How to change a baby’s diaper

Aug 20, 2010 at 4:09 p.m. ET

There’s more than one way to change a baby’s diaper, but the basic philosophy of diapering never changes. Heed this hard-won advice from parents and child care experts about the healthiest, safest and smartest methods for protecting and covering that precious bottom.

Mom changing infant's diaper

When it comes to changing a baby's diaper, expect the unexpected. Above all, be sure to maintain a good sense of humor.

Change a diaper in 5 easy steps

Annie Alley, a PR professional and mother of two with a black belt in diapering, offers the following advice for the parent on diaper duty:

  1. Position baby on a contoured changing pad that sits on a diaper changing station, or purchase portable pads with soft material for the baby-facing side.
  2. Give your sweet baby a kiss on the cheek. Undo snaps on onesie or pants (clothe the little one in outfits that are easy to remove).
  3. Remove the diaper fasteners but leave the old diaper under the baby's behind. Use baby wipes to clean the baby, stuff the wipes into the soiled diaper, fasten with tabs to encase the messy stuff, and dispose.
  4. Place your hand under baby's lower back and gently lift, then slide the clean diaper underneath so the side with the tabs is under baby's bum. Apply cream if necessary. Bring the front of the diaper up through the legs. If the umbilical cord is still attached, fold the diaper down so it rests below the belly button.
  5. Fasten the diaper so it fits snugly to prevent leakage but is comfortable for the baby. Button baby's pants and you're good to go!

During the entire diaper changing process, take the proper precautions. "Always keep one hand on baby," says Alana Morales, author of Domestically Challenged. "If you use a changing table, never leave them unattended. Once babies are more active, it's better to change them on the floor to prevent falls."

Must-have diapering supplies

Be sure to have a healthy ration of diapers and wipes at the ready. In the early days, you may go through two or three diapers during a single change. Alley explains, "Baby bottom + air = more pee than you thought possible." Important note: Make sure you're working on waterproof material.

Diaper rash cream is a must-have for sensitive baby bottoms (wearing a diaper 24/7 is no picnic). You may need to experiment with various brands to see what works best (buy trial sizes to minimize cost). "My favorite is Aquaphor, a clear ointment that prevents moisture from reaching the skin. For redness or irritation, the golden oldie is Desitin," Alley says.

Along with diapers, wipes, and creams, make sure your diaper bag is stocked with a changing pad. "You never know when you'll have to use a public restroom or the back of your car to change a baby," says Morales. Alley also recommends plastic, sealable bags, "which are excellent at containing the ooze and smell of a poopy diaper if you can't dispose of it right away," a small first-aid kit with band-aids and Neosporin, and a full change of clothes for baby (and one for you, too).

When diapering at home, make sure all diaper changing supplies are within easy reach of your designated changing area(s). Alley also suggests having a receptacle for waste disposal nearby. "If you have pets, this must have a lid, a lock, and possibly a high-voltage fence around it."

And, wherever you are, it doesn't hurt to have a special diapering-time toy for entertainment. "A bored baby can turn into a fidgety one," says Morales.

Changing a boy's diaper

Scary Mommy Jill Smokler's most important piece of advice for parents of boys? "Point a boy's penis down! I spent weeks dealing with soaking wet onesies before I figured it out."

But taking this precaution doesn't mean you're going to stay dry during the diaper changing process. "Always be prepared to get peed on," says Morales. "The easiest protection is to lay an open diaper over their waist to absorb some of the mess. Wipes may be easier, but the cold may actually inspire a water show." Despite all of these measures, Morales says, "Plan on getting sprayed at least once. It's a parent's rite of passage."

Changing a girl's diaper

"Wiping little girls is an art form," Morales says. "Always clean out the folds. It's very easy for girls to get infections so wiping up fully is the key," even if it takes a lot of wipes. Most importantly, "Always wipe front to back so that you're not spreading bacteria," says Alley.

Now, just because you have a girl doesn't mean you're safe from getting doused while baby is airing out. "Many girls have a pee reflex, too, but that tends to stay more contained. Again, if you have a waterproof pad, you're golden," Alley adds.

Follow these tips and you'll be that far ahead of the game when you and your newborn are face to face at the changing table. Along the way, you may hit a few snafus and get a little damp, but rest assured that you and baby will settle into a diaper changing routine soon enough.

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