Key points to remember
- daytime wetting occurs in about three and a half percent of healthy children
- two thirds of these children will have bedwetting as well - see bedwetting
it is important that all children with daytime wetting are seen by a doctor experienced with children's problems
daytime wetting needs to be controlled before bedwetting can be sorted out
- the problem is more common in girls and late school entrants
- usually wetting is just a small patch through the layers of clothes rather than the full amount in the bladder
- children list wetting pants in class as the third most stressful event after losing a parent and going blind!
- lots of patience and support are needed to correct this problem but a positive approach is usually rewarded by success
- children don’t want to wet their pants
seek help early
What causes daytime wetting?
There are many causes of daytime wetting but dysfunctional voiding is the most common problem. (“Voiding” means passing urine).
Dysfunctional voiding: Children with daytime wetting feel the urge at the last minute and may suddenly demonstrate holding postures or may "curtsey" using their heel to stop the flow of urine. When they get to the toilet the outlet valve may not relax fully and so stops the bladder from emptying fully. When they go back to their desk the outlet valve will relax and urine leaks out. This residual urine also leads to infections so all children with urinary tract infections should be asked if there are problems with daytime wetting.
Some other causes of daytime wetting are:
- a twitchy or "overactive" bladder which may lead to wet pants or urgency
- a weak outlet valve which may lead to wet pants when laughing, coughing or straining
- urinary tract infections
- constipation which can lead to wet pants as well as soiling
- structural abnormalities with the bladder or the tubes from the kidneys - suspicious symptoms include pain on passing urine, a poor urinary stream or continuous dribbling of urine
- problems with the nerves from the lower spinal cord; weakness in the legs may be associated
Daytime wetting is rarely due to disease or child abuse.
What can I do to help?
- be patient and understanding - reassure your child, especially if they are upset
- respond gently if your child is wet even if you feel angry; they do not want it to happen either
- give the child plenty of fluid during the day; children may try to drink less to reduce the amount of urine but the slow bladder filling makes it harder to feel the bladder filling up and makes the problem worse
- avoid caffeinated drinks such as tea, chocolate and fizzy drinks
- teach your child to relax and take time when passing urine; girls should learn to void with their legs apart and smaller girls may find a footstool helpful
- provide spare underwear or a panty liner for school; the smell of urine may embarrass your child and lead to teasing
punish your child for what they can’t control
use diapers or plastic pants if the child is over four or is embarrassed
When should I seek help?
It is important that all children with daytime wetting are seen by a doctor experienced with children's problems.
The doctor will take a detailed history of the problem and perform an examination. A diary of time and volume of urine output and fluid intake is very helpful.
Your child may be referred to a paediatrician (child health specialist) or urologist (a doctor specially trained in conditions of the bladder and urinary system).
If a psychological problem is suspected, your child may be referred for help in this area.
What tests are needed?
Laboratory tests on blood and urine may be performed to rule out any medical conditions. Fifty percent of girls who wet during the day will have occasional bacteria in their urine.
Ultrasound scans or x-rays may be required to check the bladder and kidneys.
Occasionally a child may need cystoscopy, where a tube is used to look for any abnormalities in the bladder outlet. This is done by a urologist (a doctor specially trained in conditions of the bladder and urinary system).
The urologist may also perform urodynamics to show the unstable bladder and incoordination between the bladder contraction and the expected relaxation of the outlet valve. This can lead to increased bladder pressure, which may cause reflux of urine up the tubes to the kidneys.
How is daytime wetting treated?
Ten to fifteen percent of children with daytime wetting become dry each year but it is very distressing and dysfunctional voiding can persist for a long time. (Voiding means passing urine).
Daytime wetting can be brought under control with retraining, and occasionally suitable medication.
Timed voiding: The best approach is to encourage the child to pass urine on a timed basis before they feel the urge. This allows the bladder to empty while the outlet valve is still relaxed. This needs to be individually tailored for the child and family, especially one who is going to school. The child should also try to relax and empty the bladder without straining. Sympathetic and energetic management putting the child in control, offering reminder alarms and sticker chart strategies are often helpful especially as the programme needs to be continued for at least six months.
Double voiding: After voiding urine children count to 20 and try to empty their bladders again. This reduces residual urine in the bladder.
Pelvic floor exercises and teaching control with relaxation of sphincter muscles can be helpful, but exercises that encourage holding on to urine make things worse.
Treatment of constipation is essential to reduce residual urine in the bladder and obstruction of the outflow.
Some medicines can be useful. Antibiotics control urinary tract infections and can reduce bladder instability. Antispasmodic drugs such as "oxybutinin" do not result in long-term benefits by themselves, but may help short-term to assist with bladder retraining.
In most cases, surgery has limited success and may sometimes make the problem worse.
Where to go for more information
On this website
- a children’s incontinence section
- the KEEA (Kiwi Enuresis Encopresis Association) NZ homepage, which provides resources on daytime wetting; information for teachers about children who wet and soil; toilet training for children with ASD and learning disabilities; helping children with wetting and soiling)
To contact NZCA, see the NZCA website for contact details or call free on 0800 650 659.
This is a national organisation working with families and children with a range of conditions. It can put you in touch with parents experiencing similar situations.
Postal Address: PO Box 234, Waikato Mail Centre
Call free on 0508 236 236
Fax: 64 7 853 8491
ERIC (Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence), UK www.eric.org.uk
ERIC has a number of leaflets that can be downloaded. It provides information for parents, children and adolescents and for health professionals on continence issues.
This fact sheet has been produced by the Paediatric Society of New Zealand in collaboration with the Enuresis Guideline Team, KEEA (Kiwi and Enuresis Encopresis Association) NZ and NZCA (The New Zealand Continence Association).
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2014
Printed on 12 March 2014. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version