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Those precious little babies, with their sweet smiles and teeny tiny clothes…and massive blowout poops (which definitely happen at the least convenient moments).
Dirty diaper duty isn’t most people’s favorite part of caring for a baby, but it is one you’ll spend a lot of time doing. Yep, it’s part of the package.
Most babies go through 6 to 10 diapers per day for the first few months of life, and then 4 to 6 diapers per day up until they potty train at age 2 or 3 years. That’s a LOT of diapers.
Fortunately, changing a diaper isn’t rocket science. It’s a little stinky, but you can do it! We’ve got you covered, with everything from necessary supplies to step-by-step instructions and troubleshooting tips.
Having the right supplies in place is key for making the diaper changing process much easier for you and safer for your baby. You don’t want to get caught with poop up to your elbows and an empty package of wipes. And you never want to walk away from your baby while they’re on the changing table.
So to skip the need to run to grab a change of clothes, or to avoid getting mustard yellow stains on your carpet (ew) it’s best to plan ahead. While it may seem excessive, “always be prepared” is a good motto when it comes to diapering your little one.
Everyone will have a different preference for how involved they want their diapering set-up to be. Some parents have an ultimate diaper-changing center with every possible convenience in their baby’s nursery, while others prefer to do basic diaper changes on a blanket on the floor.
In either case, here are some items (with links for shopping online) that can help prevent diaper changing woes:
- Diapers. Whether you use cloth or disposable, make sure you have a stash of diapers within reach so that you don’t have to turn away from or leave your baby to get a fresh one. You may want to experiment with different brands to find the right fit for your baby (and the right price point for you).
- A clean place to lay your baby. This can be a towel or mat on the floor, a waterproof pad on the bed, or a changing pad on a table or dresser. You want somewhere clean for baby and something to protect the surface you’re working on from pee or poo. It is also helpful if the surface is washable (like a towel) or wipeable (like a mat or pad) so that you can disinfect it frequently. Think of it like your baby’s personal bathroom.
- Wipes. It’s best to use hypoallergenic wipes that are free of alcohol and fragrances. For the first 8 weeks of a newborn’s life, many pediatricians recommend using warm water and cotton balls to clean up instead of wipes, as it is more gentle for very sensitive newborn skin. You can also buy wipes that are pre-moistened with only water.
- Diaper rash cream. Your pediatrician may recommend a barrier cream to help prevent or treat diaper rash. Keep this handy with your diaper changing supplies, as you’ll want to apply it to your baby’s clean, dry bottom with each fresh diaper.
- A clean set of clothes. This one is optional, but it’s amazing how babies manage to get their excrement everywhere. And we do mean everywhere.
- A place to dispose of the dirty diapers. If you’re using cloth diapers, you will want a sealable bag or container to keep the diapers in until you rinse and launder them (which should be promptly). If you’re using disposable diapers, you will also want a bag, diaper pail, or garbage can to place the diapers in. Diapers can put off a potent smell, so an airtight container will be your best friend.
- On-the-go kit. This is also optional, but a kit with a fold-out changing pad, small container of wipes, a couple of diapers, and plastic bags to place dirty diapers in can be a lifesaver when you’re out and about with a little one.
Whether you’ve changed a diaper before or not, here’s a breakdown of how to keep things clean and fresh in babyland:
- Lay baby on safe, clean surface. (Make sure you have everything you need within arm’s reach — you should never walk away from a baby on a raised surface.)
- Remove baby’s pants or unfasten snaps on romper/bodysuit, and push shirt/bodysuit up towards armpits so it’s not in the way.
- Unfasten the soiled diaper.
- If there’s a lot of poop, you can use the front of the diaper to wipe down towards the bottom and remove some of the poop off your baby.
- Fold the diaper down so the outer (unsoiled) part is under your baby’s bottom.
- Wipe gently from front to back (this is very important for preventing infection, especially in girls), ensuring that you get every crease. This may take several wipes if your baby had a large or runny bowel movement.
- Gently holding your baby’s ankles, lift their legs and bottom up so that you can remove the dirty or wet diaper and wipes from under them, and wipe any spots you may have missed.
- Set the dirty diaper and wipes off to the side where your baby cannot reach them.
- Place the clean diaper under your baby’s bottom. The side with tabs goes on the back, underneath their bottom (and then the tabs reach around and fasten in the front).
- Allow their bottom to air dry, then apply diaper cream if needed with a clean or gloved finger.
- Pull clean diaper up and fasten with tabs or snaps. Fasten tightly enough to prevent leaks, but not so tight that it leaves red marks on your baby’s skin or squeezes their tummy.
- Refasten bodysuit snaps and put baby’s pants back on. Dispose of the dirty diaper appropriately. Wash or sanitize your hands (and your baby’s, if they reached down in the diaper area).
- Enjoy the next 2 hours until you have to do this again!
It may be difficult at first to tell if your baby needs a clean diaper. Disposable diapers often have a wetness indicator line that turns blue when a change is needed, or the diaper may feel full and squishy or heavy. A sniff test or visual inspection may tell you if your baby has made a poop.
A good rule of thumb is to change your baby’s diaper after each feeding and before and after each nap, or about every 2 hours during the day.
If your baby is a newborn, you’ll want to keep track of the number of wet and dirty diapers each day. This is a helpful indicator of whether they’re drinking enough breast milk or formula.
Some babies really dislike being wet or soiled, so if your baby is fussy, try checking their diaper.
At the very beginning, your baby may have a poop with every feeding, so you’ll be changing diapers around the clock. However, if your baby does not poop after feeding or starts sleeping longer stretches at night, you don’t need to wake them to change a wet diaper.
If they poop at night or their diaper feels very soggy, you can change the diaper with their nighttime feeding. If baby isn’t soiled, you can just feed them and put them back to bed sleepy.
You may need to perform more frequent changes if your baby develops diaper rash, as the skin should be kept as clean and dry as possible.
When changing baby boys, don’t be afraid to gently wipe the penis and around and underneath the scrotum. It is also advisable to cover the penis with a washcloth or clean diaper during changes, to prevent unwanted pee fountains. When fastening the clean diaper, gently tuck the tip of the penis downward to prevent soaking of his clothes.
When changing baby girls, make sure to wipe from front to back to help prevent infection. You may need to gently separate and wipe the labia and ensure that there is no fecal matter near the vaginal entrance.
When you’re out and about with no changing table or clean floor surface available, you can lay your stroller seat flat and perform a diaper change there. Car trunks can work for this kind of improv situation as well.
Having a toy (preferably one that is easy to disinfect) handy can help keep your little one occupied (i.e. less squirmy) during diaper changes.
Last pro tip: Every parent inevitably faces the dreaded blowout. This is when your baby has such a large, runny poop that it overflows the diaper and gets all over baby’s clothes (and possibly car seat, stroller, or you).
When this happens, take a deep breath (but not through your nose), and gather your wipes, a clean diaper, a towel, a plastic bag, and disinfectant if it’s available.
It may be helpful to pull baby’s clothes downward instead of up over their head, to avoid spreading the mess even more. The dirty clothes can then be placed in a plastic bag until you get them to the laundry.
A blowout may be manageable with extra wipes, but sometimes the easiest way to clean up is to just give your baby a bath. If you’re experiencing frequent blowouts it may be time to move up a size in diapers.
You’ll change many diapers during the first few years of your baby’s life. It may be a little intimidating at first, but it won’t take long before you feel like a total pro.
Diaper changes are a necessity, but they can also be an opportunity to connect and bond with your baby. Sing a special diaper changing song, play peekaboo, or just take a moment to share a smile with the amazing little person looking up at you.