There are things that pretty much even the newest, least experienced new mom or dad knows needs to be in the diaper bag. Diapers, of course. And I recommend packing way more than you think you could possibly need during the course of your outing. Nothing seems to stimulate a baby to go more than having a clean diaper wrapped around their bum. Wipes are another no brainer – used for bottoms, hands, and various other surfaces on and about you and your baby that may need to be cleaned.
If you’re bottle-feeding, you’ll need bottles, formula or expressed breast milk, and possibly bottled water. If you are using formula, do yourself a favor and look into getting one of those containers specially made to hold pre-measured powdered formula – I considered mine a life-saver when I got to that stage. And, of course, you’ll want a thick, high quality burp cloth or two. Doesn’t matter whether you’re bottle-feeding, breast-feeding, or moved on to solid foods, you’ll want and need something to catch what is inevitably going to make a return trip out of your baby’s mouth. (The best in the business? A plain old cloth diaper – it doesn’t get more absorbent than that.)
Along with diaper rash cream, antibacterial wipes, and a change of clothes for baby, these are the basics. What I, as an experienced mom of three, want to tell you about are the other essentials, the things you might not have thought of yet. The things I wish an experienced mom had told me about before I had to learn the hard way…
(1) Plastic bags: These are a must. Your precious baby is going to have a blow out diaper from time to time. Your bundle of joy is going to spit up in a manner that brings to mind a horror movie. But you already packed a change of clothes for baby, right? That was one of the basics. So you’re halfway there. But what are you going to do with the super-cute outfit from Grandma that is now covered in various body fluids? Believe me, you aren’t throwing it out, and you really don’t want to shove it back in the diaper bag without first encasing it in a plastic bag. Personally, I preferred having a few gallon size Ziploc-style bags to seal in whatever smell or dampness necessitated the change. But grocery stores bags also work fine in a pinch because you can tie the top closed. Yet another space-saving solution is to look for pet bags containers – a self-contained pre-packaged roll of small plastic bags, perfectly-sized for bodysuits, bibs, and baby yoga pants.
(2) Change of clothes: You’re probably thinking, didn’t we already cover this as a basic? Yes, and no. I’m talking about a change of clothes for YOU. At least an extra t-shirt. Burp cloths, no matter how high-quality, and how effectively draped, can only do so much. I guarantee that at least once (a week) you will find yourself in public with spit-up on your clothes. In small doses, this is just an endearing part of the new parent ensemble. But if you’ve experienced a projectile event, or held your baby in your arms before realizing that the diaper was blown, or as in my personal experience, clasped a child’s head to your chest as they vomited in public, trust me, you’ll want to change your shirt after. It doesn’t have to be an entire outfit change, and it doesn’t have to be the height of fashion either. But if you experience any of the above-mentioned scenarios, you’re going to want a clean shirt to wear on the drive home.
(3) Extra pacifiers and/or loveys: Not everyone uses pacifiers, and I respect that, but if you do, for the love of everything you hold dear, throw a few extra in the diaper bag. The invention of the paci clip, that beautiful invention that tethers the paci to your dear one so it doesn’t escape should it be unceremoniously spit out, has saved many a new parent’s sanity, but it should not be relied on as the ultimate saving grace. Because sometimes those clips fail, and even if it doesn’t, sometimes the paci on the end of it comes into contact with something that would necessitate sanitizing before returning to your child’s mouth.
And if you think you’ll just buy a new pacifier at your handy drugstore/grocery store/baby store should baby’s get lost or somehow otherwise put out of commission; think again. Because whatever brand/style/size of pacifier your child uses is practically guaranteed to be out of stock or unavailable in a crisis situation. And if you don’t use pacifiers, but your child is attached to a lovey, or some other alternate comfort item, double up on that instead because the same issue that apply to pacifiers apply to soft, snuggly loveys, or whatever comfort item your child is latched on to, as well.
(4) Extra bibs: If your little one is cutting teeth, or you are bottle-feeding your infant, then you’ve got a drooly, slobbery mess on your hands. Bibs come in super handy in these situations, and let me start this section by suggesting that you seek bibs based on their effectiveness instead of just their cuteness factor. There are tons of cute and clever bibs out there, but sadly, many just don’t do their job well. However, many brands are soft to the touch, but also have a waterproof liner in between the layers of fabric. This is what you need. They’re absorbent, but won’t allow the formula, drool, or whatever comes out of baby's mouth from soaking through the bib to your baby’s clothes. And let me tell you, you’re going to need more than one. It is almost inconceivable how much drool a teething baby can produce, and even the cleanest, most efficient bottle feeder is likely to slob a fair amount of formula onto their bib. Pack extras. And guess where you can put that bib that has already been soaked through? That’s right, into one of those handy plastic bags you’ve got right there in your diaper bag.
(5) A paperback book or magazine: Sometimes being a new parent can be an isolating, lonely thing. This especially applies to breastfeeding moms who are uncomfortable or unable to discreetly nurse in public. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of hours I logged in the dressing room at Target or other mall department stores nursing my babies. It took me a few times, but I finally learned that what I wanted most during those times was a bottle of water and something to read. It was perfect downtime – I was seated comfortably, baby was quietly engaged in a way that did not require my brain, and I could drift off into another world of fiction or celebrity gossip (Hey, I don’t judge what you’re reading!)
Another instance where something to read to pass the time is a godsend is when baby falls asleep in the car on the way home. Ever heard that phrase: “Never wake a sleeping baby”? I happen to believe in it; as long as it’s within the realm of reasonable naptime and I’m still getting the little one down to bed at night. I spent hours of time just sitting in my driveway, or in a parking lot, while one or the other of my babies napped peacefully all strapped snugly into their car seat. Once I started keeping reading material in my diaper bag (and car) I was fully prepared to take advantage of this time. And if you’re not a reader, or just more prone to type-A behavior, maybe a good alternative for you is a small notebook and pen with which to jot notes, make to do lists, or otherwise multitask while trapped in place.
I hope this list will be helpful to new parents, and possibly more experienced parents alike. I don’t believe it’s a competition, this parenting thing, and I am happy to pass along my hard-earned wisdom in the hopes that in the spirit of karmic justice I’ll learn something new from one of you along the way.