Alternative Therapies for Bedwetting
It is not difficult to find alternatives to the traditional approaches to bedwetting, but deciding whether to try them is something else entirely. From acupuncture to homeopathy, there are a lot of options and still more questions. An open mind, independence and the willingness to sift through a lot of information are required of parents looking to treat their child's bedwetting.
The most often mentioned alternative approach to bedwetting, or enuresis, is chiropractic care. Although once seen as way out of the mainstream, chiropractic manipulation of the spine is now recognized as a medical treatment. Some insurance companies even cover these services for specific ailments, mostly involving the spine.
Chiropractic care for nocturnal enuresis treats the bladder through manipulation of the lower spine and pelvis. Since the nerve supply to the muscles, which control urinary emptying, are connected to the brain through the spinal cord, it is believed that aligning the spine will correct any slow messaging or incomplete signals between the brain and the bladder.
The idea, however, is controversial. "Just bring it up at a conference of pediatricians or neurologists and watch the fireworks," says William Cockburn, a chiropractor in Whittier, Calif., who has seen a 50 percent response in 30 days by enuretics in his family practice. He believes parents and chiropractors need to communicate better on causes and treatment options.
Some experts in chiropractic want more proof. "There is not a lot of clinical science literature on spinal manipulative therapy for kids who wet at night," says Joseph C. Keating of Phoenix, Ariz., vice president of the Association for the History of Chiropractic who has written often on the need for evidence-based research in chiropractic care. "Bear in mind that the spontaneous remission rate for enuretics is about 15 percent per year."
Hypnosis is another option for parents seeking non-invasive methods of treatment for bedwetting. The hypnotist works with the subconscious brain to make positive connections with the conscious goal of awakening to visit the toilet in the night. Instead of using negative reinforcements from an alarm system, the child is trained through self-hypnosis and visual imaging to respond to physical symptoms of a filling bladder before an accident. This method emphasizes relaxation, self-control and independence.
The National Kidney Foundation reports that children who can benefit from this treatment usually show improvement within four to six sessions, but they caution that more studies are needed to determine its true effectiveness.
Hypnosis exists on the edge of mainstream medicine. While it is generally acknowledged as a valid approach for some conditions, it is rarely recommended by pediatricians or other resources for parents seeking help with bedwetting.
That may be changing as medical researchers begin to gather data on hypnosis under controlled conditions. The University of Michigan's Department of Pediatrics has reported that hypnotherapy relieved nighttime enuresis by 43 to 73 percent over Imipramine – a drug prescribed to treat bedwetting – using a method described in the book Dry All Night (Little, Brown, 1990) by Alison Mack.
Between the very physical chiropractic approach and the very cerebral hypnosis approach are a number of alternatives that involve touch. Like many alternative and complementary health methodologies, these therapies seek to re-establish balances of energy within the body and are adapted to different problems and individuals.
Acupuncture, one of the most familiar therapies to Westerners, originated in China and is still practiced there. Using filament-thin needles, the acupuncturist targets the flows of energy in the body. A 2001 study of 50 children with primary enuresis reported 43 "completely dry" children within six months when treated by traditional Chinese acupuncture.
But treating needle-shy American children with acupuncture is a special challenge. "I don't wear a white lab coat," says Sarah A. Steed, a licensed acupuncturist in Sperryville, Va. Steed says she will sit on the floor with a child if it feels more comfortable and has even had a child fall asleep during treatment.
The idea of inserting needles in children is still a difficult sell for most American kids and for parents not familiar with it. Fortunately, there are other methods that follow some of the same underlying philosophies, which do not involve needles. These include acupressure, electropuncture, shiatsu and reflexology.
These therapies apply pressure to accessible parts of the body that correspond to the internal organs believed to be afflicted. With bedwetting, the organs targeted are usually the bladder and kidneys. Parents are often encouraged to learn these techniques from the therapist to be performed at home.
Homeopathy is a 200-year-old therapy set in motion by a German physician skeptical of the apothecaries of his era. The process of diagnosis in homeopathy is much more extensive and individualized than with mainstream Western medicine. Two people with similar symptoms might be treated with entirely different remedies due to differences in mood, sleeping habits or symptoms elsewhere in the body.
Homeopathic remedies are based on a "rule of similars" and contain extremely diluted doses designed to stimulate the natural defenses of the body. Remedies often prescribed for enuresis are Equisetum Arvense, causticum, belladonna, lycopodium and pulsatilla.
Although homeopathy is widely agreed to cause no side effects, there is a longstanding antipathy between practitioners of homeopathy and mainstream medicine. Currently, advocates of both sides are coming together to perform science-based research. The World Health Organization cites homeopathy as second only to traditional Western medicine in use throughout the world.
What Is Right for My Child?
Remember, bedwetting is not your child's fault and is not the result of laziness. And, while there is no known cure, choosing a method that fits your child's needs is something that you and your family will have to decide. Speaking with your physician is also a good idea before trying various treatments.
And keep in mind that all of the above are experimental – some may work for your child while others may not. "We tried every kind of medical expert I could find as my daughter grew into a teenager," says a Virginia mom of a 14-year-old child who wets the bed. "Then we tried some alternative therapies. None has worked yet, but we will keep trying: We want our daughter to feel every angle has been explored."
If none of these methods seem right for you, or even if you are working through bedwetting with different approaches, using disposable underpants as part of your plan is a non-invasive way to cope with enuresis. Waking up dry helps the child's self-esteem, and cuts down on laundry for you.