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Vacation Diaries: Diaper changes in a car

Posted by Becca on 2/26/2011 to Cloth Diaper How-To

Most of us end up traveling by car when we’re on vacation. Even if we fly somewhere, a rental car is generally necessary to get us around once we arrive at our destination.

With car travel, comes the occasional necessity to change your baby’s diaper in the car or some other confined location. Here’s an opportunity for your finely-tuned problem solving skills—a parental necessity—to come into play.

Really, the only thing you absolutely must have for changing your baby is a flat space.

One good place for that is the cargo area or the “way back” as my sisters and I used to call it when we were little. Only in SUVs, vans or stations wagons are the cargo areas actually large enough to change your little one, though maybe an old Buick might have a trunk that’s spacious enough. Besides having ample space, the cargo areas generally have a durable surface such as wipeable rubber or a removable (and thus easily cleaned) indoor/outdoor carpet. Both of these components make it ideal for changing your baby’s diaper. However, when traveling, the cargo area is often filled with, well, cargo rendering it useless for your specific need at the moment.

The rear seats, especially when they’re bench style seating, are also good places for changing your baby’s diaper because they’re flat. Unless you have leather or vinyl surfaces, the drawback to using a seat is the possibility of messes that will stay wet for a few hours even when cleaned.

If someone is actually occupying those seats during your trip, you need to be very careful of such messes as your passengers may end up having to sit in them throughout the duration of the ride. Another downfall to using seats is that it’s easier for your baby to roll off them though, granted, they don’t have too far to fall.

When changing your baby in a back seat, it’s important to use your hand to restrain them and also it’s very important to have a changing pad that will stop unwanted messes from making their way into the seats.

If your rear seats are filled with either people or cargo, then you may have to use the front seat of your car to take care of your baby’s toiletry necessities. In this case, you may want to recline the seat which will give you somewhat of a flat surface—though unless you drive the Batmobile, it may never lay entirely flat. In this case you are not only on a surface that someone (namely me) will be sitting in, you are also in a very confined space with lots of bells and whistles surrounding it such as gear shifts and radio dials. Changing your baby’s diaper in the front seat is very challenging, but it’s the route that my husband and I generally take when traveling since our cargo space is filled with pack n plays and strollers and our back seat is occupied by the carseat.

Finally, if it really boils down to it, diapers can, in fact, be changed on your lap. This will lessen the amount of flat area in which you can work and will also increase the chances of soiled clothing (to yourself, mainly) but if all else fails, I can tell you from experience that your lap is a viable option. Granted, you do have to grow a second or third pair of arms for such an endeavor but if your husband or wife is especially understanding and helpful (as mine is), then they’ll gladly share their limbs with you to hold flailing legs and curious fingers out of harm’s poop’s way.

For all of the above scenarios it is important to have all of your diapering-on-the-go accessories on hand rather than waiting in the back seat once your baby lays diaper-less.

  1. You’ll need a changing pad. I like to use a prefold on top of my changing pad as an extra absorbent layer. That way if my princess decides to relieve herself, it doesn’t roll off a waterproof surface and onto surfaces like seats or laps.
  2. Grab your baby wipes. I like to not only have my little travel case handy, but to have one wipe out and ready to go—two if I know she’s got a poop bomb ready and waiting like a hidden land mine.
  3. Your wet bag on hand is an absolute must. It’s well and good to have it waiting for you in the diaper bag but if you have limited space and arms and you know you won’t be able to keep curious fingers (or toes) from investigating for long, put that sucker in the wet bag and zip it up right away.
  4. A clean diaper. I know that seems too obvious to even put on this list, but when you’re smelling poop and simultaneously trying to hold down a kicking baby while grabbing all your necessities, Mommy brain may just kick in and temporarily paralyze your senses. I find it especially useful to place the clean diaper ready and waiting underneath the soiled one before unfastening it so that my baby’s bottom is exposed to as little air time as possible, thus lessening her opportunity to soil the car.
Whether you use cloth diapers or disposable diapers, changing them in the car (or any other mode of transportation) is not easy. So, going into your journey prepared for every eventuality is an absolute must. With a little preparation and a lot of creativity, though, you can handle anything!