Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Children's Health

Font Size
A
A
A

Bedwetting: What Causes It?

It's a myth that laziness causes bedwetting. Millions of kids wet the bed -- but why? And how can you help
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD

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."

Recommended Related to Children

U.S. Children's Medical Needs, by the Numbers

Racing champ Jeff Gordon's focus on children's health comes at a crucial time. The number of U.S. children with chronic health conditions has risen dramatically in the past four decades, according to a study published last June in The  Journal of the American Medical Association. Some of the study's findings: Of 80 million children in America, about 8% (6.5 million) have chronic conditions that interfere with regular daily activity, says study author James M. Perrin, MD, professor of pediatrics...

Read the U.S. Children's Medical Needs, by the Numbers article > >

Bedwetting: The Secret Problem

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."

The Usual Bedwetting Suspects

Yet genetics only tells part of the story. Researchers have identified a number of factors that likely contribute to bedwetting. "All of these are debated, but each probably plays a role in some children," says Bennett, including:

  • Delayed bladder maturation. "Simply put, the brain and bladder gradually learn to communicate with each other during sleep, and this takes longer to happen in some kids," Bennett tells WebMD.
  • Low anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). This hormone tells the kidneys to make less urine. Studies show that some kids who wet the bed release less of this hormone while asleep. More urine can mean more bedwetting.
  • Deep sleepers. "Families have been telling us for years that their children who wet the bed sleep more deeply than their kids that don't," says Bennett. Research confirms the link. "Some of these children sleep so deeply, their brain doesn't get the signal that their bladder is full."
  • Smaller "functional" bladder. Although a child's true bladder size may be normal, "during sleep, it sends the signal earlier that it's full," says Bennett. 
  • Constipation. Full bowels press on the bladder, and can cause uncontrolled bladder contractions, during waking or sleep. "This is the one that's hiding in the background," says Bennett. "Once kids are toilet trained, parents often don't know how often a child is going ... [they're] out of the 'poop loop.'"

Today on WebMD

preschool age girl sitting at desk
Article
look at my hand
Slideshow
 
woman with cleaning products
Slideshow
young boy with fever
Article
 

worried kid
fitArticle
boy on father's shoulder
Article
 
Child with red rash on cheeks
Slideshow
girl thinking
Article
 

babyapp
New
Child with adhd
Slideshow
 
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
Syringes and graph illustration
Tool
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Build a Fitter Family Challenge – Get your crew motivated to move.
Feed Your Family Better Challenge - Tips and tricks to healthy up your diet.
Sleep Better Challenge - Snooze clues for the whole family.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

WebMD Special Sections