, Sleep Tight: Dietary Triggers & Bedwetting

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Chocolate, in heart-shaped boxes tied with pretty ribbons, is a traditional Valentine's Day treat. If your child is dealing with a bedwetting issue, however, it's probably best to find a different sweet for your sweetie.

Tradition or no, chocolate contains caffeine, which increases urination. While it doesn't have as much caffeine as coffee or tea, the caffeine combined with a possible sensitivity to sugar can definitely have a stimulant effect on a sensitive child's bladder. In fact, there are other foods that experts say may trigger bedwetting in children and should be avoided.

Determining the Triggers

According to Dr. Kirk Pinto, director of the North Texas Center for Pediatric Urology, some foods do stimulate urination, including spicy foods such as salsas, citrus fruits, sodas and tea. Dr. Pinto will suspect that bedwetting may be caused by a nutritional issue if the bedwetting happens occasionally but always at the same time. He asks his patients to use a voiding diary to try to pinpoint what foods may be causing the problem.

"If you see episodic voiding, say he only wets the bed on Fridays, then you need to find out what's different about Friday," says Dr. Pinto. "Is he having a huge bottle of Powerade® [drink] after sports practice, or does the family watch a video and eat popcorn and drink soda before bed on Friday? There may be a very simple explanation [for the child's bedwetting]."

Another thing Dr. Pinto says he's noticed through use of the voiding diary is parents who insist their children drink far too much water. He assumes it's because of the emphasis in recent years on hydration for adults and the bottled water trend. The fact is that, while it may be recommended that adults drink 64 ounces of water per day, children need half that amount.

Patsy Darin* of Eden Prairie, Minn., thinks that may be the problem with her son, Eric. Although he doesn't wet the bed every night, at age 8 he still has accidents several times per week. Before taking him in for evaluation, she tried weaning him off soda and fruit juices and substituting water. When her doctor asked her to keep a voiding diary she was shocked at how much water Eric was drinking.

"I didn't realize that I'd gotten into the habit of pushing water on him even when he didn't complain about being thirsty so that he wouldn't ask for soda, which I thought was making him go," says Darin. "I haven't even been back to the doctor yet to follow up but have already cut back, and we've seen an improvement."

Nutritional Tweaks

Another factor to consider with nutrition and bedwetting is food allergies. Dr. Pinto says while a definitive link between food allergies and bedwetting has not been established, he never rules out a parent's intuition.

"We're just coming to the realization in urology that there are things we don't know for sure and that probably need further investigation," he says. "But, so far, the link between food allergies and bedwetting is just anecdotal."

A definitive link between food allergies and bedwetting may not exist, but Julie Matthews, a San Francisco-based certified nutrition consultant, says some common food allergens may cause bladder spasms that contribute to bedwetting. Among these common allergens are:

  • Wheat and dairy
  • Gluten grains such as oats, rye and barley
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Citrus
  • Chocolate
  • Peanuts
  • Cane Sugar

"Food sensitivities are very common and people who might have mild reactions may not realize it's food related," says Matthews. "In a child, one of those reactions may be bedwetting."

If a parent suspects a food allergy it's best to consult a professional nutritionist or the child's physician. If just one food is suspect, Matthews suggests removing that food from the diet for 10 days or so then gradually reintroducing it – perhaps at lunchtime. Try that for several days before reintroducing it in the evenings.

One thing that Dr. Pinto wants to avoid, however, is for a parent to eliminate an entire food group from a child's diet. For example, the dairy group includes milk, which contains important ingredients that are vital to a child's nutrition and development. If a child has an allergy to milk, parents should find a substitute.

"If there is lactose intolerance it's certainly not a stretch to think that might contribute to bedwetting," says Dr. Pinto. "But milk isn't just a drink, it's a food. The child needs an equal replacement for the important nutrients milk provides. The bottom line is kids need a good overall diet."

That's even more important when you consider Dr. Pinto's statement that they are discovering there is a surprisingly strong link between constipation and bedwetting. A diet high in fiber may eliminate that cause altogether.

The best way to be sure your family is getting the best possible diet, says Matthews, is to eat foods as close to their natural state as possible. Packaged foods often contain large amounts of sodium, sugars and artificial ingredients. Even if there is no bedwetting problem, a good diet benefits everyone.

Recipe: Baked Sweet Potato Chips

This healthy snack has no known allergens (including wheat). Plus, it's a great alternative to fried and fatty snacks that kids crave but we all know aren't so good for them.

Ingredients:

2 sweet potatoes, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the pan with foil. Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil and salt and place in a single layer on the pan. Cook at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until brown. Turn over and cook 10 minutes longer. Serve warm.

*While bedwetting is a perfectly normal part of growing up, we have chosen to change the names of individuals in our articles to protect their privacy. Remember, according to the National Kidney Foundation, as many as five to seven million kids over age 5 in the United States wet the bed.

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