It's in the Bag: Your Diaper Bag Packing List
If you are caring for a baby and you plan to leave the house with them, you need a diaper bag. I am going to say that again. You need a diaper bag. I was completely resistant to diaper bags because the manufacturers at time time made them unattractively feminine. I tried a backpack for a time, but you can't beat the ease of the access of a well-organized diaper bag. And rest assured, they make cool ones now that even the men in your life will carry without embarrassment.
Diapers and Waste Management
No matter how many books you read on the subject, your baby is not going to be potty trained for at least a year. So you need diapers. Loads and loads of diapers. Cloth ones are way better for the environment. We were lucky enough to be in the delivery radius of a diaper service founded in 1933. Needless to say, they had it down. I received a delivery of fresh diapers every week and they took away the dirty ones even if they were full of poop.
If you choose to use cloth diapers, buy at least 24 of them and you will need diaper covers. I would say 7 of them. One of them will live in the diaper bag with 4 clean diapers. You will thank me later when your baby has an explosive poop and you won't have to MacGyver a diaper cover out of a grocery bag like I did.
When our son got home, we realized that he was too small for even their preemie-sized cloth diapers, so we had to find disposable ones made for the tiniest babies. It was a challenge. Most stores don't carry them, but you are likely to find them online. Order them before your baby leaves the hospital.
If you are using disposable diapers, try to find ones that are eco-friendly. You will make 2200 diaper changes in the first year alone. Times that by the 3.7 million babies born in the U.S. every year and you have a mountain of dirty diapers sitting in landfills for eternity.
For the clean up of bottoms, fingers, or faces, you will need a large pack of baby wipes or a resealable container with damp wash clothes. Make sure that you have a leak-proof bag that you can put soggy diapers, soiled clothing, and dirty wipes. If you pack it in, pack it out. Don't count on trash cans being readily available every where you go. You don't want to be the parent who leaves a dirty diaper left behind in an unsuspecting business' dressing room. That is rude, unsanitary, and will make you zero friends with your local business proprietors.
For diaper changes on the go, you will need a foldable, waterproof changing mat. Let's face it, the baby changing stations in public bathrooms are not sanitized after every use. You want a barrier between your baby and a hard surface whose cleanliness you control. In a pinch you can use a baby blanket. But if you are changing a poopy diaper, you better be okay with it getting feces on it... it will happen. And that will be the last time that you use the blanket until you get home and put it in the washing machine.
Because of leaking diapers or explosive poos, you will need several changes of clothing when you are out and about with your baby. One set is the minimum. More will be needed on longer expeditions into the world. If your baby is wearing a onesie, bring 2 more. If you baby is wearing separates, you will likely need more pants than tops. But make sure you bring extra socks. I guarantee you that your baby will kick their foot right into the center of a messy diaper before you can clear the way. These garments can just live in the diaper bag until needed. Make sure you replenish your supply before going out again if you put them to use.
In order to keep your baby's shirt clean, make sure that you have a drool bib around their neck most of the time. Baby's digestive systems are not fully developed and you should expect unexpected spit up multiple times a day. I would leave home with one around your baby's neck and 2-4 that live in the diaper bag for emergencies.
Speaking of spitting up, feeding, regardless of if you are breastfeeding or not, takes gear of their own. Let's begin with burp cloths since every meal ends with a burp that may or make a mess when produced. Leave 2 in your diaper bag. You will use both of them, I promise.
If you are breastfeeding, you will need a privacy drape when your baby is enjoying their meal. This can be a nursing cover or a baby blanket. The downside of using a blanket is that it gets hot under the covers which is far from ideal during the Summer. Be sure to bring spare nursing pads/nipple pads because once one of your breasts gets going, the other one will join in as well.
Regardless of whether or not you are breastfeeding, if you want another human to do the feeding, bring at least one bottle. You can bank your breastmilk and bring it with you in an insulated bag. If breastfeeding is not working out for you, fill the baby bottle with one meal's worth of powdered formula. Bring along a container of water to transform it into a liquid. Bring extra for yourself to stay hydrated. It wouldn't hurt to throw in a second meal's worth of formula just in case. Babies can cluster feed in their first months of life. This means that you will feed your baby for 45 minutes only for them to be hungry 15 minutes later. This happened to me frequently. Some days I never left the chair in which I was sitting to nurse because the feeding never ended.
With all of this talk of feeding and bodily fluids, make sure that you pack a travel-size hand sanitizer in the diaper bag. This is particularly important if eating and diaper changing happen in an unfortunate order when there is not a sink in sight.
You can take advantage of your baby's Sucking Reflex between meals with a small collection of pacifiers. I would attach one to your baby with a pacifier clip and keep 2 spares in the diaper bag. Even with the clip, they will sometimes end up on the ground and disappear. If your kid digs them, you want to make sure you have spares to plug the "holler hole" when you are away from home. Much to my chagrin, my fussy baby refused to keep them in his mouth so I never needed more than the 2 that came home with me from the hospital.
No diaper bag is complete without proper sun protection for both you and your baby. A sunhat with a chin strap is a must on sunny days when shade is scarce. In addition, get in the habit of slathering your baby in baby-formulated sunscreen with zinc that has no less than 50 spf. Sunburns, even when your child is a baby, can lead to skin cancer later in life. Purchase 2 bottles: one for home and one that stays in the diaper bag. Put the sunscreen on at least 20 minutes before leaving the house and reapply after 2 hours of being outside even if it is a cloudy day. Make sure you bring some for yourself. Nobody wants Melanoma.
Lastly bring a baby blanket. Much like versatile "towel" of Hitchhikers' fame, a baby blanket has many uses. It can be used for warmth or nursing cover in a pinch. You can put it on the ground on which you can sit or do an impromptu tummy time session. You can wrap up soiled garments if you are without a trash bag. You can also drape it over the stroller to keep the sun or stranger's gaze off of your sleeping baby. Choose the weight of the blanket based on the weather: thicker during cold Winter months and light-weight cotton for Summertime.
I also threw in a portable crib on the list, if you ever plan on spending the night somewhere other than your home. Baby shouldn't spend days sleeping in a car seat.
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