Let’s start with one of the single best habits you can do for yourself, your child and later teach your child to do for his or herself: wash your hands after going to the bathroom. Every single time. Washing hands is one of the single best habits you can get into, in fact, because just washing hands just three times a day have 40 percent or more fewer infections and illnesses. In one study, 40,000 U.S. Naval recruits instructed to wash their hands five times a day cut down their respiratory illnesses by 45 percent. Clearly, simple hand-washing is one of those small habits that can add up to a big difference over time.
Wash your hands with plain soap and warm water, rubbing them for 15 to 20 seconds, which is as long as it takes to sing a song such as “Happy Birthday,” a timeless tune, but you can probably think of a more contemporary song to sing or to teach your child.
Now dry your hands with a clean cloth towel, paper towel or air. Air-drying them in one of those hot blasts of air machines in a public restroom, however, is not always a great idea as they can harbor germs when they aren’t cleaned properly. Sorry. Hate to burst your bubble on that one but you are better off with the paper towel or letting them cool-air dry. And when you are using the bathroom in an airplane, be the most careful—those airline bathrooms tend to harbor the most germs! You think you get sick breathing the stale air in an airplane when it could be touching the faucet on one of their sinks that makes you sick.
How often to change a diaper
Babies shouldn’t be sitting in either wet diapers or dirty diapers for any length of time, although at nighttime, with a baby sleeping through the night or at least for a longish stretch, it is quite difficult to weigh their sleep—and your sleep—against the benefits of a clean diaper! The general “rule” is to change wet, daytime diapers on infants every 2 hours or so but to change dirty diapers as soon as they occur and to change nighttime diapers less frequently, especially if using a more absorbent, nighttime diaper.
Most, but not all, cloth diapers tend to be less absorbent than disposable diapers, so they may need to be changed a bit more frequently. And since toddlers tend to urinate less often (their bladders being able to hold more urine and their diet is not solely liquid anymore), their diapers can be changed less frequently—an average of every 3 to 4 hours or so instead of 2 hours or so.
If your child tends to have more sensitive skin and be more prone to irritation, then change the diaper more frequently. Also, if your child tends to get urinary tract infections, change the diaper more frequently, and never let such children sit in a dirty diaper if you can help it (or a dirty bathtub, for that matter).
Back to diaper changing
Wash your hands. Before you change a diaper, wash your hands – properly. Using soap and water, not hand sanitizer. That’s because soap (regular soap; anti-bacterial soap will kill the germs but is contributing to the rise in bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant). And the sanitizers you use should be composed of at least 60 percent alcohol in order to be effective.
Gather your supplies. You will need: a clean diaper, a warm, wet cloth or wet wipes, a burp cloth, a safe place for changing the child (floor, bed or changing table and remember to use the safety straps on the changing table), a changing pad to protect the surface of the bed or floor. Baby powder, diaper rash ointment and lotion are all optional, of course.
Put the baby down. Place the baby down on the surface, making sure you have put a protective pad on a bed, floor or elsewhere that could be damaged if the baby accidentally urinated or pooped on it. If it is a changing table, use the safety straps. Now remove the baby’s clothes, then untape, unsnap, or unpin the soiled diaper.
Cover the baby to avoid accidents. Once you have removed the baby’s clothes, cover the baby with a burp cloth to prevent any accidents from spraying in either your face or your baby’s face, and remove the wet or dirty diaper.
Remove wet or dirty diaper. If you are removing a dirty disposable diaper, it is best to later dump the waste in the toilet, not wrap it up in the diaper – better for the environment – in the long run, given that in a landfill that poop can seep into the ground and pollute the water or never seep anywhere and stay there for too long.
Wash the diaper area. Wash the baby with a gentle soap and a warm wet rag. For girls, wash from their vagina down to their buttocks, so you don’t risk infecting their urinary tract with any extra germs. For boys, make sure you wash their genitals thoroughly. This helps prevent urinary tract infections, which boys get far less than girls, but tend to get them the first six months of life, when the germs from stools gets into their urinary tracts, especially if their diapers aren’t changed frequently enough or if proper genital hygiene is overlooked. And if the boy has his foreskin, only pull it back—gently—to clean underneath when it has separated. If it hasn’t, gently clean around it but never force the foreskin to separate from the the end of the penis or you can cause pain, bleeding and an infection.
If your baby has extra-sensitive skin or is prone to diaper rashes, you may want to apply a lotion or protective gel, such as Desitin. You may also want to dust the baby with some baby powder. And of course, you may be talking or singing or joking with the baby during this entire process!
Put on the new diaper. Finally, it’s time to place the new diaper on the baby. Lay the diaper under the baby, then pull the front of the diaper through your baby’s legs. Use one hand to gently hold it against the baby’s stomach while you secure one side. Then secure the other side. Make sure the diaper is neither too tight nor too loose, by sliding two of your fingers on the top front of the diaper. Redo the diaper if it is too tight or too loose.
When you are finished putting on the diaper (and perhaps a diaper cover)
When you are finished putting on the diaper and diaper cover, be sure to wash your hands again and to wash your child’s hands – as they may have gotten their hands dirty during the process and they tend to put those dirty hands in their mouth, ears, nose or in your mouth. The point here is simple: clean hands equals less chance of getting sick. And yes, it’s truly that simple.
Not the end of the story
Changing a diaper is only one part of diaper hygiene. The other part is what to do with wet or dirty diaper. As explained in the previous section, the “dirt” from a dirty diaper should always go into a toilet, never into a landfill. Granted, this disposal of feces is much harder to do with breast fed babies who aren’t on solid food yet, since their stools are quite loose. Still, it’s worth trying. If a child has diarrhea, then the chance that stool has germs is stronger, and that stool should go into the toilet, as well. But, as the saying goes, “we’re only human,” so do the best you can, and at least feel a tinge of guilt when you can’t!
If you are using cloth diapers, put the wet or dirty-minus-the-stool diaper into a receptacle for holding these diapers. It’s best to launder them at least twice a week, in order not to build up an ammonia-smelling receptacle, especially when you are changing diapers frequently, as you do with an infant. Just keep the diapers separate from the rest of the family laundry is the advice here. Yes, your underwear is not clean, either, and neither is anyone else’s in the family. But take note of the advice in the next paragraph because it’s worth knowing (or gloating over if you already know it).
Even if you are using cloth diapers largely as an environmental issue and want to save on electricity, if you have a dryer, use it on the diapers. Why? It’s the heat from the dryer that kills most of the germs and bacteria, and kill them it does. So the advice promised in the preceding paragraph is this: dry all items in the house that tend to harbor germs that can infect, the kind of germs you really want to kill. This includes the family’s underpants, dishtowels, and dish rags (wash those frequently by the way because wet ones that have washed dishes or counters harbor the most germs and grow the most bacteria!), dust cloths, wash rags, hand towels, cleaning rags and any other item likely to be in contact with germs, especially when wet.
What kind of detergent to use. Some detergents are more gentle on a baby’s skin. Others leave a residue that can irritate the skin. Ah, life was so simple decades ago, when there were only a few unscented, mild detergents marketed for use with babies and children, and hyper-allergic individuals. Today, especially in the big box stores, there are dozens upon dozens of detergents to choose from. Add Internet sales and the choices are overwhelming. Add Internet sites such as The Diaper Jungle, however, and you can make your own choice, based on efficiency, cost per load, enzymes, brightener, dyes, fragrance, softeners and bleach. The people who run that site have done the research for you—all you have to do is decide what is important to you and your child.
When you do use disposable diapers, dispose of them in a receptacle meant for trash—one with a tight cover that keeps out the air and holds in odor and germs. While a busy person is going to occasionally dump a dirty disposable diaper in a regular trash receptacle, remember your manners and who might come across it—including the family pets, your mother or mother-in-law and anyone else who might be grossed out by its appearance or odor. Okay, this advice isn’t necessarily health advice, but it is advice of the Emily Post School of Manners, or the Spiritual Perspective on Decent Living, or even your-home-in-the-entire-universe, hippy perspective, all of which have some merit when you think about the bigger picture in life and the fact that you do have running water, access to a choice of diapers, and a baby to love and nurture (the most important gratitude recipient.
If you are worried about the environment but not on a strict budget, the ideal diaper system to use is cloth diapers, through a diaper service. That’s because diaper services know how to get diapers really clean, and their industrial machines actually use less energy per diaper accomplishing that feat.
When you are out, sick, or someone else is babysitting your child, say, it’s okay to cheat on disposables, and when you are working, can afford them, and want a break, use disposables, but maybe give a generous donation to some environmental group to assuage your guilt.
If you decide to use only disposables, know (seriously) that the difference between the two diapers, as far as the environment is concerned, is pretty clear cut. Not so when it comes to one’s personal life. Understood. This line of reasoning can be applied to many situations and issues. It’s called relativism – relative to what you believe! As compared to situational ethics—what the situation calls for. In a time of emergency, use disposable diapers without feeling any guilt, but feeling much appreciation for the trees, the dump, the plastic, and the environmental cost. Cloth menstruation pads versus disposable pads? Not even “going to go there,” as the saying goes!
Remember that good hygiene—yours, what you do with your child, and later, what you teach your child—can make a big difference in your health, your child’s health, and anyone else’s you or your child come in contact with. In fact, hygiene is as important as what you eat and the air you breathe. So remember it when you change a diaper, dispose of a diaper, clean a diaper, and smile at your child, even though you have changed hundreds, and in a short time, thousands of diapers. For by the time your child is only 2-1/2 years old and ready to be toilet-trained, you and others in his or her life will have changed nearly 7,000 diapers! Surely it’s time to write that next blog, about the diaper-free movement, which is gaining traction among parents today. Hey, who knew genital hygiene and diaper issues could be so complicated—and so interesting?!!