Waking in the middle of the night to change your child's sheets after a bedwetting episode is practically a rite of passage for parents. And it's more common than you think.
"I call it the hidden problem of childhood," says Howard Bennett, MD, a pediatrician and author of Waking Up Dry: A Guide to Help Children Overcome Bedwetting. "Unlike asthma or allergies, it's just not talked about outside the house."
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our June 2012 issue, we asked WebMD's child care expert, Roy Benaroch, MD, if parents should still keep ipecac in case their child swallows a poison.
Q: I was always told to keep ipecac in the medicine cabinet. Now I hear I shouldn't. What changed?
A: For decades, parents were advised to keep a bottle of ipecac on hand, just in case a child ingested something poisonous...
That secrecy about bedwetting makes the situation tougher for kids and parents alike. "Ninety percent of kids think they're the only ones who wet the bed, which makes them feel even worse," says Bennett.
Yet bed-wetting children are far from alone. Though children naturally gain bladder control at night, they do so at different ages. From 5 to 7 million kids wet the bed some or most nights -- with twice as many boys wetting their bed as girls. After age 5, about 15% of children continue to wet the bed, and by age 10, 95% of children are dry at night.
Wet beds leave bad feelings all around. Frustrated parents sometimes conclude a child is wetting the bed out of laziness. Kids worry there's something wrong with them -- especially when teasing siblings chime in. Fear of wetting the bed at a friend's sleepover can create social awkwardness.
For some, bedwetting may be an inevitable part of growing up, but it doesn't have to be traumatic. Understanding bed-wetting's causes is the first step to dealing with this common childhood problem.
The Bedwetting Gene
There's no one single cause of bed-wetting, but if you want an easy target, look no farther than your own DNA.
"The majority of bedwetting is inherited," says Bennett. "For three out of four kids, either a parent or a first-degree relative also wet the bed in childhood."
Scientists have even located some of the specific genes that lead to delayed nighttime bladder control. (For the record, they're on chromosome 13, 12, and 8.)
"Most parents who had the same problem communicate it to their kids, which is good," suggests Bennett. "It helps a kid understand, I'm not alone, it's not my fault."