What is diaper rash?

Diaper rash is a skin irritation that affects babies or toddlers in the diaper area. Most often, it is due to contact between urine and stool with your baby’s sensitive skin. Most babies will have at least one diaper rash before being toilet trained.

Signs and symptoms of diaper rash

A baby with diaper rash may show these signs or symptoms:

  • red skin
  • irritated or painful skin
  • spots or blisters in the diaper area
  • mild diaper rash looks like pink patches on the skin
  • more severe forms of the rash have bright red patches and may have open sores – these are often very painful

Causes

The most common cause of diaper rash is contact with urine and stool. This is called irritant diaper dermatitis. It often occurs when the baby has diarrhea. It most commonly affects the buttocks and thighs. Snug-fitting plastic pants or diapers that prevent wetness from drying can make the rash worse.

Diaper rash can also be caused by a yeast infection, also known as Candida. This fungal infection thrives in warm, moist areas such as skin creases. Yeast diaper dermatitis looks red, and often has small red spots around the edges. It is usually not painful. It can be caused or become worse when the baby is on antibiotics.

Other rashes can occur in the diaper area. These include eczema, bacterial, viral and allergic rashes. They may also be seen on other parts of the body as well.

Treatment

Leave the diaper off. Expose your baby’s skin to warm, dry air as much as you can.

When changing the diaper, wash your baby’s bottom with mild soap and water, rinse, and pat dry. It may be less painful for your baby if you wash the area in a warm bath. Avoid wipes with alcohol, this may cause more pain.

Use an unscented barrier ointment, such as petroleum jelly such as Vaseline or zinc oxide to protect the area after each diaper change. Do not share creams with other children. Do not contaminate the cream. Wash your hands before putting them into the jar.

Candida (yeast) diaper dermatitis should be treated with a topical anti fungal cream such as mycostatin or clotrimozole.

Prevention

The best way to prevent diaper rash is to change your baby’s diaper often. If your baby has diarrhea, change the diaper even more often. Applying a thin layer of unscented barrier cream can also protect the skin. It is not known whether cloth or disposable diapers are better in preventing diaper rashes.

When to seek medical assistance

Make an appointment with your child’s doctor if the rash does not get better within a few days or if the baby seems unwell or has a fever.

Key points:

  • Diaper rashes are common in infants and toddlers
  • Irritant diaper dermatitis is most common
  • Keeping the area clean and dry will help prevent rashes

Adapted with permission from The Hospital for Sick Children.

About Kids Health is a child health information website that provides parents, children and health care providers with free, evidence-based information about everyday health and complex medical conditions.