Diaper Changes

How To Change A Baby Without A Changing Table

When parents have to improvise on changing diapers, safety comes first — and a well-stocked diaper bag makes it easier.

by Matthew Utley
Originally Published: 
Dad is using a bench to change the nappie of his son
Image taken by Mayte Torres/Moment/Getty Images

Changing stations are much more common in men’s bathrooms than they were a decade ago, but hardly ubiquitous. And babies are notoriously bad at planning their bowel movements. In combination, this means that fathers can and should expect to have to change a diaper under less-than-ideal conditions. Here’s the thing: With some basic know-how and planning, mainly in the form of diaper bag packing, obstacles can be easily overcome.

The first rule of changing diapers anywhere should be safety first, according to Dr. Sarah Kohl, a pediatrician and travel health specialist. And that means finding a flat, level surface. “Using the floor is the best option,” says Kohl. “If you use the sink, the baby may roll off, grab the hot water, or get injured on the plumbing.”

If the floor of the public washroom doesn’t sound like the most hygienic place for a baby, that’s because it isn’t. To reduce the chance of nasty pathogens hitching rides, parents can cover the floor with paper towels before laying down the changing pad.

If there is no blanket and no paper towels (not all public bathrooms achieve even this modest standard of readiness), then it is time to get creative. A small blanket, towel, sweater, or jacket all make fine changing pads. They can be washed later, and it’s a parent’s duty to take one for the team anyway.

Now, at least, there’s a stable surface to clean and change the baby as usual. Fathers using cloth diapers will want to shake the feces out into the toilet. Considering the people who are going to use that restroom later (and those who will have to clean it), that’s probably a best practice before throwing out disposable diapers, too. Both cloth diapers that are being carried out, and disposable diapers that are going in the trash, will benefit from being sealed up in a plastic bag to keep the smell down.

If there are no plastic bags, it may be time to call it day; that level of preparedness may not get the family through the next diaper emergency. A well-stocked diaper bag, on the other hand, can avert a lot of distasteful emergency decisions.

A changing pad or two, a towel, extra clothes in case of blowouts, extra diapers, diaper cream, and scent-free wipes in case it takes a while to find a place to change (lingering in a wet or dirty diaper too long is a major cause of diaper rash), plastic bags, and hand sanitizer all make the diapering process easier, even when a changing table isn’t available. Shoulder bag or backpack, there’s no reason for a dad to deny himself every advantage. There’s even room for baby food. There’s nothing wrong with being over-prepared, either. Things happen, and supplies dwindle faster than expected.

“Really, the hardest part about traveling with a baby is bringing enough supplies – food and diapers,” says Kohl. “I’d recommend bringing 50% more than you think you’ll use.”

Multiple outfits, multiple changing pads, and a surplus of diapers, wipes, and plastic bags may seem like overkill, but when families are on the road, it’s better to be over-prepared than under. And make sure you’re prepared to close the deal. Running water isn’t a guarantee for diaper changes on the go, so that little bottle of hand sanitizer is more than likely to come in clutch as things wrap up.

How to Change a Diaper Away From Home

  • Think about safety first, the floor or ground is usually the best option when there are only smaller surfaces available.
  • To avoid changing on dirty bathroom floors, lay down paper towels prior to laying down a portable changing pad. If all else fails, a towel or a sweatshirt will have to do.
  • Be courteous and shake poop out of diapers (both cloth and disposal) before putting them in a plastic bag to be thrown away or repacked for home.
  • Keep a diaper bag stocked with a changing pad, a change of clothes, wipes and extra diapers.

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