Childhood Bedwetting Is Hereditary, Not Lazy

by Chloe Summers
Originally Published: 
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When I was a child, I was a bedwetter until I was roughly 10-11 years old. Anything but sips of water past 5 p.m. wasn’t allowed because of potential accidents. Dairy milk, caffeine and chocolate exasperated my symptoms, so even though I was just a kid, I refrained from adding those things to my diet out of fear that I would wake up soaking wet…. even if it was 10 or 11 a.m., and I wouldn’t be seeing bedtime for many hours. I was even on a medication called DDAVP to stop me from bedwetting nearly every single night.

But still, more nights than not, I would wake up soaking wet in my own urine. My mom was always super kind about the situation, and we would do our usual routine of stripping the bed and making it new, and then I would take a shower or wash up before heading back to sleep. Sometimes (on the worst nights) it would happen twice in one night. It was draining.

She never made me feel guilty about my problem — as it was beyond my control — but that didn’t make it any less embarrassing than it already was for me. My bedwetting stood in the way of a peaceful night’s rest, and I always declined to stay the night with friends (and sometimes family) as a young child to avoid the embarrassment.

So when I stumbled across an article the other morning and read the comments below it regarding the subject of childhood bedwetting, I was deeply saddened to see so many parents still did not understand this incredibly common problem. The most repeated and negative word stemming from the comment section? Laziness.

As someone who struggled with and overcame this incredibly annoying, but very common, issue, I can boldly attest to bedwetting being anything but lazy behavior. What kid wants to wake up freezing cold and covered in their pee at 3 a.m.? Nobody wants that, and it’s an awful thing to have to go through. Not only that, but the suggestion that bedwetting is caused by laziness is preposterous to me. Children still wetting the bed have to wake up, change the sheets, take a shower, and then go back to bed. That’s way more of a hassle than simply waking up and walking to the bathroom.

Let’s not further shame or stigmatize our kids for a medical issue.

Bedwetting (also known as enuresis) is a medical condition and should be treated as such. If a child has never been dry at night for a significant period of time, this is known as primary bedwetting, and it is more than likely linked to genetics. There’s another form of bedwetting, which could indicate further medical or emotional issues and that’s referred to as secondary bedwetting.

Unlike primary bedwetting, secondary bedwetting is when a child has been dry for a significant period of time (at least six months) but begins to regress frequently or constantly. In instances like these, it’s always best to consult your child’s pediatrician to rule out urinary tract infection, sleep disturbances, or stress-related causes as well.

But if you have a primary bedwetter on your hands, look no further than your own DNA as a possible reason.

“The majority of bedwetting is inherited,” Howard Bennett, MD, a pediatrician and author of Waking Up Dry: A Guide To Help Children Overcome Bedwetting, claims. “For three out of four kids, either a parent or a first-degree relative also wet the bed in childhood.”

For me, it was my dad, uncle, three cousins and my grandpa. That’s a long line of people struggling to stay dry throughout the night as a kid, so it’s no wonder I inherited this bedwetting gene too.

But why do some kids have issues for many years while others don’t?

For one, you may have noticed my family’s bedwetting history is predominantly male. According to a study, male children are three times more likely to suffer with bedwetting than females. Also, according to that same study, scientists have been able to locate specific genes which lead to the delayed nighttime bladder control on chromosome 13, 12, and 8.

Primary bedwetting is generally a genetic cause, and it’s important for kids and parents to understand that. Bennett says that most parents with experience of this same problem are better able to communicate to their kids about it. “It helps a kid understand, I’m not alone, and it’s not my fault.”

Children naturally gain bladder control at different ages in life, and bedwetting isn’t uncommon. In fact, there are five to seven million kids struggling to stay dry at night. 15% of five year old’s still wet the bed while 10% of six year old’s still struggle as well. And although it’s less common, and certainly less talked about, there are still 1-2% of children aged 14 and older battling this medical diagnosis.

But since the subject is often kept in secret to avoid humiliation, kids can sometimes feel like they are alone in their bedwetting situation. “Unlike asthma or allergies, it’s just not talked about outside the house,” Bennett says.

My oldest children are four-year-old twins, and they are both still wetting the bed. Now, I take on the role my mom once did of stripping the sheets and re-making the bed. It’s exhausting — I get it. But it’s not as bad as waking up soaked in your own urine. And it’s definitely not something I would ever shame them about. I remind them, it’s not their fault. Bedwetting is not laziness; it is hereditary.

Prolonged bedwetting should always be addressed with your child’s pediatrician, and especially if the onset was sudden. Many children — including young me — believe they are the only ones who wet the bed, so it’s important to be open and honest with your child if they are still struggling to stay dry at night. Let them know they are one among millions of kids still waking up wet, and it is not their fault. Remind them that you are their safe place for those middle of the night, drenched-in-pee, wake-up calls. And reassure them that you’ll get through it, together.

And, don’t ever ever call them lazy.

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