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Wetting the Bed: Why It Happens and What You Can Do About It

Amanda Kondolojy
June 26, 2015

If your child is wetting the bed, here are some tips for dealing with it.

Your child's wet the bed again. Is this normal? Should you be worried? You might be too embarrassed to ask anyone else about it, but you also need to know if it's going to stop.

Good news: It will. While bed-wetting can be frustrating to deal with, it's a surprisingly common issue. Known officially as enuresis, according to the Mayo Clinic, wetting the bed is quite common until age 7, and many children experience it up into first and second grade. Normal or not, though, dealing with soggy sheets and endless laundry can be a hassle. Luckily, there are some things you can do to reduce the frequency of your child's wetting the bed.

Why Does It Happen?
Though it's easy to think of wetting the bed as a toilet-training issue, the two are actually not that closely connected. While toilet training involves a child learning about the feeling of urgency, bed-wetting in a young child is a matter of bladder development.

Dr. Roy Benaroch of The Pediatric Insider says, "Bed-wetting in a preschool-aged child is essentially normal. At that age, kids lack the neurologic maturity to sleep and pay attention to their bladders at the same time. They tend to be very deep sleepers, and their muscles relax during sleep so when the bladder gets full, it overflows. About 40 percent of 4-year-olds wet the bed at least sometimes."

What Can You Do About It?
Even though wetting the bed is normal at a young age, there are several things parents can do to decrease the frequency of bed-wetting or eliminate it altogether.

Dr. Amy Webb, the creator of The Thoughtful Parent, recommends "making sure the child goes to the bathroom before bed and limiting fluid intake a couple of hours prior to bedtime."

When Should You Call Your Pediatrician?
Though some bed-wetting is normal, there are certain circumstances where enuresis could indicate a larger problem. "A change in urine habits [can be] somewhat concerning," says Dr. Benaroch.

"Sometimes children do slip backwards for no specific reason, but in a child who had been dry, if nights are getting wet again it's reasonable to go in for a medical evaluation. Children who are wetting the bed who have potential signs of neurologic illness trouble walking or trouble holding stool need to be seen right away." If you're not sure if you should be worried about bed-wetting, you can also phone your doctor's office and get an opinion before making an appointment.

How Do You Cope?
Though your child's health and well-being are probably the first things on your mind, bed-wetting can be hard for you, too. The most important thing you can do is realize that this is not your or your child's fault, and try to stay as calm as possible about the situation, especially around your child.

Young children typically "are not anxious or worried about bed-wetting unless their parents are worried," says Dr. Benaroch, suggesting, "This is a time to lead by example." Like all developmental issues, bed-wetting will resolve itself, even if it takes a while, and the best thing parents can do is be patient -- and maybe keep a spare set of sheets (and a waterproof mattress pad) at the ready.

Though wetting the bed is certainly an inconvenience, it isn't the end of the world. And it may be cliche, but the phrase "they'll grow out of it" couldn't be more true.

Amanda Kondolojy is a full-time freelancer with more than a decade of caregiving experience.

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