All young children occasionally wet their beds. But many youngsters continue to wet their beds into grade school and beyond, creating stress and embarrassment for themselves and their families.
The medical term for bed-wetting is nocturnal enuresis. Primary nocturnal enuresis (PNE) is the most common form and refers to youngsters who have never been dry at night for any extended period of time. Children are not considered to have this problem until they are 5 years old and wet the bed at least two times a month.
Secondary enuresis describes bed-wetting that begins after a child has been dry for a period of at least six months.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, bed-wetting impacts 5 to 7 million children older than age 6 in the United States, occurring three times more often in boys than in girls.
Bed-wetting tends to diminish with age. An estimated 15 to 25 percent of all 5-year-olds wet the bed. With each year of maturity, that number decreases by 15 percent.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes bed-wetting. But genetics plays a key role. An article in the Feb. 2, 2008, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that boys and girls who had two parents who were bed-wetters had a 77 percent chance of becoming enuretic, compared with a 15 percent chance if neither parent had PNE.
Other predisposing factors include sleep disorders, hormone deficiency or excessive production of urine.
Two of the most common reasons for secondary enuresis are urinary tract infections and stressful situations at home or school.
Bed-wetting is not a sign of laziness or of an underlying mental disorder. It’s a medical condition that warrants proper care. If left untreated, it can damage a child’s self-esteem and cause anxiety and social withdrawal.
TIPS FOR PREVENTING BED-WETTING
Stick to a routine. A regular schedule trains children when to empty their bladders throughout the day and night.
Limit liquids before bedtime. Taper liquid consumption in the evenings. Avoid caffeinated beverages at night.
Use the bathroom right before bed. If kids are reluctant or rushed, encourage them to urinate 30 minutes before bedtime, then once again before getting into bed.
Waken children once at night to go to the bathroom.
Try a ‘moisture alarm.’ The alarm beeps at the first sign of moisture, awakening heavy sleepers and prompting them to use the toilet.
Keep a journal. Record what children eat and do each day, then note whether they’ve been wet or dry. You may uncover subtle factors that contribute to staying dry.
Talk to your doctor about medications that treat bedwetting.
Use a sleeping bag on the bed. Circulate two washable sleeping bags: one can be in the wash while the other is on the bed.
Consider disposable underpants. They provide short-term relief and minimize wet sheets.
Make bedtime pleasant. Bedwetting children need extra TLC. Spend time reading books, quietly talking, offering encouragement and showing them you care.