How to Change a Baby's Diaper

baby getting diaper changed

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Along with feeding and bathing your newborn, changing their diaper is a task you'll be faced with quickly as a new parent. Though it may seem a little daunting at first, diaper changing will become second nature with practice.

And your baby will give you plenty of that: Infants typically go through eight to 10 diapers a day, adding up to more than 3,500 diaper changes until they are toilet trained.

Learn the most efficient way to get your baby from a dirty diaper into a clean one, as well as some pointers to make diaper changing easier for both of you.

What You Need

Before beginning, make sure everything you need is handy. Here is a checklist:

  • Diapers (cloth or disposable) in the correct size
  • Diaper cream or ointment
  • Wipes
  • Change of clothes for your baby (in case of a blowout)
  • Disposable bag
  • Changing table or changing pad

Many parents use baby wipes to clean the diaper area, but a newborn's skin is quite sensitive. Using warm water and a cloth or cotton balls during the first few weeks of life can help prevent skin irritation. Buying wipes that are pre-moistened with water is another option.

Traditional baby wipes, especially those containing alcohol, can cause rashes and irritation until children are about 2 months old.

Options for places to change a baby include a changing table or a changing pad on the floor, bed, or couch. If you are using a changing table, use the safety straps and follow the pad's instructions for anchoring it to the table.

Make sure your changing table is concave in the center (with the sides higher than the middle.) This can help prevent falls due to the baby rolling off the table, which can cause a serious injury.

While a newborn won't move much, they will know how to roll over by 4 months of age. Practicing safety from the start is a smart idea before your little one is on the move.

Regardless of your baby's age, never leave them unattended on an elevated surface—even for a moment.

How to Change a Diaper: Step-by-Step

These instructions are for changing disposable diapers. Using cloth diapers involves the same basic steps, except that you'll also need to fold and fasten the cloth on each side.

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Gather your supplies. Make sure you have everything you need in arm's reach (but out of your baby's reach), so that you won't have to turn your back while your baby is on the changing table.
  3. Lay your baby down. Gently place the infant on their back on the changing surface.
  4. 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 stool in the diaper, you can use the upper half of the diaper to gently sweep it toward the lower half.
  5. Slide the diaper away. Place it nearby, but out of reach of your baby.
  6. Wipe the baby clean. When wiping a girl, always go from front to back to prevent infection. Thoroughly cleanse the area with wipes or moistened cotton balls.
  7. Set aside trash. Place any used disposable cleaning supplies on top of the soiled diaper.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Close the new diaper. Pull the front between your child's legs and up over their stomach. Then pull the diaper tabs open and around to the front, making sure the diaper is snug but not too tight. If you are not using specially cut newborn diapers, fold the diaper down to avoid irritation of the umbilical stump until it falls off.
  11. Roll up the used diaper. Firmly roll the diaper up and wrap the tabs all the way around it. Place the diaper in a bag, diaper bin, or garbage can.
  12. Clean the changing surface. Use a disinfectant to prevent contamination the next time you use the changing table.
  13. Wash your and your baby's hands.

Diaper Changing Tips

You will soon be able to change your baby's diaper without a second thought, but these tips may be helpful as you find your way:

  • Avoid changing diapers near food serving areas. Never change or leave a dirty diaper where food is prepared or eaten.
  • Baby girls may have vaginal discharge. Discharge that is white or blood-stained is normal for about the first two weeks of life. Let your doctor know, however, if it persists longer than this, turns yellow, or has an odor; these could be signs of an infection.
  • Don't fasten the diaper too tightly. You want to avoid leaks, but a too-tight diaper can cause pressure on your baby's stomach, making them more likely to spit up. The AAP also notes that tight diapers can trap moisture and cause rubbing, both of which can lead to diaper rash.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions for a healing circumcision or umbilical stump. Remember to complete any steps such as cleaning or rinsing of the site.
  • Keep one hand on your baby. This helps your baby stay safe when you're reaching for a clean diaper or other supplies.
  • If your baby has a diaper rash that doesn't clear up after a few days, or if they seem to be in pain and their skin is red and raw in appearance, call your pediatrician. These symptoms could point to an allergy or other health condition.
  • Watch for urate crystals in the diaper. You may see rust-colored urate crystals for the first few days after birth. This normal end-product of metabolism is more common in breastfed infants. Breast milk is high in protein, which results in acidic urine that encourages the formation of urate crystals. Although they can be normal, urate crystals may also point to dehydration.

Call your pediatrician right away if your baby shows any of these signs of dehydration:

  • Fewer than six wet diapers in 24 hours
  • Crying without tears
  • Skin that is dry to the touch
  • Dark yellow or brown urine

    When to Change It

    Ideally, your baby's diaper should be changed as soon as it becomes soiled. While urine is actually germ-free and does not usually irritate the skin, stool is very caustic and can quickly result in diaper rash.

    Leaving stool in contact with your baby's skin for any length of time, especially if they are very young or have sensitive skin, will raise their chances of having a painful rash.

    When you change your baby's diaper, the AAP recommends rinsing the diaper area with lots of warm water in addition to using wipes. This extra step isn't always practical if you're on the go, but doing it at home will keep your baby's skin healthy and free from irritation.

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    6 Sources
    Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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