How to Change a Baby's Diaper

baby getting diaper changed

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If you've never changed a baby's diaper before, the task may seem overwhelming. Rest assured, once you've done it a few times, it will become second nature. And if you are a new parent, your baby will give you plenty of practice. Infants typically go through eight to 10 diapers a day, adding up to more than 3,500 diaper changes until a child is toilet trained.

What You Need

It's important to make sure you have everything you need (or could need) before you begin. Make sure you have diapers, whether cloth or disposable, in the correct size. If needed, keep diaper cream or ointment on hand. In the case of a messy blowout, it's helpful to have a change of clothes for your baby and a disposable bag on hand. You'll also need wipes and somewhere to change the baby.

Lots of parents use baby wipes to clean the diaper area, but a newborn's skin is sensitive and pediatricians recommend using warm water and a cloth or cotton balls during the first weeks of life (wipes sold pre-moistened only with water are another option). Traditional baby wipes, especially those containing alcohol, can cause rashes and irritation until children are about 2 months old.

Many parents use a changing table or a changing pad on the floor, bed, or couch. If you are using a changing table, it is recommended to use the safety straps and to follow the pad's instructions for anchoring it to the table. While a newborn won't move much, by 4 months old, your baby will know how to roll. Practicing safety from the start will help you be in the habit when your little one is on the move.

How to Change a Diaper: Step by Step

These instructions are for changing disposable diapers. If you choose to use cloth diapers, the basic steps are the same.

No matter your baby's age, never leave him or her unattended on an elevated surface—even for a moment.

  1. Wash your hands. Gather your supplies. Make sure you have everything you need in arm's reach.
  2. Lay your baby down. Place the baby on their back on the changing surface.
  3. Unfasten the diaper tabs. Raise your child's bottom off of the diaper by gently grasping their ankles and lifting. If there is a lot of poop present, you can use the upper half of the diaper to gently sweep it toward the lower half of the diaper.
  4. Slide the diaper away. Place it nearby, but out of reach of baby.
  5. Wipe the baby clean. When wiping a girl, always go from front to back to prevent an infection. Thoroughly cleanse the area so the baby does not get a rash.
  6. Set aside trash. Place any used disposable cleaning supplies on top of the soiled diaper.
  7. Slide a clean diaper under your baby's bottom. Make sure the tabs are on the side located under your child's bottom. Most diapers today have colorful markings or characters indicating the front of the diaper.
  8. Apply any ointments or creams. Before closing the diaper, use any products your doctor has recommended for rashes. Doing this step after you've placed the new diaper under your baby will help prevent you from having to clean ointments off the changing surface, which can sometimes be difficult.
  9. Close the new diaper. Pull the front up over his belly and pulling the tabs open and around to the fastening surface. If you are not using specially cut newborn diapers, be sure to fold the diaper down to avoid irritation of the umbilical stump until it falls off.
  10. Roll the used diaper. Wrap the tabs all the way around it. Place the diaper in a bag, diaper bin, or garbage can.
  11. Wash your and your baby's hands. Clean the changing surface. This step is especially important if your baby is ill, as it helps prevent contamination.

Diaper Changing Tips

You and your baby will soon get into a groove, but these tips may be helpful as you find your way:

  • Avoid food serving areas. Never change or leave a dirty diaper where food is prepared or eaten.
  • Be aware of possible discharge or urate crystals in the diaper. Baby girls may have discharge. Urate crystals sometimes occur from breastfeeding but can also be a sign of dehydration.
  • Contact your pediatrician. If your baby has a rash that doesn't clear up after a few days, or if he seems to be in a lot of pain and has skin that is red and raw in appearance call right away.
  • Don't make the diaper too tight. You want to avoid leaks, but a too-tight diaper can cause pressure on your baby's stomach making him more likely to spit up. This is especially true after feedings.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions. Care for a healing circumcision and umbilical stump.
  • Keep one hand on your baby. This helps your baby stay safe when you're looking away or reaching for a clean diaper.
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  1. Thaman LA, Eichenfield LF. Diapering habits: a global perspective. Pediatr Dermatol. 2014;31 Suppl 1:15-8. doi:10.1111/pde.12468