How to Change a Diaper: A Guide to Dealing with Code Brown!

Your baby is a bundle of joy. They coo at you, grab your fingers, and giggle when you make funny faces. But, your precious little one is also a messy creature – and changing time can be overwhelming for new parents, parents with multiples, and even parents who have the experience of going through a thousand diapers before.

You’ll usually see the tell-tale signs when a change needs to be done. A grunt, a look of intense concentration, and a red face are quickly followed by a smelly gift for you!

Parent wiping a baby's buttocks and changing their diaper

If you find yourself at a loss when faced with a mess, fret not! You can safely and rapidly change your little one and be back to playing in no time. And with the right knowledge going forward, it doesn’t have to be nearly as difficult as it’s often made out to be.

Till then, I bet you can’t wait to get to the potty training phase … right?

A Quick Note About Newborns

Changing a baby has a learning curve to it. While it may seem straightforward, there are several things to consider to ensure your baby is clean, happy, and healthy. Some factors include the gender of the baby and what type of diapers you’re using at the time.

Baby’s first poop will be something to behold. Meconium is made up of the things your baby has ingested in the womb, things like amniotic fluid, bile, epithelial cells, and water. Meconium is sticky, and it looks like tar.

Fortunately, it doesn’t usually smell bad, and it will be gone after a few days. If you are planning on using cloth diapers, you might want to wait until after the meconium has passed.

The umbilical stump may take some time to shrivel up and fall off. Diapers should NOT cover the stump until it is healed. Many newborn disposable diapers have a special cutout on the tummy to avoid this area. For cloth diapers to fit properly, they should also sit below the belly button area until everything is healed.

How Often Should I Change My Baby’s Diapers?

Small babies can go through 12-20 (or more!) diapers a day, so be prepared and stock up in advance, whether you use cloth or disposable.

Change the diaper as soon as you notice it’s soiled during the day. When the baby is sleeping, you can probably wait until he or she wakes up to do that.

If you detect an odor, however, you should diaper your baby even if they are sleeping at the time. Use a night light or a dim light to avoid the harsh overhead light or a bright lamp.

If your baby wakes up, try to avoid eye contact. You want a nighttime change to be as routine and boring as possible so everyone can go back to sleep ASAP.

Some disposable diaper brands have a wetness indicator on them so you can tell with a glance if the diaper is dirty. You can usually tell by look, feel, or smell if it’s changing time.

Aim to change your newborn baby every 2-3 hours at minimum, with slightly longer stretches at night.

The Difference Between Changing Baby Girls And Baby Boys

Changing a baby boy’s diaper and a baby girl’s diaper isn’t exactly the same process. There’s some very important details you have to know about and keep in mind when doing either.

Changing Baby Girls

It’s a girl! Visions of pink bows, unicorns, and butterflies fill your head. The nurses hand you that precious bundle, and then … they disappear.

While the baby will eat and sleep a lot, she’ll also potty. Changing her may be a challenge if you’ve just had a Cesarean section, so you might have to tag a partner in.

A newborn girl’s private parts might appear swollen, but this is normal and will go away with time.

When you change a baby girl, be sure to wipe toward her rear end. Never wipe from the back forward! Your baby could get an infection if fecal matter is introduced to her vagina or urethra.

Remember that you should only apply diaper cream externally. Spread a small amount on red areas of the bottom, keeping away from the vagina.

Changing Baby Boys

It’s a boy! Baseballs, blue teddy bears, and muddy feet will be your life soon. Changing a baby boy is a little easier than changing a baby girl, but you do want to be cautious if your son is circumcised. If poop gets onto his penis, carefully wipe it away using warm water.

Change the diaper often, as soon as you realize he has peed or pooped. Try to wash your hands before changing to reduce any bacterial exposure from your hands. You could also use a hand sanitizer if you’d like. Avoid using diaper wipes until the wound heals, and instead use a washcloth.

If your baby still has gauze on the tip, replace it after applying a small amount of petroleum jelly. Also, avoid using diaper creams or ointments until the wound is healed. Remember, it’s a sensitive area, even for newborns, so go slowly to minimize any discomfort.

If you did not have your son circumcised, cleaning is a more straightforward task. Never retract the tip or force the skin back. Just wipe the penis like you would clean his arm or leg.

Diaper creams and wipes are generally safe to use unless your baby has particularly sensitive skin.

How To Change A Baby’s Diaper: Disposable Diapers

You’re prepared, you know how to wipe a girl and you know how to handle a circumcision. You have your stash. But, when you look down at your little one, do you know exactly what to do for that wet or dirty diaper?

If not, we’ve simplified the steps for you to follow in case you’re changing disposables. If you’re changing cloth diapers, jump to the next section right after this one.

Step 1: Find a safe spot. A safe changing table with straps is ideal. Otherwise, use a changing pad or cloth on the bed or floor. Even very young babies can surprise you, so always keep one hand on the baby unless you’re changing their diaper on the floor.

Step 2: Be sure you have everything you need at your disposal before starting with the change. Diaper (go ahead and unfold it), wipes, and ointment (if the baby has a red bum) are just a few items you might need at the time.

Step 3: Take off any clothes covering the diaper. If your baby is wearing a onesie, unsnap or unzip it. Remove pants, skirts, long shirts or anything else you don’t want to potentially get baby poop on. You don’t want to go through the hassle of washing stains off those clothes, right?

Step 4: Unhook the Velcro clasp on both sides and open. You might want to cover a baby boy with a small cloth to prevent urine from landing on your face. “No surprises, please! Not when I’m in the middle of changing your diaper, at least”.

Step 5: Clean with a wet wipe or washcloth. Remember to wipe your baby’s bottom from the front to back, especially in girls. Get between all your baby’s skin folds. Use several wipes if needed to avoid contaminating the vagina or urethra.

Step 6: Gently pull the dirty diaper out from under your baby and set it aside for now.

Step 7: Start by gently lifting up your baby’s legs and carefully slide the clean diaper underneath their bottom. The side with the Velcro tabs should be down (under the baby’s butt).

Step 8: If your baby has diaper rash, apply a small amount of diaper rash cream or ointment.

Step 9: Pull the top of the diaper through the baby’s legs onto baby’s stomach.

Step 10: Hold the diaper in place with one hand. Use your other hand to pull the Velcro tab and fasten the diaper. Then repeat with the other side.

Step 11: Check for tightness. You should be able to fit two fingers in the waistband.

Step 12: Put the baby somewhere they cannot roll and fall (a crib, the floor, or someone’s waiting arms).

Step 13: Take the soiled diaper and roll it up, using the Velcro to hold it shut. Dump any solid waste in the toilet before adding the diaper to the diaper pail.

Step 14: Wash your hands thoroughly.

Step 15: Smile! You’re done! (For an hour or two at least .. oh well).

How To Change A Baby’s Diaper: Cloth Diapers

For all you cloth diapering parents, here’s everything you need to know about successfully and easily changing your baby’s cloth diapers:

Step 1: Find a safe spot. A changing table with straps is ideal. Otherwise, use a changing pad or cloth on the bed or floor.

Step 2: Be sure you have everything you need. Insert, shell, liners, wipes, and possibly ointment if your baby has a rash. Your list may vary depending on what type of cloth diaper you are using, too.

Step 3: Assemble the clean diaper (if necessary) by snapping in the insert or adding a liner.

Step 4: Take off any clothes covering the diaper. If your baby is wearing a onesie, unsnap or unzip it. Remove pants, skirts, long shirts, or anything else you don’t want to get poop on.

Step 5: Unsnap or unfasten the diaper. Depending on what type of cloth diaper you use, you might have a shell and insert, an all in one, or some hybrid style. If you’re going old school, carefully remove baby pins.

Step 6: Clean with a wet wipe or washcloth. Remember to wipe front to back, especially in girls. Get between all the little skin folds. Use several wipes if needed to avoid contaminating the vagina or urethra.

Step 7: Gently pull the dirty diaper out from under your baby. Set it aside for now.

Step 8: Lift your baby’s legs and carefully slide the clean diaper underneath the bottom. The top of the diaper should be facing up. Some cloth diapers have cute designs on the front or rear to help you determine the front and back.

Step 9: If your baby has diaper rash, consider using a disposable liner. Most ointments out there are not cloth-friendly. If you don’t want to use liners, choose something like Baby Bottom Better Salve or Grandma El’s Rash Cream.

Step 10: Pull the top of the diaper through the baby’s legs onto his or her tummy.

Step 11: Hold the diaper in place with one hand. Use your other hand to fasten one side and then the other. Your diapers might have snaps, buttons, or require pins.

Step 12: Check for tightness. You should be able to fit two fingers in the baby’s waist band.

Step 13: Put the baby somewhere they cannot roll and fall (a crib with safety rails, the floor, or someone’s waiting arms).

Step 14: Shake any solid waste into the toilet. Rinse the insert and shell and place the diaper in your wet bag or diaper bin. If you use a disposable liner, roll it up and put it in the trash.

Step 15: Wash your hands thoroughly.

Step 16: Smile! You’re done! (For an hour or two at least .. This parenting thing isn’t easy!).

Setting Up The Perfect Diaper Changing Area

Knowing how to change a baby’s diaper is only half the battle. If you setup a great diaper changing area to go to whenever your little one needs a new nappy, you’ll make your life a lot easier.

Here’s everything you need to know about setting up the perfect diaper changing area:

Step #1

Dedicate an area around the house (or two, depending on how spacious your home is) as a diaper changing station. Some parents prefer to dedicate an area in the nursery, others in their own bedroom or right next to a bathroom.

It’s entirely up to you and where it’s most convenient for you to handle this task.

Step #2

Keep any and all diapering supplies you might use nearby. You can do that by keeping a well packed diaper bag nearby, make use of dividers, containers and small baskets, or by having everything neatly placed in your changing table’s drawers.

Whatever you decide to do, always have a diaper bag properly packed beforehand (refer to this diaper bag checklist), since you never know when you need to grab it, rush out of the house and take your little one along with you.

Step #3

Now it’s time to actually think about what items and supplies you should have at your disposal when doing the change.

A few important items to always have at the ready:

  • A couple of extra pajamas
  • A couple of clean pacifiers
  • Baby wipes and – possibly – a wipe warmer to keep baby’s tush from feeling cold
  • Diaper cream or petroleum jelly if baby gets a rash
  • Spare clean cover (in case you’re working on a changing table and the current cover gets dirty)
  • A couple of clean crib sheets (in case you’re changing you’re baby’s diaper on their crib and the current sheet gets dirty)
  • A sizable stock of diapers so you don’t run out. Why? Because a baby can wet up to 12 diapers a day.

Step #4

A handful of distractions you can use to your advantage whenever needed – because trust me, if you have a baby crying during a diaper change, these will come in handy.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be anything too fancy. A few useful ideas are:

  • Toy keys
  • Pacifiers
  • A cartoon book
  • Pictures
  • A mirror
  • Rattles

What To Avoid When Changing A Baby’s Diaper

Diapers help keep your baby clean and fresh without contaminating everything around you. However, not everything always goes according to plan. Keeping in mind the following precautions can ensure that everyone stays safe.

Tip #1: Don’t leave your baby unattended up high, even on a bed or a couch. Babies will roll when they shouldn’t. Keep one hand on your baby as much as possible to avoid accidents, and always keep an eye on them to act fast whenever necessary.

Tip #2: Prevent and treat diaper rash when you see it because it can be extremely painful if left unattended. There are many ointments and creams available to help relieve a baby from diaper rash, so experiment to find what works best for your baby.

Tip #3: If the diaper rash is stubborn, it might be a yeast infection. Yeast infections are usually red and scaly, and if it lasts more than a few days, your doctor might want to see the baby.

Tip #4: Check sizes and size up when necessary. Think of diapers like shoes: there are no one-size-fits-all. If poop is oozing out, the diaper is too tight or too small.

Tip #5: Change the diapers often enough. You wouldn’t want to sit in your own waste, and neither does your little one. A soiled diaper is a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast.

Tip #6: Watch out for anything the baby could reach. Never leave open pins around a baby. The same goes for ointments, creams, or anything the baby might grab and put in their mouth while you’re busy changing their nappy.

Quick Pointers On Changing Older Babies

Babies who are exclusively breastfeeding will have yellow poop that has a sort of mustardy consistency to it (think gourmet mustard). Babies who eat formula will have firmer poop (think more like peanut butter that is yellow or green or brown).

You will typically find that your baby needs fewer diaper as the weeks and months pass and they get older.

Be sure to adjust your baby’s diaper size as they grow and meet development milestones, even if that means you have to go up a diaper size. Disposables usually have weight guidelines so parents aren’t clueless about what to choose given their baby’s weight gain, and many cloth diapers can be customized to fit appropriately.

A Clean Booty Makes For A Happy Baby!

You will spend a lot of time changing diapers, there’s no running away from that. But, the good news is that you don’t really have to feel like you want to run away from taking this task on.

If you know what you’re doing and are well prepared beforehand, it’s a walk in the park.

While a “code brown” may get your pulse racing, you can take care of that dirty diaper like a pro. Cloth or disposable, you can keep your baby’s bottom clean and healthy at all times.

Remember to always wipe from front to back, especially for girls. Don’t be alarmed by a black, sticky poop in newborns, and be aware of the umbilical cord. When you change your baby, choose a safe location to prevent falls.

Also, and if you must, don’t be afraid to pass on diaper duties to a partner. All caregivers should be knowledgeable about how to properly change your baby, so make sure that part is nailed down before you delegate diaper changes to someone else.

If you’re enrolling your baby in a daycare soon, this is a good chance for you to ask the daycare center about how they handle diaper changes, what their process is like and – ideally – ask to see a live demonstration done by one of their staff members.

If you do delegate this task to a caregiver, have a look for yourself, watch how they do it a few times and be sure to correct any mistakes you see – since your baby’s health and well being is most important!

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