I have probably changed more than 20,000 diapers in the last ten years. I’m not claiming that’s any record, but I think it’s enough to say I am, at the least, experienced. I have some thoughts about diapering that might help to change it from an unpleasant task to -- believe it or not -- a very lovely time spent with your child.
First of all lets try to change our perspective about diapering. Instead of thinking of this as a yucky thing you have to get over with as quickly as possible, tell yourself that now is your chance to have a little one-on-one time with that delightful little person you love. After all think of what an intimate thing this is for a child. They lie there naked at the mercy of a much bigger and stronger person while their most delicate and sensitive areas are cleaned. If it had to happen to you, how would you like it to be done? Probably slowly, gently and with great respect. I believe that this is how most babies like it too.
So lets talk about the elephant in the room -- poop. I grew up a veterinarian’s daughter on a farm in South Dakota. I have dealt with poop of many kinds, all my life. What I’m saying is, poop doesn’t bother me.
I know it bothers other people, though.
I know people who can’t change a diaper without gagging. If they accidentally get some poop on their hands they feel the urge to call the CDC. The fear that their wiggling little child is going to get poop on their own foot, or the changing pad (which by the way has an easy to change washable cover), or -- heaven forbid -- the parent, is enough to make some people want to pin the child down like an Olympic wrestler. The truth is that your feelings about poop probably go way back to how your diapers were changed and how you learned to use the toilet. Something to consider when you change the next diaper, if you want your child to feel differently some day.
So what do you do to change these deeply ingrained feelings about poop? Whatever you have to. Wear gloves if it makes you feel less afraid to get messy. Put scented oil under your nose before each diaper change, if it will help. Be sure to have disinfectant wipes available to wipe down surfaces (never babies) afterwards, if that will give you peace of mind. But if you can just think of poop as a natural thing that everybody does, it will help make diaper changes less fraught with peril.
So, once you’ve changed your mindset about diapers, you’re ready for a lovely intimate moment between parent/caregiver and child that is in no way gross or repellant. So turn off your cell phone and tell everyone else you are not to be interrupted for a few minutes and let’s get started.
But wait, before you invite your little companion to join you be sure you have everything you need already there, wipes, diapers, creams. It helps to be prepared.
Now the fun can begin.
Truly invite your child to join you. I’m not kidding. When you notice he needs a change wait for a time when he has a natural pause in his play, then tell them you are ready to change his diaper and hold out your hands. Wait just a moment and he will let you know he’s ready to go with you.
What if your child refuses your invitation? You might reply with something like “You want to stay and play with the ball. I will come back after I put these books away and then it will be time to go change your diaper.” What you will find more often than not is that when diapering time is special one on one time and they get the full attention of their parent or caregiver children are thrilled to go to the changing table.
Once you are at the changing table there are three things that help make this work. Connection, Communication and Participation.
Connection: Establish a connection with your child. Look into her eyes. This might be a good time to kiss those little fingers when they reach up for you. Let her know she has 100% of your attention. Establish a connection between the two of you and keep it the whole diaper change. Because you want to try to work together you don’t want to offer toys to hold for distraction. You want your child engaged with you, and what you two are doing together.
Communication: Start talking. Even to very young babies who may not understand what you are saying. Communicate with gestures and touch. You might say, “I’m going to undo this tab on your diaper.” And before you undo the tab just tap it a little and wait. Soon you will notice your baby is paying attention to what is happening. Talk your child step-by-step through the whole process slowly, giving them time to take in what is happening.
Participation: Encourage your child to help. Ask him to pull his leg out of the pant leg, and wait to see if he does. Ask her to lift their tush when you need to slide a fresh diaper under and wait. Because even very young babies will try to help a little. Now you two are truly working together. The child is not an obstacle, but rather your partner.
What happens if your child doesn’t want to help? What happens if she wants to investigate the edge of the changing pad instead? Your baby is your partner in this lovely moment you two are having, so go with the flow. “I see you are interested in the corner of the changing pad. It’s soft and blue (you touch the pad too.)” Re-establish that connection. Look into her eyes or touch her hand. Whenever you two are done looking at that this new and interesting thing, then say, “Now lets try to put this tab on (touch the tab). Can you pull the tab?” (wait) “I will pull it.” And so on.
Ok, this sounds fine, but what about the really wiggly kids? The movers and the shakers. Ones will not stay still at all. Lets see if we can work together on this. Like I said at the beginning. It is a very vulnerable thing to lie on your back, naked and let someone change you. Many children prefer to stand. If your child insists on this I recommend you give it a try. It can be done and soon the two of you can get really good at it.
The ones I find more difficult are the crawlers who are not ready to stand yet. It is a little tough to get to all the right spots when a baby is on all fours. But stay connected, communicate and Encourage Participation and they will either get to the point where they can stand or you will get good at doing a kneeling diaper change. Whatever it is, you can work it out. Just the two of you -- if you are partners. If wiggling gets too out of hand, just stop for a minute. Let them move how they want to and then start again. Make eye contact. If the baby turns away. That’s fine. Try touching their hand. You might say “Ok, we still need to put this fresh diaper on. Can you hold it for me? Thanks. Can you unfold it? How are we going to do this with you standing? Can you spread your legs wide and I will see if I can pull this up?” etc. Now, I do not recommend that the child be able to run free during diaper time. Whether it is a changing table or a space on the floor. There is a definite diapering area and that is where you stay. You can move around a bit, but stay in this area.
I want to be clear that, no matter what you do, there are still going to be some diaper changes that fall short of bliss. The idea is that since most children have their diapers changes multiple times a day for several year that the majority of these interactions are pleasant. The child will learn that their body is to be treated with respect by others. Unlike the child who is forced to become a submissive recipient during diaper changes since these children are actively involved in their own care they will learn to pay attention to their bodies instead of tuning out. Maybe most importantly they will know that caring for their basic needs is important to you and that you deem it worth of your undivided attention. This will build trust that will last a lifetime.
So next time you smell that telltale sign that a diaper needs changing, enjoy!