How to recognize and treat a diaper rash

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
April 2, 2023
how to recognize and treat a diaper rash

Most babies will get a diaper rash at some point. These rashes can look alarming, but they usually clear up quickly if you limit wetness and friction, let their bottoms breathe more, and treat the rashes correctly. Find out how to recognize the signs of diaper rashes and how to treat this common skin condition.

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What causes diaper rashes?

Wearing a diaper causes your baby’s skin to be exposed to humidity and to chafing. This naturally results in red and irritated skin. Your baby will be more likely to develop a rash if they wear a wet diaper for a while.

Diarrhea increases the risks of getting a diaper rash. Stools can irritate a baby’s sensitive skin if the diaper isn’t changed quickly.

Babies can get rashes in spite of being changed regularly. Some babies have more sensitive skin than others, and some other factors can contribute to a baby getting a skin rash.

Diapers and wipes that contain fragrances and other chemicals can irritate a baby’s sensitive skin. Humidity and hot temperatures also make newborns more likely to get skin rashes.

A new food could be causing your baby to have more frequent bowel movements, which could result in irritated skin in the diaper area. Being on antibiotics can also increase your baby’s risks of developing a diaper rash.

What does a diaper rash typically look like?

Before choosing a newborn diaper rash treatment, you need to make sure your baby has a diaper rash and not another similar skin condition. This type of rash will usually cover the buttocks, thighs, and genitals. It might spread to the belly and other areas.

Your baby’s skin will look red and tender. The rash might be worse in the skin folds. Your newborn will probably fuss and cry during diaper changes due to her skin being more sensitive.

If your baby’s diaper area is more yellow than red, your baby could be suffering from a skin condition known as seborrhea. Eczema can also appear in the diaper area. This condition looks a little different from a typical diaper rash because the skin will look scaly besides being red and irritated.

If you notice pimples, drainage, and crust on your baby’s skin, she might be suffering from impetigo. You should schedule a doctor’s appointment since a prescription will be needed to treat impetigo.

In some cases, a normal diaper rash can turn into a bacterial or a yeast infection. The skin will look even redder and might feel warm to the touch. It is best to see a doctor or a pediatrician if you aren’t sure about the severity of your baby’s diaper rash.

How to treat a diaper rash

You can use different diaper rash remedies for the baby to soothe the skin and clear the rash. It is also important to determine what is causing the rash.

Possible Causes of a Diaper Rash

  • Your baby not being changed regularly.
  • Your baby wearing wet diapers throughout the night.
  • Using diapers with a fragrance.
  • Using alcohol wipes.
  • Diapers or clothes causing chafing because they are too tight.
  • Diarrhea or frequent bowel movements due to new solid foods.

Your first step should be to replace your baby’s diapers with a different brand that doesn’t use any fragrances. Replace baby wipes with a soft washcloth.

You should also use a diaper rash lotion. Your options include zinc oxide creams and petroleum jelly. Note that some topical treatments include petroleum jelly or a similar ingredient and other ingredients. These treatments are a good option as long as they don’t contain fragrances.

Zinc oxide creams

Zinc oxide is an antiseptic agent. It will disinfect your baby’s skin and prevent infections from developing. Zinc oxide also acts as an astringent. You can use as much zinc oxide cream as needed, but make sure you check the concentration of this ingredient.

Some diaper rash creams have a high zinc oxide content to clear rashes as quickly as possible. Other treatments have a lower concentration and would be ideal for newborns with sensitive skin or to prevent diaper rashes.

Apply a generous quantity of zinc oxide cream on your baby’s diaper area to create a protective layer. This topical cream will prevent chafing and help the skin heal.

Petroleum jelly

Petroleum jelly will protect your baby’s skin from wetness and from chafing. It will hydrate the skin without irritating it since it doesn’t contain any fragrances or harsh chemicals.

The downside of using petroleum jelly is that it can be difficult to wash off. If your baby has a more severe rash, you will need a zinc oxide treatment. Note that you can apply a layer of zinc oxide cream and some petroleum jelly to create an additional barrier against moisture and chafing.

Petroleum jelly is great for preventing rashes. If your baby has sensitive skin or has been experiencing frequent bowel movements, you can apply a layer of petroleum jelly when you change her diaper even if her skin isn’t irritated.

Other treatments

Your doctor might prescribe a different treatment if your baby has a more serious rash. Hydrocortisone creams are often used for more severe cases. These treatments can irritate your baby’s skin and aren’t recommended for milder rashes that will clear with jelly or zinc oxide.

If your baby has a bacterial or a yeast infection, your doctor will prescribe some antibiotics or an antifungal treatment.

Talc and cornstarch

Talc is usually sold as baby powder. If you have been asking friends and relatives ‘What can I use for diaper rash?’ some of them may have recommended baby powder.

You should actually avoid using any kind of powder around your baby since she could inhale it. Powder could also trap moisture against your baby’s skin and make the rash even worse.

You need to avoid cornstarch at all costs since this home remedy would actually cause bacteria to breed on your baby’s skin.

Changing your baby while her rash clears

You can help your baby’s rash clear faster by being very careful when you change her. You might also need to change your routine so you can apply a diaper rash cream before putting on a new diaper. Here is how you should change your baby while her rash clears.

How to change A baby with a diaper rash

  • Change your baby as often as possible - every two hours would be ideal.
  • Wash your hands before changing your baby.
  • Remove the old diaper and clean your baby’s skin with water.
  • Use a mild soap if you need to, but stick to water if you can.
  • Pat your baby’s diaper area dry with a clean washcloth. Avoid using baby wipes.
  • If possible, let your baby’s bottom dry for ten minutes.
  • You can then apply a layer of petroleum jelly or a zinc oxide ointment. 
  • Cover the entire area that will be in contact with the diaper.
  • If there is ointment left on your baby’s skin, don’t worry about removing all of it.
  • Make sure there's no moisture trapped under the petroleum jelly or diaper rash cream.
  • Put the new diaper on making sure your baby has room to breathe.
  • Get your baby’s clothes back on, but they shouldn’t be too tight.

If possible, let your baby sleep naked. You can use a plastic sheet to protect the mattress. This will help the rash dry a lot faster.

And if you can, let your baby run around without a diaper during the daytime. The rash will clear up faster if your baby’s bottom isn’t constantly exposed to moisture and chafing.

What to do if rashes are a chronic problem

Keep in mind that these rashes are common among babies between the ages of nine months and a year. This is mostly due to them constantly running around and trying new foods.

If your baby suffers from rashes on a regular basis, she might be allergic to a product you use when you change her. Try a different brand of diapers and replace baby wipes with a washcloth.

If you use cloth diapers, your laundry detergent might be too harsh for your baby’s skin. Think about using disposable diapers instead.

You should try to switch to a larger size when shopping for diapers so your baby has more room to breathe. The pants your baby wears might be too tight and cause chafing.

And if the weather is hot and humid, make sure your baby is wearing light breathable clothes.

If the same rash doesn’t disappear after a few days even though you have been using a topical treatment, you should schedule a doctor’s appointment. Your baby might be suffering from an infection or another skin condition. Your doctor will probably prescribe a hydrocortisone cream or another treatment.

Take action as soon as you notice the first signs of a diaper rash. The rash should go away after a few days if you keep your baby dry and use a topical treatment. If your baby’s skin is still irritated after a few days, schedule a doctor’s appointment to figure out what could be causing the rash.

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