I remember it like it was yesterday: the time my husband and I decided to take our newborn son to church and left the diaper bag in the car. “It’s only a hour,” we thought naively. “What could we possibly need in such a short time?”
Answer: A LOT. Like a new diaper, a few dozen wipes, and clean outfits for mom, baby and possibly the elderly couple in the next pew. Who knew babies could explode like that?!
Then there was the time I took my supposedly "potty trained" toddler to the park, only to find out that he was, in fact, not fully potty trained and, again, I had naively neglected to bring a diaper bag. I had to clean him up with Starbucks napkins I found in the glove compartment.
So, with way too many of these dumb-mommy moments under my belt, I came to know the diaper-bag essentials the hard way. Here are the diaper-bag must-haves no mommy should ever leave home without:
1. Wipes. Duh, you may be thinking. But even if you’re not changing diapers, wet wipes are good for cleaning grubby hands and faces, wiping off icky restaurant tables and highchairs, and getting juice stains out of clothing and your friend’s Pottery Barn couch. Oops.
2. Hand sanitizer. It’s a fact that the germiest things are at kid height. Escalator railings, door knobs, elevator buttons. I have been known to scream at my children in public restrooms, “Don’t touch anything with any part of your body!” And then I douse them with Purell from head to toe anyway.
3. A bottle of water. To drink, sure, but also for cleaning purposes if, say, your spouse left the wipes open and they all dried out. Thanks, honey! Also, you may need to wash out someone’s mouth if they decide it’s a good idea to eat a cigarette butt off the ground, like my toddler once did. I still gag just thinking about it.
4. Plastic bags. To contain wet and/or soiled clothes, to wrap up a dirty diaper if there’s no trash can around, or–how to put this delicately?–to puke in. Please, learn from my mistakes.
5. A change of clothes for your child and for you. Remember the church incident? I had an extra outfit for the baby, but could do nothing about the collateral damage done to my dress. It may not be practical to tote around a spare wardrobe at all times, but at least keep some extra clothes in your car or carry-on luggage if you’re on a plane. I’ll spare you the story that goes with that tip.
Of course this list only scratches the surface. Snacks, toys, pacifiers, burp cloths, Advil–all of these are musts for many moms. But I’d rather be caught without a rattle than without wipes, I’ll tell you that.
Abby is a work-at-home writer and mom of two active young boys. She's the author of Mama Insider: Laughing (And Sometimes Crying) All the Way Through Pregnancy, Birth, and the First 3 Months. Follow her on AbbyOfftheRecord.com.