Diaper Rash (Diaper Dermatitis)

What is a diaper rash?

Diaper rash is any rash that forms in the diaper area. In mild cases, the skin may be red. In more severe cases, there may be painful, open sores. Mild cases clear up within three to four days with treatment.

What causes diaper rash?

Diaper rash can be caused by any of the following:

  • Too much moisture
  • Chafing or rubbing
  • When urine or stool touch the skin for long periods of time
  • Yeast infection
  • Bacterial infection
  • Reaction to diaper material
  • Reaction to food

When skin stays wet for too long, it starts to break down. When wet skin is rubbed, it also damages more easily. Moisture from a soiled diaper can harm your baby's skin and make it more prone to chafing. When this happens, a diaper rash may develop.

More than half of babies between four and 15 months of age have diaper rash at least once in a two-month period. Diaper rash occurs more often when:

  • Babies are not kept clean and dry
  • Babies have frequent stools, especially when the stools stay in diapers overnight
  • Babies have diarrhea
  • Babies begin to eat solid foods
  • Babies are taking antibiotics or mothers of nursing babies are taking antibiotics

What are symptoms of diaper rash?

  • Slightly reddened skin
  • An area that may be warm to the touch

How can I prevent diaper rash?

  • Expose your baby's bottom to fresh air by leaving the diaper off whenever possible.
  • Be aware and change your baby’s diapers as soon as they are wet or soiled. Clean, dry diapers reduce the risk of diaper rash.
  • Use mild detergent to wash your baby’s clothes and linens.
  • Carefully observe any changes in your baby’s skin and digestion when introducing new foods.

What can I do if my baby gets diaper rash?

If your baby gets a diaper rash, it is important to keep the area as clean and dry as possible. Change wet or soiled diapers right away. This helps cut down how much moisture is on the skin.

Gently clean the diaper area with water and a soft washcloth. Disposable diaper wipes may also be used. Avoid wipes that contain alcohol and fragrance. Use soap and water only if the stool does not come off easily. If the rash is severe, use a squirt bottle of water so you can clean and rinse without rubbing.

Pat dry; do not rub. Allow the area to air-dry fully.

Apply a thick layer of protective ointment or cream (such as one that contains zinc oxide or petroleum jelly). These ointments are usually thick and do not have to be completely removed at the next diaper change. Remember, heavy scrubbing or rubbing will only damage the skin more.

Do not make the diaper too tight, especially overnight. Keep the diaper loose so that the wet and soiled parts do not rub against the skin as much.

When to call the doctor

Sometimes a diaper rash needs medical attention. Talk with your baby’s doctor if:

  • The rash does not look like it's going away or gets worse two to three days after starting treatment
  • The rash includes blisters or pus-filled sores
  • Your baby is taking an antibiotic and has a bright red rash with red spots at its edges
  • Your baby has a fever along with a rash
  • The rash is very painful
  • You suspect a yeast infection

Which type of diaper should I use?

Diapers are made of either cloth or disposable materials. Cloth diapers can be washed after they get soiled and used again. Disposable diapers are thrown away after each use.

Research suggests that diaper rash is less common with the use of disposable diapers. However, what is more important than the type of diaper is how often it is changed. Whether you use cloth diapers, disposables, or both, always change diapers as needed to keep your baby clean, dry, and healthy.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/25/2015…#11037