How to Tell if Baby Has a Yeast Diaper Rash (and How to Heal It)
Chances are, you’ve changed a lot of diapers since baby arrived. But just when you think you’ve seen everything—impressive amounts of pee, all shades of poop and occasional pink rashes—you spot something that gives you pause and forces you take a closer look: a yeast diaper rash. But don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Yeast diaper rash is quite common—and we’ll walk you through how to treat it and prevent it from surfacing again in the future.
You might think of yeast diaper rash as a kind of extreme diaper rash. According to Danelle Fisher, MD, vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, it’s usually caused by candida, a fungus that naturally lives on human skin, typically without incident. Candida loves wet, moist environments, so when given the right circumstances (such as a wet diaper), the fungus can grow out of control and infect the skin, causing problems. When this happens in the mouth or throat, it’s called thrush; when it occurs in the diaper area, it’s a yeast diaper rash.
What causes yeast diaper rash?
Yeast diaper rash is common because the factors that cause it are common: for instance, when baby is in a wet diaper for too long; or when they switch to solid foods (because this can change baby’s stools and exacerbate diaper rash). Yeast diaper rash is also more likely to happen when baby has a reaction to a new diaper or diaper wipes. Antibiotics—which decrease the growth of bacteria and increase the growth of fungus—can also promote yeast diaper rash.
The difference between regular diaper rash and a yeast diaper rash is the underlying cause. Your run-of-the-mill diaper rash is essentially a skin irritation, or what dermatologists call dermatitis. It occurs because baby’s skin is sensitive, and the wetness from urine and poop, plus friction from the diaper, can cause your little one’s skin to get inflamed and feel as if it’s burning.
A yeast diaper rash is caused by an infection with candida. In irritated skin, such as diaper rash, the skin barrier weakens, allowing candida to penetrate and grow beneath it. While both rashes can be painful, a yeast rash can also be intensely itchy, says Fisher.
What does yeast diaper rash look like?
Diaper rash involves a reddening of the skin. “But there are varying degrees,” Fisher says. With a regular diaper rash, you’ll see splotchy, pink or rosy areas of skin in baby’s diaper area. The condition is limited to the skin surface and the surface remains smooth.
But a yeast diaper rash looks much redder and angrier. It could also come with red spots, says Gina Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Fisher also adds that it could be a rash with unusual borders. “The edges might have tiny red dots, called satellite lesions,” she says. You might also see peeling at the edges. Yeast diaper rash tends to erupt in baby’s folds of skin, like in the upper legs, genitals and bum.
You may be well stocked with creams and ointments to fight a run-of-the-mill diaper rash, but the proper yeast diaper rash treatment calls for something more. Because you need to knock out the fungus growth, regular diaper rash creams won’t clear a yeast diaper rash. If baby’s rash looks especially intense and/or your typical diaper rash creams aren’t working, call your pediatrician. They’ll want you to bring baby in so they can assess the skin and confirm the condition.
If the pediatrician finds that baby has yeast diaper rash, they’ll likely recommend an antifungal cream, such as nystatin or clotrimazole, Posner says. Nystatin is available by prescription only, and clotrimazole is available both over-the-counter and by prescription.
To help these treatments along, keep the skin as dry as possible, which means more frequent diaper changes and as much time without a diaper as possible, Fisher says. Look for super-absorbent disposable diapers, and don’t secure them too tightly.
Yeast diaper rash can take up to two weeks to resolve, “but it usually resolves much faster than that,” Posner says.
The best way to prevent yeast diaper rash is by keeping baby’s skin healthy and dry. Here’s what to keep in mind:
• Reduce skin contact with pee and poop. Ideally, change baby’s diaper as soon as it gets soiled. That could be about as frequently as every two hours. Opt for diapers that have super-absorbent gelling material, which helps wick away moisture, and protect skin with a petrolatum product (such as Aquafor), which acts as a barrier between the skin and any urine or fecal matter.
• Let the skin breathe. Do this by making sure diapers fit properly and aren’t attached too tightly. Using breathable disposable diapers will help. (We list some of them in this guide. So can letting baby go diaper-free during the day whenever you can.
• Treat regular diaper rash as soon as possible. “If redness occurs, treat it early with a diaper cream with zinc oxide in it,” Fisher says. (Need some product suggestions? These are our favorite creams with zinc oxide.)
Danelle Fisher, MD, is an LA-based pediatrician and the vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. She received her medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
Gina Posner, MD, is a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. She earned her medical degree from New York Medical College and for over 10 years has volunteered with various organizations in the US and Dominican Republic mentoring and educating children and parents on different health topics.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
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