Learning how to change a baby diaper doesn’t have to be hard! New parents can rest easy knowing that they can easily learn how to protect their baby’s bottom by keeping their diapers clean.
No matter if you’re using reusable cloth diapers or are looking for a simple way to change a newborn’s diaper, these tips will help with newborn babies and older babies as well.
Use this simple guide to help learn how to change your baby’s diaper and keep your baby’s skin clean and protected.
Table of contents
- How do I know if my child needs a diaper change?
- Diaper changing supplies needed
- How to change a child’s diaper
- Safety tips for changing diapers
- Step-by-step instructions
- Do you always need to wipe during diaper changes?
- How to change a squirmy baby’s diaper
- Diaper changes in public places
- Diaper changes outdoors
- What to pack in diaper bags
How Do I Know If a Baby Needs a Diaper Change?
No matter how seasoned a parent is, there are always questions about what to do to notice and change a wet diaper. This is a time in your child’s life when they are relying on you 100% to take care of them and to get rid of their soiled diapers to replace them with a new diaper.
Baby Indicates They Need a Change. The biggest indicator your newborn baby has a wet or poopy diaper is either their screams, cries, or smells. Sometimes, you may even notice some of the poop or pee running down your baby’s legs as well if they’re having a blowout! 💩 Yuck! As your child gets older, and into the toddler years, they may also announce that they are now poopy or they just went pee in their diaper. Sometimes they will just simply grab a clean diaper and wipes and bring them to you and lie down to indicate they need a change.
Diaper Line Test. Most diapers today have symbols, lines, characters, or other indicators on them to easily show if your child has wet them. It is frequently a yellow line down the middle of the diaper that will turn blue, for example, or the symbols/graphics won’t appear until they get wet.
Diaper Feel Test. You can also do a gentle feel test. If the diaper feels bulky and heavy with a quick pat of the diaper, chances are it is soiled and needs to be changed, though sometimes male genitalia can also feel bulky and can trick you into thinking their diaper is wet or wetter than it really is.
The Saggy Diaper Test. If you notice your toddler waddling around, or they have a saggy diaper hanging between their legs, they need a diaper change.
The Diaper Check Look Test. If you aren’t sure if your baby is stinky, taking a peep into the back of their diaper, or through the elastic on the leg hole of the diaper are pretty sure fireways to tell if they are messy and need a change. Just be careful as you are likely to get a little messy checking!
The Time Since the Last Change. Generally, if it’s been a few hours (2-4) since your child’s diaper was changed, it’s likely time to change it again.
Newborns may need more frequent changes, as they have more frequent bowel movements and sometimes hate the feeling or wet diapers. Crawlers and toddlers start to get into a potty rhythm.
As a general rule of thumb, a baby or toddler’s diaper should be changed first thing after they wake up in the morning, before naptime or after lunch, after nap times, and before bedtime.
I also highly recommend checking diapers if they need to be changed before you strap them into car seats, strollers, or high chairs, as it can cause greater irritation to the baby’s skin and also to you as poop may ooze out onto the car seats, strollers, or high chair and mean more cleaning up later.
It doesn’t matter if you have a baby boy or a baby girl – you need to pay attention to the signs and learn how to change a baby’s dirty diaper.
Messy Diapers versus Wet Diapers
While both types of diapers are considered “dirty diapers” and need to be changed, there is a difference between the two.
Messy diapers are ones that have a bowel movement involving some form of poop, whether that be a solid or diarrhea. (If your baby is eating breast milk, their bowel movements will likely be much more liquid in nature – and oh, the joy of diaper leaks!)
Wet diapers are diapers with urine in them but no poop. This is also where it’s super important to make sure that you find the right size diaper so that you can have a clean baby and reduce the number of leaks and accidents from happening.
On average, babies will have more wet diapers than messy diapers, but every kid is different and some are pooping machines!
Do I change the diaper after every pee?
You’ll actually hear different opinions on this one. Some say that a diaper should be changed after every pee, while others say that as long as there is no poop, to change a diaper every 2-3 hours instead.
If you do change after every tinkle, you will go through a lot of diapers, but you will also be protecting sensitive skin, skin irritation, and diaper rash.
Newborn diapers are smaller in size, which means that you will notice that they’ve pottied quicker, and you’ll want to change them out of it. As your child gets older and more mobile, you might not even notice if they’ve pottied a little bit in their diaper until they slow down enough to come over to you.
Diaper Changing Supplies
For the best experience in changing diapers, you will want to have a few supplies on hand.
Diaper ointment – This works as a rash cream and helps to prevent a skin rash in your baby’s diaper area.
Portable changing station – You can purchase a contoured changing pad or a portable changing pad to have on the go or use a blanket. This protects your little one from dirty surfaces while you’re changing their diaper on a clean surface.
Changing table – For the home, a good changing table is a great way to have a safe place to change diapers that is up off the floor.
Baby wipes – There are a lot of options, but I’ve found that sensitive skin wet wipes that are unscented work great.
Diapers – There are many brands of diapers out there, so be sure to read my diaper comparison guide and my diaper sizing chart post so you get the right one for your family’s budget, values, sensitivities, and size.
How to Change a Baby’s Diaper
Safety Tips to Remember when Changing a Diaper
First and foremost, never leave your baby unattended during a diaper change. Never leave them on a high surface, like a table, bed, couch, or changing table EVER.
Gather up all the supplies that you need before you start the process so that you never have to leave their side.
Make sure that you use safety buckles on changing tables or in any changing area, and always make sure to choose the floor to change your child’s diaper as opposed to an area that is elevated if you are without any type of safety features.
Also, be sure your hands are cleaned before and after you change a baby’s diaper. You don’t want to introduce germs into their private regions, nor do you want to get the germs from feces into your own body, and you’ll want fresh-smelling hands!
Step-by-Step How to Change a Baby’s Diaper
Step 1: Gather your supplies all in one area.
This is generally easy if you already have a diaper bag packed with the above supplies or are at home on a stocked changing table or other changing area in your home. But, always double check you do in fact have everything there. Because you don’t want to leave your baby unattended in the middle of a diaper change, double-check.
Step 2: Get the baby ready.
Lay the baby on a flat, secure surface, preferably on top of the changing pad, changing table, or blanket. Buckle them to the table/changing pad.
Undress the baby so you have full access to their diaper and legs. You can keep their shirt on unless it got soiled, in which case you will also remove it and set it aside for now (see my post on removing newborn poop stains on clothes when this happens). Older kids may also insist you take off their shoes and socks, even though not necessary.
Step 3: Put the new diaper down underneath.
Grab a new, clean diaper, and open it up and place it under the baby’s soiled diaper (which is still on the baby). The diaper’s sticky adhesive pull tabs should be on the bottom, with the pull tabs level with the navel. Pull the front part open and down so it’s underneath the child’s legs.
Doing this protects your changing pad, pad cover, blanket, and other changing surfaces from getting poop on them. Hopefully.
Step 4: Take off the dirty diaper.
Lift up the sticky diaper fasteners one at a time.
Use the top part of the diaper to gently wipe down the private areas/bums to do an initial cleaning of the baby’s bum and gather most of the poop into the diaper. This saves you time, wipes, mess, and money.
Set aside the soiled diaper, still open, out of reach of the baby’s hands and kicking feet – you will put the dirty wipes into the soiled diaper and then wrap them all up together to throw out.
Step 5: Wipe up the child’s bottom.
Gently grab the child’s lower legs and lift up their bum slightly so it doesn’t get poop onto the clean diaper underneath (the goal is to keep the new diaper clean in this wiping process – but it can be good to use if your child – especially those boys – start peeing during the diaper change, or start pooping).
Get a clean wet wipe out of its pack and then begin wiping front to back, turning the wipe to use as much as possible of it so you don’t go through a whole pack for one change. Put the dirtied wipe into the soiled diaper, grab a new wipe, and repeat until the diaper area is clean.
Be sure to check in those thigh folds, inside the female genitalia (gently!!), and the anus so they are nice and clean.
Step 6: Apply diaper cream.
You can blow air or swat air at their bum to help them dry.
If needed, or as a precautionary measure, add diaper cream to their inner butt, and outer labia, or other parts. Apply the cream to your finger, then gentle, but generously, apply to the areas. Wipe your finger with a wet wipe and then add the wipe to the soiled diaper.
Bad diaper rashes are one of the 6 Moments that will make you cry like your baby because it is so horrible!!
Step 7: Put on the new diaper.
Now with the child’s bum clean and creamed, lift up the top portion of the diaper to cover their private area. Gently point baby boys’ penises down, as this can help them not pee out the top, and rather be absorbed by the diaper properly.
Pull out the adhesive tabs on the diaper underneath, and while holding the front part of the diaper in place, secure the tabs on the front, one at a time.
Some diapers have little colored horizontal lines that indicate where they should attach to make it easy for you. You line up the tab under the line.
Adjust the leg hole elastic so the fringes of the diaper are on the outside, and check that the diaper hasn’t shifted up their butt crack.
Generally, the diaper top should be at about the navel, and completely cover the backside. Adjust as needed.
Step 8: Clean up.
Put the baby’s clothes back on over their diapers, or put new clothes on them.
Wrap up the dirty diaper with the wipes inside the middle, by rolling the top part of the diaper into the center of the diaper. Then use the adhesive tabs and fold them tightly over the outside of the diaper, so it makes a sort of ball or triangular shape, then throw this into the diaper pail or trash can.
(If you use a diaper pail, here’s how I recommend removing the smell!)
Unbelt the baby from the changing mat or table, and clean up any messes on them with a wet wipe (or throw them in the wash if needed).
Now you’re done! You did it!
Should you wipe your baby at every diaper change?
Totally up to you!
Diapers today do a great job of absorbing the moisture from urine, so it’s not really needed to wipe them with a wet wipe if they’ve only peed. This can also save you a LOT of money, and time, by not using them at every single change. Also, the wet wipes present their own moisture, which may actually aggravate sensitive skin issues, if not properly dried.
How to change the diaper of a squirmy toddler
However, for health reasons and smells, wiping for pee diapers is just fine too!
Have a wiggly toddler? You’re not alone! This can make it difficult to get the diaper changed, but it doesn’t make it impossible. Here are some of my best tips on how to change a toddler’s diaper.
Challenges of changing diapers in public
Let’s be honest. Finding a great place to change the baby’s nappy in public can be hard.
When I’m out and above, I look for signs that point to a diaper changing station or family area and make a mental note that I’ll be coming back to that area to change the baby’s diaper.
I also make sure that I pack my diaper bag with my own changing mat so that if I can’t find a clean and safe place, I can easily just make my own.
To dispose of the diapers, I’ll put them in a plastic bag and then add them to a trash can in a restroom.
It is best to avoid changing diapers in public on tables and benches, especially in eating establishments, as it’s gross to other patrons.
Changing diapers outside
If you’re not comfortable changing diapers at an indoor location, you can always head outdoors and try to find a clean area. This is where packing a baby blanket would be key, so that you can lay it down in the grass as a barrier to bugs and prickly grass.
Make sure that you lay something down before laying the baby down, as you don’t want to risk bug bites and chiggers.
I have also changed diapers in my car on a seat or in the high flat trunk, or on my lap if there was simply nowhere else!
What to Pack in Diaper Bags for Diaper Changes
Never leave home without diaper cream, a stack of diapers, baby wipes, and some hand sanitizer, just in case. (This is for your hands to clean them off after the diaper has been changed, just in case you’re unable to get to a bathroom).
Add in an extra change of clothes and some small extra grocery bags (or doggy poop bags or small trash bags work) to tie up dirty diapers or for placing dirty baby clothes in for when you are on the go.
After a little practice, you’ll find the best place to change diapers and be a diaper-changing pro!