Ask: How old is too old for bed-wetting?

Posted by Brian Eichner on June 17, 2014 

Brian Eichner

Q: My child just finished kindergarten and is still wetting the bed at night. At what age is it something to be concerned about? What are some ways to try to avoid it?

A: Bedwetting is a common but extraordinarily frustrating problem for families. The most important thing to first clarify is whether or not your child has ever stayed “dry” at night for a prolonged period of time (approximately six months). If the answer is no, a bedwetting problem is almost never due to an underlying medical problem. If the answer is yes, it might not be due to something medical, but it’s definitely worth making an appointment to discuss this with your pediatrician.

Roughly 16 percent of 5-year-old children still wet the bed at night. This number decreases by about 15 percent per year, which means that five percent of 10-year-olds (yes, 10-year-olds) — and their parents — still struggle with this. It is twice as common in boys as in girls.

Time out! It’s important to have an honest conversation with your child’s other parent (and both sets of grandparents). How old were both of you when you stopped wetting the bed? This problem often runs in families and can provide some sense of what your expectations should be.

However, not to fear — here are some things that can be done while waiting for your child to outgrow this condition:

• Minimize constipation, which is a common contributor. You can do this by increasing fiber in the diet and limiting milk intake to 24 ounces/day and limiting the consumption of foods like rice and banana. Occasionally, a laxative medication is needed. Please consult your child’s pediatrician if you opt to try this.

• Limit (or eliminate) beverage intake after dinnertime.

• Avoid caffeinated beverages.

• Ensure that your child urinates in toilet right before bedtime.

• If above efforts do not breed success, consider waking your child once or twice during night to go to toilet to urinate. Alternatively, consider purchasing a bedwetting alarm (yes, there is such a thing).

• If your child does wet the bed, involve them in changing his bedsheets and soiled clothing, but ensure this is done in a way that does not seem as if it’s a punishment or meant to shame him.

If there’s not any progress, your pediatrician may consider referring you to a specialist. For instance, Duke’s Pediatric Urology division has an actual “bedwetting clinic.”

Good luck!

If you’ve got a question about your child’s health or happiness, ask one of our experts by emailing mom2mom@newsobserver.com.

Brian Eichner is a general pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke Children's Primary Care-Roxboro Street in Durham and is the medical director of the Duke Pediatric Diagnostic Clinic.

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