Shattering stigmas: The truth about bedwetting and how parents can help

Medical experts assert that bedwetting is often linked to developmental factors such as the bladder not being fully developed. Picture: michasekdzi/Pexels

Medical experts assert that bedwetting is often linked to developmental factors such as the bladder not being fully developed. Picture: michasekdzi/Pexels

Published May 31, 2024


Bedwetting, clinically known as nocturnal enuresis, affects millions of children worldwide and it's, more common than many think. Despite its commonality, misconceptions persist, leading to undue stress for children and their families.

By focusing on dispelling myths, addressing parental concerns, and providing educational tips, we can create a more supportive environment for those affected.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, around 20% of children have some problems with bedwetting at age 5, and up to 10% still do at age 7.

By the late teens, the estimated rate of bedwetting is between 1% and 3% of children. Nocturnal enuresis is 2 to 3 times more common in boys than girls.

Children with one parent who experienced bedwetting, have a 44% chance of also experiencing enuresis. The likelihood increases to 77% if both parents have the condition

There are 2 types of bedwetting:

Primary enuresis: a child has never had bladder control at night and has always wet the bed.

Secondary enuresis: a child did have bladder control at night for at least 6 months, but lost that control and now wets the bed again.

Primary enuresis occurs when a child has never had bladder control at night and has always wet the bed.Picture: Bulat Khamitov/Pexels

Common myths surrounding bedwetting are listed below:

Bedwetting is always a sign of a psychological problem

One of the most pervasive myths is that bed-wetting signifies underlying psychological issues. While stress and emotional disturbances can occasionally contribute to bedwetting, this isn't the default cause.

Medical experts assert that bed-wetting is often linked to developmental factors such as the bladder not being fully developed, deep sleep patterns, and genetic predispositions.

It's rarely about emotional problems; in most cases, the child’s body is still maturing.

Children wet the bed because they are lazy.

Bedwetting is an involuntary action. Children do not wet the bed intentionally, and blaming them can lead to feelings of shame and anxiety. Labelling children who wet the bed as lazy overlooks the biological factors at play.

The inability to wake up to a full bladder or to control bladder muscles is not within a child's conscious control.

Paediatric experts explain this phenomenon as a complex interplay of brain signals and muscle responses. It’s not something a child can decide to get right one night.

Bad parenting leads to bedwetting

Another damaging myth is that children wet the bed due to inadequate parenting or discipline. This misconception places undue guilt on parents.

However, bedwetting is not a behaviour that children can control voluntarily. It is similar to other developmental milestones like walking or talking and forcing children to stop can further exacerbate feelings of shame and embarrassment.

Punishment will stop bedwetting.

Punishing a child for bedwetting can exacerbate the problem by increasing stress and anxiety, which may worsen the bed-wetting.

Bedwetting indicates deeper medical issues

While bedwetting can sometimes signal conditions like urinary tract infections (UTIs) or diabetes, these cases are rare. Usually, simple developmental delays are to blame.

Parents must consult healthcare providers to rule out medical conditions, but more often than not, bed-wetting resolves naturally over time.

Bedwetting only affects children

Contrary to popular belief, bedwetting can extend into adolescence and adulthood, though at much lower rates.

Studies reveal that approximately 2-3% of teenagers and a small percentage of adults experience nocturnal enuresis. This continuing issue can have deep-seated roots in genetics or prolonged developmental delays.

Managing bedwetting

Encourage open communication

Urge parents and caregivers to speak openly with their children about bedwetting to reduce stigma and shame.

Highlight medical consultation

Stress the importance of consulting health care providers to rule out any underlying health issues and to receive professional guidance on management strategies.

Bedwetting alarms

Devices that alert the child when wetting begins, fostering a wake-and-pee habit.

Bladder training

Exercises that help increase bladder capacity and control.

Fluid management

Encourage children to drink more fluids during the day and reduce intake in the evening.

Regular bathroom visits

Establishing a routine of going to the toilet before bedtime.

Understanding the causes and dispelling the myths surrounding bedwetting can significantly reduce stress for families.

Health care professionals recommend positive reinforcement, patience, and sometimes, practical aids such as moisture alarms or avoiding fluids before bed. Equally important is the psychological support for the child to let them know it’s a common hurdle they can overcome.

In short, demystifying bedwetting helps eliminate the stigma and recognises it as a natural part of growing up for many children.

An informed and balanced approach, paired with compassionate support, ensures a healthier path forward for children and peace of mind for parents.