In this section
A urinary catheter, sometimes called an indwelling urinary catheter (IDC) or just catheter, is a tube that carries your child's urine from the bladder to a drainage bag for disposal.
This tube may come out through:
Your doctor will tell you what type of catheter your child needs.
There are many reasons why your child may need a catheter, for example to relieve a build-up of urine in the bladder or to manage urinary incontinence. If your child is having surgery that will prevent them from using a toilet normally, they may have a catheter until they are able to toilet
The catheter may be inserted during surgery if your child is having an operation, or it may be inserted while your child is awake. If it is being inserted while they are awake, it may be uncomfortable for your child. See our fact sheet
Reducing your child's discomfort during procedures.
Usually catheters are removed in hospital, but if your child needs to leave their catheter in when they go home, your child's doctor or nurses will tell you how to care for the catheter and what to do if it accidentally comes out.
The drainage bag can be strapped to your child's leg during the day. Older children may need a second bag attached at night if there is a large amount of urine being produced. The night bag can be taken off in the morning and emptied, then washed out with warm soapy water and reused.
You need to check the drainage bag every few hours and empty it when it is half full. To empty the bag, open the tap over a toilet or container. Close the tap again once the bag is empty. Observe how much urine has drained and the colour (urine should be pale yellow).
Change the bag or tubing if you notice any holes. When changing the bag or tubing, clean the end with an alcohol swab and allow it to dry before connecting the new bag or tubing.
If you notice urine in your child's nappy or underpants, urine may be leaking around the catheter tube. This is called catheter bypass, and means the urine is bypassing the catheter and coming out of the urethra.
Follow the management plan in place for what to do if the catheter comes out, if you have one. If you don't have a plan, contact the treating hospital immediately. For some conditions seeing a doctor it is not urgent, but others may require you to go to the emergency department.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child's catheter care, contact your GP or nearest hospital emergency department.
Take your child to a hospital emergency department if:
Will the catheter be painful for my child?
While the insertion of a catheter can be uncomfortable, it
is often not painful. There are gentle, local anaesthetic gels that numb the
sensitive areas and make insertion more comfortable. While the catheter is in
place, it is generally not painful. Any episodes of pain should be discussed
with your child's doctor.
Can my child go to school if they have a catheter?
Children with indwelling catheters are able to
attend school and are strongly encouraged to do so. Most catheters and catheter
bags can be hidden under clothing, and children and school staff can be trained
in the safe drainage and care of urine bags. School staff should be made aware
of catheter management plans.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Surgery and Urology departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.