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The Bottom Line on Diaper Rash

How to keep your baby's tush happy and healthy

Fact: More than half of newborns develop diaper rash at some point. The good news? You can usually get those sweet cheeks back in the clear with a few simple steps. What you need to know to spot, treat, and prevent one of the most common rashes in babyhood:

What it looks like

Diaper rash is hard to miss. The skin on your baby's thighs, bottom and genitals will look red, puffy, and tender. You may also notice that she's more irritable and fussy during changes. No wonder, it hurts!

What causes it

There are several different triggers. Some little ones are simply sensitive to the material in the diaper, but the most common cause is spending too much time in a wet one. When the skin has prolonged contact with any kind of moisture, and especially pee and poop, it becomes more vulnerable to irritation. That makes it more likely to chafe, which can break down the skin even can be the start of a vicious cycle. Another common cause: antibiotics. Because the medicine kills good bacteria along with the bad, an already rashy bum can become more prone to a yeast infection (see below for more on this). Expect rashes to peak around 8 to 10 months; as babies start eating more solid food, their digestive process changes.

How to treat it

First, gently clean the area with water and a soft cloth. Wipes are fine to use, just be sure they're fragrance- and alcohol-free. If she's particularly sensitive, you can use a squirt bottle to rinse her after she pees or wet cotton balls to wipe away poop. Pat her dry—or if you have the time, let her air-dry. (Throw a couple of thick towels down on the rug and let her hang out for a bit.) Next, apply a thick layer of ointment, preferably one that contains zinc oxide or petroleum jelly. It not only helps the skin heal, but it forms a protective barrier. Don't worry about getting it all off at the next change either; too much rubbing will irritate her skin even more. Put on a fresh diaper and fasten it loosely. Repeat frequently! The less time she's stay in a wet diaper the better.

When to call the doctor

If you don't see much improvement—or the rash gets worse—after two or three days of at-home treatment, make an appointment. Watch out for these signs of infection: If the rash looks beefy red, scaly and pimply, and has distinct raised borders mostly over the genitals with smaller similar patches throughout the diaper area, she probably has developed a yeast infection. Your doctor will likely prescribe an antifungal ointment to clear it up. Bacterial diaper rashes, on the other hand, trigger yellowish, fluid-filled bumps and/or honey-colored crusted areas on the skin. Only antibiotics can get rid of this one.

How to prevent another one

A little vigilance can go a long way in keeping your baby rash-free in the future. (1) Check her diaper frequently and change her ASAP. (2) Consider using your barrier cream with every change as an extra layer of protection. (3) Let her be a nudie for a while. Just lay her on a towel or two. (4) Try switching diaper brands.

This article was written by the publishers of Parents and American Baby magazines.

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