Bedwetting Help for Accident-Prone Tots
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Here’s the thing with kids: As soon as you think you’re done with one stage of babyhood or toddlerhood, life tosses you a curveball. (Hello, sleep regression.) For many, bedwetting is one of those curveballs. In fact, even though most children are potty trained between 2 and 4 years old, research shows that more than half of 3-year-olds wet the bed. Before you throw your hands up and restock the diapers, read this. We’ve got the advice you need to keep your kiddo dry…and you, stress-free.
Why do potty trained children wet the bed?
While there are many possible reasons a child might be wetting the bed, the most common culprit in young children is sleep arousal. That means, your tot’s brain simply isn’t signaling them to wake up when their bladder is full, and, for some, not even when they’re wet. Oftentimes, these kiddos are considered “heavy sleepers” by their caregivers. Other factors that contribute to bedwetting, post-potty training, include the fact that some children…
Produce more urine than expected at night
Have small bladder capacity
Were potty trained too early (Research shows that potty training before age 2 is linked to increased risk of later wetting problems.)
Have a genetic predisposition
Are experiencing stress or life changes
Have a medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection or Type 1 diabetes
It’s super-important to remember that most children wet the bed during potty training. And bedwetting can occur even after they’ve managed to stay dry at night for many days, even weeks, notes the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). If this rings true to you, it’s perfectly fine to reach for the overnight training pants and try nighttime potty training again later.
Should I be worried if my toddler or preschooler wets the bed?
While it’s natural for parents to worry if their kiddo is wetting the bed, the truth is most children gradually stop bedwetting on their own between 4 and 6 years old, with only about 15% of children in the U.S. still wetting the bed at age 5. And, more often than not, bedwetting before age 7 isn’t a concern. However, it is important to reach out to your child’s pediatrician if bedwetting continues past the age of 7, if your child starts wetting the bed after a few months of being dry at night, and/or if bedwetting goes hand-in-hand with painful urination, hard stools, pink or red urine, unusual thirst, or snoring. (PS: If a child is wetting the bed beyond their fifth birthday, it’s called nocturnal enuresis.)
How to Prevent Bedwetting Messes
Planning for possible nighttime accidents will not only make bedwetting cleanup easier, it’ll help quell some of the in-the-moment stress of the situation. Some smart ways to make middle-of-the-night bedwetting wakeups painless:
Use a water-resistant, washable mattress. Gone are the days when overnight oopsies can ruin a child’s mattress. Today, you can opt for a toddler mattress that’s both water-resistant and washable. For example, the pediatrician-designed DreamBreeZzz mattress features a breathable water-resistant barrier and its cover and core are both 100% washable.
Protect the sheets. To help mitigate sheet-changes, and to further protect the mattress, place a waterproof bed mat on top of your sheet. There are reusable, washable versions and disposable pads, too.
Get a mattress cover. If you don’t have a water-resistant mattress, use a mattress protector. These are fitted sheets equipped with a waterproof layer to help prevent wetness from seeping into the mattress. (Use a mattress cover under your child’s fitted sheet.)
Have spare sheets at the ready. Make sure your child’s backup sheets are in their room and easy to find. Remember: Crib sheets and toddler bed sheets are the same size, so stock up! (Be sure to have a backup mattress protector and/or bed mats at the ready as well.)
Offer absorbent underwear at night. Remember, children who are potty pros during the day can experience bedwetting at night for years. There’s nothing wrong with offering your kiddo an overnight pull-up diaper or absorbent underpants.
Build personal clean-up into the routine. Help your kiddo rinse their bottom and genital area post-accident. You may also want to cover the area with petroleum jelly to help prevent skin chafing.
How to Talk to Kids About Bedwetting
No parent enjoys being woken up in the middle of the night to change wet sheets. Frustration, exhaustion, and agitation can easily brew in these situations. That’s why it’s so important to remember that bedwetting is in no way your child’s fault. And it’s in no way a failure on your part. So, next time your bub awakens to a wet bed, keep the following in mind:
DO offer support. Say the words, “It’s not your fault” to your child and continue to remind them that lots of kids wet the bed and most outgrow it with time. It can also be comforting to hear if other family members struggled with bedwetting when they were young.
DON’T punish or shame your child. Remember, wetting the bed is not your child’s fault. That means punishment, shaming, or hurtful words like “I can’t believe you did this again” have no place here.
DO enlist your child’s help. When it’s time to change the wet sheets and put pajamas in the laundry, ask your tot if they’d like to help. Experts note that helping in this way may help your child feel better.
DON’T make it a big issue. If you don’t stir up a fuss over wetting the bed, your child likely won’t either.
DO use the word “accident.” This can help hit the point home that wetting the bed is not their fault.
DON’T put your tot on blast for bedwetting. It’s important that you refrain from talking your child’s bedwetting in front of siblings or your kiddo’s friends. This’ll fuel stress and embarrassment, possibly worsening your child’s bedwetting.
DO start a no-teasing rule. Let everyone in the family know—especially siblings—that teasing about bedwetting is never allowed.
How to Stop Bedwetting
Limit fluids this way.
Encourage lots of morning and early-afternoon water-drinking, which can help reduce thirst in the evening—and it can help with constipation, which is a big cause of bedwetting. But there’s no need to stop all food and fluids many hours before bedtime! Instead, do your best to have your child avoid drinking two hours before nighty-night. If they’re thirsty within that window, however, it’s okay to provide a small amount of water. (Aim for your kiddo to consume two-thirds of their fluid before 3pm and then one-third of the fluid after—with no more drinking in the last one to two hours before bed.) And avoid giving your tot food or beverages that contain caffeine—like chocolate milk and root beer—which may stimulate the bladder. If nixing caffeine doesn’t seem to help, consider cutting out all carbonated beverages, citrus juices, artificial flavorings, sweeteners, and dyes…especially red. All of these are considered bladder irritants.
Adjust bedtime routines.
Set your child up for dry-night success with these easy-to-incorporate bedtime routine tweaks:
Move your child’s bedtime. While going to bed a bit earlier than usual doesn’t work for everyone, it can be especially helpful for so-called deep-sleepers. That’s because your “heavy sleeper” may simply be getting too few ZZZs!
Improve sleep hygiene. Cut out before-bed screen time, dim the lights about an hour before bedtime, and turn on some soothing white noise to improve your bub’s sleep hygiene, which can help calm their active little brains so they can sleep better.
Have your child “double void” before bed. That means, peeing at the start of the bedtime routine…and then again right before falling asleep.
Get a nightlight. Reinforce to your kiddo that it’s a-okay to get out of bed to use the toilet at night if they need to. Using a nightlight, like SNOObie, so your child can easily make their way between their bedroom and bathroom helps. (What to look for in a nightlight.)
Provide a schedule and reminders.
Make sure your child is using the bathroom regularly throughout the day and evening. Ideally, your tot should be heading to the bathroom to pee every two hours or so—or at least often enough to avoid that gotta-go-right-now a feeling of urgency. If you’ve got a smart speaker in your home, consider programming potty reminders to sound off at the appropriate times. (And no, Alexa doesn’t need to say “Liam, it’s time to use the potty!” You can think of a special potty song or sound to play instead.)
Try a bedwetting alarm.
Moisture (or bedwetting) alarms are small, battery-operated devices that connect to a moisture-sensitive pad on your child’s PJs or bedding. When the pad gets wet—ding, ding, ding—the alarm sounds. The goal, of course, is that your kiddo will wake up, stop their urine stream, and rush to the potty to finish peeing. The alarm works by “conditioning” your bub to wake up when it is time to pee. While bedwetting alarms are successful 50% to 75% of the time, it’s important to know that…
Alarms work best for kids who are deep sleepers and have decent bladder control on their own.
At first, the alarm may not wake your child up! So, an adult would need to play an active role in waking your bub up and taking them to the bathroom.
It can take up to 16 weeks to achieve dry nights.
Although bedwetting alarms can be effective in children as young as 5, research shows that they’re most successful in children 7+.
Bedwetting alarms often cost about $60 and are not typically covered by insurance.
According to experts, constipation is one of the most common causes of bedwetting. In fact, a 2020 report found that children who wet the bed—particularly kids between 5 and 12—were far more likely to be constipated than children who remained dry at night. And the Cleveland Clinic reports that about one-third of children wet the bed due to constipation. That’s because the bladder and bowels are close neighbors in the body. So, if your tot’s bowels are backed up, they can lean on the bladder, causing bedwetting. Signs of constipation include:
Infrequent and hard-to-pass poops
Painful bowel movements
Frequent, small bowel movements
Feeling as though you’re not done after pooping
Traces of liquid or pasty poop in your tot’s undies (This indicates stool might be backed up.)
Blood on the surface of hard poop
To help manage your tyke’s constipation, talk to your child’s pediatrician about increasing daytime fluids, slowly increasing fiber intake, and possibly trying a stool softener. In the meantime, here are nine registered dietitian-approved foods to help your constipated tot go.
About Bedwetting Medications
The bedwetting medications available today are for children 6 years old and up and they are never the first step in helping a child stay dry at night. These meds rarely cure bedwetting, but they can be helpful for situations like overnight camp or sleepovers. Here are the options:
Desmopressin. Also known as DDAVP, Desmopressin is an oral bedwetting drug that reduces urine production at night. (The nasal spray version is no longer recommended for bedwetting treatment.) Desmopressin has a 20 to 30% success rate.
Oxybutynin. This med (aka Ditropan XL) may help reduce bladder contractions and increase bladder capacity, especially if your child also has wetting accidents during the day. (Oxybutynin is usually used in conjunction with other meds and when other treatments have failed.)
Imipramine. Imipramine is a type of antidepressant and it’s thought to work because it changes a kiddo’s sleep and waking pattern, reduces urine production, or affects the time a child can hold urine in their bladder. About 10 to 50% of kids report complete dryness with the help of Imipramine.
You may also be interested in…
- 11 Potty Training Books for Toddlers
- Potty Training Myths to Stop Believing
- Everything You Need to Know About Diaper Rashes
- How to Change a Toddler’s Diaper
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Bedwetting: 3 Common Reasons & What Families Can Do
- National Library of Medicine: Nocturnal Enuresis: The Management of Bedwetting in Children and Young People: Under 5 year olds and management of bedwetting
- UCDavis Health Children's Hospital: Bedwetting solutions: Expert pediatrician offers help for kids
- The association of age of toilet training and dysfunctional voiding. Research and Reports in Urology. April 2014
- Nationwide Children’s: Bedwetting: 5 Common Reasons Why Children Wet the Bed
- Cleveland Clinic: Bedwetting
- Cleveland Clinic: How To Help Your Child Stop Wetting the Bed
- Mayo Clinic: Bed-wetting
- AAP: Bedwetting in Children & Teens: Nocturnal Enuresis
- Urology Care Foundation: Nocturnal Enuresis (Bedwetting)
- The Nemours Foundation, KidsHealth: Bedwetting
- Management of primary nocturnal enuresis. Paediatrics & Child Health. December 2005
- UCSF, Department of Urology: Nocturnal Enuresis
- Association between constipation and childhood nocturnal enuresis in Taiwan: a population-based matched case-control study. BMC Pediatrics. January 2020
- Mayo Clinic: Constipation in children
- National Kidney Foundation: Medications to Treat Bed-wetting
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.