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The Bedwetting Blues

Don't Get Mad, Get Help
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Craig H. Kliger, MD

Nov. 6, 2000 -- Michelle Taylor (not her real name) is no stranger to soggy sheets and training pants. This Idaho mother of four has washed more than her share over the years. Her two oldest children, Amy (age 8) and Tania (almost 7) both wet the bed nightly until they were over 6 years old. And Michelle, who says bed-wetting seems to run in her family, is wondering if her two other children (aged 3 and 8 months) will follow the pattern.

Michelle's girls are not alone. An estimated 5 to 7 million American children over the age of 6 regularly wet the bed at night, according to recent statistics from the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). It's so common and so misunderstood that the NKF began running public service advertisements this year featuring baseball star Mark McGwire -- a former bed wetter -- to raise awareness of the issue. They want parents to understand that bed-wetting is a developmental or medical problem that can be treated, rather than a form of stubborn or disobedient behavior on the part of a child. But in order to get help, parents and their children need to break through some of the mythology that has surrounded bed-wetting for so long.

A Source of Shame

Bed-wetting (or primary nocturnal enuresis, as it's called by doctors) is often a source of shame to children. "Kids who wet their beds are often too embarrassed to go away to camp or to sleepovers with their friends, and the experience can lower their self-esteem," says Lynne Brownell, RN, a pediatric nurse practitioner in Clovis, Calif., with a special interest in the topic.

Dealing with the lost sleep and extra laundry involved with bed-wetting can create stress for parents, too. Bed wetters often wake up in the middle of the night asking for help with soggy sheets. And if mattresses are ruined, it can be financially stressful as well.

To make matters worse, some parents still believe that bed-wetting is the child's fault. The NKF estimates that 35% of bed wetters are punished by their parents for wetting the bed -- the worst possible response, says Brownell. She says parents need to understand that bed-wetting is a physical condition and that children who wet the bed need support and understanding from their parents, not disapproval and discipline.

Understanding the Cause

While a small number of bed-wetting cases are due to medical conditions such as a kidney infection or other urological problems, Alan Greene, MD, a San Francisco Bay Area pediatrician, says enuresis is most often a developmental issue. Children who wet the bed simply don't "shut off" urine production at night. This ability normally occurs around the age of 5, when bed-wetting will stop on it's own for 90% of kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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