This article was written by Scott Henjum and originally appeared in the Portland Monthly 2017 Kids’ Health Annual magazine.
First, the good news: Most kids grow out of it.
If your child can’t seem to stop wetting the bed, it may reassure you to know that bedwetting is not typically a medical problem, and usually resolves with time. Even more reassuringly, there are a number of effective therapies to help your child transition to dry nights.
“We know that bedwetting is a frustrating and exhausting challenge for parents,” says Dr. Casey Seideman, pediatric urologist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “For a child, it’s embarrassing and emotionally taxing. The key things to do as a parent are to be patient, set short-term goals and to commit the whole family to work with a bedwetting family member.”
Dr. Seideman says that up until age 5, wetting the bed is simply a part of potty training. For older children, Dr. Seideman advises parents to provide active encouragement, such as a sticker or other small reward for every dry night, and a larger reward for multiple dry nights. This behavioral therapy is most effective if a child is highly motivated, a light sleeper and has no family history of bedwetting.
If rewards don’t do the trick, it’s time to try a bedwetting alarm, a bedside device that establishes a mind-body connection to let the child know that they are about to wet the bed. The device has a sensor that goes off when a child starts to urinate, triggering an alarm that will wake the child to use the bathroom. These alarms are highly effective, but if your child is still wetting the bed after six months of use, it’s time to pursue other options.
“The last line of therapy for bedwetting is medical therapy,” says Dr. Seideman. The drug Desmopressin decreases urine production. The medication is effective for about one-third of patients, and can also be good for short-term goals, such as keeping dry on a sleepover or camp. Another option is treating a child with antidepressants, which relax the bladder muscle.
Children who do not respond to the therapies may need specialized care and further evaluation for conditions like sleep apnea, constipation and diabetes. But chances are good that they’ll grow out of it in time – especially with plenty of parental support.
If your child has difficulty with bedwetting, talk with your pediatrician or call OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at 503-346-0640.