Change diapers in bathrooms.

When our child was wearing diapers, Daniel and I found it very easy to stick to this simple rule that teaches the child good habits for the future, simplifies clean-up of your hands and anything else that’s soiled, is more courteous to the people around you, minimizes the spread of germs, and is respectful of your child’s privacy: When you are in a place without a designated diaper-changing area, change diapers in the bathroom. 

Of course, there are some public places where the bathrooms have no changing tables and the floor is far too disgusting to kneel on.  Many parks, for example, have restrooms that are damp, dark, and dirty.  Others have portable toilets, where there simply isn’t space to change a baby.  In places where the bathroom is unusable, change diapers in a private location, on grass or an easily-cleaned surface.  The only situation I can think of where it is truly necessary to change a baby right where you are is on an airplane or long-distance bus, because the bathrooms there are so tiny and there’s really no other space available–you’d have to use your lap or the floor in front of your seat.  (On a train, however–at least on the Amtrak trains we rode last summer–the bathrooms are wheelchair-accessible, big enough that you could change on the floor.)

The way you handle diaper changes teaches your child about the correct procedures for dealing with pee and poop.  The fact that he’s putting it into diapers instead of the toilet should be the main difference between what you do now and what you will do when he can use the toilet.  Don’t teach him inappropriate habits that you’ll have to break later!  Teach your child, right from the beginning, that

  • Pee and poop and the exposure of related body parts belong in the bathroom.  It is the appropriate place.
  • We do not show our private parts to just anybody.
  • We wash our hands after dealing with pee and poop.
  • Poop, pee, and used diapers and wipes are dirty.  We are very careful not to get them on any furniture or carpet.
  • Where there is no bathroom or an unusable bathroom, we use the most private location and the most sanitary procedure we can find.  We don’t go just anywhere.

I feel silly typing this out because it seems so obvious!  Yet within the past year, I have heard a father say, “We’re having a hard time getting her to understand that when she needs to go, she should go to the potty,” as he changed his daughter’s diaper in the middle of the host’s family-room carpet during a party, and I have seen a mother change her baby’s wet diaper on my couch (without anything under the baby) and temporarily place a used wet-wipe directly on the couch.  Neither parent washed hands afterward.  I always washed Nicholas’s hands, as well as my own, after changing his diaper, to demonstrate both that we wash our hands before leaving the bathroom and that it’s good to wash your hands several times a day.  He’s 7 years old now and sometimes has trouble remembering to wash his hands before eating, but he’s very consistent about washing them after using the bathroom.

I’ve heard it argued that wet diapers don’t require sanitary precautions because “It’s just pee,” which is sterile until it leaves the body (or is it?).  I’ve heard the same argument from men who believe they shouldn’t have to wash their hands if they only touched themselves and the urinal, to which I say: Dude, eewww!!  Don’t go touching your penis and microscopic urine splatters and whatever is on that flush handle, and then shake my hand!  It’s just rude!  It’s not really about how many actual germs are on your hands.  It’s the principle of the thing.

Speaking of courtesy, I think it is rude to open up a big packet of poop in a room full of people and make them all look at your baby’s dirty bottom, when you could easily avoid doing so.  Especially when people are eating!  Even if you think your baby is so sweet-smelling, not everyone will agree.

There are situations in which it’s acceptable to expose our private parts in front of people.  For young children, it’s a wider range of situations.  I don’t object to a preschooler playing naked in a wading pool or changing from muddy to clean clothes at the edge of the picnic.  I don’t object even to all-ages nudism if that’s what the group has agreed to do.  But when everybody else is dressed, suddenly pulling off your child’s pants and cleaning his/her parts in full sight of everyone is a weird thing to do.  Not very polite.  Many young children take a long time to learn that it’s not appropriate to run around naked at all times.  Why confuse the issue by taking off their clothes yourself in public?

Stock your diaper bag with a changing pad so that you’ll always have a comfortable surface on which to change your baby, even on a hard floor, and any spills will be on your pad which you can wash when you get home.  A waterproof layer is a nice feature.  We liked the Happy Tushies changing pad.  Another useful thing to carry is a wetbag (or a plastic shopping bag) to hold used diapers or messy clothing.

In someone else’s home, you can assume that the bathroom floor is as clean as the floor of any other room and will be a safe-enough place to lay down your baby.  Nobody is going to object to a diaper being changed in their bathroom, any more than they’d object to your using their toilet.  In my experience as a guest, asking, “Where can I change his diaper?” can cause consternation (as a host who’s a non-parent or out of practice tries to figure out what facilities you need), whereas saying, “He needs a change.  May we use your bathroom?” is fine.

In public places, make the bathroom your first choice of changing location.  If it is unusable, then find someplace else–just as, if the bathroom were so disgusting or out-of-order that you couldn’t use the toilet, you would find another option for yourself.  Next to the food table in full view of everyone wouldn’t be that option, right?

I know it’s annoying to have to pause your conversation so you can go change a baby’s diaper.  I understand that if you are responsible for other children, too, taking all of them to the bathroom with you–or making sure they’re responsibly occupied while you’re out of sight–is inconvenient.  That’s life.  That’s how it will be when baby is a little older and can use the toilet.  Start being realistic about it now.

Bathrooms are the right place for dealing with excrement, whether it is coming out of a person right now or is in a diaper.  There are many good reasons to change diapers in bathrooms, and I think the best reason is to help your child make the connection between “going” and going to the bathroom.  It worked for me!

SPECIAL EXCEPTION: If you are a parent who is physically unable to get down on the floor, then I understand that finding a place to change your baby is more difficult.  You have a good reason for using a picnic table or my couch.

Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for a big list of tips on traveling with kids, plus over 200 links to other useful articles!  Visit Mom’s Library for many other parenting tips.

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

5 Responses to Change diapers in bathrooms.

  1. AMEN! It’s such common sense, but it seems parents out there have lost this simple and sanitary practice. I’ve seen children changed on restaurant tables. RESTAURANT TABLES. ICKKK. 😦 Thank you for being a voice of reason 🙂

  2. Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life says:

    I hadn’t even thought about this, but it makes so much sense. I love your story of the guy talking about his daughter not understanding she should go to the bathroom while changing her in the middle of the living room! Crazy! I think part of it may be that parents generally think children are too young to grasp certain concepts so they don’t worry about what they might be teaching them in the first few years. But as you say, there are many good reasons to change diapers in the bathroom besides just what you’re teaching your child. Thanks for taking the time to write this up!

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