Bedwetting, also referred to as nocturnal enuresis is a common issue in many New Zealand households, affecting children of all ages. These children lack night-time bladder control at an age when control is expected. 

A child’s bladder is different from that of an adult.  A child has much less control over their bladder, and this can be frustrating for both parents and children. It is important that parents understand that children, mostly under the age of 6, have limited control over their bladder, and cannot begin a stream of urine unless their bladders are full. As children get older they usually grow out of this problem.  However, this isn’t always the case. 


There is no universal cause of bedwetting but:

  • It tends to run in families. If one parent was a bed wetter, there is a 44% chance of the child bedwetting, but this increases to 77% if both parents wet the bed.

  • The 'wake up' response to a full bladder may not yet be fully developed, so the child has no conscious control over bedwetting.

  • The bladder may be ‘overactive’ or not able to hold reasonable volumes of urine - which may also result in wet pants or urgency during the day.

  • Very rarely there may be a physical problem such as a urinary tract infections.


If you add in other factors, such as starting school, separation from a parent, or fear of the dark, then the condition is compounded, and sometimes bedwetting will start up again in a child that has been previously dry. 


Bedwetting is a common condition.  15% of all 5-year-olds, 5% of 10-year-olds and 2% of 15-year-olds wet the bed.



Left untreated many children will grow out of the condition but for the remainder, it can be highly restrictive and last even into the teenage years.
A child not wanting to go on sleepovers or school camps because they may wet their bed can start to feel isolated and lacking in self-confidence.  29% of parents feel that their child is at a disadvantage socially as a result of their bedwetting.


There are various actions which parents can take to help their child and overcome bedwetting, which includes:

  • Have a check-up with their doctor to ensure there are no underlying medical conditions

  • Reassure your child that they are not alone and bedwetting is a common condition and will stop in time 

  • Make sure it is easy for them to get to the toilet - if they are on a top bunk or the house is dark, the bathroom may seem a long way away for some children.

  • Give your child encouragement, especially after accidents.  Avoid punishing your child as bedwetting is an unconscious problem.

  • Keep a diary to monitor and record progress

  • Don't restrict fluids - it doesn't help.  In fact drinking lots of fluid during the day helps their bladder to get used to holding larger amounts of urine.  Avoid drinks containing caffeine such as tea, chocolate or fizzy drinks.

  • Prepare the bed - use a mattress protector and protect the mattress with absorbent pads.

  • Reward them for the right behaviour; this doesn't mean a dry night as that is out of the child's control, but rewarding them for going to the toilet before bed or helping to change the sheets is a great way to reinforce good habits

  • Take your child to the toilet before bedtime

  • Bathe your child in the morning before they go to school - otherwise, the smell of urine might embarrass them and lead to teasing


Generally, parents start seeking assistance when their child is still wetting during sleep more than once a week and they are older than six years of age.  Other reasons include:

  • Your child is motivated to get dry

  • Your child’s self-esteem is affected

  • Your child’s social participation is affected (school camps and sleepovers)

  • The issue is causing stress, conflict or frustration within the family

  • The extra washing is difficult to manage

  • A younger sibling is becoming dry at night


Bedwetting is surprisingly common in older children and young adults.  About 0.5 - 3% of teenagers and young adults wet the bed at night. Most of them have always wet their beds, but 20% start after being previously being dry.  Unlike younger children, bedwetting tends to persist and be more severe in older children and young adults, with 50-80 % wetting at least 3 nights per week.


Lack of public awareness, the stigma associated with bedwetting and the mistaken belief that their bed wetting is not treatable means few seek help, despite successful treatments being available.  20-50% of young adults have never sought professional advice about their problem, and continue to suffer in silence.  The negative impact of bedwetting on young people is often unappreciated.  Studies have shown that young people with bedwetting have lower self-esteem and a higher risk of depression. Young adults have reported their condition has affected their work performance, choice of jobs, relationships and decisions to have a life partner.