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Bedwetting in older children

3-minute read

It is common for children aged 6 and under to wet the bed, but older children can wet the bed too. If your child is over 6 and wetting the bed, there are things you can do about it.

What is bedwetting?

Bedwetting happens when a child doesn’t wake up during the night when they need to urinate. It can happen every night, or now and again. It is also known as nocturnal enuresis.

Some children continue bedwetting from birth, while others start bedwetting again when they are older.

It can be very upsetting for a child, and distressing and frustrating for you. But it isn’t their fault. Bedwetting has nothing to do with bad behaviour.

Causes of bedwetting in older children

Some children sleep very deeply and don’t wake up when they need to urinate.

They might have a smallish bladder. Or they might produce a lot of urine at night.

Some children don’t make enough of a hormone called antidiuretic hormone, or ADH. This makes the urine less watery overnight. If children don’t make enough of this hormone, their bladder can struggle to store the extra liquid.

Bedwetting tends to run in families. If one or both parents wet the bed when they were young, then it is more likely to happen with their children.

Emotional problems, caused by a stressful event, can sometimes cause an older child to wet the bed. Physical problems are rare.

If you are worried, or your child is very upset, talk to your doctor.

Diagnosis of bedwetting in older children

Your doctor might examine your child and check their medical history. They might do a urine test or a blood test. These tests will often show there is nothing physically wrong.

The doctor might refer your child to a health professional with specialist training in children’s bedwetting.

Treatment for bedwetting in older children

There are several things you can do to help:

  • Don’t punish or make fun of your child if they wet the bed.
  • Make sure they drink regularly during the day, but cut out drinks containing caffeine like cocoa, chocolate, coffee and cola before bedtime.
  • Consider a device that senses when your child starts to wet the bed and then sets off an alarm.
  • Be patient, encourage your child, and involve them in treatment.

Underwear pads might be helpful if your child has a sleepover, or goes on a school camp.

Over time, bedwetting usually goes away. If it doesn’t, and you’ve tried everything listed above, your doctor might recommend a man-made form of ADH that helps a child’s body make less urine during the night.

Where to get help

Talk to a continence nurse adviser by calling the National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66).

The Sleep Health Foundation has more advice on bedwetting in children.

Check out healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker or find a health service.

Last reviewed: October 2017

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