Diaper Rash 101

Birthmark on the leg of an Asian baby girl, who is wearing diapers while crawling.Ever hear the expression, smooth as a baby's bottom? That's pretty smooth, unless they are dealing with a diaper rash. No matter how diligent you are about changing your baby’s diapers and keeping his little bottom clean, you’ll almost certainly have to deal with diaper rash on at least a few occasions. In fact, you’ve probably already seen the red, painful areas of inflamed skin that characterize diaper rash. Below are a few primary causes of diaper rash and how best to treat and prevent them from putting a damper on your daily diaper changes. 

What causes diaper rash?

It might surprise you to know that there are a few different ways that your baby can develop diaper rash. The most well-known is wearing the same diaper too long, especially if baby had a bowel movement—and even worse if it’s diarrhea. The irritation to baby’s brand-new skin causes the rash. Other potential causes include:

  • Infection: Usually bacteria or yeast that breed in warm, moist environments
  • Moisture: Using wipes to clean your baby and not letting them dry before applying a new diaper
  • Chafing: Usually from the diaper or clothing being too tight
  • Reaction: Sometimes the skin will react to a new product, like a different brand of diaper or baby wipe.
  • Skin sensitivity: Some babies naturally have more sensitive skin, and those with eczema or other skin conditions may be more prone to diaper rash.
  • New food: Trying new foods can upset baby’s delicate digestive system, which leads to more bowel movements, and possibly more diarrhea.
  • Antibiotics: Whether the baby is taking an antibiotic, or the breastfeeding mother is taking it, the drug can kill the good bacteria along with the bad, resulting in yeast overgrowth that could lead to diaper rash.

How can you treat and prevent diaper rash?

Your first line of defense against diaper rash is changing your baby’s diaper frequently, before the yuck has time to irritate the skin. Here are some other tips:

  • Clean your baby’s diaper area well, but avoid baby wipes that contain fragrance. In fact, most pediatricians will recommend steering clear of packaged baby wipes altogether in favor of a damp paper towel or soft cloth.
  • Keep the diaper off when possible, even though it may mean more clean-up time. Exposure to the air will help the rash heal more quickly.
  • After cleaning, pat your baby’s skin dry, rather than rubbing.
  • Don’t put the diaper on too tightly—this can cause chafing and prevent adequate airflow.
  • Spread a thick layer of petroleum jelly on baby’s bottom to prevent diaper rash. If the rash is already present, you may need an ointment with zinc oxide to clear it up.

When should you see the pediatrician?

Most diaper rashes will clear up with home treatment. You should call your pediatrician if it doesn’t go away in a couple of days, if it gets worse, or if it seems to be spreading. If blisters or open sores develop, or if pus is oozing from the rash, that’s another good reason to seek medical attention.