When is bed-wetting no longer normal?

In theory, potty training marks the end of a parent’s responsibility for cleaning up bathroom-related messes. In practice, though, there’s often a transition period in-between, where children are mostly potty trained, but they’re still perfecting the skill, and the occasional accident slips past, whether that happens out and about during the day, or tucked away in bed at night.

What is bed-wetting?

Bed-wetting, clinically called enuresis, is urination that happens in bed, during sleep. There are a couple of different kinds of bed-wetting that can happen for any of a few different reasons, but one important point to make is that it isn’t even really considered anything out of the ordinary in children younger than 5 or so. Before that, it’s generally just a normal part of potty training and development. Children’s brains aren’t wired to identify a full bladder, and different children take different amounts of time to develop this awareness.

Even once children develop this awareness, bed-wetting generally isn’t considered to be an issue until around age 7. Before this time, it can happen pretty often – even every night in some cases – and still be considered to be fairly normal. However, under certain circumstances, children who regularly wet the bed can benefit from talking to a pediatrician about the situation. These circumstances include:

  • A child is still wetting the bed at 7 or older
  • A child has been getting through the night without wetting the bed regularly for a while, but then starts, or starts again
  • There are other symptoms that come with bedwetting, like painful urination, pink or red urine, hard stools, or snoring

Different types of bed-wetting

This information mostly applies to the most common type of bed-wetting, but there are two different kinds.
  • Primary nocturnal enuresis: This is the more common of the two types, and happens when children have never fully had nighttime bladder control, and regularly wet the bed at least a few times a month. It’s most commonly caused by just not having a fully developed signal in the brain about a full bladder, but can also be caused by under-developed bladder muscles, a small bladder, too deep of sleep, or too much urine. This type of bed-wetting could be hereditary.
  • Secondary nocturnal enuresis: This type is less common, and occurs after children already have control of their bladders. Children who haven’t wet the bed in at least 6 months, and then begin, or begin again, are often prompted by big changes in their lives causing stress, or by physical problems, like chronic constipation or a urinary tract infection.

What can I do about bed-wetting?

When children are young, pull-ups or training pants during the night can help bridge the gap between full diapers and full potty-training, and in cases where it happens less often, using an easily-cleaned mattress-cover can help with the occasional clean-up. Bed-wetting generally happens in the first few hours of sleep, so making sure a child goes to the bathroom before bed can also help prevent it.

Most importantly, parents and guardians can help to reassure children that bed-wetting is normal, and is nothing to be embarrassed about. Most children grow out of bed-wetting on their own, and helping to keep it from becoming a source of stress can only help.

  • Child and Youth Health. “Bedwetting.” Raising Children. Raising Children Network, April 15, 2014. Web.
  • Familydoctor.org. “Enuresis (Bed-wetting).” familydoctor. American Academy of Family Physicians, July 2010. Web.
  • Kyla Boyse. “Enuresis (Bed-wetting).” University of Michigan Health System. Regents of the University of Michigan, September 2008. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Bed-Wetting.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, October 11, 2014. Web.
  • “Bedwetting.” Sleep Foundation. National Sleep foundation, 2016. Web.
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