Bedwetting: is it a problem?

Bedwetting is common in young children. But what causes it and when should your child see their GP about it?

Around one in 12 children are thought to wet the bed at least once a week at the age of four and a half years. By the age of seven and a half, that figure comes down to one in 40, and by nine and a half years, one in 65. Around one in 100 continue to wet the bed as adults.

According to the NHS, bedwetting is only really a problem if it begins to bother a child or their parents. And only rarely is it considered a problem in children under the age of five.

There are, however, certain things that can cause bedwetting. Here are some of the things your GP can diagnose (usually if your child is five years old or older):

Overactive bladder Bladder problems can be behind bedwetting. If your child has overactive bladder syndrome – where the muscles that control the bladder go into spasm – the result can be involuntary wetting.

Producing too much urine A hormone called vasopressin regulates the amount of urine the kidneys produce. If a child’s body doesn’t make enough vasopressin, it could mean they’re producing too much urine for their bladder to cope with. Children who drink lots of fluids in the evening may also wet the bed because their bladder is small.

Being a deep sleeper Most people wake up when their bladder is full at night, because their bladder sends a warning signal to the brain. If a child is a very deep sleeper, their brain may not respond to those signals, so they don’t wake up. Some children’s bladder nerves are underdeveloped, so the signal they send to the brain isn’t strong enough to wake them up.

Health condition causes Several health problems may also lead to bedwetting, including untreated constipation (this puts pressure on the bladder), Type 1 diabetes (which can result in the overproduction of urine), an urinary tract infection (UTI) such as a bladder or kidney infection, urinary tract abnormalities (bladder stones, for example) and nerve damage, which could be the result of an accident or condition such as spina bifida.

Emotional distress New episodes of bedwetting can coincide with situations such as starting a new school or the arrival of a baby in the family, and can be a sign that your child is suffering from emotional problems such as stress or anxiety.

There are few things you can do yourself to help a child with a bedwetting problem. Make sure your child has fewer drinks during the evening and that they use the toilet regularly during the day, including before going to bed (also make sure they can access a toilet easily during the night – use a night light if you think they are afraid of getting up in the dark). Giving them a reward for remembering to urinate before bedtime can help too, but most importantly don’t punish a child for wetting the bed.