How to get your child dry at night

You’ve got daytime potty training cracked, but your child's still not dry at night - so what can you do to stop bedwetting as your child gets older?

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Once you’ve got daytime potty training sorted, you might think dry nights will follow – but plenty of parents have found that their children are still needing nappies – or wetting the bed – long after they’ve mastered using the potty or toilet.

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And while it can be frustrating it’s important to know 2 things: that you’re not alone (yes, it happens to lots of us) and that it will work out OK in the end.

One mum’s story about bed-wetting at night

Dominique R tells us: “We’d got rid of nappies for my daughter completely in the day by the time she was 3 and a half, but night time was a different story and she still wasn’t dry at 6 years old.

“We removed the night-time nappy, then had night after night of wet sheets. So then we invested in waterproof covers, which at least saved the mattress.

“We went back to nappies for a bit, then got rid of them again, then started ‘lifting’ – setting an alarm in the middle of the night and taking her to the loo – but we still had accidents.

“Eventually we resigned ourselves to just making sure we had the waterproof cover on and then washed it straight away so we always had a clean one ready, and just dealt with it, until one morning we realised we’d gone 3 days without washing any sheets or covers – and that was just it. 

“It took a couple of years in all, but eventually accidents went from every night to perhaps once a week – and soon to none at all.

“To be honest it all seemed to happen once we relaxed and didn’t worry about it so much.”

Why is taking so long for my child to get dry at night?

Not all children get out of nappies at the same age – and there can be varying reasons for this, including:

  • biology: low levels of the hormone vasopressin can lead to bedwetting at night
  • constipation
  • not drinking enough water during the day (which means their body hasn’t learnt to hold lots of liquid)
  • an overactive bladder

If you’re at the stage where you just don’t know what to do to get your child dry at night – take heart that, while it’s a tough phase, it is just a phase, and you and your child will get through it. And check out our useful tips to help you along the way…

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1. Don’t whip the nappies off too soon

The key thing to remember is that there is  no ‘right’ age to start putting your child in pants at night. While you should wait until your little one is dry in the day, for some children it can take months or even years to master night-time dryness, so don’t take away bedtime nappies until you feel your child is really ready. Also, boys are often slower than girls.

“Some children can be school age before they achieve this milestone so don’t panic,” says Dr Olwen Wilson, consultant child psychologist at the Royal Surrey County Hospital.

“Before you begin, your little one does need to be dry during the day,” says Maggie Fisher of the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association. “But if you start and find your toddler is soaked every morning, wait until she is getting drier nappies before you start again.”

It can also help to involve your child in the decision. “When Hollie’s nappies were dry 50% of the time we asked her if she wanted to go without them in the night,” says Lisa, 28, mum to Hollie, 3, and Sam, 9 months.

2. Don’t let the wet get to you

“If there’s an accident, ignore the wet bed and instead focus on the positive,” advises Maggie.

“Praise works much better than punishment,” says Olwen. “Unfortunately, people do use punishment and then argue that it works. Fear always works in the short term but it’s not good for a child’s emotional development.”

3. Do pace yourself

“If you have 3 dry nights in a row, things are working, but if there’s no progression there’s no hurry,” says Maggie.

“Hollie managed a couple of weeks and then regressed,” says Lisa. “So we put her back into night nappies for a month.

“She then asked to give them up herself and the second time it was successful. My advice is, if it doesn’t work, stop for a while and then try again later on.”

4. Do be brave

There’s no need to be afraid – just take that nappy off for the first time. “If you keep putting a nappy on that means it’s OK to use it,” says Olwen. You need to be brave and leap right off that peeing precipice.

5. Don’t forget the last wee of the night

“Lifting your toddler for a late-night wee can help her to stay dry,” says Olwen. “But research shows that cutting down her fluid intake makes no difference.”

6. Do use waterproof protection for your child’s bed

“I have a waterproof sheet protector that’s been a godsend,” says Cassandra, 36, mum to Sophie, 3. “I also keep a potty next to Sophie’s bed and I make sure she knows where it is.”

7. Don’t give up

“It can be several weeks before there are dry nappies in the morning, but persevere and it starts happening,” encourages Jenny, 27, mum to Harriett, 6, and Connie, 8 months.

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When to get professional help

Treatments to help with bedwetting are available for children from 5 – you can find out more about these in the Nice guidelines – depending on what’s causing it.

Whether or not you seek them out depends largely on how it’s affecting your family: for some, bedwetting after age 5 isn’t an issue and doesn’t alter their home life dramatically. In this case, you might prefer to wait and see what happens.

But if it’s beginning to cause a strain then it might be worth asking for help. Take a look at ERIC’s guide to nighttime wetting for more helpful info.

If you’d prefer to speak to someone – call ERIC’s helpline on 0845 370 8008 (Monday to Thursday 10am until 2pm).

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