Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg -- pediatrician, mom, and author -- frequently hears other moms’ concerns about potty training and bedwetting. Here she discusses common misconceptions about daytime vs. nighttime dryness in children and offers information to help lessen parents’ anxiety.
There are distinct differences between staying dry during the day and overnight. Daytime dryness is usually learned around age 3 or 4 when a child is developmentally, emotionally, and physically ready to do so, while staying dry at night often occurs later. In fact, somewhere between 5-7 million children ages 7 – 12 years old still wet the bed at night - that's more than the number of children who entered kindergarten in the United States in 2011 according to the U.S. Department of Education (4 million). Many parents often think that once daytime potty training is successful, a similar process can be taught to prevent bedwetting, but that's not the case. Nighttime dryness occurs when the bladder grows sufficiently in size and its nerve signals to and from the brain mature. Think about it, when a child is sleeping, they need to have the ability for their small bladders to hold urine for up to 8-10 hours or have the ability to wake up and use the toilet when they feel a full bladder. This brain/bladder connection may take many years to develop and varies among individuals.
When talking to parents about toilet training and bedwetting, each parent I counsel seems to think their child is the only one still wetting the bed. They are always relieved to find out otherwise. I reassure parents that it may take much longer for nighttime dryness to be achieved, and that bedwetting is usually not a sign of emotional or psychological issues. I also have parents avoid the term "toilet training" when it comes to trying to achieve nighttime dryness. Unlike potty training, bedwetting is something that is hard to control. Instead, dry nights come with time and patience, as most children will outgrow it. Attempting to train your child out of it will only create unnecessary stress. Dry nights will come with time and patience.
There are measures you can take to help your child until bedwetting has resolved. You can help them most by letting them know that it's not their fault and that you don't blame them, make sure they use the toilet before bed and limit the amount of fluids they drink before going to sleep.