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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.

Learning how to change a diaper is one of the first skills new parents have to learn — fast. And because diaper changing will continue for years, parent have to continually adapt their diaper-change as their newborn changes from a squirming baby to a restless toddler.

But diaper change proficiency takes time because learning how to change a diaper isn’t a one-and-done deal. Luckily there are professionals like pediatrician, author and speaker Dr. Laura Janna who can demystify diaper changes. Her first piece of advice? Keep your wits about you.

Don’t Panic When Learning How to Change a Diaper

Lots of dads panic 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. But keeping your cool can help your baby stay calm, which cuts down on the chaos of the situation.

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. 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.

Don’t Freak Out About Funky Looking Poop

Baby poop can give you clues to what is going on inside your child. And while it’s typically something to note, changes in poop aren’t typically anything to freak out about. “Anytime you introduce kids to a new food, it can take the body time to get used to it. You might see some natural variations in different colors or consistency,” says Dr. Jana.

“If you get bright red blood, sometimes it’s not even coming from in the intestinal tract,” she continues. “Your baby could have a little cut in the skin as a result of constipated hard poop. It could also mean there’s some allergic reaction to a food that irritates the intestinal lining. That’s where you might also potentially see some blood so anytime you see it, it’s obviously worth bringing up, but it’s doesn’t mean you have to panic.”

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.

Dr. Jana notes that most diaper rashes typically have one of two causes. “One is irritation of the skin, and that can be from sitting in a bowel movement for too long,” she says. “Or not being changed frequently enough cause a rash due to an infection. Like with a yeast infection diaper rash, since yeast lives in the intestinal tract and can cause problems if there is broken skin in the diaper area.”

Once a rash breaks out, it can be tough to get under control so keeping it from starting is worth the effort.

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 a 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.

Wipe once to ensure that each area is clean, and repeat as necessary. Start with the side and outside of the area, and If there’s poop in the inner labia, you want to do that last. And in order to keep from pushing waste into skin folds, 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.

Nothing good will come from a saggy diaper. As a general rule, you want it to be just snug enough that you can get a finger between the diaper and the baby.

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, but they aren’t just for show. Making sure that the outer ruffle is not tucked in allows it to serve its purpose 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.

Don’t Totally Block Out the Smell

Diaper changes are a good opportunity to make sure your baby is sufficiently hydrated, though as diaper science continues to improve you may need to get clues from multiple senses to pick up whether or not your baby is staying hydrated. “There can be urine in the diaper and you just don’t know it, because the diaper is really absorbent and doing its job,” says Dr. Jana. “But the thing that people don’t often think about is that really concentrated urine starts to smell stronger, which could be a sign of some dehydration.”

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, find 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.

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.

Just remember it’s a trial and error process with multiple variables. Treat each change as a way to practice before becoming a diaper black belt