Dear Mr. Dad: I’m about to become a dad and I’m worried about something that might seem a little silly: I’ve never even touched a real baby, let alone changed one’s diaper. How do I do it?
A: Not a silly question at all. By the time your baby gets potty trained, he or she will have gone through about 10,000 diapers (more for boys than for girls, and way, way more for twins), so the faster and more efficiently you learn to get the job done, the less time you’ll spend doing it. Here’s the short course:
1. Get everything you need ready before you start: fresh diaper, water, towels, and a new outfit (mostly for the baby but you might need one too if things get messy). Stay away from commercial baby wipes for the first few weeks. Even the ones that are alcohol-free may contain too many chemicals for brand-new skin. Use warm, wet washcloths or cotton balls instead.
2. Find yourself a nice, flat place to do the job. Changing tables—or any other sturdy table—are great. Some changing tables come with straps for holding the baby secure, but don’t rely on them—be sure to keep at least one hand on your baby at all times. Newborns are surprisingly strong—and clever too—and they’ll pick the precise second you chose to turn around to propel themselves over the edge. The floor is probably the safest spot since there’s no possibility of the baby falling, but it can be hard on the back.
3. Undress the baby enough to slip the legs out and take off socks, baby’s socks, if any. Babies love to kick their legs around while they’re being changed and have an uncanny knack for dragging their feet through their own poop.
4. Lay the baby face up on the changing surface. Some babies absolutely love having their diapers changed and are perfectly calm throughout the whole process. Others will kick and squirm and bounce and scream. If your baby is less than thrilled to be there, hanging a mobile right above the changing surface might provide enough distraction for you to do what you need to do.
5. Open a clean diaper and place it underneath the baby. Then, unfasten the old one, lift the baby up by her ankles, and pull the dirty diaper out. Be sure to immediately cover the baby’s genitals with a towel or cloth diaper. This isn’t for modesty purposes; it’s to keep you dry when the sudden rush of fresh air on your baby’s crotch causes him or her to spray you.
6. Clean the bottom and genitals well—if there’s a clean spot on the old diaper, use that to make a first pass. For girls, wipe from front to back to minimize the possibility of infection-causing bacteria getting into the vagina. For boys, clean under the scrotum. Keep a gentle but firm grip on your baby’s ankles until you’re through with step 8.
7. Put on diaper rash cream, but only if you really need to. Skip the lotions for the first few weeks (again, too harsh) and never, ever use powders. Besides being carcinogens, they can damage the lungs if inhaled. The best diaper rash treatment of all is fresh air. So, if you’re not in a hurry, let your baby air dry before moving on to the next step.
8. Slide a clean diaper under the baby and fold down the front edge so it doesn’t rub against the cord stump. If the baby pees or poops into the new, clean diaper, repeat steps 4, 5, and 6.
9. Fasten the diaper—snug but still loose enough so it doesn’t pinch the skin.
10. Wash up—your hands and the baby’s feet, if necessary. I’ve found that keeping a bottle of Purell or other cleanser is great if you aren’t near a sink.
11. Get the baby dressed.
Changing diapers is an acquired skill—and a great bonding experience; in just a few days you’ll be able to do it with your eyes closed (although you probably shouldn’t). In the meantime, even if you don’t do it right, baby stool washes right off your hands—but not off your clothes, so quickly rinse off anything that gets hit.
Previously published on Mr. Dad