Your Child May Wet The Bed Way Longer Than You Expect

by Carly Fredrick
Originally Published: 
Toddler Sleeping Next To A Big Yellow Stain After He Wet The Bed
Scary Mommy and Flashpop/Getty

I put my hand on the mattress. Ugh — wet again. The room had a smell when I walked into it, so I had a feeling. But… how? I walk through the previous night in my mind. We made sure to cut off water by 7:00 p.m. We woke our 11-year-old daughter up at midnight for a quick bathroom break. Oh, wait. We didn’t do the late-night bathroom break. I had said I was going to do it and then got distracted by a pile of dirty clothes on the floor that I decided to pick up.

Yes, our 11-year-old daughter still wets the bed. She wets frequently enough — once or twice per week — that she must wear pull-ups. We have three waterproof mattress protectors that we rotate through the laundry to make sure her mattress is always protected, but her mattress still smells faintly of urine. We resist getting a new one because what would be the point? Until our daughter no longer wets the bed, any mattress we could buy will be subject to her bed-wetting.

We used to worry a lot about this. My husband worried even more than I did. He would get frustrated with our daughter, ask her why she couldn’t just wake up and go. “How can you not feel it?” he’d say. “How can it not wake you up?” He would ask me if there was something wrong with our daughter. He even once wondered aloud to me if maybe she was just being lazy. Maybe she felt the urge to go and, since she knew she was wearing a pull-up anyway, she just let it go while still lying in bed. I knew that wasn’t the case. She’s too embarrassed every time she wakes up and realizes she’s wet.

I talked to our pediatrician and, after verifying our child is in fact perfectly healthy, he told us that late bed-wetting is actually much more common than most people realize. It seems that late bed-wetting is something that isn’t talked about very often. It’s a taboo subject shrouded in shame, and we tend to feel we must be the only ones dealing with it. But when I brought it up with a couple of close friends, I discovered we are most definitely not alone. And if your child still wets the bed, I assure you that you are not alone either.

When To Talk To Your Doctor About Bed-Wetting

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Though more common than you might think, bed-wetting can sometimes be an indication of a larger issue. The Mayo Clinic suggests that if your child still wets the bed after the age of seven, you should consult with your doctor to be sure there aren’t underlying symptoms that you need to address.

Other reasons to consult a doctor about bed-wetting regardless of age are if your child suddenly starts wetting the bed after several months of dry nights, or the bed-wetting is accompanied by pain or burning, pink or red urine, snoring, or excessive thirst. These could be signs of a urinary tract infection, sleep apnea, or, in rare cases, type 1 diabetes. If your child’s bed-wetting is accompanied by excessive thirst, fatigue, and weight loss, definitely call your doctor right away.

Reasons Your Older Child May Be Wetting The Bed

For children who are otherwise healthy, there are various suspected reasons for why they may continue to wet the bed later in childhood. They may have a smaller bladder or may be lacking the ability to recognize when their bladders are full. If your child is a very deep sleeper, their brains may simply not receive that signal telling them their bladder is full and they must wake up to empty it. For some kids, a hormone imbalance may be the cause. Most of us produce anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) to slow down our nighttime urine production. If a child lacks this, they may continue to produce urine even while sleeping.

Stress or anxiety can also trigger bed-wetting. If your child generally isn’t a bed-wetter but suddenly starts around a time when stress levels are elevated, that would be something to address with your doctor or a therapist. Genetics play a role too, as kids whose parents were late bed-wetters are more likely to be late bed-wetters themselves. Bed-wetting is also more common in children who have ADHD.

My daughter has a trifecta of probable causes for her late bed-wetting: Her father, my husband, was a late bed-wetter (into his early teens), she has ADHD, and she is an extremely deep sleeper. Otherwise, though, she is perfectly healthy. Our pediatrician suggested that if she is at a sleepover, there is medication she could take to prevent nighttime urination. So far though, she has gotten by with being vigilant about peeing around midnight and not drinking in the evening, and wearing her pull-up discreetly. Even if she did have an accident, the few sleepovers she’s had have been with family or very close friends with whom she says she wouldn’t feel too embarrassed.

Regardless, we tell her that occasionally wetting the bed is totally out of her control and nothing to be ashamed of. You certainly can’t help doing something involuntarily while you’re asleep. My husband has come around too, and now understands that there is nothing “wrong” with our daughter. I suspect he had some shame issues popping up about his own late-childhood bed-wetting. For a long time he thought there was something wrong with him for continuing to wet the bed so late in childhood.

Actions You Can Take To Reduce Your Child’s Bed-Wetting

There are measures you can take to attempt to help your child “learn” to wake up to pee, like alarms that alert your child when they’re wet, ideally at the very first sign of urination so they can stop mid-stream and get up and go to the bathroom to finish. Limit fluid intake starting a couple of hours before your child’s bedtime. Don’t limit liquids if your child plays a sport though — they still have to hydrate if they’re physically active.

Your child can also try “double voiding” — where they pee once during their bedtime routine and once more just before falling asleep. I go an extra step and rouse my daughter from bed just before I go to bed myself, around midnight. It only takes two minutes and she barely wakes up for it (like I said, she is an extremely deep sleeper). But she almost never has an accident when I remember to do this. One thing you should never, ever do is shame your child over their bed-wetting. It’s counterproductive since it will only cause anxiety, and anxiety exacerbates bed-wetting.

Of the parents I talked to whose grown kids also wet the bed late in childhood, only one never outgrew his bed-wetting and now needs to take medication to slow down his urine production at night. Even my daughter is getting to the point where I can see her bed-wetting is slowing down. It used to be two or three times per week and now we’re down to once, occasionally twice per week. The bottom line is, for some kids, for a variety of reasons, bed-wetting is something that simply takes a longer time to outgrow. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and nothing you should stress over or pressure your child about.

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