By Steve Hodges, M.D.
Pediatricians are constantly telling parents of children who wet the bed, “Bedwetting is normal. Don’t worry — he’ll grow out of it. Just don’t make a big deal out of it."
While all this may be reassuring to hear, at least for a while, it’s sadly misleading. Bedwetting is not "normal" and not every child will outrgrow this stressful condition. Children still wetting the bed in fourth grade are pretty likely to wake up with wet sheets in high school. About 2% of teens wet that bed — that's more than 8 million American teenagers.
Ask yourself this: If your shower drain were clogged, how many years would you wait for your drain to “grow out of it”?
I’m guessing the answer is zero years. You would use one of those snake things or (if you were me), you would call the plumber.
Bedwetting is almost always caused by severe constipation, and waiting around won't get that big, hard lump of poop out of your child’s rectum. And until that clog stops pressing on your child’s bladder and messing with the nerves feeding the bladder, the bedwetting is likely to continue.
In a previous post, I discussed three patients who were told by their pediatricians to “wait it out,” just a sampling of the cases I saw in my clinic that week.
Now I’d like to share an email I recently received from a mom of a 15-year-old who has wet the bed his whole life. She wrote:
I have taken him to our pediatrician numerous times and even got a referral to a urologist. Neither doctor suggested my son was constipated and just said, “He’ll grow out of it” and “He shouldn’t drink after 8 p.m.” One doctor gave him a nasal spray and some pills, neither of which worked.
I came across your book and took it to the pediatrician. I asked for an X-ray to determine whether my son is constipated (I’m sure he is). The doctor dismissed me, and actually told, “Other countries have bigger holes in the toilets because of the larger stools they produce.”
I am so tired of watching my son be controlled by this! He is a straight-A student active in school, football, JROTC, volunteering, and student government. But has this big secret dark cloud over him all the time. He would love to be able to spend the night with his friends and go to summer camps, but he always has to stay behind.
I really feel constipation is my son’s problem and don’t understand why no one has said so when for years I have talked to the doctors about him stopping up toilets. I would appreciate any advice you can give us.
I called his mom, and the boy just has begun a nightly enema regimen. In the last week, he has only wet his bed ONE TIME. Believe me, he is not complaining about enemas. He is thrilled to be dry for the first time in his life.
In my clinic I see a significant number of teenagers, most of them told by their pediatricians that they’d “outgrow” the bedwetting. These are teenagers, for heaven’s sake! How long do their doctors expect them to suffer the embarrassment and frustration of being left out of overnight activities?
A 17-year-old Who Still Wets the Bed
A 17-year-old from New England recently came to our clinic with his parents. Here’s what the boy’s mom wrote to me:
Jack has been a bedwetter all his life. The pediatrician told us each year at his physical that Jack would outgrow the bedwetting. At 16 we took him to 2 urologists and 2 sleep specialists to do sleep studies. The urologists said he was constipated and treated with senokot daily but the bedwetting continued. DDAVP didn’t work and was not a solution long term even if it had.
The sleep studies came back normal.”I put Jack on a nightly enema regimen. Here is his mom’s latest report: “Jack is now dry every night unless he sleeps in more than 9 hours (so 6 of 7 nights a week). HUGE improvement!”
I referred the family to a colleague at Columbia to pursue possible surgery to reduce the size of his colon, as it doesn’t seem to be stretching back to normal size after six months of enemas.
Says his mom: “If only we had recognized the constipation as the reason for the bedwetting 10-15 years ago we might have prevented all these years of bedwetting and an overstretched colon that may require surgery.”
How to Cure Bedwetting in Teens
How long does it take to cure a teenager who wets the bed? The teens I see tend to fall into two groups: About half are cured quickly, often within a few weeks, especially if they use the enema-based Modified O'Regan Protocol. Removing the clog does the trick.
The other half are more resistant to therapy. In some cases, I believe, it’s because they won’t do enemas, and Miralax just isn’t enough to do the job. Other teens may have trouble because their bladders have been overactive for too long.
It’s also possible that the kids who wind up at my clinic are among the worst of the worst cases, so they’re going to be harder to fix no matter what.
If you have a child who is age 4 or older and is wetting the bed — especially if the child also shows any of the other constipation red flags shown in our infographic, 12 SIGNS YOUR CHILD IS CONSTIPATED — do not wait for him or her to “grow out of it.”
Many, if not most, pediatricians won’t express the slightest concern about bedwetting until a child is at least 7, but that’s unfair to younger children and their families. Many cases of bedwetting that appear to be normal and not worth treating actually have underlying causes that can be dealt with fairly easily, almost always without medication. Rarely have I treated a 4-year-old bedwetter who was not constipated.
If you want to make sure your child does not become at 10th grader who wets the bed, take action today!