Try not to feel overwhelmed if you’ve never changed a baby’s nappy before. Like any new task, it can take practice before feeling confident. In hospital, ask a midwife to show you what’s involved and with their guidance, have a few tries yourself. You could also ask a relative or friend who’s experienced in nappy changing to give you some support.
Oh, what’s the matter?
Newborns tend to cry when they’re undressed and feel exposed. Changing a nappy can be a stressful time, and create a sense of needing to rush to get it done in the quickest time possible.
To calm your baby’s crying when changing a nappy, try:
- Talking gently and reassuringly, telling them everything’s fine.
- Time changing them when they’re calm, just fed or are sleepy.
- Putting on some background music.
Top tips to make nappy changing easier
- Remember, you don’t need to be perfect at putting on your baby’s nappy. The goal is to contain their wee and poo, how the nappy looks isn’t so important.
- Ask your partner to help. Some practical and emotional support in the early days can really make a difference when nappy changing.
- Take your time and try not to get flustered. Practice nappy changing when your baby is calm and not crying.
- Be organised with wipes, creams and a new nappy before taking off the old one.
- Work out a system of disposal for used nappies. Bag them up and bin them straight away.
- Remember to wash and dry your hands after nappy changing. Use moisturizer too, this will protect your hands from drying out and will keep your skin intact.
What you need to change your baby’s nappy
- A changing mat or table which is stable and resting on a flat surface
- A supply of wipes or water and cotton wool.
- Nappy rash cream if your baby needs it.
- A clean nappy or two – babies have a habit of soiling just as a new nappy is going on.
- A way of disposing of used nappies. Ideally, biodegradable plastic bags or a nappy disposal system.
How to change a nappy
- Organise an area where you have everything set up for nappy changing. Some forward planning will save a lot of stress and make changing a nappy so much easier.
- It will help to have spare clothes close by as well. Babies have a habit of not being able to restrict their wee and poo into just their nappy.
- Let your baby know you are going to change their nappy. Talk to them in a gentle and reassuring voice. This shows respect and will help them feel secure.
- Lay your baby on their change mat and make sure they’re comfortable.
- Undo the tabs on your baby’s nappy and expose as much of their skin as possible.
- If your baby has pooed, you may need to remove the dirty nappy first and then clean their skin.
- Use nappy wipes or cotton wool soaked in warm water to clean their skin. You may need to use a few wipes especially if they’ve had a big dirty nappy.
- Pay careful attention to their skin folds. Even if they’ve only wet their nappy, wee still needs to be removed to avoid irritation.
- Take off the used nappy and use the tabs to enclose the nappy and used wipes. This will help to prevent contamination.
- Position a clean nappy underneath your baby. Make sure the tabs are correctly positioned.
- Do up the nappy so it’s comfortably firm but not tight. Check with your fingers to make sure there is some wriggle room around your baby’s tummy and legs.
- Dispose of the used nappy as soon as possible.
- Wash, dry and moisturize your hands.
What not to do when changing a nappy
- Don’t pick lift your baby up by their legs. Instead, position their feet together and gently bend their legs as you lift up their bottom.
- Try to economise by not changing your baby’s nappy when they need it. Nappies need to be changed every few hours and often, more frequently for newborns.
Nappy rash is common in babies, and generally not a sign of poor hygiene. Because their skin is so sensitive it can easily become irritated by wee and poo.
Preventing nappy rash
- Change your baby’s nappy whenever they are wet or have pooed.
- Use sensitive skin baby wipes or, cotton wool balls or pads soaked in warm (tap) water to clean their skin.
- Make sure you clean all of the skin around their genitals, anus and bottom.
- Use a nappy rash cream on their (clean) skin to create a barrier between the wee/poo and their sensitive skin. You won’t need to use much, a light smear is generally sufficient.
- If your baby’s skin is red and tender, warm the cream between your fingers before spreading it onto their skin.
- Avoid using baby powder or strong smelling nappy rash creams on your baby. There is a risk of breathing in the fine particles and also, the powder caking into their creases.
- If your baby has a red rash which looks like pimples, this may be a thrush infection. Check with your child health nurse or a pharmacist to see if you need to use a special anti-fungal cream.
Timing nappy changing
- Change your baby’s nappy whenever they are wet or have pooed.
- Aim to change your baby’s nappy before they feed. This will help them to feel more comfortable. Newborn babies will often poo as they are feeding; this is because the sucking action sets off something called the gastrocolic reflex. Sometimes it’s easier to leave nappy changing until after feeding if you know they’ll always poo.
- Try not to rush nappy changing. It’s a lovely way to connect with your baby and is one of those jobs which you’ll be spending a lot of time doing.
- Give your baby some time to kick freely each day with their nappy off. This will help to avoid nappy rash.
Changing your baby boy
The major difference with changing a boy compared to a girl is that they can aim their wee very accurately, right at the precise moment their nappy is off.
Point their penis down into their nappy before you do up the tabs. This will help to direct their wee right into the most absorbent portion of the nappy.
And don’t feel you need to do anything special about cleaning their penis. Leave their foreskin alone and don’t try to retract it. By the age of one, many one-year olds will have a separated foreskin and around 90% of boys by the age of four.
Changing your baby girl
Always wipe from front to back towards her bottom when cleaning your baby girl.
Avoid spreading her labia apart and try to clean all of her creases with wipes.
Do I need to dry my baby’s skin after using wipes?
Most wipes are damp rather than wet, so their skin air dries pretty quickly. However, if you’re using wipes which leave a lot of moisture on the skin or, your baby’s skin is particularly sensitive, there’s no harm in drying their skin before putting on a clean nappy. Use a clean washer or cotton wool for drying.
Are more expensive nappies more absorbent?
Many parents find they develop a preference for one type of nappy for their baby. Do your own research around what works for you both. Speak with friends about what brand they found useful and remember, your baby’s size and age will determine which style of nappy they need.
Written and reviewed by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse on 10/02/2020