There's a lot for a baby to deal with in the first year of life: adjusting to life outside the cozy confines of the womb, breaking in nervous parents and posing for lots of pictures. And for more than one in three babies, life will also include the irritation and discomfort of diaper rash [source: Murkoff, et al].
It's an alarming sight for parents: buttocks that are red and splotchy, thighs that look rubbed raw, and genital areas that look inflamed. Some children may experience just a mild case, while for others, diaper rash only seems to worsen and linger.
There are different types of diaper rash and different contributing factors. The soreness, rash and chafing that are the hallmarks of diaper rash can be caused by friction, moisture, bacteria, antibiotics and even chemicals. Generally, an initial irritant such as moisture agitates the skin, leaving the weakened skin susceptible to other factors such as bacteria. Fortunately, babies are less prone to diaper rash as they get older and their skin toughens up a bit.
When it comes to fighting the War on Diaper Rash, the best offense is a good defense. As is the case with fruit flies in a kitchen, preventing diaper rash is much easier than getting rid of it. The following five preventive measures will help keep your baby happy, healthy and full of smiles during diaper changes.
The Dry Way or the Cry Way
Diaper rash makes for one unhappy kid and a very worried parent.
If you were attempting to cause diaper rash (thus forfeiting your coffee mug's claim that you're the "World's No. 1 Parent"), the recipe would be simple: Add moisture to one diapered baby. Moisture is your main adversary in the fight against diaper rash, but a little extra effort can greatly diminish this foe.
Moisture can enter the diaper when a freshly bathed child isn't fully dry, but more often than not, diaper rash is directly preceded by the prolonged wearing of a urine-heavy diaper.
Before putting a fresh diaper on a child, make sure the diaper area is clean. You will want to be gentle as you clean and dry your child, so as not to further damage or irritate the skin. For areas that already have diaper rash, carefully pat -- not wipe -- them dry.
First, the bad news. You're going to need to change even more diapers. You can find the good news on the next page.
More Diapers = Fewer Gripers
The best way to prevent excessive moisture in your baby's diaper is to change diapers frequently. By keeping your baby's diaper area as clean as possible, you'll be helping your baby avoid getting a rash that isn't easy to get rid of.
Change the baby's diaper as soon as you realize it's soiled. This will keep the urine and feces in the diaper from coming into prolonged contact with your baby's delicate skin. When your baby is breastfed, the solid waste isn't very problematic. However, when babies begin to eat solid foods, not only does the waste become harder on your nose, but bacteria and other organisms in the stool (such as digestive enzymes) can invade skin that has been weakened by exposure to moisture. A new addition to your baby's diet may also cause diarrhea, which is even more likely to cause diaper rash.
Urine contributes to diaper rash in a number of ways. First, the moisture itself leads to weakening and tiny abrasions in the skin. Second, urine is acidic, and this too will damage an area of skin. Finally, when urine is left in contact with feces, bacteria from the feces begins to break down the urea, producing ammonia. Ammonia has no effect on unblemished skin, but if there's a breach in the skin, then ammonia causes further damage.
Letting Baby Go "Wild Child"
The next best thing to frequent diaper changes is letting your child go diaper-free. This doesn't have to be for any great length of time. It can just be for a few minutes after he or she has been bathed or had a diaper change. Too much time (or the wrong time) without a diaper will result in accidents, so let baby explore on a spread-out sheet or blanket just in case. You can also put a mattress-protecting sheet in your baby's crib, so that baby can go free as a bird for five to 10 minutes. If your child already has diaper rash, you can let him or her sleep in the buff, so long as the room is warm and cozy.
Before dressing your baby in the "birthday suit," make sure the diaper area is totally clean and dry. If your baby already has diaper rash, don't wipe the affected areas when cleaning the diaper area, but rather pat or dab at them. This will prevent further damage to the fragile skin and allow it to heal. Once the baby is totally dry, hold off on using any ointments or lotions. The idea is to let the skin enjoy optimal conditions: clean, dry and airy. With all the little chubby folds of skin on baby's legs and diaper areas, it's easy enough to miss a spot.
Next up: Something's gotta change.
Switch It All Up!
It's extremely frustrating to do absolutely everything you can to prevent diaper rash, only to have it keep showing up or sticking around. If you're winning every battle but losing the War On Diaper Rash, you might consider making some random but strategic changes.
Since there's not one cause of diaper rash, and no single cure-all, you might find an elusive solution to your particular quandary by performing a methodical switch-out. For instance, some disposable diapers have chemicals in them that don't react well with some children's skin. So, changing to a different brand of diaper may turn the tide. If that doesn't work, consider switching to cloth diapers.
Likewise, if you use cloth diapers, consider switching detergents or switching entirely to disposable diapers. There are a variety of different types of wet wipes, and some have perfumes or other chemicals that may be irritating your baby's skin. Try switching to a hypoallergenic, unscented wet wipe.
Certain foods ingested by breastfeeding mothers (such as anything tomato-based) can also aggravate diaper rash. Since your infant is receiving his or her nutrition from you, make sure to speak with your pediatrician before making any dietary changes.
You may also consider switching to different kinds of baby lotions or powders, in case the type you currently use are contributing factors.
And as you'll learn in the next section, if you're not using a "blocking agent" (read: butt cream), you very well may want to start.
A Fortress of Ointment
No matter how often you change your baby's diapers, there will still be plenty of occasion for baby's soft skin to be in contact with a wet diaper. However, by liberally applying ointments that contain either zinc oxide or petroleum, you can create a barrier on your baby's skin that will prevent moisture from coming into contact with it.
Take note: blocking agents, such as creams and ointments, will trap moisture in as well as keep it out, so make sure your baby is completely dry before applying any.
There are a number of medicated products sold over the counter to treat diaper rash. Some of these may contain ingredients that may cause an allergic reaction. Check with your pediatrician to learn which one is right for you and yours.
Talc-based powders are carcinogenic and should be avoided, as the fine particles are similar to asbestos in that they can become lodged in body tissues, especially the lungs. If inhaled, talcum powder can also cause pneumonia. For a powdered alternative, corn starch powder reduces friction, but there is ongoing debate about whether it can exacerbate a yeast infection, which oftentimes is mistaken for diaper rash.
Do you know how to treat and prevent cradle cap -- those flaky patches on your baby's scalp? See tips for how to treat and prevent cradle cap.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- AARP. "Diaper Rash." (Aug. 3, 2009)http://symptomchecker.aarp.org/galecontent/diaper-rash-2
- American Academy of Family Physicians. "Diaper Rash." March 2008. (Aug. 7, 2009)http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/children/parents/infants/051.html
- BabyCenter. "Diaper Rash." Oct. 2006. (Aug. 4, 2009)http://www.babycenter.com/0_diaper-rash_81.bc
- Cancer Prevention Coalition. "Risks of Talcum Powder." (Aug. 7, 2009)http://www.preventcancer.com/consumers/cosmetics/talc.htm
- C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. "Diaper Rash."http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/pa/pa_diaperra_hhg.htm
- KidsHealth. "Diaper Rash." (Aug. 5, 2009)http://kidshealth.org/parent/newborn/basics/diaper_rash.html
- Murkoff, Heidi; Eisenberg, Arlene; Hathaway, Sandee, B.S.N. What to Expect the First Year. Workman Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0761129588, 9780761129585.
- Neuspiel, Daniel, MD. "Dealing with Diaper Rash." Sept. 20, 2006. (Aug. 7, 2009)http://drgreene.healthology.com/childrens-health/article392.htm