How to Heal Your Baby’s Diaper Rash
Everything you need to know to treat—and prevent—that dreaded diaper rash
Special thanks to Michael Cosimini, MD, for contributing to this article.
If your child is in diapers, at some point you will probably deal with a diaper rash. At least half of all babies develop diaper rash.
But while diaper rash is a common problem, there is plenty you can do to help your baby. With a few simple steps, you can soothe that skin, speed healing—and help prevent another rash in the future.
What causes diaper rash?
The two biggest causes are wetness and friction. Basically, urine and stool from the diaper can irritate your baby’s skin over time. Diapers can also chafe or rub against your baby’s bottom, creating friction.
Changes in the pH of the skin from pee, poop or some skin products can cause rash.
In addition, soaps can break down skin over time, just as they break down germs and dirt. And, rarely, babies can be allergic to a specific ingredient in a diaper, wipe or soap.
While diaper rash can occur at any age, it is most common in babies 9 to 12 months old. It is also more likely to happen when your baby:
- Starts eating solid foods
- Begins sleeping through the night (with fewer diaper changes)
- Has a cold or diarrhea
- Is taking antibiotics
Tips for treating diaper rash
A diaper rash can range from mild to severe. With a mild rash, you might see small pink or red spots or patches. In more severe cases, the spots will be brighter red, or the skin may be cracked, broken or blistered. The rash may spread down to the legs or up the abdomen, and your baby may be crying or in distress.
The sooner you start treating the rash, the better. Below are some time-tested tips to help that diaper rash disappear. These same tips can also help prevent future rashes, or at least make them less frequent and less severe.
- Ditch the diaper. Giving your baby some “naked time” out of diapers can help speed the healing process. Basically, this allows babies to stay dry and avoid friction, so their skin can breathe.
One idea is to buy disposable waterproof pads (sometimes called “chux”) and let the baby play on that pad without a diaper. Or, remove the diaper when your baby is sleeping. The more time with the diaper off, the better, especially in severe cases.
- Change diapers more often. Don’t let your baby sit long in a wet or soiled diaper. Changing diapers frequently is a good way to prevent diaper rash or decrease its severity. Yeast loves to grow in warm wet areas so keeping the area dry can prevent rash from these infections.
- Use a barrier cream—and use a lot of it. A barrier cream protects your baby’s skin from urine and stool. A zinc oxide cream or a petroleum jelly ointment are good options. You can also use these creams to try to prevent a rash in the first place.
The key? When the baby has a rash, apply a very thick layer of it—like icing on a cake. Many parents under-apply these creams.
- Be gentle when you clean. You want to reduce the friction on your baby’s bottom, so don’t scrub or rub your baby clean. Gently pat the skin with a soft washcloth in warm water, or dip the baby briefly in a bath. Pat dry with a towel—don’t rub.
Warm water is often enough to clean pee and poop. Soaps can be hard on babies’ skin; if warm water is not enough, use a non-soap cleanser (most “baby washes” fall into this category). If you use baby wipes, choose ones that are free of dyes, scents and alcohol.
- Switch to disposable diapers. If your baby is currently in cloth diapers, it’s a good idea to switch to super-absorbent disposable diapers until the rash is healed. This will help keep your baby’s skin as dry as possible.
- Check the size. Make sure the diaper fits. A diaper that is too big can rub back and forth on your baby’s bottom. If it’s too small, it traps in moisture and brings the pee and poop too close to the skin.
When to call the doctor
Most mild diaper rashes can be treated at home. It might take a few weeks for the rash to completely go away. But it should start to improve after just a few days of following the above tips.
If your child’s rash is severe or does not improve after several days or gets worse, call your doctor. A fungal infection might be involved. Your child’s doctor might give you a fungal medicine or a mild steroid cream.
You should also call the doctor if your child:
- Has a fever (over 100.4) with the rash
- Has bruises, bleeding or open sores in the area
- Is in a lot of pain or discomfort
- Is losing weight or seems sick
Diaper rash is a normal part of babyhood, but your baby doesn’t have to suffer. Watch for rashes so you can treat them early. And if you have any concerns, call your doctor.