How to Prevent and Treat Diaper Rash
Irritation, red spots, soreness and pain — yep, that’s a diaper rash. Although it’s a common problem that almost every baby will experience at some point, this kind of irritation is unpleasant for both babies and their parents.
But we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you could ever want to know about diaper rash, from what it is, to how to prevent it, to what exactly you can do when your baby gets a sore butt.
What Is Diaper Rash?
A diaper rash is essentially a skin irritation that comes from prolonged contact with a wet or soiled diaper. It’s usually mild, but can occasionally become severe. Charles Shubin, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Mercy Family Care Physicians in Baltimore, explains, “Diaper rashes come from wearing diapers, so limiting wearing them would be the most effective prevention approach. But that wouldn't be socially acceptable, so the next best approach is to create a barrier to protect the skin.”
Barriers most often include diaper creams and ointments. Some diaper rashes clear easily with topical treatments, while others persist.
Because diaper rash basically comes from prolonged wetness, one way to prevent it is to change your baby often.
If you have trouble remembering (and your baby doesn’t let you know by fussing or crying), try changing at transition times, like after naps and before outings.
Watch Your Wipes
Find yourself using almost a whole package of wipes for a diaper blowout? That may be hindering your baby’s healing process.
Dr. Shubin says, “Only unscented wipes should be used, and sparingly at that, as they are all irritating to the skin.”
Apply Zinc Oxide
Zinc oxide is the gold standard to both treat and prevent diaper rashes — hence why it’s an ingredient in so many heavy-duty diaper creams.
Dr. Shubin advises going straight to the source by purchasing zinc oxide (available at most pharmacies) if you don’t want to spring for a cream with other ingredients.
Try Diaper-Free Time
When you’re at home, give your baby plenty of diaper-free time, especially after diaper changes. Let your little one roll around naked for a few minutes a few times a day.
If you’re worried about accidents, sit them on a puppy pad that will soak up any leaks.
Many parents find that switching brands of disposable diapers leads to a cured or lessened rash. Some research has demonstrated that diapers with a mesh-like inner layer are better at containing waste and keeping it off of baby’s skin.
Popular gentle brands are Honest Company, Earth & Eden, Naty Naturals and Pampers Free & Clear.
Go Up a Size
Sometimes, the fix is super easy — go up a size in baby’s diapers!
When a diaper fits too tightly, it can chafe and irritate the skin.
Cloth diapers can be considerably less irritating to your baby’s sensitive areas than the standard disposable diapers. Dr. Shubin says switching to cloth diapers could help in both preventing and treating diaper irritation, but “only if plastic covers are not used (the air circulation is what would help, but the plastic would negate that).”
Many cloth diapers today use hemp, cotton or fleece inserts with wool or polyurethane laminate covers — plus, they’re eco-friendly!
Consider Calendula and Aloe
Although zinc oxide will work for lots of babies with sore butts, it may not be a cure-all for everyone.
Enter calendula and aloe, two soothing botanicals that have been shown in research to be effective treatments for diaper rash.
Yogurt, with its soothing and bacteria-rich properties, might be just the thing to take away baby’s red spots.
Gently pat room-temperature plain yogurt over the diaper area as you would with any other cream or ointment. Just make sure to allow it to dry before putting the diaper back on.
If your baby is prone to diaper rashes, consider giving him or her a probiotic supplement. Similar to using yogurt, doing this can boost the beneficial bacteria in your baby’s entire system, including on his or her skin and in the gut.
Supplements come in liquid and powder form, making it easy to give to babies.
Check for Food Allergies
There is some evidence that an extremely persistent diaper rash (lasting longer than a month) may be associated with food allergies, according to a recent article in “Pediatric Dermatology.”
If you’ve tried a zillion creams and ointments, and baby’s bottom just won’t heal, it may be worth having him or her checked for allergies.
Apply a Little Breastmilk
A 2017 study showed that breastmilk is a safe and effective remedy for diaper dermatitis.
And if you’re breastfeeding, it’s absolutely free!
Check for Yeast
Sometimes, a diaper rash can escalate into a type of yeast infection. This sometimes happens after or during a course of antibiotics (which can lessen the good bacteria on your baby’s skin and allow yeast to proliferate). When this happens, the rash is usually extremely persistent and is red, raised and sometimes scaly or flaky. Most often, you can treat this type of rash at home with over-the-counter creams and plenty of diaper-free time. Dr. Shubin says, “Exposing the baby's bottom to air helps as yeast needs a warm, moist environment to grow.”
Occasionally, a yeast rash is bad enough to warrant an antifungal medication. Ask your baby’s doctor to prescribe one if the rash continues to persist.