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Wellness Topics for Infants 0-2 Years

Diapering Your Baby

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New parents spend a lot of time changing their baby. Indeed, babies may use 10 diapers a day or more.

Diaper changing might seem complicated at first. But with a little practice, you'll find that keeping your baby high and dry is easy.

Getting Ready

Before you begin, gather a few supplies:

  • a diaper
  • fasteners (if you are using cloth prefold diapers)
  • a container of warm water and cotton balls (for babies with sensitive skin) or a clean washcloth or diaper wipes
  • diaper ointment or petroleum jelly (for preventing and treating rashes)
  • a changing pad or cloth diaper for placing under your baby

Make sure your supplies are all within reach. Babies should never be left unattended, even for a second. Even newborns can surprise parents with their ability to roll.

Wiping

Using the wet washcloth, cotton balls, or baby wipes, gently wipe your baby clean from the front to the back (never wipe from back to front, especially on girls, or you could spread the bacteria that can cause urinary tract infections). You might want to lift your baby's legs by the ankles to get a better reach. Don't forget the creases in the thighs and buttocks.

For boys, keep a clean diaper over the penis during changing because exposure to air often causes boys to urinate — on you, the walls, or anything else within range.

Once you've finished wiping, pat your baby dry with a clean washcloth and apply diaper ointment.

Disposable Diapers

If you're using disposable diapers:

  • Open the diaper and slide it under your baby while gently lifting his or her legs and feet. The back part with the adhesive strips should be about level with your baby's bellybutton.
  • Bring the front part of the diaper up between your baby's legs and onto his or her belly.
  • Bring the adhesive strips around and fasten snugly. Be careful not to stick the tape onto your baby's skin.

Here are a few extra tips to keep in mind:

  • Garbage should be emptied regularly (about once a day) if you're using disposables. Not only does this prevent a stinky diaper pail but also prevents the growth of bacteria.
  • If you find any marks around your baby's legs and waist, the diaper is too tight. Go for a looser fit next time.
  • If a rash develops at the diaper openings around your baby's leg and waist, change the brand of diaper you're using. Sometimes babies become sensitive to certain brands of diapers.
  • If diapering a boy, place the penis in a downward position before fastening the diaper. This will help prevent leaks from creeping up above the waistline.
  • Fold down the waistline of the diaper if your baby's umbilical cord has not fallen off yet to keep that area dry. Continue to do this for a few days after the cord has fallen off to prevent irritation.
  • Always wash your hands well after changing your baby's diaper to prevent the spread of germs.

Cloth Diapers

Although most parents choose disposable diapers because of their convenience, some parents opt for cloth diapers, which can be more affordable (if you wash them yourself). Some believe that cloth diapers are more environmentally friendly, but there's some debate over whether this is actually true.

Cloth diapers come in many shapes and sizes. Traditional cloth diapers usually come prefolded or in a square and require pinning. More modern types are fitted or contoured like disposable diapers, and come with Velcro closures or snaps. Other cloth-diapering accessories include absorbent liners (some are flushable), diaper doublers for extra protection at night, and diaper covers to help prevent leaks.

If you're using traditional cloth diapers, there are several ways to fasten them. One of the more commonly used ways is the triangular fold:

  • Fold the square in half to form a triangle. (For newborns or smaller babies, you might need to fold the long side of the triangle down a few inches so it fits your baby better.)
  • Place your baby in the diaper by gently lifting the baby's feet and legs and sliding the diaper under. The longest side of the triangle should be behind your baby's back, with the opposite corner pointing down toward the feet.
  • Bring the front part of the diaper up between your baby's legs and onto his or her belly.
  • Bring one side around so it overlaps the center part.
  • Bring the other side around so it overlaps the other two parts. Fasten all three parts together with a safety pin.

Another method is the rectangular fold, which is similar to the fold of disposable diapers:

  • Fold the diaper into a rectangle. Some parents find it helpful to make an extra fold in the diaper so that extra material covers the area the baby will wet the most — in the front for a boy and on the bottom for a girl.
  • Position the diaper under your baby, with the long sides facing the same direction as your baby.
  • Bring the bottom up onto your baby's belly.
  • Bring one side around and fasten with a safety pin, then do the same on the other side.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when using cloth diapers:

  • If using diapers that require pinning, use oversize pins with plastic safety heads. To prevent pricking the baby, keep your hand between the pin and his or her skin. If this makes you nervous, use diaper tape that comes in a dispenser.
  • Wet diapers can be tossed right into the diaper pail, but soiled diapers should be emptied into the toilet first — especially if your baby is formula-fed or on solids. Some people rinse the diaper before washing it. You may also choose to spray the diapers with water and baking soda for better odor control.
  • If you're washing the diapers yourself, wash them separately from other laundry, using a mild detergent that is hypoallergenic or recommended for infant clothing. Don't use fabric softener or antistatic products, which can cause rashes on babies' sensitive skin. Use hot water and double rinse each wash.
  • Always wash your hands well after changing your baby's diaper to prevent the spread of germs.

Preventing Diaper Rash

It's common for babies to have some diaper rash. But if the rash happens often, lasts for more than 2 or 3 days, or is getting worse, it may be time to call your doctor. Also let the doctor know if your child has a fever with the rash or if the rash seems painful, bright red, or has blisters.

To prevent and heal diaper rash, keep these tips in mind:

  • Change diapers frequently, especially after bowel movements. Clean the area gently. Wiping vigorously or rubbing can further irritate the rash.
  • Use a diaper ointment to prevent and heal rashes. Look for one with zinc oxide, which acts as a barrier against moisture. A&D ointment is also soothing for minor rashes.
  • Let your baby go undiapered for part of the day, laying your little one on top of a few diapering cloths. (If you have a boy, place another cloth diaper over his penis when he's on his back so he doesn't spray you.)
  • If you use cloth diapers, wash them in dye- and fragrance-free detergents, and avoid drying them with scented drying sheets.

Once you have these basics down, you'll be a diapering pro in no time!

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: May 2010

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995–2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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