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How quickly do I need to jump on changing a dirty diaper? What are the downsides of waiting vs getting right to it?

I have two specific scenarios in mind:

  1. I'm holding my son during the day time, and he lets one fly. Should I interrupt what I'm doing to get him cleaned up? Should I wait for a bit to make sure he's done? If he's not unhappy about the situation, can I just wait?
  2. It's nighttime and he's sleeping. We can get through a feed with him waking minimally, eating, and then going right back to sleep. However, changing a diaper wakes him up completely and makes it much harder to get him back to sleep. Can we just leave it if he's not complaining and he isn't developing diaper rash?

My son is an infant (currently 2 weeks), how does the advice change with age?

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It depends on the diaper. With an infant in a diaper that says "10-14 lbs", you can go quite a while before the diaper accumulates 10-14 lbs of debris. –  monsto Mar 5 '12 at 18:51
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Umm... does that not relate to the size of the baby rather than carrying capacity? Seems to me 14lbs of poo would be the same size as the baby. –  Nat Nov 6 '12 at 22:10
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@Nat: The comment was meant as a joke but humor can be hard to convey online. You are correct, the size refers to the baby's weight. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 7 '12 at 8:23
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Hah, a bit slow me... –  Nat Nov 7 '12 at 8:56
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By dirty do you mean wet or full of a bowel movement? My answer would vary based on that. Also for the nighttime diaper I hvae a suggestion - change it in the middle of a feeding. That gives your little one time to have the act of eating stimulate the bowels before you change and then lets the act of eating get him drowsy again after you change. –  justkt Nov 8 '12 at 15:46

9 Answers 9

Yes you can wait.

Unless you can't be interrupted (like when you're driving), you should change the diaper "reasonably fast," meaning within ten minutes or so during the daytime. That's a very rough guideline though. Here are some considerations:

  • It varies how well children handle nighttime diaper changes.

    • If you can change during the night, do it. That is most comfortable, leads to longer sleep phases (good for mommy and daddy!), has less risk of leaking, and less risk of developing a rash.
    • If nighttime changing doesn't work well, either try training it, or make a habit to change as late in the evening + as early in the morning as possible. At two weeks of age, you all have not yet have time to adjust yet; it might still work out so don't give up the training just yet.
  • With newborns, my experience is that it's all in one go, so you would not need to wait at all. By the time you've got him undressed, enough time will have passed already. But beware of rogue peeing :-) this often happens within seconds of removing the dirty diaper. Have a washcloth ready to cover the privates.

  • Infants and toddlers often take a few minutes to finish. With infants, just wait a few minutes and then change. With toddlers, you might be able to use this time for potty training, but that's another story.

  • Generally, waiting a little while does no harm. An exception is if the diaper area is already irritated or infected, in which case the diaper should be changed as soon as reasonably possible as to prevent extending the condition.

  • Finally, waiting usually means smelling so there will likely be a natural limit to how long you will be willing to wait :-)

  • And of course there will be situations where you simply don't notice for a looong time. Don't worry yourself over that, it just happens.

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1  
Wise advice. Babies are not made of sugar, they won't melt with humidity. As an infant we used to change diaper every 2-3 hours or so (right after feeding her), and as a toddler, she now sleeps all night and we don't wake her up or ourselves only to change diaper. Of course that's if you use disposable diaper... –  Bartdude Jul 5 '13 at 9:41
    
Great advice with newborns! I'm only adding that once the child has reached Toddler-hood (since anyone looking for info on newborns is likely to eventually need the info on toddlers too) and is nearing potty training, you don't even want them wet for more than ten minutes or so. It helps them be uncomfortable when they are wet so they are motivated to train. For now though, SPOT ON!! +1 –  balanced mama Oct 25 '13 at 0:17
    
Breastfed babies sometimes goes a long time with no poop. For pee only, my rule of thumb is to change when the diaper feels 'heavy' - most diapers can take a few pees. –  Ida Aug 11 at 16:05

With a newborn, you can certainly wait. Ten minutes, as Torben sais, is a good measure. Note that this doesn't mean you should always wait that long.

From my own experience, this changes once you start introducing solid foods, which is usually around six months of age. Solid faeces are much more prone to irritate the skin, so changing the diaper quickly becomes more important. That still doesn't mean that you have to drop everything you are doing right the moment you notice something, though. (For example, if you are cleaning you wife's most beloved crystal vase, you should not only take the time to set it down instead of dropping it, but put it in a secure place where your child can not throw it down...)
I would lower the acceptable time span to about 2-5 minutes for babies who eat solid food.

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I actually disagree - for both my kids solid waste after starting food was much less liquid, and much less acidic (breastfed babies). The skin was also less easily irritated. –  Ida Aug 11 at 16:04

The rate skin develops a rash is in direct proportion to the acidic level of the feces. It's the mixture of water and acid that causes skin irritation. So if the baby is having solid and dryer movements, then you can wait, but wet material or anything that might be caused by diarrhea needs to be changed immediately.

The faster the food flows thru the bowls the higher it's acidic level. This can be caused by diet, illness or fatigue. When a rash develops it's often because of this problem, and the simple contact of feces is enough to worsen the problem.

So, my advise is what I did with my daughter. The two finger test. If it feels wet then it needs to be changed, but it your fingers come back dry you can let it lie.

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I change it as soon as practical (immediately, if possible) after detecting that it's wet or dirty. It sends the signal that wet or dirty diapers aren't normal. It helps with potty training later, as the child won't be happy with a mess in his/her pants.

As for nighttime procedures, that's a judgement call. You have to balance the importance of your sleep, the child's sleep, and the child's discomfort. Usually, I'll change it if the child is squirming around uncomfortably. Also, if the child wakes up at night and is crying anyway, I'll use that opportunity to take him/her to the bathroom.

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In case you are using cloth diapers, you should try to change as soon as possible because these generally don't have the same kind of absorption or the moisture wicking later as disposable diapers.

There are fancy cloth diapering options out there that has a fleece-like layer that touches the skin and an absorbent insert underneath to actually hold the liquid. However, I've noticed that with cloth diapers (any kind) if I don't change my infant frequently, she has a high chance of getting diaper rash. Since I can't constantly be checking her diaper, I change her at least every two hours (or at least check).

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I have a 2 month old baby at the moment so we just went through it. Currently I am sure your little baby is eating just about every 2-3 hours. With our little girl we found that she usually went right after being fed so we would feed her first, then change her. So approx every 2-3 hours unless of course she filled the diaper up sooner or took a poop. We would clean immediately if she pooped as that can cause sores on their buttocks. When she was in the ICU she ended up getting really bad sores on her buttocks so we had to move to sensitive wipes. As they get older just kinda gauge it, we still change her every feeding which can now range from 2 to 5 hours unless she shows signs of needing to be changed. We still prefer to do it after the feeding if she'll let us because its guaranteed she will go again by the time its all over. :)

Edit: I just want to be clear, if I notice it needs to be done I do it. I don't check her every 10 minutes. You can usually smell or feel the diaper when its ready, they also have diapers that have color strip to notify you.

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You mean you also change just a wet diaper (no poop) even if you changed half hour before? –  Shadow Wizard Nov 8 '12 at 10:39
    
Yeah, Pretty much when I can feel that shes peed(fluffy diaper), right after I feed her, or before I feed her if her diaper is full, when she is fussy(she lets us know when shes ready to be changed), and when she is pooped immediately. –  Tony Nov 8 '12 at 14:36
    
Interesting, my daughter (now 2 years old) never show any sign even when her diaper is full. When it's poop it's of course easy to detect and we change it right away but otherwise it's really hard to tell when she need a change. Well, guess that each and every kid is different. :-) –  Shadow Wizard Nov 8 '12 at 14:53
    
Yeah she doesn't fuss if it's her first round usually.. but if she has a 2nd round of pee in it (I am assuming by the amount) then she gets restless and wiggles a lot and makes noises of distress. We have lucked out I believe, she doesn't really cry and she is pretty easy to read. We can pretty much tell when she is hungry, gassy/upset tummy, peed, or wants her pacifier. Omg.. I love her so much.. I wish I was at home right now holding her instead of being at work :/ –  Tony Nov 8 '12 at 14:58
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LOL! omg I'm missing my baby now! Ours has just started making the "attempt to speak noises" waaa, maa, and stuff like that.. I'm going to be sad when I cannot smother her with kisses any more lol. –  Tony Nov 8 '12 at 15:09

With poop, I change it as soon as I notice, although I wouldn't halt what I'm doing to get on it. But really, I wouldn't want to sit in my own feces, so I figure my little baby doesn't either. Pee is an entirely different story. She never poops at night so I never change her diaper at night. It completely wakes her up. I just slather on the cream before bed to protect her skin. During the day, I change her diaper when I realize, oh hey, this could use a change. My daughter never complains about it, so normally I just notice the bulge and know it's time. She's 4 1/2 months old, btw. When she was a newborn she pooped waaaay more often so I went through a ton of diapers and did change her throughout the night. She's also a girl and so I want to get the poop out of there quickly so it doesn't get into her vagina which is a pain to clean and can cause a UTI.

Short answer (in my opinion)- poop, as soon as possible...pee, not as quickly unless your baby is sensitive to a wet diaper.

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I always changed my daughter's diaper right away, as soon as I knew if it was wet or stinky. She's 3 1/2 now and has been potty trained since 18 mos. She never liked to sit around in a wet diaper, I think it really helped in the potty training.

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I never wake my newborn to change a diaper. Poop or pee. If she has diaper rash that would be a different story. Sleep is so precious in the early days.

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