If you have a child who wets the bed, you’ve probably heard lots of rumors about nutritional bed-wetting solutions. Limit liquids after 6 p.m. Avoid orange juice. Steer clear of spicy food.
In an effort to put an end to your child’s bed-wetting problem, you might be tempted to try them all. But before you do, keep in mind that making unnecessary dietary changes that don’t work in an attempt to stop bed-wetting could make you and your child even more unhappy and upset.
Doctors are very cautious when it comes to blaming specific foods for bed-wetting, also called nocturnal enuresis, because there’s very little evidence to back up the claims, and much of it is anecdotal.
Here, WebMD investigates the myths and realities behind five food strategies to help control bed-wetting in children.
Spicy Foods and Bed-Wetting: Myth
Has taco night become a thing of the past at your house since you heard that spicy foods might trigger bed-wetting? If so, it’s time to break out the salsa and grab some guacamole -- experts say there is no evidence spicy foods trigger nocturnal enuresis.
The myth stems from the fact that spicy foods are known to irritate the bladder in some people, and doctors may recommend that people with urinary incontinence avoid them. But research hasn’t found a connection between the consumption of spicy foods and bed-wetting.
Citrus and Bed-Wetting: Another Myth
Like spicy foods, citrus fruits -- think oranges, lemons, and limes -- can be bladder irritants, owing to their acidity. So you might think you’re doing your child a favor by taking orange juice and lemonade off the table.
But medical research has not demonstrated a link between eating citrus fruits and children’s bed-wetting, except possibly in rare instances of food allergy to citrus in some bed wetters.
Food Allergens and Bed-Wetting: The Jury’s Still Out
The evidence for a connection between food allergies and bed-wetting is very weak. A single study of 21 children published in 1992 did support a connection at least in some children. But it’s likely that in the vast majority of children, allergy doesn’t play any role.
Caffeine and Bed-Wetting: Fact
Caffeine, whether in food or drink, acts as a diuretic, meaning that it stimulates the bladder to produce more urine. So, one bed-wetting solution many experts recommend is to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening.
Just because your child doesn’t drink coffee doesn’t mean they aren’t ingesting caffeine. Teas, colas, and energy drinks often contain caffeine. And one food that many children love, chocolate, also contains a chemical closely related to caffeine. So you might want to be cautious about hot chocolate and desserts such as brownies or chocolate ice cream.
You don’t need to add insult to injury and ban these foods from your child’s diet -- just try to make sure they’re enjoyed earlier in the day, so the effects have worn off before bedtime.
Liquids Before Bed and Bed-Wetting: Fact
The reason your child wets the bed is not just because there is too much liquid in the bladder. Think of it this way -- even if you drank a gallon of water before bed, you’d wake up to empty your bladder rather than wetting the bed.
Nonetheless, limiting the amount of liquid your child drinks before going to sleep makes common sense because it will delay the filling of the bladder and give your child some extra time before bed-wetting occurs. This added time could give your child more of a chance to wake up before wetting the bed.
Tips for Finding Bed-Wetting Food Triggers
Because everyone is different, you and your child might want to determine if you can figure out any food triggers that seem to affect whether your child wets the bed.
Experts recommend keeping a bed-wetting journal to record incidences of bed-wetting and identify any patterns to the accidents.
Some children become quite interested in designing their own hypotheses to see whether certain actions or foods have an effect on staying dry overnight. Working to identify their own personal bed-wetting triggers can be beneficial for kids on two fronts:
- It gives them a sense of control over their bed-wetting problem and allows them to take some responsibility for trying to fix it.
- If they do identify a food they think prevents or causes bed-wetting, having or avoiding that food may actually help, even if it is only due to the placebo effect.
Putting Nutritional Bed-Wetting Strategies to Work
If you make the decision to have your child avoid certain foods in the evenings in an attempt to control your child’s bed-wetting problem, make sure the dietary changes don’t come across as punishment for bad behavior.
Many children who wet the bed, especially older kids, are embarrassed and ashamed by their nocturnal enuresis. And often, parents become increasingly frustrated and angry over the seemingly never-ending cleanup. This can cause anxiety in the children, which can be psychologically distressing and may make them even more likely to wet the bed.
So, it’s important to make sure your child understands that the strategies you’re trying are an attempt to solve the problem, not a consequence for misbehaving.