Bedwetting (Nocturnal Enuresis)

Nocturnal enuresis, better known as bedwetting, occurs when a sleeping child cannot hold his or her urine at night.

  • Don't worry — most of the time the situation resolves on its own.
  • Some children don't attain nighttime control for several years after they have complete control during the day.
  • Bedwetting occurs in 15 to 20 percent of all 5-year-old children, and in 10 percent of 7-year-olds.
  • Twenty percent of children with this problem have some degree of daytime wetting.

What causes nocturnal enuresis?

It's important to understand that bedwetting is usually not a behavioral problem, although it sometimes occurs if your child is feeling emotional stress or insecurity.

Some parents have the perception that their children are very "deep" sleepers, and that this is what has caused the bedwetting. However, studies have shown no difference in the sleep patterns of children who wet the bed as compared with other children.

There is more evidence suggesting that enuresis is the result of a developmental delay in the normal process of achieving nighttime control. The normal process involves the release of a hormone that prompts the kidneys to slow down production of urine during nighttime sleep. This hormone, called vasopressin, is not secreted in many children who have a problem at night.

There is no single cause for this condition, but researchers have discovered some genetic links, suggesting heredity may play a role.

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches bedwetting

There are several options for treating bedwetting. Your pediatric urologist can help guide you to what's best for you and your child, keeping in mind that the burden of therapy shouldn't outweigh the burden of the condition itself.

Some of the options offered here at Boston Children's include:

  • As part of our renowned Department of Urology, Boston Children's has a dedicated Voiding Improvement Program (VIP). VIP’s expert physicians and nurse practitioners take a comprehensive approach to helping children overcome voiding difficulties.
  • In addition, Boston Children's understands that enuresis can cause emotional problems for your child. Our Division of Developmental Medicine is uniquely qualified to treat your whole child — physically and psychologically. A compassionate team of professionals address your child’s physical symptoms and emotional well-being and help your child stay dry.
  • Experts in the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders carefully learn about bedwetting and any other problems your child is having with sleep, and then thoughtfully develop a plan for solving them.