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Boy in a wet bed

There are many myths around bedwetting - what causes this common, but complex childhood condition and how it should be treated. Here are ERIC’s answers to just a few of them. 

Myth no 1: "There's no point treating bedwetting - children grow out of it eventually."

This is the biggest myth we'd like to bust once and for all. Bedwetting can and should be treated. According to the UK's NICE guidelines on bedwetting in under 19s, all children who wet the bed should be seen by a health professional from the age of five years. A recent study has also shown that taking a 'watch and wait' approach and not seeking help means that children could be suffering from this condition and other bladder problems for far longer than they need to. 

Bedwetting can and should be treated from the age of 5 years.

A doctor or nurse at a bedwetting clinic can check children for underlying reasons for the wetting such as a urinary tract infection or constipation and get these treated if necessary. By assessing their bladder and bowel and asking questions about their fluid intake, health professionals can try to work out why the bedwetting is happening before suggesting the most appropriate treatment to try first. Our bedwetting flowchart explains more about the different stages of treatment. You can also get lots of information and support by calling our bladder and bowel helpline

Myth no 2: "Children wet the bed because they're lazy." 

Bedwetting can be very tiring and stressful to deal with for everyone involved, but it's not something children do on purpose. It happens when they are asleep, so is outside of their conscious control. Living with bedwetting can be really distressing for the sufferer so some children and teenagers deal with their feelings of shame and embarrassment by going into denial, hiding wet bedclothes and acting as if they aren't bothered. It's really important to reassure children that bedwetting isn't their fault and they're not the only ones who do it. Take a look at our teen and kids pages for helping young people to understand more about their wetting problem. 

Myth no 3: "Bedwetting is caused by stress and psychological problems."

Normally, bedwetting is not caused directly by psychological disturbances. However, dealing with this issue may cause stress and anxiety in children which in turn will have a negative impact on their quality of life and self-esteem. 

Periods of change and stress in a child’s life can explain why they may suddenly start to wet again after even a long stretch of dryness (known as 'secondary enuresis'). This is because the hormone that regulates how much wee we produce at night, vasopressin, is affected by anxiety. So, when children are anxious, they produce less vasopressin, and as a result produce large quantities of dilute wee that the bladder can't hold, so they wet the bed. Children who start wetting again after a period of dryness (this is known as 'secondary nocturnal enuresis' should always be assessed by their GP to check for any underlying causes such as constipation, a urinary tract infection or diabetes. 

Bedwetting is also more common in children who have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) than those who don't. Any psychological disturbances or conditions such as ADHD which affect a child's behaviour should be managed independently of the bedwetting symptoms. It's best to talk to your doctor about this.

Myth no 4: "Punishing children will help them to stop wetting the bed." 

Children and teenagers don't have any control of their wetting so punishing them for it is like telling them off for coughing or sneezing. Getting annoyed with children for wetting is very likely to harm their self-esteem and add to their feelings of shame and isolation. Dealing with bedwetting can be difficult and tiring for everyone, but parents are carers need to try and stay as calm and supportive of their kids. Rather than promising a reward or treat for a dry bed, it's more effective and positive to rewards their efforts to be dry - something which they do have control over. Download our drinking and toileting reward charts to help get a reward system going. 

Rather than giving punishment for bedwetting, reward their efforts to be dry   

Myth no 5: "Children wet the bed because they are such deep sleepers." 

It is generally accepted that some children don't wake up and wet themselves because they don’t pick up the bladder’s signal that it needs to empty, rather than because they're in a deep sleep. So it's this inability to wake up rather than the depth of sleep being the cause. Recent research has indicated that children who wet the bed have poor sleep quality with many incomplete arousals.

Myth no 6: "Taking children to the loo when they’re asleep will cure their bedwetting."

"Lifting' children to the toilet when they're asleep is something which may work for a while, but it's only a way of managing their bedwetting rather than curing it. It basically helps to get a dry bed rather than a dry child as you are deciding when they should do a wee rather than them responding to their own full bladder signal. Lifting can be helpful when a child first stops wearing nappies at night, however; if you do lift, make sure you put the light on and the child is fully awake.

Further help and support:

Download ERIC's guide to night time wetting for lots more information on the causes and treatment of bedwetting. 

Download resources from our World Bedwetting Day campaign page.