Diaper rash can range from mild redness to painful open sores, and it becomes more likely as your baby gets older. Although you might not be able to prevent every incident of diaper rash — especially if your baby has had diarrhea — practicing good hygiene goes a long way to keeping your baby comfortable and rash-free.
Diaper rashes are caused by skin irritants — including urine and feces — sitting next to the skin in a closed environment, says Dr. Steve J. Hodges, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based pediatric urologist. "The irritants cause the skin to lose it's acid mantle, the protective layer covering all skin," notes Hodges, "and raises the pH of the skin, increasing the growth of unwanted bacteria." This bacterial growth results in rashes, redness and irritation. An allergy to diaper material can also cause diaper rash, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, which adds that babies are more likely to get diaper rash as they begin eating solid food, when they have diarrhea or when they're taking antibiotics.
One of the simplest ways to prevent diaper rash is by simply changing your baby's diaper frequently. Soiled diapers — especially at night — can contribute to diaper rash. "Keep the diaper loose so that the wet and soiled parts do not rub against the skin as much," the AAP advises. Let your baby's skin dry completely after a diaper change or bath before you diaper him. Try a different brand if you suspect the material in the diaper irritates his skin. When washing cloth diapers, be sure to presoak them and rinse them twice. Use a gentle detergent and avoid fabric softener if your baby has sensitive skin, suggests the AAP.
Protective diaper creams contain zinc oxide or petroleum jelly and work by creating a barrier that keeps irritants away from the skin, says Hodges. After you clean your baby's bottom and allow it to dry, spread a thick layer of diaper cream over the bottom. Do this during every diaper change to keep diaper rash in check.
When to Call the Pediatrician
Most babies get diaper rash sometime during the first year, and some are more prone to it than others. Most rashes heal within two to three days with treatment, says the AAP. Talk with your doctor if the rash doesn't clear up within a few days, or if you notice blisters or pus-filled sores. Avoid steroid cream unless your doctor recommends it. Contact your pediatrician if your baby is taking antibiotics and develops a bright red rash, which might indicate a yeast infection, notes the AAP.