You’ve chosen to cloth diaper and then you find your baby has developed a rash. You feel like someone just played a nasty trick on you. Did you just get conned by the Earth warriors campaigning for ‘no disposable diapers’? I assure you, you didn’t! Truth is that all babies get rashes at some point in their babyhood. Rashes can be due to teething, sensitivities or even food intolerances. So before you gather all your cloth diapers and set the pyre alight, let’s look at some common reasons why rashes can happen even to cloth diapered babies and let’s tackle them too.
Poor hygiene and cloth diaper rashes
It is important that babies be cleaned at every diaper change. This means even if there is no poop baby must be wet wiped (I recommend cloth wipes and water) and then air dried or pat dried before the next cloth diaper is put on. In most cases, it is improper cleaning and hygiene which leads to urine/ poop remnants which cause rashes in babies.
If ignored then the poor hygiene habit may also lead to UTI in babies which will need medical intervention.
Rashes due to wet wipes
This is one of the most common reasons why babies get rashes. Yet most people will tend to focus on the diaper and never the wipes used. Disposable baby wipes usually contain chemicals, fragrances and moisturizers which babies may have a sensitivity too.
It’s highly recommended that you switch to cloth wipes and a safe wash solution, home made if possible or just plain water. Using cloth wipes on the go and while out of the house is also possible and doable. Simply treat your cloth wipes like you do your cloth diapers – store in a wet bag when soiled and wash the same way too.
Rashes due to delayed diaper changes
Cloth diapers while highly efficient are after all made of cloth. They’re holding capacity is only going to be so much. So unlike chemical laden disposables, you will probably need to change cloth diapers more often. Leaving a child in a wet and damp diaper for too long is going to give rashes. A one off incident may not cause much harm but on a repeated basis it can lead to a rash.
Read this post to understand what a cloth diaper looks like – Anatomy of a cloth diaper
A good time frame for day time changes for newborn infants is about every 2 hours. For toddlers, you can even stretch it up to 4 hours depending on their peeing capacity. And needless to say, if there’s a poop incident the diaper must be changed immediately.
Friction rashes from cloth diapers
With cloth diapers it is imperative that you get a good fit – neither too loose (you’ll end up with leaks or friction rashes) nor too tight (leaks or elastic marks.)
Friction rashes occur when the cloth diaper rubs against the baby’s genitals when babies move or crawl. Persistent rubbing leads to a rash which can be quite angry and painful for the baby.
Rectifying a friction rash is easy. Just make sure you get a good fit. Don’t be afraid to get a snug fit on the diaper. It won’t be uncomfortable for baby. The reason why most people and caregivers are afraid of a snug fit is that they’re used to disposables which usually hang loose in the baby’s crotch. This is not the case with a cloth diaper – it should fit snug as underwear does.
Wash routine and diaper rashes
I know cloth diapers need effort but once you get the hang of it it’s really easy peasy lemon squeezy. 😉 And sadly if you don’t love your cloth diapers enough they are not going to love your baby’s bottom in return either.
It is recommended that cloth diapers be washed in regular detergent which does not contain fragrances or softeners. A regular detergent like Tide the plain variant is good enough. No softeners or disinfectants like dettol or savlon should be used when cleaning cloth diapers.
Need a good cloth diaper wash routine? Read this post on Washing and Prepping diapers
Using less detergent/ gentle mode to clean diapers
Doing this will lead to the urine and ammonia deposits not being cleaned off the soiled diaper. This will over time lead to ammonia build up and irritate baby’s skin.
Diapers need to be cleaned with an adequate amount of detergent and in a cycle which considers them to be ‘very soiled’ clothes.
Using too much detergent or softeners
And then there’s using too much detergent or not washing off the detergent well enough. The detergent or softener that has clung on to the cloth diaper then irritates baby’s skin and can cause rashes. Detergents and softeners are composed of chemicals and cleansers after all. Repeated exposure to this on your body and baby’s sensitive skin can cause rashes.
Too much detergent is not a solution to cleaning diapers well. It is only recommended in cases where you need to deep clean diapers due to some issues (like removing deposits from rash creams or softeners.) Adding an extra rinse cycle to your cloth diaper wash cycle will help deal with the issue of detergent deposits.
Not washing diapers regularly
Diapers must be washed at least every alternate day and more so in humid conditions like India. A delayed wash can lead to the growth of bacteria and fungus which can not only damage cloth diapers but also irritate baby’s skin when worn.
Any cases of bacterial growth on diapers must then be tackled with bleach and chemicals which is avoidable. So taking good care of them and washing them regularly should be made the norm.
Sensitivity to fabric
In rare cases, some babies can be allergic to the fabric used in cloth diapers. Microsuede or microfleece is usually safe for all babies and doesn’t give rashes. But due to inherent skim sensitivities, a baby may develop allergies to one or both types which can manifest as a rash.
Figuring this out may require some elimination and trial and error. This is usually why it is recommended that you first buy a couple of different types of diapers and use them to see what suits your baby and you rather than splurging and buying 10 diapers of a kind which later you find your baby is sensitive to.
Using microfiber next to baby’s skin
Microfiber is a highly efficient material in terms of absorption and holding. However, it is such a superabsorber that it can suck dry the natural moisture of skin too. So when you use microfiber on baby’s skin it leaves the area very dry and causes rashes.
Microfiber, therefore, should never be used such that it is in direct contact with baby’s skin. It can be used inside a pocket or sleeve or in cases where the microfiber is topped with a layer of suede or fleece.
What can you do if a rash develops?
In cases where the baby has developed a rash, your first priority must be managing the rash issue. If the rash is mild and not causing too much discomfort then a few applications of coconut oil or cloth diaper friendly rash cream along with some diaper free time can help.
If the rash is really bad and bleeding or baby is in severe discomfort consult a healthcare provider. They will examine the rash and rule out any fungal or viral infections and recommend the right course of action. Do remember to use a rash barrier guard in the form of a liner if you wish to continue using a cloth diaper even while using a medicated or mainstream rash cream. Not using a rash barrier will cause the cream to deposit on the diaper fabric and cause absorption issues which you’ll need to remedy.
Rashes when using cloth diapers are rare but they can occur. And if they do then one needs to understand the root cause and seek to remedy it. I for one can vouch for the fact that using cloth diapers has kept rashes at bay. In the close to 3 years of diapering my baby boy I’ve only seen about 3 to 4 incidents of rash when I or a caregiver slipped about the microfiber rule or changing a soiled diaper on time. But we learnt from our mistakes and remedied them with good old coconut oil.
Do let me know if you’ve experienced rashes when cloth diapering your little ones and if there were any reasons apart from the ones listed above.