A diaper rash is a skin irritation under your baby’s diaper. The rash can be on the abdomen, genitals, and in the folds of the buttocks and thighs. Most babies develop a diaper rash at some time during infancy.
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A diaper rash develops when your baby’s skin is irritated. Irritation can be caused by:
- Leaving dirty diapers on for too long
- Too much moisture next to the skin
- Diapers or plastic pants that are too tight
- Allergic reaction to diaper material or detergent
- Yeast or bacterial infection
- Rubbing or chafing of the skin
Factors that may increase your baby's chance of diaper rash include:
- Frequent stools
- Infrequent changing of baby’s diaper
- Treatment of babies or nursing mothers with antibiotics
- Sensitive skin
- Poorly fitting diapers or plastic pants
The main symptoms of diaper rash are bumps, redness, and scaly patches on the skin under the diaper. There may also be blister-like spots or sores on the skin. Your baby may also be more fussy and irritable when the diaper is changed.
If the rash is not cared for, then it can become infected. It can become bright red with red bumps and blisters.
Symptoms of an infected rash may include:
- Open sores, boils, or pus
- Your baby is not sleeping or eating normally
- Your baby develops a fever
- The rash becomes worse or does not improve in 2 or 3 days
Contact your doctor if your child has signs of an infected rash.
Most parents can recognize a diaper rash when they see it. A mild diaper rash doesn’t normally require a visit to the pediatrician.
Diaper rashes usually clear up in 3-4 days with the following treatment:
- Change diapers frequently.
- Use water and a clean washcloth or baby wipes to rinse your baby’s skin. Do not rub.
- Pat dry gently. Rubbing can irritate the rash.
- Apply a thick layer of protective ointment to the diaper area. Examples include petroleum jelly, bag balm, or zinc oxide ointment.
- Expose your baby’s skin to the air as much as possible. Keep baby diaper free for a short time.
- Do not use creams that have boric acid, camphor, phenol, methyl salicylate, or a compound of benzoin tincture.
- Do not use talcum or cornstarch powders.
If the rash is severe, see your child's doctor. The doctor may suggest using a mild hydrocortisone cream to calm the skin if it is irritated. If the rash is yeast-related, then the doctor may recommend a medicated cream. Antibiotic ointments may be used for mild bacterial infections. These creams are available without prescription, but your pediatrician may want to discuss these options before starting treatment.
Severe infections may require oral antibiotics.
To help reduce your child's chance of diaper rash:
- Change your baby’s diaper frequently.
- Use water and a clean washcloth or baby wipes to rinse your baby’s skin.
- Dry the diaper area well after changing. Let the area air out.
- Allow your baby to go without a diaper when possible.
- Avoid using fabric softeners on cloth diapers.
- Use cloth diapers or super-absorbent disposable diapers to prevent irritation.
- Talk to your baby's doctor about giving your baby probiotics when your baby is taking antibiotics.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
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Diaper rash. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/diapers-clothing/Pages/Diaper-Rash.aspx. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Diaper rash. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/fungal/diaper_rash.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.
7/28/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116356/Diaper-dermatitis : Blume-Peytavi U, Hauser M, et al. Prevention of diaper dermatitis in infants—A literature review. Pediatr Dermatol. 2014 Jul(4):413-429.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC Last Updated: 1/28/2021