Diapering 101 – How to Change Your Baby’s Diaper, Diaper Rash & More

Mom changing baby's diaper on a changing pad.

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A mom’s life can be hectic at times. Between the endless laundry, diapers, snacks, and bottles, not to mention the naps and bath time, a mother’s daily routine can feel more like a never-ending cycle of hard work than an opportunity to spend quality time with her baby.

With all the new babies on the block, it seems that we can’t get away from the topic of diapers. New parents who haven’t yet experienced the joys of changing a baby’s diaper may need some help. Changing a baby’s diaper is a challenging and often overwhelming task, but learning how to do it step by step will make the process much easier. The steps to changing a baby’s diaper are pretty simple, so you’ll soon feel comfortable with the process.

In this step-by-step guide to choosing and changing a baby’s diaper, we’ll walk you through the entire process from start to finish.

Choosing The Type of Diaper You Will Use

Disposable Diapers Pros and Cons

Pros of Using Disposable Diapers

  • Saves Time: Quick and easy to put on your baby.
  • Fewer Diaper Changes a Day: Disposable baby diapers are made of ultra-absorbent materials. They have an inner liner to keep moisture away from your baby’s delicate skin and don’t leak as often as cloth diapers.
  • Easy To Use While Traveling:  Nothing beats the convenience of being able to throw away dirty disposable diapers when you are traveling with your baby.  

Cons of Using Disposable Diapers

  • Environmental Impact:  The impact of disposables is considerable. They have more impact on global warming, thanks to the CFCs released in the production, and they lead to significantly more landfill waste.
  • Can Make Potty Training Difficult:  Thanks to the super absorbency, disposable diapers make it harder for toddlers to feel wet and uncomfortable. There is no natural urge to feel better by getting out of the diapers and into clean, dry underwear.
  • More Costly in the Long Run:  You will spend as much as $3,000 for the two years your child will be wearing disposable diapers. 

Cloth Diapers Pros and Cons

Cloth Diapers Pros

  • Costs Less in the Long Run:   The best way to cut back on diaper costs is to avoid disposable diapers altogether. You can save up to half of your diaper costs over a few years by choosing cloth diapers.
  • Gentler on Baby’s Skin:  Disposable diapers have a lot of chemicals that help make them ultra-absorbent. Some sensitive baby bottoms do not react well to the feel of disposables.
  • Potentially More Environmentally Friendly:  Cloth diapers are meant to last. You will reuse them over and over again, limiting your baby’s impact on landfills. If you are careful with how you wash and dry them and buy second-hand cloth diapers, the effect on the environment will likely be less harmful than disposables.

Cloth Diapers Cons

  • Higher Initial Cost: Cloth diapers are an investment. You will spend a significant amount of money to get all your cloth diapers when you start out. A pro to this con is that you can use the cloth diapers repeatedly with new siblings.
  • Higher Utility Bills:  Unless you opt for a diaper service, you will have to wash and dry the dirty cloth diapers on your own. This labor-intensive process can cause your electricity and water bills to go up.
  • Can Be Very Messy:  Unless you use the all-in-ones, cloth diapers are more cumbersome to change because of their messy nature. Just imagine your poor little one with diarrhea. What a mess that would be with cloth diapers.

Which Type of Diaper Should I Use?

You need to look at your lifestyle and weigh the pros and cons of which type of diaper you feel would be better for you and your family. Ultimately, you can always switch your diapering preference as your baby grows.

Diapering Essentials

You will be changing about 6000 diapers by the time your child is potty trained. Before you start that journey, you will want to make sure you have these things on hand BEFORE you change a single diaper.

  • Changing Table / Changing Mat
  • Supply of Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Spare Baby Clothes (In case there is a leak!)
  • Diaper Rash Cream 
  • Diaper Pail 

How to Change a Baby’s Diaper

  1.  Put your baby on a sturdy flat surface on their back.
  2.  Remove any clothing that is blocking the diaper. 
  3.  Open the new clean diaper and place it under your baby, still in the dirty diaper.
  4.  Open the diaper.
  5. Use a wipe and clean the diaper area.
  6. Close up the dirty diaper and put it aside, out of the way of your baby’s kicking feet.
  7. Lift your baby’s legs and slide the diaper under them.
  8. Fasten the diaper.
  9. Redress your baby.
  10. Throw the dirty diaper away or put the cloth diaper in a container to wash.
  11. Wash your hands.

As your baby gets older, having a toy or book nearby for them to hold onto works as a distraction so you can get the diaper change done more quickly with less squirming.

Diaper Changing Tips for Baby Boys

The diaper changing steps are basically the same for a baby girl, with the addition of placing a towel over your baby’s diaper area when you remove the diaper. This will help you not get accidentally peed on! Having a baby boy adds a bit of excitement to your diaper changes if you aren’t careful.

Follow the steps outlined above, adding step 4a – Quickly place a towel over your son’s midsection and then carry on with the rest of the diaper changing steps.

Pitfalls of Diapers – Diaper Rash

What is diaper rash?

Diaper rash is an uncomfortable skin condition that occurs when your baby’s diaper area is irritated. It’s a very common rash, and it usually clears up on its own in about 3-4 days as long as you make sure your baby has clean diapers on as often as possible. 

Symptoms of Diaper Rash

Diaper rash typically starts out as a mildly pink diaper area. Your baby won’t be upset at this stage. If the irritant continues to be present, the rash may become red and then progress to being raw and potentially bleeding. The redder and rawer it gets, the more distressed your baby will be when you change their diaper.

What Causes Diaper Rash?

Diaper rashes are typically caused by being stuck in a wet or dirty diaper for too long. The waste can irritate the baby’s delicate skin. Other things that can play a part in a diaper rash occurring are:

  • Age:  Baby rashes usually begin between the ages of three to six weeks and continue until they are at least three months old.
  • Diet: If your baby is breastfed, he may have an increased risk of developing a rash. Some foods can cause diaper rash, including chocolate, coffee, spicy foods, citrus fruits, and milk.
  • Diaper Type: Diaper rash is more likely to occur with disposable diapers than with cloth diapers.
  • Diaper Size: The larger the diaper, the more likely it will irritate your baby’s skin.
  • Skin Condition: Some babies are born with naturally dry skin that can be very sensitive to diaper changes. If your baby’s skin is already dry, you should be extra careful about using wet diapers.  

The average baby has about seven diaper rashes a year, which can be treated with topical antiseptics. But some babies develop a diaper rash that requires medical attention. A good rule of thumb is to seek medical advice if a rash isn’t improving after a couple of days of treatment. 

Diaper Rash Treatments

Keep Diaper Area Clean and Dry

If you keep your baby’s diaper dry and clean, you can prevent and treat a rash. You should also lay them down on a towel if they’re not wearing a diaper and give them a break without a diaper. It’s also good to keep the area around the diaper dry. Clean it gently with a soft cloth or a squirt of water from a bottle. Don’t use wipes with alcohol or rub too hard. Pat it dry when you change the diaper. Give your baby a bath using mild soap or a soap-free cleanser. You need to be careful not to scrub the area while washing your baby.

Change Diapers as Soon as Soiled

When diaper rash is present, it’s best to change your baby’s diaper often— ideally as soon as it’s soiled.

If you use cloth diapers, put them through several additional rinses cycles when you wash them to remove any detergent residue. Using hypoallergenic and fragrance-free detergent can be helpful too. 

Use Diaper Creams and Ointments

You can use zinc-based barrier cream for the skin to protect the skin from irritants in the diaper. You can easily find these brands at the grocery store or drug store.

  • Desitin
  • A+D Ointment
  • Balmex

You can also use ointments or salves to help heal and protect the sensitive tissues. They don’t form as strong a barrier as zinc-based creams do, but they can help heal the area.

Herb Lore has an organic Healing Salve that works wonders for babies with diaper rash. The natural ingredients help heal and soothe the skin. 

If the diaper rash continues to worsen, you should contact your pediatrician. They will be able to tell if there is something besides a run-of-the-mill diaper rash going on.  

What should I carry in my diaper bag?

You should pack anything you need to change your baby’s diaper and feed your baby at home. For diapering, you will want diapers, wipes, a changing pad, diaper disposal bags, or a wet bag if you use cloth diapers. A spare outfit for your baby is advisable because you can never be sure when an “accident” will happen. Don’t forget feeding supplies. If you are breastfeeding, you will want whatever you need to be breastfeeding comfortably in public. If you are bottle-feeding, have premixed bottles or bottles with the formula powder in them. You can add water to the powder and shake and serve as needed.

How many newborn diapers do you need?

Disposable Diapers: Newborns need an average of 8 to 10 diaper changes per day, with most babies going through about 700 diapers in their first three months. It is best to buy enough for two weeks at a time when they are so young. Your baby will grow quickly, and you don’t want to be stuck with diapers that no longer fit your baby well.

Cloth Diapers: Parents who choose to use cloth diapers for their newborn should have at least 20 newborn diapers on hand. That may sound like a lot and very expensive, but it is reasonable considering that some diapers will be in the washer or dryer at all times. Luckily, most cloth diapers will be adjustable. You will be able to use them over and over again as your baby grows.

Remember that you will want to wash your cloth diapers in loads of no more than around 14 diapers. How often you want to wash them will dictate how many cloth diapers you have stockpiled. 

Some cloth diapering parents will use disposable diapers from time to time. Sometimes they are just easier for when you need to leave your baby with a babysitter.

How Often Should You Change Your Baby’s Diaper at Night?

If your newborn is sleeping and the diaper is just slightly wet, you can probably let them sleep. A poopy diaper should be changed immediately. 

If you find that your baby has very sensitive skin, you may need to change them even if the diaper is a little wet. You can give yourself a little wiggle room if you apply a thin layer of diaper cream as you put them in a clean diaper before lying them down to sleep. The diaper cream will help prevent skin irritation if you don’t change the slightly wet diaper.

Should I change a poopy diaper if my baby is sleeping?

Ideally, you should change your baby’s diaper as soon as you realize they have had a bowel movement. Letting your baby stay in a poopy diaper too long is a recipe for diaper rash. If you expect your child to wake up soon, you can wait until they wake up. If they are likely to sleep for quite a bit longer, you will want to get the diaper change out of the way now to prevent a rash from developing.