Diaper rash is a common form of inflamed skin (dermatitis) that appears as a patchwork of bright red skin on your baby's bottom.
Diaper rash is often related to wet or infrequently changed diapers, skin sensitivity, and chafing. It usually affects babies, though anyone who wears a diaper regularly can develop the condition.
Diaper rash can alarm parents and annoy babies. But it usually clears up with simple at-home treatments, such as air drying, more frequent diaper changes and ointment.
Diaper rash is characterized by the following:
If your baby's skin doesn't improve after a few days of home treatment, talk with your doctor. Sometimes, you'll need a prescription medication to treat diaper rash.
Have your child examined if the rash:
Diaper rash can be traced to a number of sources, including:
The best way to prevent diaper rash is to keep the diaper area clean and dry. A few simple strategies can help decrease the likelihood of diaper rash developing on your baby's skin.
In the past, it was common to use powders, such as cornstarch or talcum powder, to protect a baby's skin and absorb excess moisture. Doctors no longer recommend this. Inhaled powder can irritate a baby's lungs.
Many parents wonder about what kind of diapers to use. When it comes to preventing diaper rash, there's no compelling evidence that cloth diapers are better than disposable diapers or vice versa.
Because there's no one best diaper, use whatever works for you and your baby. If one brand of disposable diaper irritates your baby's skin, try another. If the laundry soap you use on cloth diapers seems to cause a diaper rash, switch products.
Whether you use cloth diapers, disposables or both kinds, always change your baby as soon as possible after he or she wets or soils the diaper to keep the bottom as clean and dry as possible.
If you use cloth diapers, careful washing can help prevent diaper rash. Washing methods vary and many routines work well. They key is to clean, disinfect and remove soap residue. Here's one effective method:
The best treatment for diaper rash is to keep your baby's skin as clean and dry as possible. If your baby's diaper rash persists despite home treatment, your doctor may prescribe:
Use creams or ointments with steroids only if your baby's pediatrician or dermatologist recommends them — strong steroids or frequent use can lead to additional problems.
Diaper rashes usually require several days to improve, and the rash may come back repeatedly. If the rash persists despite prescription treatment, your doctor may recommend that your baby see a specialist in skin conditions (dermatologist).
Generally, a diaper rash can be treated successfully at home with these practices:
Keeping diaper area clean and dry. The best way to keep your baby's diaper area clean and dry is by changing diapers immediately after they are wet or soiled. Until the rash is better, this may mean getting up during the night to change the diaper.
After you've gently cleaned and dried the skin, apply a cream, paste or ointment. Certain products, such as zinc oxide and petroleum jelly, work well to protect the skin from moisture. Don't try to scrub off this protective layer completely at the next diaper change, as that could hurt the skin more. If you do want to remove it, try using mineral oil on a cotton ball.
Applying ointment, paste, cream or lotion. Various diaper rash medications are available without a prescription. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for specific recommendations. Some popular over-the-counter products include A + D, Balmex, Desitin, Triple Paste and Lotrimin (for yeast infections).
Zinc oxide is the active ingredient in many diaper rash products. They are usually applied to the rash throughout the day to soothe and protect your baby's skin. It doesn't take much – a thin covering will do. The product can be applied over medicated creams, such as an antifungal or a steroid, when necessary. You could also apply petroleum jelly on top, which helps keep the diaper from sticking to the cream.
Ointments, pastes or creams may be less irritating than lotions. But ointments and pastes create a barrier over the skin and don't allow it to receive air. Creams dry on the skin and allow air through. Talk with your doctor about what type of product would be better for your child's rash.
As a general rule, stick with products designed for babies. Avoid items containing baking soda, boric acid, camphor, phenol, benzocaine, diphenhydramine, or salicylates. These ingredients can be toxic for babies.
The following alternative treatments have worked for some people:
Human breast milk. Results are mixed on whether human breast milk applied to diaper rash is better than other treatments. One study showed that applying breast milk to diaper rash is an effective and safe treatment. Infants with diaper rash were treated with either 1 percent hydrocortisone ointment or breast milk. The study included 141 infants. Treatment with breast milk was as effective as the ointment alone.
Another study compared human breast milk with a cream made from zinc oxide and cod liver oil. Newborns with diaper rash were treated with the cream or the breast milk. The study included 63 newborns. Treatment with the cream was more effective.
Generally, a diaper rash can be treated successfully at home. Make an appointment with your baby's doctor if the rash gets worse despite several days of home treatment, is severe or occurs along with a fever.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Below are some basic questions to ask your doctor about diaper rash.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to talk about in-depth. Your doctor may ask:
In the time leading up to your appointment, avoid products that seem to trigger your baby's rash. Wash your baby's bottom with water after each diaper change. Avoid soaps and wipes that contain alcohol or fragrance.
Give your baby as much diaper-free time as possible, so that his or her skin can have a chance to stay dry and start healing. When you do use diapers, change them frequently and apply a diaper rash cream, lotion, paste or ointment to act as a barrier between your baby's skin and a dirty diaper.