Boy with back turned
Children who start wetting the bed after learning to be dry have secondary nocturnal enuresis (SNE)

If you’re a fan of the BBC Radio 4 soap ‘The Archers’, you’ll know that at the moment the show features a storyline about relationship abuse. The story that’s getting listeners riled up concerns Helen who is being controlled by her husband Rob. The emotional manipulation Helen is being subjected to is taking its toll on her and her relationships, particularly with her 5-year-old son Henry who has started wetting the bed.

Avid listeners of the show have taken to social media to express their anger at Rob’s treatment of Helen and to give support to the fictional character. One fan even set up the ‘Helen Titchener Rescue Fund’, and has raised an incredible £170,000 for Refuge, a charity that supports women and children suffering from domestic violence.

There’s been less talk on social media about how Henry is being affected and, in particular, why he has started wetting the bed.

Why is Henry wetting the bed?

A few people have suggested Henry is being abused by Rob and that his bedwetting is a mechanism to repel the abuser.

This is a possibility – children do sometimes wet the bed in response to abuse – but it’s more likely that Henry’s bedwetting is linked to anxiety relating to changes and stresses in his life – he has just started school, his mummy is about to have another baby, and both parents are emotionally on edge.

Secondary nocturnal enuresis

Bedwetting that starts after a child has been dry at night for longer than six months is known as secondary nocturnal enuresis (SNE).

It is often triggered by reactions to major life changes that can be stressful for small children. Domestic violence can also be a trigger as it causes heightened levels of fear and anxiety.

The hormone that regulates the volume of wee we produce at night is called Vasopressin. It works by concentrating the wee; without it we produce large volumes of dilute wee. The amount of Vasopressin we produce fluctuates and is effected by anxiety. So, if the child is anxious, they produce less Vasopressin, and as a result produce large quantities of dilute wee that the bladder cannot accommodate, so they wet the bed.

Most children will naturally produce more of the hormone as they get older, whereas others might need to take a medication called Desmopressin to top up the hormone levels.

Other causes of SNE could be a constipated bowel pushing against the bladder at night, a urinary tract infection (UTI), or an overactive bladder.

Bedwetting treatment

Irrespective of what may have caused SNE, the treatment approaches are the same as for children who have always wet at night – sorting out any constipation, ensuring the child has a minimum of 6-8 drinks a day, then assessing them to determine the principal cause of wetting. Specific treatment may include medication and/or a bedwetting alarm. And of course a positive approach to treatment and a patient, caring attitude from parents and carers. Shouting at Henry for wetting the bed, as Rob has done, will not help.

Help and information about bedwetting

Take a look at the bedwetting pages of our website for more information about the causes of and treatment for bedwetting.

If your son or daughter is wetting the bed and you’d like to talk about how to help them, please call our helpline on 0845 370 8008 or email helpline@eric.org.uk (calls to the helpline cost 9.6p per minute plus the service provider charge).