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

Red marks can be normal, but sometimes it’s part of a bigger problem. Click to find out how to determine the difference!

Red marks can be normal, but sometimes it’s part of a bigger problem. Click to find out how to determine the difference!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 can be normal, but sometimes it’s part of a bigger problem. Click to find out how to determine the difference!
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 can be normal, but sometimes it’s part of a bigger problem. Click to find out how to determine the difference!
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 can be normal, but sometimes it’s part of a bigger problem. Click to find out how to determine the difference!
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- ClothDiaperFinder.com.
  • 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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