Learn about causes and treatments of bed-wetting, including moisture alarms, bladder training and medicines.
Bed-wetting ― also called nighttime incontinence or nocturnal enuresis ― means passing urine without intending to while asleep. This happens after the age at which staying dry at night can be reasonably expected.
Soggy sheets and pajamas — and an embarrassed child — are a familiar scene in many homes. But don't get upset if your child wets the bed. Bed-wetting isn't a sign of problems with toilet training. It's often just a typical part of a child's development.
Generally, bed-wetting before age 7 isn't a concern. At this age, your child may still be developing nighttime bladder control.
If your child continues to wet the bed, treat the problem with patience and understanding. Lifestyle changes, bladder training, moisture alarms and sometimes medicine may help lessen bed-wetting.
Most kids are fully toilet trained by age 5, but there's really no target date for having complete bladder control. Between the ages of 5 and 7, bed-wetting remains a problem for some children. After 7 years of age, a small number of children still wet the bed.
Most children outgrow bed-wetting on their own — but some need a little help. In other cases, bed-wetting may be a sign of an underlying condition that needs medical attention.
Talk to your child's doctor or other health care professional if:
It's not known for sure what causes bed-wetting. Several issues may play a role, such as:
Bed-wetting can affect anyone, but it's twice as common in boys as in girls.
Several factors have been linked with an increased risk of bed-wetting, including:
Although frustrating, bed-wetting without a physical cause does not result in any health risks. But bed-wetting can create some issues for your child, including:
Depending on your child's situation, the health care professional can check for any underlying cause of bed-wetting. A treatment plan can be made based on:
Most children outgrow bed-wetting on their own. If treatment is needed, talk about options with your child's health care professional. Together you can decide what will work best for your child.
If your child is not especially bothered or embarrassed by an occasional wet night, lifestyle changes may work well. These include not having caffeine, limiting liquids in the evening and passing urine right before bed.
If lifestyle changes are not successful or if your child is upset or worried about wetting the bed, other treatments may be helpful.
If found, underlying causes of bed-wetting, such as constipation or sleep apnea, should be looked into by a health care professional.
Options for treating bed-wetting may include moisture alarms and medicine.
These small, battery-operated devices connect to a moisture-sensitive pad on your child's pajamas or bedding. When the pad senses wetness, the alarm goes off. You can buy these moisture alarms without a prescription at most pharmacies.
Ideally, the moisture alarm sounds just as your child begins to pass urine. This should be in time to help your child wake, stop the urine stream and get to the toilet. If your child is a heavy sleeper, another person may need to listen for the alarm and wake the child.
If you try a moisture alarm, give it plenty of time. It often takes 1 to 3 months to see any type of response. It may take up to 16 weeks to have dry nights. Moisture alarms are effective for many children. They carry a low risk of side effects and may provide a better long-term solution than medicine does. These devices may not be covered by insurance.
If lifestyle changes do not help your child stay dry, your child may be prescribed medicine for a short period of time to stop bed-wetting. Certain types of medicine can:
Slow how much urine is made at night. The drug desmopressin (DDAVP) reduces how much urine is made at night. But drinking too much liquid with the medicine can cause problems. Do not use desmopressin if your child has symptoms such as a fever, diarrhea or nausea. Be sure to carefully follow instructions for using this medicine.
Desmopressin is an oral tablet. It's only for children 6 years or older. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, nasal spray forms of desmopressin are no longer recommended for treatment of bed-wetting due to the risk of serious side effects.
Sometimes your child may be prescribed more than one type of medicine. But there are no guarantees that medicine will work, and medicine does not cure the problem. Bed-wetting typically starts again when medicine is stopped. This may happen until bed-wetting ends on its own at an age that varies from child to child.
Here are changes you can make at home that may help with bed-wetting:
Alternative medicine is a popular name for health care practices that traditionally are not part of well-researched standard medicine. Complementary and integrative medicine, when based on solid research, may sometimes be used along with standard medicine.
Some people may choose to try complementary or alternative medicine approaches to treat bed-wetting. For hypnosis, acupuncture, chiropractic therapy and herbal therapy, evidence of effectiveness is weak, not conclusive or proved to not be effective. In some cases, the studies were too small or not done carefully, or both.
Be sure to talk to your child's health care professional before starting any complementary or alternative therapy. If you choose an approach that is not standard, ask if it's safe for your child. Also make sure that it will not interact with any medicines your child may take.
Children do not wet the bed to annoy their parents. Try to be patient as you and your child work through the problem together. Effective treatment may include several strategies and may take time to be successful.
With support and understanding, your child can look forward to the dry nights ahead.
You're likely to start by seeing your child's pediatrician or other health care professional. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in urinary disorders called a pediatric urologist or pediatric nephrologist.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect.
Before your appointment, make a list of:
Some basic questions to ask may include:
Feel free to ask other questions during your appointment.
Your child's health care professional is likely to ask you some questions, such as:
Be ready to answer questions so that you'll have time to talk about what's most important to you.