New moms: Meet your new best friend, one that you’ll seriously want by your side. All. The. Time. If you and baby hit the road without it, we’re guessing you’ll slam on the brakes and make a U turn, just so you can head back home and retrieve it. We’re talking about your diaper bag, of course. Consider it a security blanket for parents, or a mom purse on steroids. Whatever life with a tot throws your way—from incomprehensible freakouts to sudden hunger pangs to, yes, poopy diapers—a well-packed pouch that slings over your shoulders (and clips easily onto the stroller) can make messy situations disappear. Here, your trusty diaper bag checklist to ensure all your diaper bag essentials actually make it into the bag.
Diaper Bag Essentials
Trying to figure out what to pack, and what can reasonably be left behind? Mentally walk through everything you’ll want (and need) to do with baby when you’re out and about. To get you started, these are the things pretty much all moms should have on your diaper bag checklist.
• Diapers. You’ll need one diaper for every two hours you’re out—and maybe a few extra, just to be safe.
• Wipes. Look for a good travel pack, or keep your baby wipes moist in a plastic sandwich bag. They’re the multi-tasker of all diaper bag essentials—handy for wiping baby’s bum, your hands and the changing pad, especially after use in a public restroom (ick).
• Baby cream/ointment. Save space with travel-sized tubes.
• Changing pad. Even if your bag comes with one, you might find you need something a little larger.
• Small empty sacks. Use these for soiled diapers (toss if they’re disposable, bring home if they’re cloth) and clothing. These also work for used pacifiers and nipples.
• Pacifiers. If you use them, store in a clean bag along with extra bottle nipples to keep everything sanitary.
• Burp cloths/washcloths. Toss in as many as you think you’ll need, then add a few more.
• Hand sanitizer. Because you don’t know who else has touched what you’ve touched before you feed or change baby.
• Food for baby. Whether it’s infant formula and bottles, pumped breast milk or baby food, figure out how many feedings-worth you’ll need and pack accordingly. Of course, for toddlers, you’ll also want to include some water.
• Change of clothes. Or two. Because spit-up happens. And blow-outs and leaky bottles. Throw in a couple extra pairs of socks while you’re at it.
• Hat. Whether you have a summer or winter baby, you’ll need a seasonally appropriate topper to block out sun or cold.
• Sunscreen. For little ones 6 months and up, toss in some sunscreen if you’ll be out and about in a stroller or at the park. Protect younger babies with a hat or blanket for shade.
• Light blanket. No matter what the season, it’s always good to have an extra on hand for unexpected breezes and drafty restaurants. They’re also useful to shade baby from the sun.
• Toys. If there’s anything that keeps baby entertained—board books, rattle, teethers—throw it into the bag. Don’t forget the toy straps, unless you enjoy picking toys up off the floor of restaurants and sidewalks.
• Light snacks. The kind that won’t ruin appetites, like puffs or Goldfish. They’re essential for older tots when the next meal is in the far-off future (i.e., five or more minutes away) because there’s no “hungry” with kids, just “hangry.”
• Band-Aids. With toddlers, you’ll invariably end up at the playground, even if you think you’re just going out for errands. Think your kid’s boo-boo is a barely-there scratch? She’ll want one anyway and it will make her feel better.
• Whatever you typically stick in a purse. That includes your phone, extra money, keys and essential contact info (emergency contact, pediatrician, sitter, daycare etc.). This comes in handy if you forget your purse or are just stepping out for a quick jaunt.
Diaper Bag Extras
Part of crisis management is having the right gear at that right time, but since babies are so unpredictable, it doesn’t hurt to have all your tools of the mom trade at your fingertips, all the time. (Or at least most of the time.) Here’s what to consider adding to your diaper bag checklist to bring your (diaper) bag o’ tricks to the next level.
• Reusable placemats. Sure, your server has wiped down that highchair with a damp cloth. But do you know where that cloth has been?
• Nasal aspirator. You’ll have much happier baby out about town if you can lend an assist with her stuffy nose.
• Nursing cover. Lots of moms find this helpful when breastfeeding in public, although certainly not an essential for all.
• Extra shirt for yourself. How often have you gone about your business only to catch a reflection of yourself with spit-up all over your collar? Exactly.
• Nursing and vaginal pads. For you, not baby. These are especially essential in the first few weeks after birth when your liquid output is still high.
Tips for Packing a Diaper Bag
If baby has thrown up all-over his sweater or your tot is hysterical with hunger, having to search through a black hole of a bag or deal with wet things that shouldn’t be wet only adds to the stress. Here’s how to keep your diaper bag essentials at the ready.
• Stash different categories of diaper bag essentials into smaller (preferably clear or different-colored) bags. It’s what mountain climbers do with stuff sacks in their backpack, so they can find things in a jiffy. (And when you’re a mom, every outing feels like an expedition.) Put feeding items in one section, diaper change items in another, your own stuff in another, and so on.
• Include a diaper-bag caddy. We can’t take credit for this idea—it’s the brainchild of a mom whose Facebook post documenting it went viral. Essentially an offshoot of the previous tip, it consists of strapping a regular pack of wipes onto the lid of an empty wipe tub with an elastic headband. This leaves room inside the tub for diaper-changing essentials (diapers, a change of clothes in case of blowouts and a foldable portable changing pad). So when baby needs a change—and fast!—you can just grab and go.
• Pre-portion each bottle. If you’re mixing formula, pre-measure water and pour into each bottle. Add pre-measured formula to each bottle only when you’re ready to feed baby with it. With breast milk, stick pre-filled bottles into a portable cooler pack if you’re going to be spending a good amount of time out and about on a hot day.
• Prevent leaks. Even if you’ve double-checked that the milk, water and sunscreen containers are screwed on tight, Murphy’s Law of Mom Physics says they can loosen up when jostled. So pack each in a sealed plastic bag, just in case. (Tip: Avert goopy sunscreen disasters altogether with sunscreen sticks—they’re easier to apply and won’t get your hands sticky in the process.)
Updated December 2017
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