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Causes of bedwetting

Bedwetting happens when children don't wake up during the night when they need to do a wee. Children don't wet their beds on purpose.

There are a few different causes of bedwetting in children.

Some children wet the bed because they sleep very deeply, and they don't wake up when their bladders are full.

Some children produce larger than usual amounts of wee at night, and they don't wake up in time to do a wee.

And some children have small bladders, which means they're more likely to wet the bed at night.

Bedwetting often runs in families. If you wet the bed as a child, your own children might also be more likely to wet the bed. This doesn't mean it's your fault if your child wets the bed.

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to wet the bed.

Bedwetting is accidental and happens during deep sleep - it isn't your child's fault. Bedwetting can be frustrating and worrying for you at times, so it's good to know that there are effective bedwetting treatments out there that can help your child.

Symptoms of bedwetting

The main symptom of bedwetting is a child doing a wee while she's asleep in bed.

Bedwetting happens at night. Some children wet the bed every night. Others wet only a few times a week, once a week or once a month.

Daytime wetting is accidental wetting during the day while your child is awake. It's much less common than bedwetting. Daytime wetting is often caused by a medical condition or stress. Speak to your GP if your child has daytime wetting.

When to see your doctor about bedwetting

If you're worried about your child's bedwetting, or if it's causing issues for your child and your family, you might like to see your GP for advice about treatment and management.

For example, it might be a good idea to see the GP if your child is still wetting the bed regularly at seven years old and:

  • you're concerned about how your child will handle sleep-overs or overnight school camps
  • bedwetting is starting to bother or worry your child.

There are lots of ways to treat bedwetting. Your GP can talk you through the options and help you find the treatment that best meets the needs of your child and your family. Your GP might also refer your child to a bedwetting clinic or specialist.

Lifting and waking as a treatment for bedwetting

Lifting is when you lift your child out of bed while he's still asleep and take him to the toilet to do a wee. Waking is when you wake your child and take him to the toilet to do a wee. You can do this before you go to bed yourself, or at a set time during the night.

Lifting and waking can help to stop bedwetting in the short term, but it usually doesn't stop bedwetting altogether. It isn't a long-term solution.

Drinking fluids as a treatment for bedwetting

It's important for your child to drink water regularly throughout the day to stay hydrated, even if she wets the bed.

If your child has plenty of water during the day, he might be able to avoid drinking too much fluid before bedtime. Drinking too much fluid before bedtime might increase your child's need to wee during the night and lead to bedwetting. If your child is thirsty before bedtime, it could be a sign he hasn't had enough to drink during the day.

It's best for your child to avoid any drinks with caffeine in the evening - for example, cola, tea, coffee or hot chocolate. These drinks increase the amount of wee your child makes.

Bedwetting alarms as a treatment for bedwetting

A bedwetting alarm is a device that makes a noise and wakes your child when she wets the bed.

There are two types of alarm:

  • Pad and bell alarm - this is a rubber mat that goes on your child's bed under his bottom. It's connected by a cord to a battery-operated alarm, which goes off when the rubber mat gets wet - that is, when your child does a wee.
  • Personal alarm - this goes into your child's pyjamas or underpants. It goes off when it gets wet - that is, when your child does a wee.

Bedwetting alarms work by training your child to wake up when she starts to wet the bed. They help your child start to recognise when her bladder is full and learn to hold on, or wake up and go to the toilet. The idea is that when the alarm goes off, your child wakes up before fully emptying her bladder

if you decide to use a bedwetting alarm, it can be a good idea to sleep in your child's room for the first week or so, so that you can help him get up quickly and get to the toilet. You might also need to comfort him if he's distressed or confused by the sound of the alarm.

Depending on how well your child responds to the alarm treatment, you might need to use a bedwetting alarm for 1-3 months. If your child is still wetting the bed after three months, you might need to have a break and try again at a later time.

Bedwetting alarms aren't suitable for all children. For example, they're usually recommended only for children seven years or older, although they can sometimes be used for younger children. Alarms are also loud. If your child is sharing a room with other family members, you might like to think about whether this is the best approach for your family.

Your GP will be able to tell you whether a bedwetting alarm is the right option for your child and family.

Bedwetting alarms are completely safe. There's no risk of electrocution to your child.

It's a good idea to buy a waterproof mattress protector or underlay for your child's bed to stop her mattress getting wet and smelly. Bedwetting sheets are another option - these are a combination of fabric and waterproof material that go over the bottom bed sheet. They can make it faster and easier to change your child's bedding in the night.

Medication as a treatment for bedwetting

In some cases, your GP or paediatrician might prescribe medication to help treat bedwetting. Speak to your GP about whether medication is an appropriate treatment for your child.