It’s deep in the middle of the night, and you are changing your child’s sheets for the second night in a row this week. He is staring up at you sleepily with an embarrassed look on his face. “Why is my child still wetting the bed?” you ask yourself for what seems like the millionth time. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to that question, experts say.
Bladder control is a complex process that involves coordinated action between the nerves, muscle, spinal cord and the brain. Development and maturity is a key element of this process, allowing children to stay dry at night. First, children begin producing an antidiuretic hormone between 2 and 6 years old that reduces urine output at night, keeping little bladders from getting full until the morning. The second physical process that keeps beds dry at night is the growth and maturation of the bladder. As kids age, the bladder grows in size and its ability to sense bladder fullness at night. Together, these physical processes allow children to wake up dry in the morning.
Many bodies are just not developmentally ready for staying dry at night. As a result, the best “treatment” for most bedwetters (particularly those who have never achieved nighttime dryness) is good old fashioned time. With time, the key antidiuretic hormone begins production and bladders grow big enough to handle nighttime duties.
Experts have found that bedwetting tends to run in families. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that 44 percent of children wet the bed if they had one parent with a history of bedwetting, and 77 percent of children wet the bed if they had two parents with bedwetting history. Compare those numbers to 15 percent of children with no family history of bedwetting and it seems pretty clear that genetics play a large part in the story of bedwetting.
Some children who are fully potty-trained (during the day and at night) may begin having nighttime accidents (called secondary nocturnal enuresis) following a period of stress. Changes in a child’s life related to problems at school, loss of a loved one, divorce, a move, or a new sibling have all been associated with bedwetting in children who were previously completely potty-trained. In a few instances, children who wet the bed may have deeper emotional issues. Typically, children who are struggling emotionally exhibit symptoms other than just bedwetting; they will appear sad or get easily frustrated. If your child appears to be struggling to cope emotionally, and he is wetting the bed, make an appointment with your pediatrician to discuss his symptoms.
Children occasionally develop urinary tract infections or obstruction of the urinary tract that may lead to nighttime accidents. Typically, other symptoms are present, including straining during urinating, cloudy urine, or redness/rash in the genital area. Generally, experts recommend that parents remain patient if their child is having trouble staying dry at night and is under the age of 7. However, if the child is under the age of 7, and he has any of the above co-occurring symptoms, parents should take their child to the pediatrician to explore possible medical causes.
“If my child just tried hard enough, he would be able to stay dry at night.”
Some parents mistakenly believe children have more control over bedwetting than they actually do. Most children are very embarrassed or ashamed by bedwetting accidents, and they would like nothing more than to overcome this developmental hurdle. The attention related to wetting the bed is not the kind of attention that they want. They often miss out on sleepovers and face teasing from siblings. Doctors recommend that parents be patient and comfort their children by expressing confidence in their ability to master nighttime accidents.
In the past, the dandelion has been used medicinally as a diuretic. Indeed, the origins of the word, dandelion, in French, Spanish, and Italian generally mean “wet the bed.” There are confirmed cases in which children playing with dandelion flowers have absorbed some of the compounds on the stem and petals through their skin leading to nighttime accidents. Although there is some disagreement as to whether dandelion flowers have a strong enough of an effect on children to cause nighttime accidents, most experts believe that the risk is so small that parents have little to fear from the dandelion.
Taking it All in Stride
In most cases, children grow out of nighttime accidents and as they grow and mature. The leading causes of bedwetting are related to typical development patterns and parents have little to be concerned about. So, sit back, relax, and put your energy into reassuring your child that dry days are just around the corner.