The Bedwetting Blues
Don't Get Mad, Get Help
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.