A comfortable baby is a happy baby, so learn what to look for and stop diaper rash before it becomes more problematic.

Inflamed skin in the diaper area is termed diaper rash. The rash can be mild and look irritated with just a few prickly red spots or more extensive with tender red bumps. The skin may also be a little puffy and feel warm to the touch. In many cases, mild diaper rash will appear with no known cause and will heal without any treatment.

While diaper rash can cause discomfort, it usually clears up with simple at-home treatments, such as air drying, more frequent diaper changes and thick application of ointment.

Causes of diaper rash include:

  • Not changing diapers often enough because prolonged exposure to urine or feces can irritate a baby's sensitive skin.
  • Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea because feces are more irritating than urine.
  • Chafing or rubbing from tight fitting diapers.
  • Over cleansing with soaps and wipes or irritation from a new product being used.
  • Antibiotic usage - when a baby takes antibiotics, bacteria that keep yeast growth in check may be depleted, resulting in diaper rash due to yeast infection. Breast-fed babies whose mothers take antibiotics are also at increased risk of diaper rash.
  • Introduction of solid foods or new foods. Changes in diet can increase frequency of stools which can lead to rash.
  • Sensitive skin in general because some babies have skin conditions and may be more prone to develop diaper rash.

Diaper Rash Prevention

Gentle cleansing is of utmost importance. Your pediatrician can provide guidance on which soaps, wipes, lotions and powders may irritate your baby’s skin.

  • Change diapers immediately after each bowel movement, and when necessary to keep your baby dry.
  • Avoid wipes with alcohol, as well as perfumed lotions or powders because these products can irritate your baby’s skin. Using warm water alone as a cleanser may be all that is necessary.
  • Avoid harsh soaps and don’t over cleanse - harsh scrubbing after each diaper change may damage the outer protective layer of the skin. The problem gets worse as the skin becomes more irritated by wetness and bowel movements.
  • Avoid too much drying after a diaper change. Gently pat the diaper area with a soft paper towel or cloth. You also should avoid using an electric hair dryer; this may cause "wind burn" on your baby’s sensitive skin.
  • Apply a thick layer of ointment for protection against wetness, and avoid perfumed lotions or powders that can irritate your baby’s skin.

Diaper Rash Prevention and Treatment

Parents often ask if cloth diapers are better for preventing diaper rash. It’s a common question and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Because diaper rash often occurs when skin is wet and irritated, part of the diaper’s job is to keep the baby dry. Cloth and disposables are both effective as long as they are changed often.

Some children may be better suited for one type of diaper over the other though it may boil down to personal choice.

The best treatment is to keep your baby’s bottom as clean and dry as possible. However, despite your best efforts, your baby still may get diaper rash. You can usually clear it up in three to four days on your own.

  • Give your baby “air time” on a blanket on the floor without a diaper on. Exposure to the air will speed healing.
  • Make sure diapers are changed often and avoid airtight fastening (especially overnight). You can increase air circulation within the diaper by using larger diapers for a few days and by loosely attaching them. You can also cut the elastic bands on disposables for a loose fit.
  • Instead of wiping your baby’s skin clean, try using a running stream of warm water from a squeeze bottle or give your baby a quick sink or tub rinse. This is gentle on your baby’s skin. Be sure to thoroughly pat their bottoms dry.
  • Apply a thick layer of cream or ointment that contains zinc oxide which stays on longer than other products. This protects the skin by sealing out moisture and contact with urine or feces.
  • If the rash continues to worsen either on its own or during treatment, call your pediatrician. A yeast rash, a serious skin irritation or an infection may require special medical treatment that your pediatrician can recommend.

Additional Information

  • Many parents apply ”baby powder” to the diaper area during a change; however, routine use of a talcum powder is not recommended because inhaling it could cause breathing problems so you must keep it away from your baby’s face.
  • If you choose to use any type of powder, you can prevent choking or suffocation by shaking the powder onto your hands-away from your baby’s eyes, nose, and mouth – and then apply it to your baby. Also, make sure that the container is far away from where your baby can reach it and possibly shake it near their face.
  • Remember not to leave your baby alone on the changing table or any surface above the floor. Even a newborn can make a sudden turn and fall to the floor. Have everything you need on hand and within easy reach to ensure a safe experience.
  • If you change diapers often, your baby can usually avoid the pain and discomfort of diaper rash and you can avoid worry. Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you have questions or concerns about diaper rash.