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Babysitting: Changing Diapers

Babysitting can be rewarding and fun. But, like any job, it has its less-than-enjoyable moments — like diaper changes. But if you’re looking after babies and toddlers, diaper changing is a skill you need to know.

Top Things to Know About Diaper Changes

  • Babies need to be changed regularly or they can get diaper rash.
  • When changing a baby, pick a safe spot where the baby can’t roll off or get hurt.
  • Make sure changing supplies are handy so you don’t need to leave the baby alone.
  • Marks around a baby’s legs and waist usually mean a diaper is too tight.

Time for a Change?

A baby can go through as many as 10 diapers a day. So how do you know when it’s time for a change? Don’t rely only on your nose. Pull the diaper open at the waistband and check that all’s clean and dry. Wet diapers might feel heavy, and you’ll probably be able to smell the urine when you pull open the front of the diaper. Poopy diapers will be obvious!

Check a baby or toddler’s diaper both before and after naptime and after feedings. Always change the diaper if it’s wet. Babies can get uncomfortable (and fussy!) if a diaper is wet.

Getting Ready

Make sure these supplies are within reach before you set baby down for his or her change:

  • a clean diaper
  • a clean, damp washcloth or baby wipes (use whatever the parent prefers)
  • a dry washcloth or towel
  • diaper ointment or petroleum jelly (for preventing and treating rashes)
  • a changing pad or cloth diaper for placing under the baby

Place the baby on the changing table or on the floor. If you use a changing table, buckle the strap to hold the baby securely. Many babysitters have discovered the hard way that a baby can wiggle or roll off a table in seconds. That’s a big fall for a baby. So keep the little one strapped in. And don’t leave a baby alone to go get something, even if the baby is safely strapped in or lying on the floor.

Wipes and Creams

After you remove the dirty diaper, gently wipe the baby from front to back with the washcloth or wipes. Never wipe from back to front, especially if the baby’s a girl, as this can spread bacteria. You may want to lift the baby’s legs by the ankles to get a better reach. Don’t forget to wipe the creases in the thighs and buttocks.


Once you’ve finished wiping, pat the baby dry with a clean washcloth. Making sure a baby is dry before you put on a clean diaper helps prevent diaper rash. Smear on a light layer of diaper cream if the baby has diaper rash or the parents have asked you to use it.

Putting on a New Diaper

Most families these days use disposable diapers. (If the family uses cloth diapers, ask the parents to take you through their diapering routine.) Most brands of disposable diapers work the same way:

  • Open the diaper and slide it under the baby while gently lifting his or her legs and feet. The back part of the diaper is where with the adhesive strips are. They should be about level with the baby’s belly button.
  • Bring the front part of the diaper up between the baby’s legs and onto his or her belly. If you’re diapering a baby boy, place his penis in a downward position before fastening the diaper. This will help prevent the diaper from leaking at the top.
  • Bring the adhesive strips around from the back and fasten them snugly (but not too tight) on the front of the diaper. Be careful not to stick the tape onto the baby’s skin.
  • Wash your hands well after changing the baby’s diaper to prevent the spread of germs.

Once you get the hang of it, diapering a baby will get easier and faster until it’s just part of the normal routine!

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: March 2013