Overview

When you’re a new parent, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And if you don’t have a lot of experience babysitting or being around young babies, even simple parenting tasks can be challenging.

After a few months of practice, you’ll be a diaper changing expert. But right now, you might worry that you’re doing it wrong. The best way to learn is through practice. If you want to make sure you’re not missing any steps as you’re changing your newborn’s diaper, this guide will help.

Step 1: Prepare your materials

changing materials

If you’ve got a changing table set up, then you should already have everything you need on hand. However, if you’re not at home, or if you’re worried you might run out of supplies halfway through, it’s a good idea to check before you take a dirty diaper off. Make sure you have everything you need to clean up, and you’ll be able to keep the mess contained!

To change a diaper, you need three main things:

  1. A safe surface where you can lay your baby down. This doesn’t have to be a changing pad. It can be as simple as a pad on the floor. If you’re using a changing pad on a table, make sure the pad is securely fastened to the table so it can’t move.
  2. Something to clean your baby. Wipes are ideal, but a wet paper towel, a small washcloth, or even toilet paper can work too.
  3. A clean diaper.

Ideally, you’ll also have a place to dispose of the dirty diaper nearby. You may also want sanitizer for your hands, so you can clean them quickly before you pick your baby back up. And, depending on the circumstances, you may want to wash your hands before the diaper change.

Step 2: Prepare your baby

A dad placing baby face up on a changing table

Once your materials are ready, lay your baby faceup on your changing surface.

If you’re using a changing table or any kind of raised surface, attach the belt around your baby’s waist to make sure they can’t roll away. Or if no belt is available, plan ahead so you can keep one hand on them through the whole process. If your baby is old enough to reach for the diaper as you’re cleaning them, you may want to give them a soft toy to hold to prevent them from getting a mess on their hands.

Step 3: Remove the dirty diaper

If it’s a particularly messy diaper, you may want to put a burp cloth or hand towel under your baby first. This will keep your changing pad cover clean.

Next, you’ll need to make sure your baby’s clothes are out of the way. Most baby clothes have snaps around the legs to make diaper changing easy. If your baby is wearing a onesie or one-piece outfits with snaps, you can pull the clothes up and snap it on the side, around your baby’s waist. This will keep the clothes up and prevent them from getting in the way while you're cleaning.

Finally, open the diaper. If it’s just wet, you can throw it away immediately, but if it’s dirty, it’s helpful to use the diaper to clean up some of the mess before you remove the diaper entirely. Check to see if the front of the diaper is clean. If it is, you can use the front of the diaper to wipe your baby’s bum once from front to back. This is an easy way to clean off the worst of the mess.

Then, roll the diaper up so the mess is on the inside, and place it to the side and out of the way. Remember to keep one hand on your baby as you remove the diaper.

Step 4: Clean your baby

Now it’s time to get your baby clean!

Use wet wipes or a damp washcloth. Avoid wipes with fragrances or alcohol, since those can irritate your baby’s sensitive skin. Plain water is best. Make sure you use a clean section of the wipe or cloth every time you wipe.

If the diaper was only wet and not dirty, wipe just once to make sure there’s no residue of pee on your baby’s skin, since that can cause a rash. If the diaper was dirty, you have a bit more cleaning up to do!

If your baby is a girl, make sure you always wipe from the front toward the back, so you’re wiping poop away from her vulva. With a boy, look under his penis and testicles to make sure you’re not missing any mess. And with either gender, gently move your baby’s legs around as you clean to make sure you don’t miss any spots.

After you’ve cleaned your baby, use sanitizer to cleanse your hands. Again, make sure you keep one hand on your baby while you do this.

Step 5: Use diaper rash cream

This step is optional!

The best way to avoid diaper rash is to change your baby frequently and to allow regular diaper-free time to air out your baby’s skin. However, diaper rash cream is also helpful for preventing diaper rash. Many parents use it all the time.

If you are using diaper rash cream, spread it gently over the part of your baby’s skin that is likely to come into contact with poop or pee. Use a rash cream that contains zinc oxide or petroleum jelly. Both of these will create a barrier over your baby’s skin to protect it from wetness.

Step 6: Put on a fresh diaper

If possible, wait a while before putting on a fresh diaper.

Giving your baby’s skin time to air out is good for preventing a rash. If you have time, right after changing a dirty diaper is a great opportunity to go diaper-less, since your baby is unlikely to poop again immediately. If you’re feeling brave, you can even give your baby some diaper-free playtime on a towel on the floor.

When you’re ready to put on a clean diaper, first raise your baby by their legs and place the back of the diaper underneath their bum. Then pull the front of the diaper between their legs and lift it to their waist. Finally, unfold the sticky tabs from the back section of the diaper, and attach them to the front of the diaper. As you do this, make sure you pull the diaper snug enough to stay on securely, but not so tight that it will leave a mark on their skin.

Once your baby is clean and diapered, take them off the changing table and put them down in a safe place like on the floor, in a carrier, or in a bouncy seat (also on the floor), while you clean up the table.

Step 7: Clean up your changing space

The first thing you need to clean up is the dirty diaper. Solid waste should never go in the trash, so before you throw out a disposable diaper, you need to put solid waste down the toilet. If you’re using cloth diapers, you’ll need to do the same thing, to avoid solid waste in your laundry.

If your baby isn’t yet eating solid foods, this isn’t an issue, since breast-fed or formula-fed baby poop is liquid and water-soluble. If your baby’s poop is solid, take the diaper to the toilet, keeping it rolled up so nothing falls out. Hold the diaper over the toilet, and let the diaper fall open so that any solid pieces can fall into the toilet. Then flush the toilet, roll the diaper back up, and put it in the diaper bin.

Finally, check your changing space for any dirty spots. If you used a burp cloth or towel, put it in the laundry. If any poop got onto your changing pad, take it off and put it in the laundry. Last, wash your hands with soap and water, and you’re ready to go play with your baby!