Bed-wetting (enuresis)

What causes it?

Bed-wetting is involuntary urination during sleep that occurs more often than once a month. It can affect boys and girls, but is more common in boys. Bed-wetting is not significant until a child is older than six years.

The cause is often unknown. Slow maturation of the nervous system which controls the bladder is believed to be a factor in many cases. Other contributing factors include:

  • Underlying illness, such as diabetes or a urinary tract infection.
  • A small or weak bladder that cannot hold one night's urine production.
  • Psychological problems caused by stress or separation from the mother.
  • Family history of bed-wetting.

What can I do?

  • Protect the mattress with a heavy plastic cover.
  • Dress your child in extra-thick underwear and pyjamas.
  • Place an extra pair of underwear and pyjama bottoms by the bed in case your child needs them during the night.
  • Try to ensure that your child urinates before going to bed.
  • Awaken your child to urinate after he/she has been asleep for several hours.
  • Respond gently to accidents - don't blame, criticise, restrict or punish your child for wetting the bed.
  • Give rewards for staying dry.
  • Show your child love, support and understanding.

Discuss the problem with your doctor who may organise other investigations if necessary. Sometimes an alarm system which is triggered when the child starts to wet may be useful. Medications may be helpful in certain cases. Your GP can help you choose the option that best suits your child's situation.

How long will it last?

Bed-wetting may continue for several years. Your doctor will want to rule out urinary tract infections and diabetes as causes. If these are eliminated and your child is normal in other respects, consider your child's bed-wetting a minor variation of the age at which bladder control is socially expected. The vast majority of bet-wetting children eventually become dry at night.

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