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Wetting the Bed: The Preschooler's Predicament

Ahh, potty training!  For some it's easier than others especially mastering staying dry the entire night.  Kecia recently wrote to us about her plight.  Can we reassure her that it's normal?  Or, perhaps can you provide some strategies that can lead to a dry bed in the morning?

My son is 3 1/2.  He has been potty trained since he turned three.  At about 37 months (a few weeks after he mastered using the potty during the day), he told me that he didn't not need a diaper during the night.  I was reluctant, but decided to give it a try, as his diaper was often dry in the morning.  For nearly two months this worked perfectly.  Not one accident!!

During this time period, he would drink a 6 oz yogurt smoothie during his bedtime stories and I would give him water when he went to bed.  He would sleep for 9+ hours and wake up with a very full bladder (and pee in his potty).

In late August, we were traveling and he wet the bed (two nights in a row).  Both accidents happens soon after bedtime (around midnight).  When we returned home, things improved for a few weeks and then he had several nights of accidents again.  The situation has continued to deteriorate.  In the past month he has had an accident every few nights.

I am so tired of waking in the middle of the night to change his clothing, his bedding, etc.  I want to help him, but I don't know how.  The strange part is he seems to have these accidents without a full bladder.  Some nights his pajamas and pants are only very damp - not soaked. On nights when I limit liquid consumption and have him pee before going to sleep, he is more likely to wet the bed.  These accidents can happen as early as midnight, sometimes as soon as three hours after he last urinated.

I have tried to wake him during the middle of the night and have him pee, but this doesn't seem to help.  I usually find that he is already wet (and sound asleep).  When he wakes up in the morning he doesn't even need to use the potty!  What is going on?

He has only had one daytime accident over the past few months.

What do you think? Do I go back to diapers for night time?  Do I continue to do three loads of bedding every time this happens (comforter, mattress protector, sheets and pajamas)? I really appreciate your suggestions and advice.


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I would start using the pull-diapers at nite time only. He told you the first time around when he did not need them anymore, I am sure he will tell you when he does not need them again. It will save your sanity!!!!

We just went through this with our daughter (same age) who has been wearing undies during the day since she was 24 months old. My theory is that it has to do with growing (of the physical and/or emotional variety) and time is the only cure. However, in the meantime, I have no intention of having a cranky overtired preschooler, her cranky overtired parents, and several extra loads of laundry every week! We have been using sticker charts to reward her for dry nights (with a special outing or small toy when all 25 squares are full). When she started having frequent accidents at night, we simply explained that we were going back to pull-ups "just in case" and she would still get stickers everytime she woke up dry. We are all a lot less stressed out about the whole thing now and she is just as proud of her dry pull-up as she ever was of her dry undies.

No advice about solving the actual wetting problem, but it might help save you some time and sanity late at night if you layer your bedding like this: fitted sheet - waterproof pad - fitted sheet on top. Then you just have to strip off the top layer of fitted sheet and the waterproof layer to reveal the fresh fitted sheet underneath. It's still a lot of laundry but a little less work in the middle of the night.

I went through a similar thing. My older daughter was potty trained at 3 but continued to wet the bed at night until just a few months ago (she turns 5 in a few weeks). We put her in a pull up at night because I just couldn't do complete bed change every few days, and also it seemed to make her feel better. I started waking her up to go to the bathroom a couple hours after she fell asleep but I found it was upsetting to her, so we just decided to wait it out.

Thanks so much... I really appreciate this advice and reassurance!

I have one question... Why a pull-ups (rather than diapers)?

I bought one package of pull-ups last spring and I didn't think there was much difference.

Are pull-ups better? If so, why?
I'm going to Fred Meyer as soon as my son wakes up from his nap. I'm looking forward to sleeping in peace and not worrying through the night. Thanks again ;-)

Another tip - put a fleece blanket on top of the sheet. Fleece does not trap moisture so at least your boy will be dry (though the pajamas won't be).

Although I am in the camp that pull-ups are over used, the concept is that the kid can pee and then pull them back up and go about their business. I haven't met too many kids that can fasten back up a diaper. The concept is to give them more control and the feeling that they COULD go to the potty in the middle of the night if they wanted to. Good luck.

The reason for it, I leanred is that some kids' kidney "switch" doesn't develop as fast as others (hereditary), so regardless of how much liquid they do/don't drink, they'll wet anyway. We wake our 4 and 1/2 year old up when we hit the hay and he doesn't mind - we asked him and he agreed. He also goes right back to sleep. We also found the right "product" for absorbing - small-ish 2x3' pad under a sheet (no lmore mattress protector!). In the night we don't remake the bed (never even occurred to me), but rather put a towel under him and usually just new underpants, no new jammie pants (easier). While the laundry gets old, to me it's just one of those hassles of parenting that come with the territory, like less sleep. My question about diapers / pull-ups at night is: how does s/he feel about that (my son wouldn't go for it), and the impact of letting them wet without getting wet. I know that for daytime potty learning heading straight for underwear so they'll feel it is recommended, so I wonder if that's true at night, as well? I jsut yesterday heard from a child therapist on the topic: most likley it'll go away, after 5 50% of bedwetters stop every year. She also recommended tools for managing older bedweeters who go to sleepovers - sending them with a sleeping bag so that if they wet they can slip out of it, sleep on the friend's sheets, and brig the dirty laundry home. Tricky. Goodl uck - I am finally at peace with the whole thing - only took a few months and more than a few "conversations" with my husband.

my daughter was out of diapers during the day at two, but was in diapers at night til just shy of her fourth birthday. after several months of sleeping "nudie bootie" she started peeing at night almost every night. i told her her body seemed to be changing again and not holding the pee through the night. i asked her if she wanted to go back to diapers for awhile and she did. (it's not so fun for them to be woken up by a wet bed.)
the whys- as well as a bladder that continues to grow and bladder muscles that are still getting stronger, our bodies secrete a hormone that lessens the urge to urinate at night. it takes awhile for this to happen but it happens for most kids by the time they're 6.
good luck,

My three and a half year old son is going through the exact same transition. He went for several months, completely potty trained during the day, waking himself up at night to use the bathroom, and hardly ever a wet bed. Then, about two months ago, he started to wet the bed almost every night. He feels badly about it, but I just assume it's part of growing up. We use Nap EZ Stuffable Trainers at night from www.snap-ez.com and have since he started using the potty. They pull up and down easily for when he actually wakes up, wash very easily, and hold a ton of pee. The lining is fleece so it keeps him feeling dry and he never wakes up in the middle of the night because of his wetting. I still have to wash his sheets, but they are only a little damp versus the mattress-soaking that it would be otherwise. We also layer an old wool army blanket over his mattress that has been a great protector. I too have wondered why he can't seem to get himself to the bathroom anymore, but am hoping that it's something he'll grow out of with time and understanding.

In answer to why we chose pull ups? Well, mostly because we tried everything else and that was the last resort (we went without for almost 6 months of me cleaning up sheets often daily). I did try some training underwear that had triple cotton layers between the legs, but it didn't seem to work. It wasn't until she saw that her cousin used the pull ups at night that she asked about them. I resisted, because I thought it would be sending conflicting messages, but in the end I was glad that I did. Mostly because waking up in wet sheets seemed to be upsetting to her. And I really felt her muscles just weren't ready.

My nearly 5 year old son still experiences periods of wetting the bed. It used to stress us out, and we used to try to work through it thinking that the wet pants and sheets would be enough uncomfortable enough for him to wake up in the middle of the night to go potty. After doing laundry every day for a week it seemed, we decided it was better to us a pull up as a back up. We make sure that he goes to the bathroom before we read books and he is tucked in at night. We also refrain from giving him a lot of liquids about an hour or so before bedtime. Also like Lisa, before we go to bed, we make him go again. He's a heavy sleeper so getting back to sleep is never a problem. These strategies help us to have more dry nights and wet, and like the other mamas, we probably do have to be patient and know that his body will mature and he will eventually grow out of it.

For our 3 year old that often wets at night, we use a Nikky brand cloth pull-up. We call them "underwear" and keep them in her underwear drawer. We started that when she decided that she was too old for diapers at night. This makes her okay with wearing an extra something at night and makes us feel okay - that we aren't encouraging bed wetting. Plus, she can use her potty in her room by herself this way.


I've been wanting do get my hands on some good cloth training pants for night time. Do the Nikkis keep the sheets dry if your daughter doesn't stay dry through the night? Where did you get yours and how much did they cost?

You've got a lot of good suggestions here already and you can see that you're in good company with your situation too! I'm glad to see that we're in the normal range with our situation too...

Everything that I've ever read/heard about potty training says to keep things very low key, not make an issue out of them (easier said than done when you're driving yourself nuts about it and sick of the laundry, I know!) and that the kid will do it when he/she is ready. Having said that, have you had a conversation with your son about what he wants to do about the situation? If given the option to wear a diaper at night he may or may not want to, but at least it would possibly help him feel like he has some say in the process. A diaper at night for a few weeks/months may help him have a more restful/less disruptive night, and maybe he'll start waking up dry again when his body is ready to do that again.

Our son has been day trained for 6+ months, but still wears a diaper at night. We've done diapers and pull ups and either one is fine, except for that pull ups are not as absorbant as the diapers. So if he's going more than once or twice, you'll still have wet sheets to contend with at some point in the night.

If he does not want a diaper/pull up, do you still have the mattress protectors from his crib? We pulled those out again and had our son sleep on them when he refused to wear diapers for his naps and I was getting sick of stripping the bed several times a week.

Good luck!

My 3 1/2 year old son has been potty trained during the day for over a year but at night he sleeps so soundly he has been wearing a cloth diaper. He has always been a pretty heavy wetter and we use quite a few inserts in his cloth diaper cover. Recently he started getting up to use the bathroom and would need our help to put his diaper back on. I ordered the Nicky nighttime trainers and sent them back without even trying them, I cannot imagine they would be nearly absorbent enough, I believe the website states they soak up to 1 cup of liquid. I found the Nap EZ at www.snap-ez.com stuffable training pants and they are perfect! He can pull them down and up and we can stuff them with as many inserts as we feel we need. He is waking up happy and dry and some days with 3 inserts totally soaked, some days just damp. My preference are the nap ez, more flexible.

I know quite a few people going through this. From what I've read, at his age this really isn't something he can control, hence why the problem is only during sleep. It's just a physical developmental issue...either it's there or not.

I know that downplaying the issue as much as you can is the best idea so you don't create any shame associated with it. And for that reason, if I were in your shoes, I would absolutely get pull-ups. Just call them "special night underwear" to help him keep his jammies and bed dry. That truly IMO is what pull-ups are for. He can still go to the bathroom if he needs to, but won't get his bed wet, or his clothes, if he has accidents. Most kids outgrow this problem on their own, but it can happen at 4 or 5 or even 6 years old. Boys especially can wet the bed until they are much older, and it is still totally "normal".

I think pull-ups would be the way to go until he is dry at night consistently. Why do the extra laundry and make him sleep in wet jammies if you don't have to?

My four and 1/2 year old wears goodnites. They are pull-ups that are VERY absorbent. She still wets every night, and sleeps right through it if she is wet and not wearing a diaper. I think she is just a deep sleeper, and not able to hold it all night yet. We have kept it pretty low key, although my husband sometimes expresses to me a feeling that we should be DOING SOMETHING about this. I don't think there is much to be done but wait it out.

My five year old son still wets the bed, and will generally sleep through it. When (if) he does wake up, I keep a sleeping bag at the bottom of the bed for him. He'll usually change into dry jammies and slide into the sleeping bag. Or he'll come into my room, crying his eyes out, in which case I say, "Alright...get dry pjs on...you know what to do." While this is not a nightly occurrence, he probably does wet the bed 3-4 nights a week. If he's going through a really bad stretch, we use the Goodnites that Diane mentioned. It doesn't really help with the bed wetting, but at least I don't have to change sheets everyday (it's the top bunk--so difficult to change.)

I have mentioned this to my mom. She regaled me with a tale of her being 10 and sleeping at a friends house out-of-state. She wet the bed, felt really embarrassed, but relieved that nobody back home knew. Of course, the friend told a mutual friend, and Mom had a horrible first week of 5th grade. She also pointed out that my brother and sister both consistently wet the bed until they were about 7 or 8. Assuming bed wetting is hereditary, I hope my boys don't take after my side of the family!

I just finished blogging about this same problem. My daughter is almost 4. She's dry during the day, but wets every night wearing pull ups. I decided I'm not going to buy them anymore. Last night I put her in underwear, let her use the bathroom, gave her only a sip of water, then put her to bed. When I went to bed a few hours later I carried her to the bathroom to go again. She woke up dry. I'm going to continue this for a few weeks and see if I don't have to wake her at all. I did this with my son a few years ago and it worked great. It seemed like he was never going to get out of pull ups at night. Some kids have smaller bladders, but I think my son learned to only go when he was on the pot by waking him at night.

ok, my son is almost 6 and still wearing a pull-up at night (GoodNites), and im gettting a little anxious about what we're going to do next. Although he's been daytrained since he was 2 and a half, we can't get him out of the night-time diaper. We revisited this at 4 and 5 and at present. We've gone through the whole routine of waking him up when we go to bed, and sometimes one more time between midnight and morn, and limiting liquids. Because he's such a heavy sleeper (an airhorn probably wouldn't wake him) he isn't even conscious when I carry him to the bathroom and plop him in front of the toilet; I am seriously holding him up from behind, with him slumped full weight and eyes still closed. And if he does wake, he is extremely cranky and says that he doesn't need to go - which i believed once and then he wet the bed shortly after that.

I heard sometime ago that there was a device that you placed in the bed and it senses moisture and then a gentle alarm sounds to wake the child. But if they don't wake up when even shaken, how could they hear an alarm?

She regaled me with a tale of her being 10 and sleeping at a friends house out-of-state. She wet the bed, felt really embarrassed, but relieved that nobody back home knew. Of course, the friend told a mutual friend, and Mom had a horrible first week of 5th grade. She also pointed out that my brother and sister both consistently wet the bed until they were about 7 or 8. Assuming bed wetting is hereditary

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