Diaper rash is a subject I get asked about a lot.
Why does it happen? How do you clear it up? What methods are safe for little skin…and with cloth diapers?
Diaper Rash: Why Does It Happen?
My oldest experienced nearly constant diaper rashes from 2 months old until she potty trained. They were awful and nothing cleared them up. In contrast, my third baby has had only a couple of minor diaper rashes that went away in a matter of hours.
There are a number of reasons why babies may experience diaper rash:
- Too long between changings — Babies, especially smaller ones or those with sensitive skin, should be changed every 1 – 2 hours while they are awake. Some may cry to be changed as soon as they are wet or soiled. Sitting in it can eventually lead to redness and irritation.
- Dehydration — Drinking too little water can cause urine to be more acidic, leading to redness, even if it doesn’t sit on the skin long.
- Diarrhea — Acidic diarrhea can cause rashes quickly as well. Diarrhea may be caused by illness or teething.
- Allergy to diapers — Some babies do not handle the chemicals used to make disposable diapers and will get a rash. Others are sensitive to synthetic fabrics in some cloth diapers.
- Allergy to detergent — Some cloth-diapered babies get a rash if their diapers are not thoroughly rinsed and there is detergent build-up, or if they are sensitive to that particular type of detergent. Some types seem more likely to cause a rash than others.
- Food allergies — This was my daughter’s issue. Food allergies cause both the urine and stool to be more acidic and this causes a rash very easily. The offending food being in the system tends to keep it there and make it more difficult to heal, especially if parents have not yet discovered what the problem is.
- Yeast — Some babies contract yeast infections that show up in the diaper area. These can be difficult to combat especially with cloth diapers, because they can get into the fibers and keep re-infecting the baby. Probiotics orally and topically, plus stripping cloth diapers are usually necessary. Breastfeeding moms need probiotics too.
The occasional diaper rash from the top few reasons is normal. It should be no more than a slight redness and should be easily cleared up within a few diaper changes.
Chronic, frequent diaper rashes are not normal. They are a sign that there is a problem, likely due to one of the bottom few reasons. Investigating the issue and trying out different diapers, detergents, or removing foods from the diet can help solve the problem. With chronic diaper rashes, the most important thing to do is to find the underlying cause. No topical treatments will keep this type of rash at bay for long.
Treating Diaper Rash
If your baby’s diaper rash is chronic/frequent, see above. You must address the underlying cause in order to solve the diaper rash issue. Try different types of diapers, detergents, or look for food allergies. Even if you are exclusively breastfeeding, baby could be reacting to something through your milk. I cannot stress enough how much it is not normal for babies to have chronic diaper rash!
For the occasional, minor rash that crops up, though, there are several ways to handle it.
Traditional Diaper Rash Cream
I can’t recommend any mainstream brand out there. However, you can get or make a cream containing zinc oxide from Burt’s Bees or another natural company. Here’s a recipe for making your own. The zinc oxide forms a barrier between the skin and the diaper to keep it clear of the urine and stool so it can heal. This is the most common method but not my favorite — in fact I never use it anymore.
Healing Diaper Rash Cream
There are several diaper rash creams now that are intended for actually healing the skin, instead of just providing a barrier. I have a recipe on here to make your own. Or, Earth Mama Angel Baby makes a good one. Many moms simply use coconut oil. This type of cream is great because it soothes the skin and helps it heal from inflammation, plus coconut oil can combat yeast naturally. Cloth diaper users should put a fleece liner in the diaper, although these creams should be safe with cloth anyway. (It’s just easier to clean with a liner!)
A lot of times, rashes benefit from having air circulating around them. The best way to do this is to simply keep the baby’s diaper off as much as possible. Keep prefolds around just in case! Some babies really like to “go” while naked!
Some rashes simply need to be kept dry. When naked time isn’t an option, powder may be. I like the powder by Redmond Trading Company that is simply clay. It is perfectly safe for skin or even to ingest so there are no worries with babies. Arrowroot powder is safe to use too. I would skip cornstarch, which can cause allergies in some babies, and talc, which most parents know is not good for babies.
I have not yet met a rash that couldn’t be helped by using one or more of the above solutions. Many other solutions exist but are not especially safe or natural.
Preventing Diaper Rash
That is, for baby.
When possible, keep baby out of a diaper. For babies with sensitive skin, a prefold with a fleece liner and a wool cover can be the most breathable, natural solution. Changing baby frequently helps, and offering water once baby is old enough to eat food. Offering drinks to older babies (not exclusively breastfed ones) is especially important during hot weather or illnesses.
In general, diaper rashes happen. But not too often. At least until potty training, which is another subject entirely! (Anyone want to hear how I trained my older two? It was very different between kids.)