A Baby Diaper Troubleshooting Guide

It’s time for a change. And then another. And another. If you’re a new parent, you’re probably a little shocked at how often your newborn’s diaper needs changing. Whether you use cloth or disposable baby diapers, you’ll change more than a thousand diapers in the first year alone.

WebMD has put together an easy diaper and diaper rash troubleshooting guide, detailing some of the common hazards of baby diapering and suggesting how to meet them with grace -- and sense of humor.

How Many Baby Diapers Will You Need?

Whether you decide to use cloth diapers, disposable diapers, or a mix of the two, your first question is probably how many you’ll use a day.

We asked moms, dads, and pediatricians, and their estimates were pretty similar: Expect to use about 10 to 12 diapers daily.

Of course, every baby is different. Some poop and pee frequently; others, not as often. What’s normal is what’s normal for your baby.

Which Size Diapers Should You Use?

Cloth diapers generally come in one size. As for disposable diapers, it’s not always easy to tell which size to choose for your baby. That’s because diapers are sized by weight, but the weights overlap. So if your baby weighs 24 pounds, should you buy a size 3 diaper, geared for a 16- to 28-pound baby? Or would a size 4, for babies who weigh 22 to 37 pounds, fit better?

Parents offer this advice when trying to find the right diaper size:

  • Make sure the diaper fits well around your baby’s leg.
  • If you’re experiencing a lot of leaks, it may be time to go up or back down a diaper size.

Diaper Rash: Prevention and Treatment

Allergic reactions, leaving a diaper on too long, and switching to solid foods can all cause your baby to get diaper rash.

To prevent diaper rash:

  • Change baby’s diaper more often than you normally do.
  • Let baby’s bottom air dry during a diaper change and leave the diaper off for a while, if you can.
  • Use unscented, mild soap and a warm washcloth to clean baby during a diaper change. Perfume and deodorant soaps can be harsh on baby’s skin.
  • If you use baby wipes, choose those that are free of perfume, alcohol, and chemicals.
  • When washing cloth diapers (and baby’s clothes), avoid using fabric softeners, antistatic products, or perfumed clothes soap. These can also cause rashes.
  • Avoid any foods that seem to worsen baby’s rash.


Diaper rash treatment:

  • Over-the-counter zinc oxide cream can soothe diaper rash.
  • For irritation and allergic reactions, a mild topical zinc oxide cream or petroleum jelly ointment may offer relief. (Allergic reactions to diapers are extremely rare.)
  • Diaper rash related to a bacterial infection -- usually caused by Staph or strep bacteria -- appears bright red and in some cases can blister. It requires medical attention. Your pediatrician may prescribe antibiotics.
  • For diaper rashes related to yeast infections, your baby’s doctor may recommend an over-the-counter topical antifungal cream.

Stopping Diaper Leaks

Baby diapers can leak for all sorts of reasons -- the size or brand of the diaper that needs changing, or how you put them on. Here are some common causes of leaks and how to leak-proof your baby’s diaper:

  • If your baby is two weeks old or younger, he probably still has his umbilical cord stump, which diapers don’t lie over smoothly. Be sure that when you put baby’s diaper on, it’s fitted snuggly below the stump.
  • The diaper may be too big or too small. Try going up a size -- or down, if the diaper is too loose.
  • The diaper may be the right size, but fastened too loosely. Try closing it tighter.
  • A baby boy’s diaper sometimes leaks if it has been fastened with his penis pointing upward. Try directing the penis downward as you put on his diaper.
  • Your baby is between sizes. In that case, the solution is time. Wait a few weeks and then try the next size up.

Preventing Pin Sticks with Cloth Diapers

Do you love the idea of using cloth diapers, but worry about the pins? Here’s how to pin safely:

  • Buy diaper pins that are stainless steel and have plastic protective heads that lock, so they won’t pop open as baby moves around.
  • Keep your hand between baby’s skin and the pin during diapering, so you won’t stick baby.
  • Look into buying disposable diaper tape for cloth diapers. Velcro-fasten diaper covers or cloth diapers fitted with snaps or other baby-safe fasteners are also an option.


Diapering a Busy Baby

As they get older and more active, some babies squirm, wiggle, or even kick and scream when you change their diapers. What can you do about it?

First, understand that it’s probably just a phase your little one is going through, and he’ll grow out of it. Until then, a few parental pointers:

  • Ignore it. For some children, wiggling is a power play. For others, it becomes a game. In both cases, your reaction is key. If you laugh, you’ve given your baby a delightful reward: Your attention! Minimize this by maintaining an even temper and disregarding the squirming as much as possible.
  • Foil baby’s fidgets with distraction. Some parents suggest singing to the child, hanging mobiles overhead, or giving baby a new and interesting object during changing time to hold his attention.
  • Never leave a baby unattended on a changing table. (This goes for any baby -- wiggly or not.) If you’re reaching for supplies with one hand, keep your other on baby.

Reeling in Roaming Hands During Diapering

Babies are interested in everything, and changing time is no different. There’s the charm of your dangling earrings or tie, the chain on their changing table lamp -- and often their own genitals. What can you do to keep your child’s exploring hands out of the diaper region during changes?

First, it’s good to know that this exploration is normal, and that babies are interested in all parts of their bodies, especially the parts they don’t get access to very often. But that’s not in anyone’s best interest when there’s a diaper full of poop, or you’re in a rush to get out the door. Moms and dads offer these suggestions:

  • Don’t reprimand baby for his curiosity. It won’t work, and it can send messages of shame and wrongdoing about something that’s completely normal.
  • Offer distractions such as singing, mobiles, or a rarely seen toy, preferably one that occupies both hands.

Have a diapering question we didn’t cover? Put your head together with family, friends, and your child’s own pediatrician. They know you and your baby best -- and chances are good they’ve been where you are now.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 11, 2015



Spock, B. and Rothenberg, M. Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, 6th Edition, Simon & Schuster, 1992.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: “Diaper Rash - Topic Overview.”

KidsHealth: “Diapering Your Baby.”

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth: “Diaper Rash Treatment.”

Berkeley Parents Network: “Diaper Changing Troubles.”

WebMD Parenting Message Boards.

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