Dealing with diaper rash

A sore bum can be misery for a baby—and his parents. Here’s how to get to the, uh, bottom of it.


Photo: Cynthia Perez

Charmaine Ralph, of Conception Bay South, Nfld., remembers discovering the painful red rash on her son Gavin’s bum when he was a baby. She used warm water on a gentle cloth to clean him, let him run around without a diaper as much as possible, and used a generous amount of petroleum jelly when he was in a diaper, which banished the rash.

There are different causes for diaper rash: Your child’s skin can quickly become irritated from rubbing against a dirty diaper, or he could have a sensitivity or allergy to soaps, lotions or wipes. Formula (due to a higher pH level than breastmilk), teething, antibiotics or starting solids can also lead to a rash.

Read more: 10 common childhood rashes (photos)>

How can you help soothe and heal your babe’s sore bottom? Kimberley Foster, a family doctor in Victoria, suggests frequent diaper changes (immediately after bowel movements), and cleaning with alcohol- and fragrance-free wipes or simply warm water. She says that disposable diapers are better during the rash outbreak, because they contain a compound that holds moisture away from the skin. Letting your baby go naked for periods of time will help dry out the skin, too. (Worried about messes? Create a waterproof zone with a leak-proof tablecloth for bare-bum playtime after a diaper change.) Use unscented baby soap for baths and laundry, and apply a thick layer of a topical ointment containing zinc oxide or petroleum with each diaper change, or try pure aloe vera or tea tree oil directly on the rash (tea tree oil can also be added to homemade wipes and cloth-diaper rinses). If the rash isn’t healing, is becoming worse or oozing, appears in the folds of skin, or if your child has a fever or diarrhea, it’s time to call the doctor.

Read more: Teething symptoms and solutions>

Ralph can attest to that. When her younger daughter Maci’s diaper rash got so bad that Maci was unable to sleep well or be held in certain positions, Ralph got worried and took her to the doctor. She learned it was actually a yeast infection, which can occur when the amounts of harmless yeast naturally found in the body multiply in the warm, wet environment of a soiled diaper. “I felt guilty for trying to treat it myself,” recalls Ralph.

But Foster says it’s common for parents to confuse the two rashes. “Yeast is actually a form of diaper rash,” she explains, but it will usually need prescriptive ointment to heal. “With irritantdiaper rash, the areas not in contact with the diaper, like the folds of the skin, aren’t affected.”

It can take trial and error to figure out what heals your baby’s diaper rash, but the right remedy will have that little bum—and its owner—back to their normal selves within a week or two.

A version of this article appeared in our May 2014 issue with the headline “Diaper rash,” p. 28.

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