Half a million over-fives in the UK wet the bed at night. If your child is one of
them, you’re certainly not alone.
writes Lucy Jolin
One in 15 seven-year-olds and one in 75 teenagers has what’s known in medical terms
as nocturnal enuresis. That’s around half a million children in the UK – and that
figure doesn’t even include children under the age of five.
It’s slightly more common among boys than girls, and can run in families - if a child
has one parent who wet the bed as a child, there’s a 45 per cent chance they will
inherit this trait. If both
parents wet at night as children, their child will inherit a 72 per cent chance of
wetting the bed.
What are the causes?
Constipation is one of the biggest reasons for night time wetting. ‘If a child is
constipated then the bowel is distended, as it’s full of poo,’ explains Brenda Cheer,
paediatric specialist continence nurse at ERIC, the national charity which supports
children with continence problems. ‘It occupies the space where the bladder should
be. People tend to think that constipation means not pooing. But if a child has a
firm stool twice a week, that’s constipation. Children need to poo every other day,
if not every day, and need to pass soft motions.’
If you think your child is constipated,visit your GP who will prescribe a laxative.
It’s also vital to ensure they drink plenty – between six to eight glasses a day.
Sleeping through– some children just don’t wake up when they
need a wee. ‘We used to think this was because they were very sound sleepers,’ says
Brenda. ‘We now know that it’s not to do with the depth of sleep but the signal that
the brain gives when a bladder is full.’ If this sounds like your child, try a bedwetting
which makes a sound to wake them when it first detects wetness, allowing them to
get to the toilet.
Hormones– some children don’t produce enough of a hormone
called vasopressin. This helps to concentrate our wee at night, so
it fits in the bladder and we can last till morning. ‘The age at which
vasopressin production kicks in is very variable,’ says Brenda. ‘Your GP or a specialist
at a bedwetting clinic can prescribe a synthetic hormone called desmopressin. This
tops up your own vasopressin and tells the kidneys to make less wee.’
Small bladder– some children just don’t have bladders big enough to hold all their
wee yet.‘That may be because they have something called over-activity, where the
bladder is squeezing before it is full,’ explains Brenda. Treatments for this include
bedwetting alarm, and a drug called oxybutynin, which helps stop the bladder contracting
Psychological reasons– ‘Is there a psychological effect? Yes. Is that the original
cause? No,’ says Brenda ‘Nighttime wetting can have a psychological impact on children
as they may feel embarrassed and worried and they may even get told off. But it’s
a vicious circle. If you are upset and worried, you will produce less vasopressin.
The amount of natural vasopressin we produce
fluctuates, and anxiety causes it to drop.’
POTTY TRAINING AND BEDWETTING
There are links between early parent-directed potty training and daytime wetting,
so pushing your child to train too early might have an effect on night-time wetting
‘If potty training is led by the child, that’s different – some children are aware
of the signals for weeing and pooing from an early age,’ says Brenda. ‘But if it’s
being pushed by the parent, it may be linked with bedwetting.
‘When it comes to potty training, we need to read the signs that children are ready,’
she adds. ‘Are they showing an interest in other children weeing in the toilet, for
example? Do they know when they’ve done a wee? Are their nappies frequently
dry after a couple of hours, and then they do a big wee rather than lots of little
ones? You need to get tuned into your child’s bladder and bowels.’
When does it become an issue?
‘Every child is different,’ says Brenda. ‘We don’t regard bedwetting as a problem
until children are over five. Younger children’s bladders aren’t fully mature, so
they can still be wet at night.
But it’s never too soon to be promoting a healthy bladder and bowel. Ensure your
child gets plenty to drink and look out for signs of constipation, as this can be
a cause of bedwetting.’
All children are different – some won’t be bothered, but others will feel embarrassed
and miserable. Not being able to control the bladder at night can affect a child’s
social and school life. It can also be a stressful time for parents – and that’s
why it’s so important to seek information and get the right kit to cope with frequent
‘Most stress arises because parents either blame the child or themselves,’ says Brenda.
‘But once parents know that it’s normal and not anyone’s fault and they’re not the
only ones, it helps to take the stress away. Seeking advice and using the right products
can make a huge difference.’
Simple steps to success
Don’t blame and don’t get angry. That can make the child feel stressed and make the
problem worse. There are lots of products that can help manage the wetting, like
waterproof sheets and
bedwetting alarms. And you can call the ERIC helpline at any time to talk the problem
If these measures don’t work, when should you seek help?
There’s no specific time period – it all depends on you and your child. ‘Protect
the bed and see how your child goes – it may be that they will grow out of it,’ advises
Brenda. ‘Bedwetting is a normal childhood event. But if time goes on, your child
is worried and nothing is changing, it’s time to seek help. Specialist bedwetting
clinics will see children from the age of five onwards.’
Find out more
However old your child is, ERIC’s team of experts will be happy to talk through any
issues. Call the ERIC helpline on 0845 370 8008, or visit the website www.eric.org.uk
An emotional journey for all of us
Steve, 46, is dad to Ben, now eight
‘Ben had problems with daytime potty training right from the start. He wet himself
quite often both day and night, so we kept him in nappies until he was seven. Everywhere
we went, we carried a bag
with spare clothes and were always asking him if he needed a wee.
We would watch him at social gatherings to see if he had wet himself. We just didn’t
want him to be picked on. He would go to bed in nappies but we’d hide it. On camping
trips with friends we’d have to sneak into the tent and keep the nappies hidden.
At bedtime we had this massive routine of making sure he had a wee.
We always hoped that we’d find the answer and one day he’d wake up dry. He never
had friends to sleep over and he never went to sleepovers. We always made a rubbish
excuse! It was very stressful and we weren’t always understanding.
A couple of years ago, we discovered the ERIC website. It was a revelation to realise
that we weren’t alone and this was normal. We showed Ben the kids’ section of the
website and bought him the watch that vibrates when it’s time to go to the loo. We
started to see an improvement during the day.
Our GP wouldn’t refer him to a clinic until he was seven. So when Ben was six-and-a-half,
we went to see a private consultant urologist. He gave us a steroid drop to inhibit
Ben’s desire to wee in the day, but it didn’t work. So we went back to the GP, who
referred us to a clinic. They were fantastic and gave us a programme. We started
by getting Ben to drink plenty, to help his bladder expand and stretch. We did that
for six months.
Then we got a bedwetting alarm and took Ben out of nappies. After two to three weeks,
we started to get a few nights of not wetting. Three months in, he had a dry run
of nearly a fortnight and that was it! Since then he has been dry every single night
and will get up in the night and have a wee if he needs it. I’m so proud of him and
it’s been a real emotional journey for all of us. Once we got the support we needed
from ERIC, it gave us something to hold on to.’