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In Search of Dry Nights

It's Wednesday and for the third time this week you're washing wet sheets. Your first-grader's, not your toddler's. If your school-aged child is still having wet nights, you may be worried, frustrated, ashamed, and tired of doing laundry  -- but you're not alone. Twenty percent of 5-year-olds and 10 percent of 6-year-olds wet the bed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Let the Doctor Know

Many parents are embarrassed to discuss the problem with their child's doctor, but it's important to do so. "A lot of times I don't hear from parents until bed-wetting becomes a real problem for the child," says Magnolia Springs, AL, pediatrician A.B. Walker Jr. "The child wants to spend the night at a friend's house or go to camp for the summer and suddenly bed-wetting becomes a big deal."

What's the Problem?

If your child had been keeping dry and is suddenly wetting the bed again, it could be a sign of stress, depression, a urinary tract infection, or a more serious illness. But if your child has never stopped wetting the bed, the problem is most likely due to immature bladder function (the bladder is too small or the muscle too weak for now), and she should outgrow the problem. Meanwhile, you can take these steps to help her:

Watch fluids. This sounds obvious, but Dr. Walker points out that foods such as Jell-O, Popsicles, or even bananas (at 90 percent water) add to daily fluid intake. Also, beware the diuretic effect of caffeine.

Have her go one last time. Sometimes waking your child before you go to bed and taking her to the bathroom helps.

Consider overnight underwear. Products such as GoodNites are similar to toddlers' disposable training pants, but come in larger sizes for older kids. (The company's website, www.goodnites.com, offers helpful information on bed-wetting.)

Discuss treatment options with your doctor. Your pediatrician may recommend bladder-stretching exercises such as trying to hold in urine during the day, a bed-wetting alarm, or medication. Dr. Walker notes that there are pros and cons to these methods, though, and the success rate for each is around 60 percent. You should discuss any treatment method with your child before making a decision.

Most important, support your child. No one wants to wet the bed  -- it's uncomfortable and embarrassing. Be patient and low-key. Don't let siblings tease the bed-wetter. Reassure him that lots of other kids have the same problem (though they don't talk about it), and that things will get better as he grows. And in the meantime, make sure to offer plenty of encouragement and a pat on the back for dry nights.

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