Understanding Bedwetting

It's a problem every parent faces at some stage, bedwetting. Clare Fyfield and the Continence Foundation share their tips on preventing little nightime accidents. 

If your five-year-old still wets the bed occasionally, don’t stress too much! Nevertheless, it’s still a good idea to take some simple steps to address any concerns at this age, particularly when continence health professionals agree it is better to treat bedwetting earlier rather than later. 

Clare Fyfield, a children’s continence nurse advisor on the National Continence Helpline, said as a first step, parents should regulate their children’s fluid intake so it’s highest in the morning and tapers off as the day goes on.

“Give them a warm drink with breakfast, as well as milk on their cereal, and send them off to pre-school or school with a drink bottle. Have them drink plenty during the day so they don’t need a drink at bedtime, and always have them go to the toilet before bed,” Ms Fyfield said.

There are three main reasons children wet the bed:

  1. Some children are such deep sleepers, they don’t wake up to the sensation of a full bladder.
  2. Some children have overactive bladders; these children will usually wet the bed more than once through the night and may experience urgency during the day.
  3. Some children don’t make enough antidiuretic hormone, so make a lot of urine overnight.

If your child is still wetting the bed at the age of six or seven, and if the child’s self-esteem is being affected, it’s time to see a children’s continence professional.

“The family will be asked to chart the child’s fluid intake, bowel and dietary habits prior to the assessment. From that information we make a care plan for management.” Some of the cases she’s seen have left her dumbfounded. “One child I saw had been having milo, tea and coffee before bed - just like mum and dad!”

Ms Fyfield said many parents were unaware that constipation also contributed to incontinence. A full, overstretched bowel can take up so much space in the abdomen that it compresses the bladder and has potential to cause other bladder issues.

In the majority of cases however, by altering the child’s drinking patterns and avoiding constipation, the bedwetting will improve or cease.“Of course we also check for conditions like urinary tract infections, and we acknowledge the role that stressful or disruptive situations, such as access weekends, can play." 

For the children who still regularly wet the bed after these conservative measures have been taken, treatments such as bed alarms work well.

“If everything else is fine – their drinking patterns are good, their bowels are all normal - then we go for the alarm, which has about an 85 per cent success rate.”

Ms Fyfield encouraged parents with concerns about their child’s bladder or bowel habits to contact the National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66), where continence health professionals can offer advice, information, resources, and provide the contact details of the nearest children’s continence service.

Visit the Contience Foundation's website for more information or to download fact sheets on toilet training, bed wetting, constipation, and good bladder and bowel habits.

The Continence Foundation of Australia is the peak national organisation working to improve the quality of life of all Australians affected by incontinence and has provided Professional Development and continues to be a reference source for our Life Education educators.