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What is Bedwetting?

What is bedwetting?

Bedwetting (also called nocturnal enuresis) happens when the bladder empties without permission during sleep. Bedwetting is very common with approximately 1 in 5 children in Australia wetting the bed.

Childhood bedwetting image

Bedwetting is a complex condition that can often be a source of worry for parents and children. For parents, the main concern is often the emotional and social effects on their children. Children can experience feelings of embarrassment that can lead to low self-esteem. There are also other issues of sleep disruption, laundry workload and costs to contend with as well. 

Day-time control of the bladder comes before night-time dryness. Most children will be dry through the day by the age of three, and dry at night by school age. It's important to remember that all children development at different rates, and some children may experience accidents from time to time until the age of 7 or 8.

See our Teenagers bedwetting page for information on bedwetting in older children.

What causes bedwetting? 

There are three main causes of bedwetting:

  • the inability to waken to a full bladder
  • the bladder becomes overactive at night and cannot store urine, or
  • the kidneys make a large amount of urine at night and the bladder has difficulty holding this. 

Bedwetting is NOT caused by:

  • being young for your age
  • laziness
  • bad behaviour
  • rebelliousness, or
  • drinking after dinner.

Some illnesses are linked with bedwetting, however most children who wet the bed do not have major health problems.

Visit our tips for parents page for more information.

When should I seek help for bedwetting?

It is important to seek help for bedwetting if:

  • the child who has been dry suddenly starts wetting at night
  • the wetting is frequent after school age
  • the wetting bothers the child or makes them upset or angry, or
  • the child wants to become dry.

It is best to seek help from a health professional with special training in children's bladders.

To find a service provider in your area visit our continence service provider directory or contact the National Continence Helpline on freecall 1800 33 00 66.

How can bedwetting be treated?

Most children will stop wetting in their own time, however if the child is over the age of 7 or 8, the problem may not get better by itself.

The first step in treating bedwetting is to seek help from a health professional who will check the child to make sure there are no physical causes.

Some common ways of treating bedwetting are listed below.

  • Bedwetting alarms teach the child to wake up to the feeling of a full bladder using by waking the child with an alarm when they wet the bed. The alarm can be used on the bed or in the child's underpants.
  • Drugs that change how active the bladder is or cut down how much urine is made through the night can be prescribed, although drugs alone don't often cure bedwetting. Desmopressin acetate is a medication which substitutes a naturally occurring hormone within the body. It reduces the amount of urine produced overnight by the kidneys. This is a prescription medication. Your prescribing doctor will talk to you about the correct use of this drug.