Categorized | Cloth Diapers

Red Marks Left By Cloth Diapers- Don’t Worry, It’s Mostly Normal

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Often times a cloth diapering mother will worry, perhaps excessively, over red marks left behind by cloth diapers.  I want to relieve all of those mothers of their fears right now- red marks left behind by elastic is usually fine and not painful for the baby!  I say usually because there are some cases that it is a sign of bad fit or pain but that will be discussed later.

Red marks left on skin

Red marks on my arms left by clothing

Think back to all of the times you have removed your socks, bra, skinny jeans, or bracelets- were there indentations and red marks left behind?  The tighter the article of clothing and the longer you have worn them the deeper or redder the marks, yes?  9 times out of 10 the marks were pain free, am I right?  Speaking from personal experience I have had a few square inches left by an intricate bracelet on my arm and, although the pattern was dark red and deep, I felt no pain.  Models are not allowed to wear clothes, especially underwear or bras, before runway shows because there would be red marks.  Red marks+fancy gowns= not sexy.

In the cloth diaper world  “red marks” is a dirty word.  “Oh, that diaper left red marks on my son!  I stopped using them.”

I don’t want to sound like I am discrediting a parent’s judgement making ability.  If you as a parent believe the marks are causing pain then you need to trust that instinct.  However, there are different types of red marks that I will explain further in case you need help deciding.

A simple indentation the same width of the elastic that is pinkish or red in color is OK.

If the red mark very dark (almost like a blood bruise), is very deep (especially deep and thin), looks like it is caused by rubbing or chaffing, leaves bruises, or in severe cases has caused blood or blisters, then obviously the diaper is too tight and those are not OK.

I have been snapping photos of red marks as they arose with my son Everett for several months.  Luckily we don’t see many “bad” marks but it has happened.  Below are some examples and my opinion on their severity.

red marks left by cloth diapers

This Red Mark is Normal and Totally Painless

Notice the color and depth of these red marks above. The color is pinkish and the marks don’t appear to be deep at all. The marks were left by elastic around the back and legs. Everett was in a chunkier phase when this was taken a few months ago.

red marks left by cloth diapers

Dark, rub marks left on legs

In the case of the red marks left above the diaper was rubbing just enough to chafe right in the elastic area. The legs were too tight in this case and I would (unfortunately) assume this mark to have been painful for my son.  The photo isn’t the best but in person it was obvious that it was not a typical indentation and was part indent part chafe.

red marks from snap cloth diapers

red marks left by snaps

Other causes of red marks/indentations can be caused by snaps.  Above is an example of exposed snaps (a pet peeve of mine) that left red marks on Everett.  In this case they don’t appear to be painful since these were the female ends but the marks were pronounced.  Exposed MALE (the socket is facing outward) snaps are a major concern and would definitely cause discomfort and pain so beware of this issue.  In some cases babies grow wider in the waist and male snaps are left undone which might dig into their skin.

If you are looking for a cloth diaper that is less likely to leave red marks there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Most important is just having a good fit.  Some diapers run smaller in the thighs than others, even a “One Size” diaper.  If your baby has extra chunky legs you might want to investigate the potential diapers you are interested in.  One way is to read reviews; one place is my database-
  • The width of the elastic is important.  Just like with snow shoes, the principal of spreading the the pressure applies to cloth diapers as well.  The thinner the elastic the more likely a red mark will be left.  Wider elastics will be less likely to leave a painful red mark.  I once tested a diaper with such thin elastic it looked like my son had been cut all the way around his leg!
  • Look for alternatives to leg cuff styles.  Some covers made from Fleece and Wool will use cuffs instead of elastic.  A hybrid option is the BabyKicks 3g which has a fleece gusset.
  • Diapers that size up or down via the leg elastic would be easiest to adjust to get a looser fit that is less likely to cause painful red marks.
  • Encased elastic is more likely to leave red marks than un-encased elastic.  Ruffled/Gathered elastic can also leave red marks but I’ve yet to have any deep/dark red marks from them.  In my Cloth Diaper Finder in the details window you can learn which type of elastic each diaper has.
I asked on Twitter:

(In this case I would also argue that the baby is feeling the same thing an adult would after taking off the article of clothing that left the mark: I feel a loss of the item and remember it being there. It is an odd sensation- not quite itchy, not really painful, and hard for a baby to explain.)

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Kim Rosas began Dirty Diaper Laundry in 2009 out of a desire to help more parents understand modern cloth diapers. She lives in Florida with her husband of 5 years and her two boys. Even though none of her boys wear diapers anymore she is still just as committed to promoting them. In her spare time Kim enjoys video editing, photography, and coffee.
  • lauren

    Red Marks are not that big of a concern for me. If I notice a red mark that seems a deeper or darker than usual I will use a different brand of cloth diaper so that it is not lying on the same mark as the previous diaper. I have a bunch of different brands of diapers so I am able to do this, however if all of your diapers are the same brand just let your baby air out between diaper changes.I do this after most changes mainly to keep the diaper rash away but if you watch the redend  areas on the baby they will fade with in five to ten minutes.

  • Knocked up and nursing

    I actually stopped using all PUL diapers and switched to wool after i noticed large red marks on my daughters legs after wearing a cover for about 2 hours. I switched to another PUL cover and same thing. These weren’t marks in her skin they were raised. I’ve taken to the theory that she’s allergic to PUL. Since switching to wool, we’ve had no problems.

  • Mila Misura

    Red marks are very annoying to me! It tells me that something is wrong with the fit of the diaper. Unfortunately, all of my AIOs (or better put, all of my non-fitteds) leave marks. THat can’t be comfy for baby :( 

  • Theinquisitivemom

    Thanks for this! I’ve wondered about red marks and the pictures look just like the ones I thought were okay and others I deemed concerning. 

    • Anonymous

      Glad this was helpful!

  • Karen Crouse

    Red marks/indentations don’t bother me, but there is one diaper cover I have that for both of my kids left it almost raw, like the reaction they get with latex band aids. It’s almost scabby after one wearing for 2 hours at the most…in fact it does scab over. I can’t imagine latex being in a diaper, but maybe?? It’s not the fit, because I pull it to make sure it’s loose, so I can only guess it is the fabric…I haven’t problems with any other diaper in 5 years. It’s the only one with exposed elastic, the elastic is on the outside.

  • Jadelouisedesigns

    This is such a great discussion post! I’ve noticed both types of red marks with my daughter and her cloth diapers! I found that the diapers with cloth covering the leg gussets (like with my pocket diapers) left a lot less marks than my hybrid diapers that merely had the PUL gusset against the leg without extra fabric padding. 

    It is merely my preference, but I’m falling more and more in love with Pocket diapers vs my old favorite of hybrid diapers, simply because at this stage they are more comfortable for my daughter and leave the least amount of marks on her. 

  • Kim3278

    Thank you for this post. As a new cloth diaperer (my 2nd day), I worry that I am doing everything right. I asked about this is a CD forum today and they directed me here. I feel like I am having a difficult time getting my diapers to fit her the way I feel they should fit her:) Thanks for the blog post though. I’m adding you to my blog roll!

  • Kim3278

    Thank you for this post. As a new cloth diaperer (my 2nd day), I worry that I am doing everything right. I asked about this is a CD forum today and they directed me here. I feel like I am having a difficult time getting my diapers to fit her the way I feel they should fit her:) Thanks for the blog post though. I’m adding you to my blog roll!

  • Lesley Ann Rodriguez

    As long as there’s no chafing that should generally be fine.  I think, however, that if the red marks appear most of the time and you don’t do something about it, they might cause the area to darken (like if you have a really tight pair of bras that you repeatedly wear for some reason and you find that a line has formed where the underwires are).

    You’re so white I thought that photo was a mannequin’s arm?

    from LPN Programs

  • liz

    Disposables always left red marks on my kids too, a bummer for naked newborn photo shoots, so you won’t avoid red marks entirely whatever you do.

  • Ambria

    Good post! I was testing out a diaper once and after about 5-10 mins I noticed bad red marks starting to show up on his legs. (I didn’t even snap the diaper up tight but the leg elastic was WAY too tight.) I took it off him and after washing it, tried it on my arm. It started hurting after about 5 mins. I felt bad that I left the diaper on for 10 mins. I use to feel bad about red marks when my LO was really little but then realized they weren’t a big deal or bothering him. We don’t get them often anyways. Anywho, that probably didn’t make any sense. But good post!

  • Tizzyalexander

    I worry about red marks. My gDiapers (not my favorite dipe) leaves these round red marks from the snaps, similar to your picture above. Except that over time it caused a little scab. Then the region around it got a rash and skin peeled. So I don’t mind pressure marks, but if it’s red enough for me to call it “red”, I don’t use that diaper anymore.

    BTW, love your website but why is the font all strange now? On Firefox on my Mac I see this old fashioned typewriter type font and everything is harder to read.

    • Anonymous

      You see it too! I’m not crazy. I have no idea why it changed.

      Please excuse typos and brevity. Sent from my iPhone

      • Tizzyalexander

        Probably your regular font is set to an uncommon font that not all computers have. When that happens browsers just assign some basic font to the page.

    • Erica

      Sounds like an allergy. Try painting the back of the snaps with clear nail polish and see if it stops. My sister has a metal allergy and has to do that to all of her jeans and belts or she gets the same reaction you described.

  • jessicageach

    Thanks, I’m glad you posted this as I’ve just switched to cloth nappies and am still figuring out the right size for my daughter and this was really helpful in knowing whats normal and what’s not! :-)