Health conditions

Bedwetting

  • Bedwetting is common in childhood.
  • It’s sometimes called nocturnal (night-time) enuresis.
  • Most children are dry during the day at around 3 years old and are dry at night by 5.
  • It's not uncommon for pre-schoolers to wet the bed from time to time.

Why do children wet the bed?

Bedwetting happens when children don’t wake up to go to the toilet when their bladder is full. Bedwetting often runs in families – a brother or sister, a parent, aunt or uncle, or grandparent may also have wet the bed after the age of 5. 

Many children who wet the bed produce more urine (wee) at night than others, due to a hormone which affects how much urine is made while the child is asleep. Some children seem to sleep more heavily and be harder to wake than other children. This means they are not able to wake themselves when they have a full bladder and need to go to the toilet.

Other children who wet the bed have small bladders that can’t hold a lot of urine. Sometimes bedwetting can be due to a medical problem, so check with your doctor.

Children who wet the bed are usually healthy and developing as expected. Children who wet the bed have no control over this. Bedwetting is not caused by laziness or to get attention. 

Sometimes, children who wet the bed at home are dry when sleeping in a strange place. The worry from being away from home means they sleep more lightly for the first few nights. Stressful events can lead to a ‘dry’ child wetting the bed again, such as a new baby, being unwell, or a family separation or break-up.

If your child is ill, has a fever, dribbles urine day and night, or has pain when weeing, see your doctor.

What you can do

  • Reassure your child that bedwetting is not their fault and that other children also wet their beds. 
  • Talk to your child about what they're thinking and feeling. They might just be scared of going to the toilet during the night, such as a fear of the dark.
  • Make going to the toilet part of their bedtime routine. 
  • Make sure the bed is easy to get in and out of, and leave a dim light on, so it’s ‘safe’ for your child to go to the toilet.
  • To save washing, cover the mattress with a waterproof sheet and put plastic, covered by a bath towel, over the bottom sheet. 
  • Encourage them to drink during the day and do not restrict fluids – water is best. Avoid soft drinks and caffeine-based drinks as they can affect how the bladder works.
  • If they has wet the bed, comfort her immediately. Make sure they have a shower so they are clean and doesn’t smell – otherwise other children may tease them.

What not to do 

  • Small children are unlikely to be worried by wetting the bed unless Mum or Dad (or extended family) makes a big issue of it.
  • Don’t tease your child, or let others tease them, no matter how annoyed you feel about the extra washing.
  • Taking your child to the toilet during the night may stop wet beds, but will not teach them to become dry.

Getting help

As children grow older, bedwetting is more likely to upset children (and their parents) and affect their confidence. 
There is no instant cure for wet beds.

If your child is 5 or over, get some help.

Your doctor can refer you to Bedwetting (Enuresis) Services, or you can contact Bladder and Bowel Health Australia (external site)

Bedwetting alarms

Bedwetting alarms work by conditioning the child to wake when they wants to wee.

  • When the child begins to wet, a bell rings and wakes them up. Because the feeling of a full bladder and the sound of the bell happen at the same time, their brain associates one with the other.
  • Over time, usually up to 12 weeks, the child wakes when they feels the need to wee. 
  • As the time needed for the use of the alarm and mat varies between each child, you and your child need to work with a trained health professional, who will teach you how to use the alarm properly and follow the program.
  • Your doctor can also prescribe short-term medication for school camps and sleepovers.

More information

Bladder and Bowel Health Australia

National Continence Helpline

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book
  • Look in the phone directory under child health centres
  • Visit your nearest child health centre

Local family doctor

Ngala Helpline

  • 8:00am– 8:00pm 7 days a week
  • Phone: (08) 368 9368
  • Outside metro area – Freecall 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Raising Children Network

Remember

  • Reassure your child that bedwetting is not their fault. 
  • Don’t criticise or tease them, or offer rewards for something your child cannot control.
  • Talk to your doctor to be sure there is no physical cause.
  • Contact Bladder and Bowel Health Australia (external site) for more information and help.


Last reviewed: 21-05-2019
Acknowledgements

Child and Adolescent Health Service – Community Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

See also

Link to HealthyWA Facebook page