If you are the parent of a little one, it’s not a matter of if you will have to change a diaper in public, it’s when. Leaving the house with a newborn or even a toddler can be extremely overwhelming, and wondering what you will do when you have to change your baby in public may make you feel even more nervous about going out.
Proper etiquette for changing your baby in public is to be as discreet and out of the way as possible and to dispose of the dirty diaper quickly. Public restrooms, your vehicle, or a stroller are the best places for changing, but bringing the right supplies on the trip will allow you to change your baby anywhere that is out of the way of others.
Take it from a parent who has been stuck many times without a changing table, you are not alone in wondering what the proper etiquette is for changing your baby in public. Keep reading to hear some of my best tips and tools for changing your baby in public quickly and without any dirty looks from strangers.
Changing diapers in public – etiquette
Almost every place you visit, at least one parent before you has asked the same question: where will I change my baby’s diaper? When you change your baby in public, you may wonder what the proper etiquette is.
The ideal situation would be for every establishment to have a changing table where you could change your baby, but I know I personally have been stuck in a place without a changing table far too many times. As parents, we know that each stage in our child’s life brings its own unique challenges, and we try to have grace for each other in those times, but even us parents agree that no one wants to smell a dirty diaper in a public place, especially when they are trying to relax with friends or family.
Although there are no hard and fast rules about changing your baby in public, getting experience from parents who have been there is extremely helpful, and having the right supplies with you can make all the difference.
In general, be sure to keep these things in mind to observe proper diaper changing etiquette in public:
- Use public restrooms or changing stations whenever possible – that is why they are there
- If no changing area is available then be sure to move far away from others (out of sight and smell range) before changing
- Use your vehicle if it is reasonably close
- Dispose of the dirty diaper properly (in a sealed bag thrown into the trash) or seal it so that it doesn’t stink and keep it with you if you can’t throw it away.
- Be prepared with the proper supplies so you don’t have to rely on what’s available
Is it legal to change a diaper in public?
We know there will certainly come a time when we will have to change our baby in public.
But is it even legal?
There are no specific laws prohibiting parents from changing their baby in a public place, however, there have been several cases of parents being asked to leave private establishments after they attempted to change their baby’s diaper in a common area.
No matter where you are in public, it is best to be as respectful and considerate as you can when changing your baby’s diaper. Think about how you would feel if you were another customer in the store or restaurant. If someone has spent money on food or a cup of coffee, they certainly don’t want a parent changing a dirty diaper right next to them.
Can you change a diaper outside?
Changing a diaper outside may be one of the few times where it is acceptable to change your baby’s diaper in the vicinity of other people. Do your best to put some distance between you and those around you if you can, but if you are somewhere outside such as a park, it would be acceptable to lay down a blanket and a changing pad on the ground and change your baby in public. You could also use your stroller. Since the smell of your baby’s diaper would be less obtrusive outside, it is more acceptable than changing your baby in a contained area.
Choose a grassy area instead of a bench when you can to avoid contaminating a place where other people may sit.
Can you change a diaper in a restaurant?
Imagine you are enjoying a nice meal with your family, and a parent in the booth next to you starts changing their baby’s dirty diaper right there in the booth.
I think we can all agree that the smell alone may spoil our appetite. No one wants to be disturbed by a parent changing their baby’s dirty diaper, especially while they are eating. It is not considered proper etiquette to change your baby’s diaper in a restaurant unless you are able to find a more private location.
Luckily, most restaurants should have restrooms with baby-changing stations available to use. Some of them might even have disposable liners to use to make things more sanitary. I wouldn’t bet on it though, so plan on bringing a changing pad into the restroom with you!
Can you change a diaper on an airplane?
Changing your baby’s diaper on an airplane can be tricky, especially since you may not have the option to move around. The tiny airplane restroom may not have a changing table, and if the seatbelt sign is on, you may not be able to get out of your seat to make your way to the restroom anyways.
If it is possible for you to make it to the restroom, that will be your best option. Even if there isn’t a changing table, many parents have said they have been able to find a flat surface in the restroom where they could lay down a blanket or changing pad down and change their baby away from other passengers.
If you don’t have the option to get out of your seat and your baby is in dire need of a change, it may be acceptable to change your baby in your seat. Just make sure to use a changing pad to keep the seat clean and put the dirty diaper in a disposable bag until you can make your way to the trash can. Fair warning though, you are going to get some dirty looks on an airplane if you change a poopy diaper right in your seat.
Where to change baby in public
Most parents agree there are some places where it just isn’t appropriate to change your baby in public. If the inevitable happens and your baby needs a change while you’re out and about, where should you go to change your baby?
The first place you will want to look for in a public restroom. Most restaurants and stores will have a changing table in the restroom, but what if there isn’t a changing table? Or what if you’re the dad, and there’s only a changing table in the women’s restroom? (as if dads don’t change diapers too!)
If you are able to go outside, the back of your car is a great second option. With a portable changing pad or a blanket, you can create a clean area to change your baby without disturbing anyone. If you are unable to get to your car, a stroller is another option as well. Most strollers allow you to lean your baby’s seat all the way back, creating a flat surface that can double as a diaper changing spot.
When getting to your car or stroller just isn’t an option, try to be as discreet as possible and be mindful of other people. Having a changing pad and disposable bags on hand makes the process a lot easier when you need to change your baby quickly in a public place.
How to change a baby’s diaper without a changing table
If you find yourself in a public place without a changing table, the best thing you can do is find a flat surface away from other people, and create a clean space to change your baby. Even if the conditions you find yourself changing your baby in are not ideal, if you have the right supplies on hand you can create a sanitary place where your baby is comfortable, and you will survive the experience just like the rest of us!
Be sure to always bring your diaper bag packed with supplies and try to scope out the nearest restroom when you first enter a public place so that you’re not scrambling to find one when your baby needs a diaper change.
What to pack in your diaper bag to change your baby in public
When you go to change your baby in public, there are a few things you will be grateful you packed in your bag. Here are the most helpful supplies to have on hand when you need to change your baby in a public place:
- Portable Changing Pad – Changing pads are a necessity not only when you want to protect your baby from the potential germs on a changing table, but they allow you to create a space to change your baby if you are using the back of your car or stroller as an alternative option.
- Diapers (Lots of diapers!) – Although this may seem like a given, many first-time parents underestimate just how many diapers a newborn can go through even during a short trip. A good rule of thumb is to pack one diaper for every hour you will be gone, and a few extras just in case.
- Baby Wipes – Wipes are another necessity for changing your baby in public. Not only are wipes needed for changing messy diapers, but they are also great to have in case of any other spills as well. If you don’t want to take the whole pack of wipes, you can put fill a ziplock bag with ten to twenty wipes and make your own travel-pack.
- Plastic or Reusable Wet Bags – Having a place to stick dirty diapers or wet clothes will come in handy when you can’t find a nearby trash can or your baby had a blowout that got all over their outfit. You can either get a reusable cloth wet bag like this one here (with great reviews from other parents) or you can pick up some plastic disposable bags like these here (I prefer the bags meant for dogs because they are cheaper and compostable – this cheap box will literally last until your baby is out of diapers!).
- Hand Sanitizer – Always a good thing to have on hand. Depending on where you end up changing your baby, you might not have access to a sink to wash your hands!
Do you need a portable changing pad?
A portable changing pad is one of the most important items to have if you are going to be changing your baby in public. Most diaper bags come with portable changing pads, but after going through several diaper bags, I realized I was never satisfied with the size of the changing pad. If you are looking for something to cover a much larger area, I recommend one like this or this one on Amazon. They are both waterproof, fold up for easy carrying, and look cute to boot!