How Should I Change a Newborn’s Diaper?

With diapering,the best advice we can offer is to be prepared. If you’re at home, you’ll want to make sure you have a diaper changing table with a belt to strap in a squirmy baby as you change or find a similar surface when you’re out and about.1 You’ll also want to make sure you have your tools, like fresh diapers, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, and diaper cream (if needed) nearby, along with a fresh set of clothes. It wouldn’t hurt to have your soap and water and trash within easy reach too, and you may want to lay down a paper liner on your changing surface for easy cleanup.  

Your first step will be undressing your baby, and then—after they’re safely secured on your changing surface with either a strap or one of your hands—removing their old, soiled diaper. You can fold the diaper closed and discard it so it’s not in your way but try to avoid handling it as much as possible so your hands remain clean for your baby, and always wash your hands in between handling the diaper and your child. Or just dispose of the diaper in a nearby trash can as your last changing step!2 It is important to NOT leave your infant unattended during a diaper change.

Now, it’s time to gently wipe and wash your baby’s skin and genital area. You can use either warm water and cloth, a baby wipe, or a single use cloth. Pat rather than rub so as not to irritate their delicate skin, and dry well.2,3 Only use a gentle soap if the baby has stool that needs to be removed, and you may want to do an extra rinse with warm water since soap can potentially irritate baby’s skin.1

Remember to wipe from front to back to keep bacteria out of sensitive areas2. For girls, you can clean their labia area with warm water, taking care not to get water inside the vagina, and for boys, do the same around their penis and scrotum area.3 Take care not to retract their foreskin and follow additional doctor’s advice if your baby has been circumcised.3,4

This is also when you should check your newborn’s skin for any signs of redness or irritation, like a diaper rash. You can treat diaper rash with petroleum jelly or zinc oxide cream, which you should reapply and keep on between changings to help the skin heal. Use single-use applicators when applying cream to minimize the risk of bacterial spread. You can continue rinsing with warm water or patting the area dry as normal but keep an eye on the rash to see if changes or doesn’t heal. If the rash becomes swollen, has red bumps, or raised areas, or not improving talk to your doctor. Avoid diaper wipes containing alcohol, as that can irritate the baby’s skin and make rashes worse, and also avoid talcum or baby powder, which has fine particles that can get a baby’s little lungs and can irritate skin as well.

With newborns, it’s particularly important to pay attention to the areas around the umbilical cord stump. This should naturally fall off within their third week of life, but until then, making sure that area stays clean, dry, and uncovered is crucial. When cleaning around your baby’s umbilical stump, remember to fold diapers down and away from its base. Some diapers made specially for newborns will have a cord cutout, but you can use regular cloth or disposable diapers if you just make sure the cord area remains uncovered.1,4

If the cord appears red, smells bad, or appears to have fluid or drainage, contact your doctor immediately for follow-up as it may indicate an infection.1,4

After you’ve applied and safely secured the new diaper ensure that the diaper looks straight and the waist is snug just under the belly button. The diaper should not be fastened too tight, you should be able to run two fingers between the diaper and the baby’s stomach. Pull out the leg cuffs (the ruffly part of the diaper that goes around the legs) to prevent diaper leaks. Move the baby to a safe place such as the crib while you dispose of the dirty diaper and wash your hands4.

Dispose of the soiled diaper and the used paper changing liner if you haven’t already—hopefully you have a trashcan with a foot pedal nearby, or a laundry bin for your reusable diapers. If you didn’t use a liner, disinfect your changing table with either a mild bleach (1:100 ratio) or a 0.5% hydrogen peroxide solution. Let the cleaning agent sit for two minutes and air dry. Take that opportunity to wash your hands one final time before you get back to your newborn.2,3

How Often Should I Change My Baby?

While you may be tempted to go by smell, particularly early on, babies may produce a lot of diapers, as many as 10 to 12 per day, or a change every two to three hours, and sometimes you might not know that it’s time for a change! But this also means you’ll get a lot of practice changing, so right now, think of change as good for you and your baby too!

Since newborns will also be doing a lot of feeding, a good rule of thumb is to check and change your baby’s diaper after feeding. While diaper rash can happen to anyone, changing diapers frequently helps prevent diaper rash, which can be caused by prolonged contact with urine or stool.1,4

What Should Go In My Diaper Bag?

As you likely gathered from the instructions above, you want to be well-stocked to prepared with diaper changes at a moment’s notice. Much of your diaper-bag arsenal will be diapers and cleaning and disposal materials…but it’s definitely OK to pack a few items that will help you maintain your diaper-changing Zen, like your favorite snacks.1Whatever you pick, you should absolutely make sure it has enough room for everything you’ll need and that’s it’s easy to clean. Extra bonuses are investing in a diaper bag that has a cold pocket for on-the-go bottles, and a neutral print or design so both parents feel comfortable rocking their best diaper bag style.2 This list of diaper bag essentials will make you the best-equipped dad around:

  • Diapers: if you’re going somewhere, try to estimate how long you’ll be away and pack enough diapers to handle a change every two to three hours.
  • Wipes: bring more wipes than you need, and make sure they’re water-based, scent and alcohol free to keep your baby’s skin free from irritation.
  • Changing pad and disinfectant: while you’d hope that you’d have a perfect changing set-up everywhere you go, a changing pad can help provide you comfort for those less-than-ideal diaper changing times. Pack a little of your usual disinfect mix as well so you can clean up after changes and be ready to use the pad again when needed.
  • Change of clothes: while the worst thing would be to be out without a diaper for a changing, the second worst thing would be not having a change of baby clothes in case of especially messy situations, so feel free to bring as many outfits that make sense to you!
  • Disposable bags: this helps keep the diaper mess contained and can help keep those soiled clothes from causing a bigger mess inside the bag.
  • Hand sanitizer: in case you can’t wash your hands during a change, this is something you can use instead, and you can also offer it to people before they touch your baby

Take advantage of the roomy nature of diaper bags to pack things like baby hats and sunscreen, toys and pacifiers, a first-aid kit, nursing equipment, and swaddle blankets. And a diaper bag can serve as a home base for everyone in the family as a great place to put your keys, wallet, and cell phone…and those snacks for you, too. Finally, remember to do some diaper clean-up and restocking after each adventure. 5,6

While newborn diaper changes need a little extra attention, they can help you form great habits to carry forth for the next few years of diaper changes. Don’t worry, dads: Practice makes perfect, and once you know what to do and have the right tools, those diaper changes should just get easier overtime.