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Why do Kids Wet the Bed?

Last Updated: 3/29/21
Read Time: 3 minutes

Millions of kids in the U.S. wet the bed. And if you’re the parent or grandparent of one, you likely have a lot of questions. Why causes bed wetting? When will it stop? And is there anything you can do help your child avoid waking up wet? Read on for answers.

Bedwetting, also known as nighttime wetting or nocturnal enuresis, is when a child beyond age 5 isn’t able to control their bladder and urinates at night during their sleep.

Bedwetting occurs for more than 7 million children in the U.S., and it’s slightly more common in boys than girls. The prevalence of bedwetting decreases as children get older, but it may continue for some school age children and teens.

Bedwetting is not a psychological or behavioral problem. It doesn’t happen because the child is too lazy to get out of bed and go to the bathroom. And children do not wet the bed on purpose. For most children, bedwetting may be an inevitable part of growing up. They will likely outgrow it on their own. But some situations of bedwetting may be a sign that there is an issue that needs medical attention.

What Causes Bedwetting?

  • The child may be a deep sleeper or difficult to wake up and not feel the need to urinate.
  • The child may have kidneys that produce too much urine during the night.
  • The child’s bladder may be small or too “irritable” and contract too easily. Or the nerves that control the bladder may be slow to mature.
  • Family history and genetics plays a role. It is common for bedwetting to run in families. Children who wet the bed tend to have a parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent who wet the bed until a late age. If one parent wet the bed after 5 years old, then their children have about 40% chance of bedwetting, and if both parents wet the bed as children their children have about a 70% chance of bedwetting. 
  • The child could be going through big changes like moving, getting a new sibling or other stressors.
  • There are some medical conditions that could be the cause. For example: urinary tract infection (UTI), constipation, bladder or kidney disease, a structural problem in the urinary system or nervous system, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, hormone imbalance, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, developmental delay, stress and anxiety.

Bedwetting Assistance and Bedwetting Solutions

Bed wetting protection, such as bedwetting nighttime underwear or overnight pullups, can be a big help for kids at home and especially if they’re going to sleepovers, to overnight camp or on trips. According to the Urology Care Foundation, the use of absorbent underwear like GoodNites® nighttime underwear does not prevent or delay toileting and continence control and these products can help reduce stress for both a parent and a child.

Additional recommendations:

  • Drink more fluids early in the day.
  • Avoid food and drinks that can irritate the bladder such as coffee, tea, chocolate milk, cocoa and sodas/carbonated beverages with caffeine. Caffeine makes kids need to urinate more often. They may also need to eliminate citrus juices, artificial flavorings, dyes (especially red) and sweeteners.
  • Urinate every two or three hours during the day, even when they do not feel the need.
  • Encourage your child to go to the bathroom regularly during the day (every two to three hours) and just before going to bed.
  • Avoid waking your child during the night to urinate. Waking them may disrupt their sleep pattern, which could lead to problems at school the next day.
  • Try not to drink anything after dinner or at least 2 hours before bed.
  • Attempt to urinate 15 minutes before bed or at the beginning of the bedtime routine and again right before going to bed.
  • Go to the bathroom as soon as your child wakes up.
  • If your child wakes with a wet bed, do not yell or punish. Consider having your child help change the sheets and explain that this is not punishment but part of the process. It may make the child feel better knowing that they helped.

When to Seek Help from a Medical Provider

Talk to your child’s pediatrician if the child:

  • Is 5 years old or older and suddenly starts to wet the bed 2-3 times a week after they have not wet the bed for at least 6 months.
  • Has daytime urinating accidents.
  • Is having stool (poop) accidents.
  • Is 7 years old or older and is still wetting the bed.
  • Snores and/or has pauses or gasps in breathing in their sleep.
  • Complains of a burning sensation or pain when urinating, has to urinate more often, is drinking/thirstier more often, and/or has pink or red urine or discharge.
  • Has swelling of their feet or ankles.
  • Complains of belly aches or back pains.

The doctor will discuss your child’s medical history and family history, examine the child, and most likely perform lab work such as a urine analysis. If no medical issue (diabetes, sleep apnea, constipation, etc.) is found, in some cases they may recommend a bedwetting alarm system or medications. And if these recommendations do not succeed, then they may refer your child to a urologist, who will do further research/testing for your child’s situation.

Just remember that, for the most part, bedwetting is not something to be concerned about and your child most likely will outgrow this issue.