Potty training is one of those necessary evils of parenting. It sucks, but you have to endure—that is, unless you want to care for a 10-year-old in Pull-ups. And as daunting as the task may be, you eventually get through it, sometimes with much less trouble than you anticipated. It’s typically those overnight hours that are the most difficult to control, and sometimes, when there are more “accidents” than successes, you start to wonder if, in fact, your chubby-faced kid will approach his teen years still clad in maximum absorbency protection.
Studies estimate that between 4 and 6 million kids (around 8-10%) wet the bed on most nights, so you’re not alone. If that doesn’t ease your bedwetting anxiety, read on to see how you can finally come out—dry—on the other side.
FACT #1: Boys are more likely to wet the bed.
As soon as you started filling your baby’s nursery with everything blue, well-intentioned folks started coming out of the woodwork to warn you of all the difficulties your rambunctious little boy would present, including potty training. And it turns out they were actually right. Though her kids are only one year apart, at ages 4 and 5, business analyst Jessica Walman says that her son—the oldest—has been “wetting the bed at nighttime since I can remember.” Her daughter, meanwhile, has never wet the bed once fully potty trained.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Dr. Joseph Barone, a pediatric urologist at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., said that biology may play a role in the gender differences. Research suggests that girls don’t only mature faster when it comes to language development and puberty, but they’re also quicker to develop the signal between the bladder and the brain that wakes you up and sends you to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
FACT #2: They will grow out of it.
If you have a son, you may be resigning yourself to a lifetime of soaked sheets by now, but you don’t have to. First, says child psychologist Dr. Stephania Mihalas, Ph.D., parents should avoid stressing about their child’s bedwetting too soon. “Generally speaking, parents should intervene [only] if their child is over age 5 and has been wetting the bed twice per week or more, for three consecutive months or longer,” she explains.
In the interim, she says, “The most important thing is to avoid shaming or punishing the child for wetting the bed, as this will only make the issue worse. Instead, parents can normalize bedwetting by describing, in age-appropriate terms, how common it is.” It’s so common, in fact, that Mihalas says there is often a genetic component to chronic bedwetting, so if your child seems particularly discouraged by his struggles, tell him to blame it on Mom or Dad.
FACT #3: Treatments can offer relief.
In the vast majority of cases, incidences of bedwetting decrease with age, but even though Mihalas and other experts promise light at the end of your urine-soaked tunnel, you may not want to wait for relief as there are plenty of effective treatments available to help speed up the process.
A bedwetting alarm is a common first-step approach, which can be very effective with no prescription of physician supervision necessary. The alarm works through a sensor in the child’s underwear that goes off when wet, signaling an alarm near the child’s head that wakes him up. Because the alarm is triggered by the first drop of urine, the child then empties the rest of his bladder on the toilet, ultimately learning to wake before the alarm goes off.
In addition to an alarm, sometimes simple lifestyle changes are the only bedwetting treatment necessary. “Have a stable night-time ritual to avoid causing unnecessary stress on the child, which could lead to bedwetting,” says Walman. “Also, take your child to the bathroom multiple times before bed, and also wake them up before you go to bed so they can potty.” Other tips like limiting liquid consumption two hours before bed can also cut down on nighttime accidents.
FACT #4: The issue may be biomedical.
Finally, when those methods don’t seem to work, it may be time to see a medical specialist. Nancy Guberti, MS, CN, is a functional medicine specialist, which means she helps patients discover the underlying cause of their conditions instead of only treating the symptoms. And in some cases, she says, bedwetting is caused by much more than a weak bladder.
“From a biomedical standpoint, the pattern seen in my private practice is that the majority of bedwetters have a candida overgrowth, imbalance of good and bad flora as well as neurotransmitter imbalance, thereby numbing central nervous system responses so the child may not feel the urge to go,” Guberti says. “Taking a non-invasive first morning urine test will check over 70 markers and determine if the child is prone to this biomedical imbalance, and if it is biomedical, changes to the diet and simple supplementation will help alleviate the issue.”
Signs that your child may have a more in-depth cause of his bedwetting include headaches, a weakened immune system, constipation, fatigue, hyperactivity and sugar cravings—though not all are necessary at one time. At the very least Guberti says, “Parents can remove sugar, juices, candy and simple carbohydrates from the diet and give a quality probiotic. A diet too high in carbohydrates can upset the delicate balance of your body’s blood sugar level.”
But whatever the cause of the bedwetting, parents have enough resources to attack the issue head-on or wait until it subsides on its own. Because it will. Eventually.