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Advice for Parents

Bringing Up Bedwetting with Your Doctor

When your child is running a high fever or displaying an unknown rash, you probably don't hesitate to ask your pediatrician for advice.

But what if your child starts wetting the bed at night when she has been dry for some time? Or should you be concerned if your child has been potty trained for a year but can't seem to make it through the night without having an accident? Do these situations warrant a call to the doctor?

When to Seek Help

Many parents may wonder when bedwetting, also known as nighttime wetting, warrants a discussion with their pediatrician. That time may be different for every family depending on their circumstances, but Dr. Michael Ritchey, a pediatric urologist in Houston, TX, says he usually does not treat nighttime wetting (enuresis) until a child is 7 years old, so until then parents may want to try different strategies.

"We usually do not start treating children until the age of 7," says Dr. Ritchey, "since there is a high rate of spontaneous resolution at that age. However, if a child perceives bedwetting as a problem and asks their parents for help, then it should be brought up with their pediatrician."

Joan, a mother of three, says her oldest son had been dry throughout the night for several months. "So when he had a few accidents, I wasn't too concerned," she says. "Now, four months and several soggy sheets later, the accidents have become a nightly event. We have tried cutting back on drinks in the evenings and waking him up to use the bathroom, but the problem is not getting any better," Joan says. "We've decided to talk to his pediatrician about it at his 5-year exam."

Some children experience secondary enuresis, which means they start to lose control of their bladder at night after they have consistently been dry. According to the National Kidney Foundation, secondary enuresis can be caused by the same things that affect children who have always experienced nighttime wetting, such as producing too much urine at night or a family history of enuresis.

"If your child is experiencing ‘simple' bedwetting, it is considered a relatively benign condition, and most children will outgrow it," says Dr. Barry Kogan, a spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation's Pediatric Nephrology/Urology Committee. There are signs, though, that could suggest your child is experiencing more than normal nighttime wetting and may need medical attention. According to Dr. Kogan, these include:

  • Daytime wetting in addition to nighttime wetting
  • Severe constipation
  • Bowel accidents
  • Urinary tract infections

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, only 1% of nighttime wetting cases are related to medical problems, but ruling these problems out may help you and your child feel better about the situation.

In addition, if your child's nighttime wetting is becoming a problem for your child (or you), a trip to the pediatrician may help put everyone's mind at ease.

Preparing for the Visit

If you decide a doctor's visit is in order, providing the following information to the pediatrician may assist with the evaluation:

  • Family history of nighttime wetting
  • Frequency of nighttime wetting
  • Any pattern of nighttime wetting, such as occurring only after drinking caffeine or when tired
  • Daytime wetting in addition to nighttime accidents
  • Anything unusual about the way your child urinates (such as straining or pain) or the way the urine appears (cloudy or pink)
  • Nighttime wetting that develops after six months or more of consistent dryness
  • Medication your child is taking

For a complete "Voiding History" questionnaire to help you prepare for the doctor's appointment, visit the National Kidney Foundation's Bedwetting web page.

Kay, a mother of one, decided to speak with her son's doctor about his nighttime wetting at his 5-year exam. "Our pediatrician wanted to wait and see if our son would outgrow the problem before starting any treatments," she says. And her doctor was right, as they eventually discovered that a prescription allergy medication was the culprit. In addition to wetting the bed, her son had also begun to fall behind in school, and when he stopped taking the medicine, his schoolwork began to improve and his sheets started staying dry. "Now that he is 7, he is completely dry at night," says Kay.

If you feel that medication may be contributing to your child's nighttime accidents or if your child is experiencing behavior problems in addition to nighttime wetting, be sure to discuss these situations with your pediatrician.

In the Meantime

If a trip to the doctor rules out all medical problems and your doctor recommends the wait-and-see approach, what can you do to help your child until that dry day?

Dr. Ritchey suggests letting your child wear an absorbent undergarment, such as GoodNites® Bedtime Pants or Goodnites* TRU-FIT* Underwear when sleeping. "Wearing [such a product] … will not delay the time it will take for your child to outgrow bedwetting," he says.

Patience and empathy may be the best medicine during this difficult stage. "Parents can take the emphasis off of bedwetting, and place it on all the other good things the child does," says Dr. Kogan. "It is important that both the child and family realize that there are lots of good and successful things the child is accomplishing."

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