“Is it normal that… my son is seven years old and still wets the bed?”

I really need some expert advice.

My son is seven and still wets the bed.

It is so severe that he has to wear a night time nappy each night and in the morning it is saturated. He’s getting big though and almost doesn’t fit into them. The next size up are hard to come by and are super expensive. I have tried stopping him from drinking water after dinner but that feels cruel. I also tried getting up every two hours and forcing him to use the toilet. That reduced the amount of saturation but didn’t prevent it.

I really need some expert advice.

We asked Dr Jennifer Smith, child psychologist and development expert to help us answer this one.

She writes… 

Wetting is upsetting. No mum wants her child to sleep in a damp, cold bed every night.

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In my practice as a child and adolescent psychologist, parents say that’s the worst thing about night time wetting, but not the only thing: “I don’t mean to complain. I feel for my son. But, you have no idea how much washing there is! Four, five loads a week’s nothing for us. I know it’s not his fault, but I sometimes feel like I spend my life just washing bed linen.”

Fair enough. Even one load of linen washing a week is a pain for many mums.

If your son’s been wet most nights, for most of his life, his problem is called primary nocturnal enuresis. It’s often caused when children haven’t developed the sensitivity to awaken from a deep sleep in response to a full bladder. And, sometimes, for developmental reasons, it happens because children cannot stop their bladders from contracting during sleep.

Even one load of linen washing a week is a pain for many mums.

And, to push the point that most kids can’t help themselves, the problem is usually inherited from a close relative. I often hear a parent say something like, “Well my brother was only dry at night when he was ten years old.” I seldom hear parents refer to their sisters, because females are less likely to inherit the problem than males.

It might also help you to know that your son’s problem is quite common. That’s why I discuss it in my recently published book on sleep issues in kids; "BUT I’M NOT TIRED!". Up to 15 percent of five year olds, and about 8 percent of eight year olds still wet their beds most nights. But, don’t despair. You might not have to wait too long for a dry night. Most kids mature out of the problem, although at their own rates.

Even so, seven years of age is usually the cut-off point to have the problem checked out. I suggest, therefore, that you take your son to see his G.P., just to be sure that all you need is patience and a good washing machine. Your son might also need you to follow some of the five tips below.

Limit the amount of liquid that your child drinks before he/she goes to bed

Besides the use of the nappies, or DriNites:

1. Limit the type of liquid that your child has to drink. Milk is probably the best drink option before bedtime. The body absorbs about three quarters of it as food, rather than as liquid. It is therefore a better choice than drinks that increase urine output.

2. Limit the amount of liquid that your child drinks before he/she goes to bed.? If you ensure that your child has enough to drink through the day, a very small amount of liquid should be a sufficient thirst quencher before bedtime. I suggest that you decrease the amount by tiny amounts every night, until there’s very little left in the glass.

3. Include a ‘Toilet Stop’ in the pre-bedtime routine. That is, insist that your child empties his/her bladder before bedtime.

4. Use a waterproof mattress protector.? The mattress protector might protect you from repeated mattress-washing chores and mattress-shopping excursions.

Supporting your child through this phase is one of the best things you can do tell help them.

5. Trial a bedwetting alarm.? The alarm contains a pad that attaches to either the bed linen or your child’s pyjamas. It sounds when it detects moisture, and, as it sounds, it alerts your child to the feeling of a full-bladder. The idea is that the association between the alarm and a full bladder will sensitise your son’s brain to the fact that a full bladder means it’s time to go to the toilet.

But, a word of warning. This could be a slow process. The association between awakening and a full bladder takes time to develop, so it may take quite a while to see the benefits. Some parents also report that the alarm can be disruptive to the whole family’s sleep.

It’s also important to remember that as frustrating as the endless loads of washing may be, a parent cannot punish an immature bladder. So comments like, “It’s so annoying!” and punishments are not a good idea, to say the least.

What should you do then? Once you’ve visited the G.P. for a check up, my best advice is to be patient. As you lift the wet linen off your son’s bed for another wash, be assured that somewhere in the cloth, there’s a silver lining.

Does your child wet the bed? How did you get them to stop?

If you have a question that you would like answered, please email [email protected] with Is It Normal? in the subject field. You will be contacted before publication, and your identity will be protected.

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