Diaper Rash: Causes, Prevention and Treatments

Written by: Guest Writer



Time to read 4 min

Diaper rash, also sometimes called Irritant diaper dermatitis, is a common skin irritation that affects many babies and toddlers. It can cause redness, inflammation, and discomfort in the diaper area. 

While diaper rash is typically not serious, it's important to understand the causes and take steps to prevent and treat it effectively. The key to treating diaper rash is to keep the area clean, dry, and protected. With the right care and prevention strategies, most cases of diaper rash can be resolved quickly and effectively.

Causes of Diaper Rash

Your baby’s doctor can diagnose diaper rash by looking at it. You may be able to send a photo in your online portal without making an office visit. However, you may not need to seek medical treatment for a diaper rash. You can often treat the diaper rash at home with over the counter remedies.

Diaper rash is typically caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • Irritation: When a baby's skin is in prolonged contact with urine, feces, or the diaper itself, it can become irritated and inflamed. This is the most common cause of diaper rash. It is important to check your baby's diaper often and change it when it is soiled. During the day, it is recommended to change your baby's diaper at least once every two hours.
  • Infection: Bacteria and fungi, such as Candida Albicans (yeast), can thrive in the warm, moist environment of a dirty diaper. This can lead to a more severe type of diaper rash. A yeast infection requires the application of a topical anti-fungal cream. If you think that your baby may have a yeast infection, speak with your doctor about treatment options.
  • Allergic reaction: Some babies may have an allergic reaction to certain ingredients in diapers, wipes, or detergents, causing a rash. If you believe that your baby may be having an allergic reaction, consider swapping out one variable in order to determine the allergy causing product. If cloth diapering, consider an unscented detergent for sensitive kids.
  • Diarrhea: Loose, frequent stools can irritate the skin and worsen an existing diaper rash.
  • Acidic Foods: Once baby begins eating solids, certain foods can cause redness in the diaper area. Citrus is a common irritant.
  • Antibiotics: Taking antibiotics can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria on the skin, allowing Candida to overgrow and cause a yeast infection.

Preventing Diaper Rash

To help prevent diaper rash, follow these steps:

  • Change diapers frequently: Check your baby's diaper every 2-3 hours and change it as soon as it's wet or soiled. One in two families experience diaper need. If you need help providing clean diapers for your baby, consider contacting your local diaper bank for support. The Diaper Bank Network is a great resource for locating the nearest provider near you. 
  • Clean gently: Use warm water and a soft cloth or mild, fragrance-free baby wipes to clean the diaper area. Avoid rubbing the skin, as this can further irritate it.
  • Consider only wiping poop diapers: If the skin is inflamed, consider not wiping during pee diaper changes to minimize skin irritation. 
  • Allow for air drying: After cleaning, pat the skin dry gently and allow the area to air dry for a few minutes before putting on a fresh diaper.
  • Use a barrier ointment: Apply a thick layer of a zinc oxide or petroleum-based diaper rash cream or ointment at each diaper change to create a protective barrier against moisture and irritants. (If using cloth diapers, ensure that you are using a barrier between the zinc oxide or petroleum based products and your diaper lining. Learn more here »
  • Avoid irritants: Steer clear of baby wipes, detergents, or diapers that contain fragrances, dyes, or other potential irritants. 
  • Let skin breathe: Whenever possible, allow your baby's skin to air out by leaving them diaper-free for short periods of time. Consider using a waterproof play mat, like a Kinder Adventure Mat, for diaper free time. 
  • Adjust diapering: If your baby is prone to diaper rash, try switching to a different brand of diapers or cloth diapers, and make sure the diapers are not fastened too tightly. Look for a deposable diaper that is Chlorine Free. 
  • Treat underlying conditions: If your baby has diarrhea or is taking antibiotics, work with your pediatrician to address the underlying issue.

Treating Diaper Rash

If your baby develops a diaper rash, try the following treatments:

  • Keep the area clean and dry: Continue to change diapers frequently and gently clean the area with warm water and a soft cloth. 
  • Apply a barrier ointment: Use a thick, zinc oxide-based diaper rash cream or ointment to create a protective barrier and soothe the skin.
  • Consider an antifungal cream: If the rash is caused by a yeast infection, your pediatrician may prescribe an antifungal cream or powder.
  • Use a mild steroid ointment: For severe, persistent rashes, your pediatrician may recommend a mild, over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment for a short period of time.
  • Allow for diaper-free time: Whenever possible, let your baby's skin air out by leaving them diaper-free for short periods of time.
  • Seek medical attention: If the rash doesn't improve within 2-3 days, or if you notice signs of infection (such as fever, pus, or worsening redness), contact your pediatrician.

Heat Rash in the Diaper Area

Heat rash, also known as "prickly heat", occurs when sweat becomes trapped under the skin and is unable to evaporate properly. This can happen when the skin is exposed to heat and humidity, such as in the diaper area.

Babies are more prone to developing heat rash for a few key reasons:

  • Immature sweat ducts: Newborns and young infants have less developed sweat glands and ducts, making it harder for their bodies to regulate temperature and allow sweat to evaporate.
  • Skin folds and friction: The warm, moist environment under a diaper, combined with skin folds and friction from the diaper, can trap sweat and lead to blocked pores and heat rash.
  • Inability to regulate temperature: Babies have less control over their body temperature compared to adults, making them more susceptible to overheating and developing heat rash.
  • Overdressing: Dressing a baby in too many layers of clothing or blankets can prevent heat dissipation and cause sweating that leads to heat rash. 

Heat rash in the diaper area appears as small, red, itchy bumps, and can worsen if the skin is not kept cool and dry. Preventing and treating heat rash involves keeping the diaper area clean, dry, and allowing airflow to the skin.

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