1 in 6 children older than 5 are bedwetters in SA: what to do as parents

Research shows that one in six South African children aged 5 to 10 are bedwetters. Picture: Supplied

Research shows that one in six South African children aged 5 to 10 are bedwetters. Picture: Supplied

Published May 27, 2024


Bedwetting is when kids old enough to control their bladders fail to do so when they sleep. It’s a common issue, especially for children under 6.

Doctors aren’t sure why bedwetting happens or when it stops but it’s usually a normal stage of growing up and kids often outgrow it.

Although it’s mostly seen in young kids, some teens also experience it. Most of the time, bedwetting isn’t due to any serious medical or emotional problems.

The medical term for not being able to control pee is enuresis (en-yuh-REE-sis). If it happens at night, it’s called nocturnal enuresis. If it happens during the day, it’s called diurnal enuresis.

Many people see bedwetting as a problem for little kids but about 1-2 out of every 100 teens struggle with it, too.

As a parent, dealing with a child’s bedwetting can be stressful, but it’s more common than you might think. Research shows that one in six South African children aged 5 to 10 are bedwetters.

Dr Michael Mol, a medical doctor and DryNites Ambassador, explained that bedwetting in children can be due to several reasons.

These include low levels of the hormone vasopressin during sleep, which causes more urine to be produced at night, a small bladder and trouble waking up from sleep.

Doctors can sometimes prescribe medication that reduces the amount of urine produced at night, helping to manage the issue.Picture: cottonbro studio/Pexels

Mol pointed out two types of bedwetting: primary and secondary enuresis. Primary enuresis is when a child has never stayed dry for at least six months.

Secondary enuresis happens when a child, who has been dry for at least six months, starts wetting the bed again.

If your child is also wetting themselves during the day, Mol advises seeing a doctor to check if there's an underlying medical condition. Doctors can sometimes prescribe medication that reduces the amount of urine produced at night, helping to manage the issue.

Ahead of World Bedwetting Day on May 31, Mol shares tips for parents of children who are bedwetters:

Bedwetting in children can stem from several everyday factors. Understanding these can help parents manage and reduce night-time accidents.


When a child is constipated, their bowel movements can press against the bladder, making it hard to hold in urine. Regular bathroom habits and a fibre-rich diet are essential.

Family history

If bedwetting runs in the family, there's a chance your child has inherited this tendency. It's important to recognise that genetics can play a significant role.


Drinking fluids right before bedtime increases the likelihood of bedwetting. Ensure your child drinks enough water throughout the day to avoid a small bladder capacity at night.

Be cautious with fizzy drinks and anything containing caffeine, such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate, energy drinks and cola, as these can also contribute to bedwetting.


Eating close to bedtime, especially salty or high-protein foods like crisps, bacon, meat, milk, and cheese, may increase bedwetting chances. Try to have the last meal of the day a few hours before bed.

Sleep awakenings

Encourage waking-up techniques and limit night-time drinks. A practical step is reducing fluid intake at least two hours before sleep.

Refrain from giving your child dairy, sugary, or caffeinated drinks before bed, as they can disrupt sleep patterns and contribute to accidents.

Be prepared: Absorbent pyjama pants

DryNites® Pyjama Pants are an excellent option for managing bedwetting. These absorbent pants, available in sizes for children aged 4-7 and 8-15, look just like regular underwear but boast five absorbent layers to prevent leaks and disturbances.

According to research published in the European Journal of Paediatrics, children who consistently used absorbent pants experienced significantly better quality of life and fewer night-time awakenings.

Over time, these positive effects became even more pronounced.

Bed-wetting alarms: effective but disruptive

Another effective method is the use of bed-wetting alarms, which involve placing a moisture sensor in the child's pyjamas.

This method has shown a success rate in about two-thirds of cases. However, it requires a high level of motivation and can disrupt the sleep cycles of parents and others in the household.

Medication: quick results with caveats

For those looking for immediate results, medication can be a viable option. Desmopressin (DDAVP), a synthetic form of the vasopressin hormone, works immediately and directly addresses the physiological causes of bedwetting.

However, similar to bed-wetting alarms, there is often a relapse once the medication is discontinued.

“Ongoing bedwetting can cause both parent and child a great deal of worry, shame, and stress, while also affecting sleep and thus quality of life.

“Know that you and your child are not alone and that there are tools and strategies that you can adopt which are proven to be very effective in reducing the likelihood and frequency of bedwetting while alleviating the toll it can take on the whole family,” said Mol.