One of the most common problems for babies is a diaper rash that causes pain, itching, and irritation. It doesn’t matter if you use cloth diapers or disposables, at some point, it’s going to happen and I’ll show you a few effective home treatments to get rid of that diaper rash fast!
We’ve all been there as a parent, you go to change your baby’s diaper and their poor skin is red and inflamed, maybe even blistered looking or bleeding. They scream as you clean them up and are noticeably uncomfortable after being comforted.
A diaper rash is simply evidence that the skin on and around your baby’s bottom is being compromised or irritated.
Usually, it begins with the fact that urine and poop have a different pH than the skin. Prolonged contact with the waste will irritate the nearby skin cells and this redness, itching, or stinging is a message that there is something bothering your baby’s skin.
Irritation is our first key to understanding diaper rashes.
Irritation is most commonly understood as an adverse reaction to stimuli or damage to a cell’s lining. In the case of a diaper rash, something has damaged the lining of the baby’s skin cells or otherwise invoked their body’s reaction to inflammation.
Usually, it begins with the fact that urine and poop have a different pH than skin. Prolonged contact with the waste will irritate the nearby skin cells. Irritation (identified by redness, itching or stinging) is a message that there is something bothering your baby’s skin.
Inflammation is our second key to understanding rashes.
When our body comes into contact with harmful stimuli, our body’s immediate reaction is to send a large army of fighting cells and fixing cells via our bloodstream to that area. This causes inflammation: our skin gets swollen because of the influx of immune cells that have rushed to the problem area.
Those newly arrived cells first attack the original cause of the problem – for a diaper rash, this may be due to bacteria from the waste in the baby’s diaper that has breached the outermost layer of cells and penetrated into baby’s skin.
Once the bacteria have been killed, the fixing cells get to work removing the damaged and infected skin cells.
Finally, our body is ready to rebuild what was lost and it stimulates new growth of replacement cells.
Inflammation tells us that number one: there is a problem, and number two: your body is already at the scene trying to resolve the problem.
Our body heals itself from the inside out, so a rash will disappear on the outside once the problem has been fixed on the inside. Thankfully with diaper rashes, the problem is usually only skin deep.
In the case of a diaper rash, the continual messing in diapers and frequent wiping can cause the outer layer of skin to be rubbed raw. Since the cells are healing from the inside out, the repeated contact can re-open the wounds more than once before they have a chance to heal.
What Causes Diaper Rash?
Learning the cause of your baby’s diaper rash can help you in finding the best treatment for them.
- Irritation from wet and dirty diapers is probably the most common cause of diaper rashes, especially if there has been prolonged exposure. A baby’s skin is very sensitive!
- Diapers can chafe causing irritation and redness around the legs and waist.
- Digestive upset/diarrhea is also a big cause of diaper rashes due to increased bowel movements and acidity of the stool.
- Irritation from fragrances or chemicals in disposable diapers (allergic contact dermatitis) as some babies actually react to certain brands of diapers!
- Diaper wipes can also contain irritants. I’ll never forget absent-mindedly reading Huggies wipes ingredients while cuddling my very first niece…and there were both parabens and fragrance in them! I had no idea! I was appalled and spend the rest of my snuggle time trying to figure out how to tell my sister-in-law that those baby shower gifts might be better used to clean toilets…time to switch to natural diaper wipes!)
- Lotions and even ingredients in some over the counter diaper creams may also contain ingredients your baby can’t tolerate. (source)
- Laundry detergent can be an issue, especially for those of you that cloth diaper. The detergent may contain ingredients that irritate the skin with constant contact or they may not be getting rinsed well at the end of the wash cycle.
- Bath wash and lotions are also a source of chemical fragrances and colorings that may irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.
- Bacteria and/or yeast are also big contributors to diaper rashes that don’t seem to be going away with simple ointments and increased diaper changes. Because the diaper area often remains damp, it’s an easy place for yeast to grow, especially in the folds of skin. Babies who have recently had antibiotics may be at an increased risk for yeast-based diaper rashes due to the medicine killing off the beneficial bacteria that keep yeast growth in check. (source)
- Intolerance to certain foods can actually cause the skin to react to the stool! If this is the case, you’ll often notice the rash begins very quickly after a bowel movement.
- Teething is also known to cause diaper rashes in some babies, probably due to the increase of saliva which often affects the frequency of bowel movements.
Home Remedies for Diaper Rash
At some point, every parent has had to, or will, deal with a baby’s diaper rash! It definitely does not mean you’re a bad parent and I have some great remedies you can try out at home. They are all super simple and contain only one ingredient. I’ll bet you have most of them at your disposal already!
1. Let baby air dry after a diaper change
What’s the one thing every diaper rash has in common? The diaper.
Get rid of the diaper, even if it’s for just a few minutes. In my opinion, there’s no cream or ointment that can compete with simply letting baby air dry after a diaper change!
This is especially important for yeast rashes as the wetness creates a perfect environment for it to grow. Simply make sure the skin and rash are completely dry before putting a new diaper on.
It’s much easier for non-mobile babies that can lay on a towel or open diaper (in a safe place like a crib or on the floor) for 10-15 minutes after every diaper change. For babies that move around, you may want to keep them in the kitchen for easier clean up in case they make a mess!
Simply keep your baby diaper free for at least 5-10 minutes after each diaper change when a rash is present.
2. Olive Oil
For rashes that are caused by irritation and chaffing from a diaper, olive oil may help to moisturize the skin. It also creates a nice thin barrier from urine to prevent further irritation. You can easily use your hand or a soft towel to apply a small amount to dry skin.
I have found that natural oils like this aren’t as helpful with yeast, and you’ll want to use a liner or disposable if you currently use cloth diapers.
3. Bath remedies
- Oatmeal – Commonly seen in some skin products, the simple oat is a fantastic resource for diaper rashes! While there are diaper rash creams that include oatmeal, you can also make an oatmeal bath for your baby with similar effects. Simply grind plain oats to a powder in your blender and add a tablespoon of the powder to a bath. Just fill the tub just enough for the rash to be covered. You can do this once or twice a day until the rash is gone. (source)
- Baking soda – Another great skin soother and found in almost every home! It’s been used over the years to soothe bug bites, poison ivy, and minor skin irritations, and it can be used to soothe a diaper rash too. However, you don’t want to powder your baby’s butt with it! Leaving it on the skin for longer periods of time may cause the rash to worsen due to pH changes on the skin. Add 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda to a shallow bath and let baby soak for about 10 minutes. Pat dry and rediaper! (source)
4. Bentonite Clay
When used externally, bentonite clay is great for soothing skin and relieving irritation. (source) It’s normally found in two forms – as a dry powder and as a paste.
To use the powder – Stir 1 tablespoon of bentonite clay powder into a cup of water. Once it’s combined well, pour it into a shallow bath and have your baby sit in the tub for about 10 minutes.
To use a premade bentonite paste – Cover the rash in a thin layer of the paste and allow to air dry for 5-10 minutes. Once it begins to dry go ahead and wipe or rinse off with warm water, pat dry, and rediaper.
Home remedies are a great way to treat diaper rashes naturally and the ones stated above have been the most effective for my kids.
When to See a Doctor
Most diaper rashes can take a few days to go away with at-home treatment, but you should be able to see improvement within about 24 – 48 hours. If the redness is getting worse, the skin starts bleeding or blistering, a fever is present, or it looks like there may be an infection of some kind, make a call to the nurse’s line at your doctor’s office to get additional assistance.
If you’ve been able to get the rash to go away and it keeps coming back no matter what you do, it’s also worth a call into your baby’s doctor or health practitioner (or mention it at their next appointment). Sometimes there is an underlying issue, like eczema, food allergies, or a bad yeast infection and they can help you get to the bottom of it.
How to Prevent Diaper Rash
Now that you’ve hopefully been able to figure out the cause of your baby’s diaper rash and have successfully treated it, you can work on preventing it from coming back!
1. Find the diapers that work best for your baby and change them correctly
If you use disposable diapers
- Make sure your baby is in the right size! Babies grow fast and sometimes we don’t realize how tight the diapers begin to fit, and other times we’re simply trying to use up what we’ve purchased. Diapers that are too tight rub the skin and cause irritation as well as reduced airflow.
- Change the brand of diapers you use if diaper rashes seem to keep coming back.
- Try a different diaper wipe! Many times the fragrance and other additives in disposable wipes cause skin irritation so changing brands or simply using wet washcloths to wipe can help prevent further problems.
If you use cloth diapers
- Try deep cleaning them (also called “stripping”) to help remove detergent buildup and any yeast or bacteria that may not be getting washed out. (I share my diaper washing routine in this post.)
- Hanging them out in the sun to dry is also a great way to reduce yeast.
- If your baby or toddler sleeps through the night, make sure the cloth diaper is able to soak up ALL the urine so the skin doesn’t stay wet while they sleep. (I’ve also known parents that use a high absorbency disposable at night and then use cloth during the day.)
Diaper changing techniques to reduce rashes
Sleep deprivation and 2 am diaper changes don’t really bode well for clear thinking when it comes to making sure diaper changes are done perfectly. Neither does a wriggly two-year-old (like changing an oiled octopus!) who just wants to go play.
However, the following techniques are super important to keep those diaper rashes from coming back!
- Change the diapers often and check those older babies and toddlers when they get busy playing!
- Use warm water on a soft cloth to gently wipe the baby down after a change. You don’t want to rub or irritate the skin, but a soft wipe down, with special attention to skin folds, is super helpful. I like to buy a bunch of washcloths specifically for this purpose!
- Patting the skin dry (or letting baby air dry in a safe place) after each wipe down is one of the best ways to keep yeast rashes from coming back.
- Apply a barrier oil to the skin once it’s dry. I love olive oil for this purpose, but feel free to use your favorite diaper ointment as well.
2. Keep irritants away from the baby’s skin
It’s time to go through the products you use directly on your baby as well as on your baby’s clothing and blankets and toss anything with synthetic fragrance and color. Stick to more natural items or make your own with ingredients you may already have at home.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
3. Change the foods they eat
If rashes begin to appear soon after introducing certain foods, try eliminating them for a couple of weeks before trying again.
Sometimes acidic foods, like citrus, can cause issues, but other times it’s simply due to the fact that the baby may not be able to tolerate certain foods. (Of course, always check in with your health care provider when trying an elimination diet.) Milk is often the culprit for babies making the transition from breastmilk or formula to cow’s milk after they turn one.
A great way to see what foods might be causing a diaper rash is to keep a simple food journal. Just write down what they eat and what new foods are being introduced, you’ll begin to notice a pattern if it coincides with a rash!
RELATED: Current recommendations on introducing foods to babies (not at all what I did with my first, oy!)
4. Combat yeast
If yeast rashes keep coming back you may need some outside help from a practitioner. There are multiple therapies and treatment options based on whether or not the baby is breastfed (which would also include dietary changes and treatment for mom) as well as the baby’s age.
Some of the common recommendations are to lower the amount of sugar you consume, take probiotics (they even have probiotics for babies), and wash all clothing and sheets in very hot water. For chronic yeast, an antifungal prescription may be necessary.
Diaper rashes can be problematic and uncomfortable for baby and frustrating as a parent, but with effective treatment, they can heal quickly and be a thing of the past!