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How to Change a Diaper: Expert Diaper-Changing Tips for New Parents

Becoming a diapering pro requires a solid division of labor and a solid process that ends with clean skin and plenty of baby smiles.

The diaper change is one of the first skills new parents have to learn — and fast. Because diaper changes happen all day, every day for what feels like years. That means, Dad and Mom will have to continually adapt their diaper-changing techniques as their newborn boy or girl becomes a squirming baby and then a restless toddler. So learning how to change a diaper isn’t a one and done deal, more like an evolving process. Luckily there are professionals like Amanda Kellmer, a NICU nurse educator at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Kellmer’s first note on how to change a diaper? Get ready for a lot of trial and error.

Always Be Prepared for a Diaper Change

Every new parent has experienced it: leaving the house without enough diapers. If you think the baby might need to be changed once, pack backups. And backups for the backups. “Grab an (extra) diaper or two, because you never know if you’re going to go through more than one diaper,” says Kellmer. As you’ll soon see, kids have a habit of hitting pause on their bathroom breaks and resuming the, ahem, action right when a new diaper’s halfway on. You’ll surely need more diapers than anticipated, and better safe than sorry.

Consider Diapers Multi-Purpose Tools

During diaper changes, diapers can take on more roles than waste-capturing vessels. When changing a baby’s diaper, a clean diaper should be placed underneath the baby’s backside, like a pad, before the dirty diaper straps are loosened. Once the dirty diaper is unstrapped, wipe down with the front end in order to get any excess poop out of the way before getting into the wipes. And with boys, while disposing of a dirty diaper, use the clean one to cover up the urethra in order to avoid an unwanted shower.

Develop a Diaper Change Routine

It’s also important to remember the unfortunate fact that poop can get everywhere, not just the diaper. But having a solid routine — or at least mental checklist — can help with the cleanup.

First, always wipe front to back, taking extra care with baby girls to avoid wiping in the wrong direction. If the baby has skin folds, make sure no waste has gotten in there. With boys, clean under the scrotum and penis.

Kellmer says parents should wipe once to ensure that each area is clean, and repeat as necessary. “Wipe the sides, the outside of the area. If there’s poop in the inner labia, you want to do that last,” she says, adding that parents should wipe gently to avoid pushing waste into hard-to-clean areas due to excess pressure.

Understand Diaper Size Is Only a Guideline

Diaper sizes aren’t gospel. They’re recommendations. Parents aren’t beholden to them. The right size diaper for a baby is, simply put, the diaper that fits. The wrong size will either be too snug or allow waste to escape.

“You don’t want lowrider, saggy diaper pants,” says Kellmer. “You want it to be just snug enough that you can get a finger between the diaper and the baby. You don’t want it to be too loose.”

Respect the Diaper Ruffles

Choosing the right diaper material is a contentious issue but one thing is certain: disposable diapers have cloth diapers beat when it comes to bells and whistles. The most important component isn’t the little blue line that indicates wetness, it’s the ruffles, which might as well be floodgates. Paying attention to them is the key to avoiding catastrophe.

“Most disposable diapers have an inner ruffle and an outer ruffle. You want to make sure that the outer ruffle is not tucked in,” says Kellmer. “They’re there as an extra barrier for blowouts.”

And for new parents who haven’t heard the term blowout yet, well … look, make sure that ruffle isn’t tucked in.

Adopt New Diaper-Changing Tactics When Necessary

Ideally, parents are changing their baby’s diapers on a clean, dry surface complete with safety straps. But babies don’t always get the memo. Every parent will eventually find themselves in a situation where they’re changing a baby’s diaper in a less-than-ideal place, like a restaurant bathroom with no changing table, or outdoors. Figuring out how to change your baby’s diaper in those situations can feel like playing with fire, but there are a few tips to make things easier.

If possible, get the kid to the car and put them in the trunk. That may not sound like the best plan, but the trunk is also the flattest area of a car, and the walls work as boundaries. Barring automotive availability, Kellmer suggests finding the flattest, driest place available for a diaper change. If it’s elevated, keep a hand on the baby at all times for safety. And if there’s no changing pad or blanket around, utilize what’s easily accessible nearby.

“You can always pull a bunch of paper towels or seat covers in a public restroom,” she says.

Mask the Diaper Smell

Even the most scent-averse parents can have their gag reflexes seriously tested by their baby’s dirty diaper. A survey of sanitation workers and nurses reveals a few tricks that could make things better. Many opt for a dab of essential oil or a swipe of Vicks Vaporub across the upper lip. For more serious scents, apply a mentholated or minty product on the inside of a standard dust mask. You might also consider investing in some sort of scent-containing storage container like a Diaper Genie for the spent packages.

Combat Diaper Rash Through Prevention

Diaper rash is an inevitability that starts with irritation, peaks with screaming, and promises to be repeated often. Controlling it is all about controlling moisture. If a baby’s wet, change them. Clean the area with water, then dab it dry.

“The best way to counteract is to prevent it,” says Kellmer. “Don’t let babies stay in wet or dirty diapers for too long. If there’s a little bit of redness, you can apply diaper cream (preferably a zinc oxide-based one), but really the way it’s going to heal fastest is to keep it dry. Use water to clean, and dabbing to dry.”

Use Diaper-Changing Time to Bond With Newborns

A diaper change can be frustrating, but it’s also a time for bonding. Consider it a captive-audience meeting. During diaper changes, parents can practice eye contact, sing songs, tickle tummies, talk, and play. Until the kid is old enough to begin trying to escape, it’s actually kind of a special time, even if there’s poop involved, and helps firm up the bond between a newborn and a new parent. Take the silver-lining of this arduous chore and run with it.

Don’t Panic Over Diaper Changes

Kellmer says that she frequently sees new dads panicking about diaper changes. Some get frustrated at their lack of knowledge. Others get grossed out. Many feel like they’re failures when they screw up and have to start anew, while some freak out because they think they’re upsetting the child by taking too long.

“Breathe,” Kellmer says. It’s a trial and error process. It’s not the baby getting frustrated. Treat each change as a way to practice before becoming a diaper black belt.

“Babies don’t judge you. Babies are the most forgiving humans ever. They just appreciate that you’re doing anything for them,” says Kellmer. “You’re gonna make mistakes. You’ll get quicker and faster. You’ll get it down.”