Urinary incontinence in children is very common, especially during toilet training. Most children will have the occasional accident during the day or wet the bed at night even after they’ve mastered their bladders while they’re awake. In most cases, there’s nothing to worry about. However, incontinence can sometimes be a sign of a physical issue that may require treatment. It’s important to be aware of the different types of incontinence and when you should take your child to the doctor.
What is Incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is the term used to describe a loss of bladder control. In children, it often happens as bedwetting during the night, but it can also cause accidents during the day. Children might not make it to the toilet on time or they could let out a little bit of urine unintentionally. The amount of urine that leaks and the circumstances under which it happens can vary.
Types of Urinary Incontinence in Children
Urinary incontinence can be classified into four different types based on when and how it happens:
- Urge incontinence: if the urge to urinate happens so suddenly that it’s often impossible to reach the toilet in time.
- Overflow Incontinence: when there are small leaks because the bladder isn’t being emptied properly, so that it fills up and then overflows.
- Stress Incontinence: this type of incontinence is more common in adults than in children and causes leaks of urine when an action like laughing or exercising puts pressure on the bladder.
- Mixed Incontinence: this term is used when a child has more than one type of incontinence, for example if they experience both urge and overflow incontinence.
In children, incontinence can also be divided into daytime incontinence and night-time incontinence or bedwetting. Most children should be able to stay dry during the day by the age of 5-6 and at night-time by around age 7.
Another important classification for childhood incontinence is whether it is primary or secondary incontinence:
- Primary incontinence is when children have never learnt how to stay dry
- Secondary incontinence happens when a child who had previously been able to control their bladder is now having accidents again
Knowing whether a child has ever been able to control their bladder can be important when we’re trying to understand the cause.
When to See a Doctor About Incontinence
If you’re concerned about incontinence or that your child’s bladder control isn’t as good as it should be, then you can always talk to a doctor about your worries. We wouldn’t expect children to stay dry before the age of five, so you won’t usually need to see a doctor about incontinence before this. If your child is over five and is having frequent accidents (more than once a month) or has never managed to stay dry at all, then it’s worth seeing a doctor. In many cases, it will be possible to tackle the problem with some changes to your child’s drinking and bathroom habits. Many children will just grow out of it. However, it’s important to check if there could be any underlying issues that need to be treated.