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How to change a nappy – without further a-poo, let's skid right in...

Image of baby nappy change

How to change a nappy may be the least exciting topic you ever imagined yourself Googling, am I right?!

But whether you’re an expectant mum, a childcare worker, or a dad who’s suddenly discovered the ninja wrestling moves needed to change a wriggling toddler, it’s a steep learning curve for one and all!

Don’t worry though, we've got you covered! Our complete guide looks at all the things you need to know (including the things no one tells you until it's too late!). We cover how to change a nappy on a newborn all the way through to how to change a nappy on a toddler so you'll be sorted right up to potty training. We’ve included step by step guides, pictures and videos to help you wade through the trenches, including dealing with that first treacle poop, figuring out how to stop a baby boy peeing when changing his nappy and all of the other fun stuff in between.

And so, without further a-poo 💩, let's skid right in... 

How to change a nappy – the basic steps

Whether your baby is a month or a year old, many of the basic steps remain the same. In this section, we will go into these steps and explain using pictures and pictures so you know what to do. After that we’ll go through some fun added bonuses that come with the different ages and stages your little one will go through.

  1. PREPARE FOR IMPACT - Although this is not really a step, the key to a smooth nappy change is to prepare all the items you will need beforehand.                                 ice hockey goalkeeper diaper changeThis means prepping the changing area and placing all necessary items within reach. Once you’ve set up your changing table or changing mat, make sure to grab
    1. a clean nappy
    2. wipes (cotton wool and warm water for newborns),
    3. nappy bag
    4. nappy cream (if needed)
    5. a change of clothes in case of a nappy leak
    6. a toy (in case you need a distraction)
    7. SCRUB BEFORE YOU RUB - The first actual step is to wash your hands thoroughly, as babies are generally more sensitive and susceptible to germs and infections.
    8. LAY THEM ON THEIR BACK TO GET THE KNACK - Lay your baby on their back onto a soft, safe surface whether it’s a changing mat or a soft absorbent item such as a towel. 
    9. OPEN, HOLD AND FOLD - Unfasten the tabs on the nappy and gently raise the baby’s bottom by holding their ankles with one hand and lifting. For a wet nappy, simply fold the used nappy under the baby so the outer side is against the baby’s bottom. Clean gently using wipes or cotton wool and warm water for a newborn. With poopy nappies use the nappy itself to get as much of the poop as you can and then fold it just like you would a wet one. Slide the nappy away then clean the baby’s front and bottom thoroughly until there are no traces of poop on the wipe or cotton wool. 

      via GIPHY     

    10. FRONT TO BACK IS AN IMPORTANT HACK - Remember to wipe from front to back in the case of a baby girl to avoid infections caused by germs in the poop spreading to the vagina. 

      via GIPHY     

    11. FRESH AND CLEAN WILL MAKE THEM BEAM - Slide a fresh nappy under your baby’s bottom with the sticky tabs to the back and pat the area dry with cotton wool. Apply nappy cream if your baby has any signs of a nappy rash. You can also use nappy cream preventatively as a barrier. Fasten the tabs tightly to prevent leakage but not too tight as to cause irritation. You should be able to slip in a finger or two at the waistband.
    Putting on a fresh nappy

    7. DRESS TO IMPRESS - Dress your baby up, throw away the dirty nappy and voila, you’re all done. Remember to wash your hands to complete the process.                                        

    Top Tips

    • Remember to keep the dirty nappy out of reach of your baby to prevent them from making a mess.
    • If you are using a changing table or any other elevated surfaces, you should never leave the baby unattended as they can fall and get seriously hurt. You can find out more about the dangers of changing tables and things to consider here.  
    • Distract the baby. Whether you choose to sing, talk to the baby or simply hand them a toy, distracting your baby will ensure you have an easier time during nappy changes. This is a wonderful chance to bond with your baby as you have a few uninterrupted minutes of face-to-face interaction.
    mother bonding with baby changing nappy

      How to change a nappy on a newborn

      Changing a nappy on a newborn can be a little scary because of how fragile they appear. The steps listed above are pretty much the same ones you will use here. But there are also a few extra tips and points to note that are important for the newborn and early baby phase. 

      1. MIND THE MECONIUM -It’s unlikely that any of us will forget our first ever nappy change, especially if it’s with a brand new, just out of the wrapper, little bundle of joy. New parents may sometimes be a little freaked out by the baby’s first poop which is greenish-black and can sometimes have a treacle-like consistency. This poop is called meconium and is caused by the amniotic fluid the baby swallowed while in the womb. Meconium comes within the first 24 hours after birth and is sticky and often leaks out of the nappy. You should have some mild wipes within reach in addition to the cotton wool and warm water in case of a blowout. Within a few days, the meconium passes and the baby’s poop transitions into a yellowish-brown colour. Now that you know, what to expect, you shouldn’t be too alarmed by the treacle-coloured meconium.
        treacle poop meconium
      2. WATCH THE TYPE OF WIPE - Wet wipes with alcohol are a bit too harsh for a newborn. For at least the first month of your baby’s life, it is recommended that you use cotton wool and warm water instead.
      3. BEHOLD THE FOLD - Younger babies tend to have more folds and creases and you should be keen to ensure no residual poop is left as this may lead to infection.                                              newborn baby folds and creases
      4. DON'T BUMP OFF THE STUMP - If the umbilical cord is attached, ensure the nappy doesn’t cover the stump as it needs to stay dry. If you’re using special nappies, then this is probably already taken care of. However, you can fold the front part (waistband) of a regular diaper or nappy to ensure the stump area is not covered.                                          nappy changing with umbilical cord stump
      5. PULL THE VEST DOW THE CHEST - The poo of newborns and infants tends to be a lighter colour and much runnier than when they start eating solid food from around 6 months onwards. That means it’s more important than ever to change dirty nappies as soon as they happen and also be prepared to find poo not only in the nappy, but up his back, around his neck and matted to his hair (I wish I was joking, but I’m not!) One of the best hacks we can offer for these occasions (which will happen) is to remember that baby vests are designed to be pulled down over the baby’s body and don’t have to be pulled up over their heads. baby vest down chest
      6. DON'T LINGER WITH THE FINGERMost new parents also struggle with knowing how often to change the baby’s nappy or diaper. You need to change your child’s nappy every time they poop and several times in between when the nappy is wet. So how do you know when it’s time for a nappy change? First off, some nappies come with a wetness indicator which will let you know without a doubt when to change a wet nappy with a colour change strip. Secondly, if the nappy is visibly sagging or feels a bit heavier, then it’s time for a change. Thirdly, with poop, you will definitely be able to tell from the smell. Sometimes you can also tell a wet nappy from the smell.                                      checking baby's diaper with finger
      7. STAY FREE FROM THE PEE - If you’ve had a baby boy, one of the added joys is that he will likely pee when you undress him. If you are unprepared, this little fountain can make the nappy change a whole lot messier. The running theory is that the reason for peeing is exposure to cold air. Here are a few tips from other parents on how to stop your newborn boy from peeing on you when the nappy comes off.
        • Open the nappy or diaper to let in some cool air but then close the nappy over. You could also rub a cold wipe across the baby’s belly. This exposure to cold will cause your baby boy to pee instantly which means they won’t spray you with pee halfway through the nappy change. 
        • Alternatively, you might choose to keep your baby warm throughout the nappy change to prevent the baby from getting the urge to pee. For this method, you will need a heater for the room and a wipe warmer. 
        • The timing of the nappy changes is another thing to consider. If your baby tends to pee immediately after waking up, give it a few minutes before attempting a nappy change.
        • Covering the baby with a clean cloth won’t prevent him from peeing but it will contain it and prevent it from spraying everywhere. 
        • Some parents prefer to just speed up the process of the nappy change and not give the baby a chance to pee. This method won’t work for a poopy nappy or diaper and may deny you some valuable bonding time. 

      How to change a toddler’s nappy

      With older babies and toddlers, the intensity gets stepped up a notch (or ten!) Once babies learn to roll and crawl, there’s a whole new layer of fun thrown into the mix. While in the early days, messy and all as it can be, little babies generally lay still while you get the job done. However, the same cannot be said for the older wriggly phase. Suddenly, you go from cleaning poop off a more or less stationary little being to using both hands (and sometimes an elbow, a leg and/or a second person) to wrestling a thrashing alligator to the ground while you try to extract the offending package, clean up the warzone, and apply a clean nappy, all before they escape leaving a brown streaky trail behind them.

      just changing my baby's diaper alligator wrestling

      If you’re already in the trenches with the wriggly nappy change, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most parents have to contend with a wriggly nappy change at one time or another, and up to 40% of parents report feelings of stress, frustration and burden at changing time. Fear not though, we will give you a few tips on how to change a toddler’s nappy in a safer and calmer way.

      • If you are dealing with a toddler who fights diaper changes, make sure to check out our dedicated post on 5 great tips for a calm toddler diaper change.
      • The main challenge parents experience with toddlers is their inability to sit still for long enough for a nappy change especially once they learn how to roll and crawl. Although distractions and rewards work, we recommend that you consider investing in an anti-roll changing mat to hold your baby in place. If this is something you’d like to explore further, you may find our Anti-Roll Changing Mat Ultimate Guide useful as you weigh up the pros and cons of each.
      • With a toddler, parents often begin to explore pull-ups as they can be faster to get on than taped nappies. Pull-ups can also allow you to do a standing nappy change on your toddler which may reduce the fight to have them lie still. There are different things to consider before trying pull-ups, and we go through them all in our article Diapers vs Pull-ups – cut the poop, here’s the scoop. 
      • Generally, you need to change your child’s nappy every two to three hours. This is not absolute so if the nappy is dry, leave it on. As your child enters toddlerhood they may need nappy changes less frequently. I recommend that you fit your nappy changes into your child’s schedule taking into consideration feeding times, naps and bowel movements. 


      So there you have it, your complete guide on How to Change a Nappy from birth until potty training. You now have the basic steps:

      1. Prepare for Impact
      2. Scrub before you Rub
      3. Lay them on their Back and you'll get the Knack
      4. Open, Fold, Hold
      5. Front to Back is an Important Hack
      6. Fresh and Clean will make them Beam
      7. Dress to Impress

      But you also have so much more in your arsenal! You will now be able to face the fear of the first meconium poo head on, overcome the pee fountain from your little baby boy, and conquer the alligator wrestling match that is the toddler diaper change with ease. And remember, when you're elbow deep in your two thousandth nappy change of the 6500 nappy changes until potty training, try not to get disheartened; after all...

      Life's poo short!

      Brought to you by the creators of The Wriggler - changing struggles to snuggles! 

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