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Home > Parenting Information > Health > Diaper Rash


Diaper Rash
(Causes & types, Treatments and Prevention)


Causes & types of diaper rash

Diaper rash is most commonly caused by the constant wetting and drying of the skin along with repetitive exposure to a variety of irritating substances.  Once the naturally dry barrier of a baby’s skin has been irritated it becomes red, warm, rough and can lead to a variety of infections.  The most common irritants are urine, stool, bacteria from urine and stool, ammonia - which is formed by the baby’s stool breaking down the chemicals in urine, detergents, perfumes, plastics and dyes from single use disposable diapers, pre-moistened baby wipes, soaps and reactions to creams.  The term “diaper rash” describes several different kinds of skin conditions in the diaper area.  Below is a list of the different types of diaper rash and what they usually look like.

Chafing dermatitis (diaper chafing): This is the most common form of diaper rash, which can make the genital area and folds of the thighs & buttocks appear red and puffy.  Diaper chafing or the baby being in a wet and dirty diaper for too much time causes this type of rash.  This type of rash generally comes and goes, causing little discomfort as long as it’s not complicated by a secondary infection.

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema):  This type of rash shows up as red scaly patches on the legs and in the groin area.  This rash may turn up in other parts of the body first while spreading to the diaper area between 6 and 12 months of age.  Atopic dermatitis can be caused by many things including allergens, irritants, environmental and hereditary factors.

Candidal dermatitis (yeast infection):  This type of rash is usually tender and painful, appearing in the folds of the baby’s genitals, legs and the creases between the abdomen and thighs.  This rash will start as small red spots that become more numerous and then form together as a raised bright red rash with distinct edges.  The most common cause of this type of rash is a baby that is taking or has been taking antibiotics.

Perianal dermatitis:  This type of rash appears as a bright to dark redness around the anus.  The stools of bottle fed babies being more alkaline than normal are sometimes the cause it.  This rash will usually not appear with breast fed babies until after solids are introduced.

Seborrheic dermatitis (cradle cap): This rash will appear as a deep red rash that is rough, raised and often has yellowish scales.  This type of rash usually starts on the scalp as cradle cap, although it can sometimes begin in the diaper region and then its spreads upward.  This rash is usually caused by overactive oil glands in the skin.

Impetigo:  This type of rash can appear as yellow-brown crusty patches or pus filled pimples or blisters, which is usually accompanied by a lot of surrounding redness.  This rash can cover the buttocks, lower abdomen, anus, umbilical cord, and thighs and then spread to other parts of the body. Impetigo is caused by bacteria (streptococci or staphylococci).  If you think your baby’s rash is a bacterial infection, be sure and notify your doctor immediately.  Your doctor will most likely prescribe a topical or oral antibiotic.

Tidemark dermatitis: This rash is an irritation that occurs from the edges or bindings of a diaper rubbing against the skin.

Intertrigo:  This rash will appear as a reddened area, which occurs as a result of skin rubbing on skin.  It is usually found in the folds between the thighs and abdomen and sometimes in the armpits.

Treatments for diaper rash

The best treatment for diaper rash is prevention.  The best prevention is keeping your baby’s diaper area clean and dry.  Even with all the prevention in the world, your baby may still get diaper rash.  Don’t feel to blame, because it’s very common.  The following preventative measures will help you treat a current case of rash and also help you prevent reoccurrences.

Frequent diaper changes:  Change your baby’s diaper as soon as he or she has wet or had a bowel movement.  Wash your baby’s bottom with warm water using wash clothes or cotton balls instead of  “baby wipes”.

Barrier or blocking ointments:  Using an ointment such as Desitin, A&D, Eucerin, zinc oxide or Nivea on your baby’s bottom can put a protective barrier between urine, stool and your baby’s skin.  Most doctors recommend avoiding the use of talcum powder, which can cause lung problems and cornstarch, which can cause yeast to form.

Fresh Air:  Give your baby’s bottom more time in the open air without diapers on.  When you’re at home, place your baby on a few cloth diapers or blankets over a waterproof pad.  The more fresh air that your baby’s bottom is exposed to the faster the rash will heal.

Different type of diapers:  If your baby is having a recurring problem with diaper rash try switching the type of diapers you are using.  If you are using disposable diapers, try switching to cloth.  Some of the dyes and perfumes in disposables may be the cause of your baby’s rash.  If you’re using cloth diapers, try putting the diapers through a second wash cycle in clear water without detergents.

Avoid soaps and other irritants:  Limit the use of soap on your baby’s bottom.  Washing with soap 2 or 3 times a week is enough.  Even if you’re using a mild soap for sensitive skin, your baby might be having a reaction to it.  When your baby has had a bowel movement use plain warm water and wash clothes or cotton balls to clean his or her bottom.  Baby wipes can cause more irritation to an existing rash and some wipes contain alcohol, which is very drying to your baby’s skin.

Prevention of diaper rash

Prevention is the key to keeping diaper rash from occurring.  Below are some ways of preventing diaper rash.

Fresh air:  Give your baby’s bottom fresh air without diapers on as often as possible.  With your baby’s skin being kept dry and clean you may never have to worry about diaper rash.

Cleanliness:  Change your baby’s diapers as soon as they become wet or soiled.  With your baby consistently having dry clean diapers on, the probability of diaper rash decreases substantially.

Cloth diapers:  Studies have shown that the use of single use disposable diapers increases the likelihood of diaper rash.  Consider using cloth diapers while you’re at home and use disposables when you are on the go and away from home.

Use mild detergents:  Use a very mild detergent, such as Dreft when washing cloth diapers and wash clothes that are used to clean your baby’s bottom.

Introduce new foods carefully:  When introducing new foods to your baby, stay on one particular food for at least 3 to 5 days.  If your baby is allergic to a particular food, it will show up within this time frame.

When should I call and see my doctor?

If your baby’s diaper rash doesn’t clear up and improve in a day or two, if blisters appear, if the rash is bright red or has crusted areas, if your baby is not eating well, if at any time your baby develops a fever or appears to not feel well, call your doctor immediately.  Your doctor will be able to tell you what type of diaper rash your baby is experiencing and will tell you the proper way to treat the rash.  Your doctor may prescribe some type of ointment or antibiotic depending on what type of rash your baby has; the doctor may also want to change your diet if you are breast-feeding or change your baby’s diet if you’re are introducing new foods.

Never use treatments your friends suggest or treatments you may read about instead of doing what your doctor tells you to do.  Your baby’s doctor knows what is best for your baby.


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