Excuse me while I change my baby’s nappy!

nappy changing in publicYou’re out and about with your little bundle of joy when all of a sudden you smell something… You perform “THE SNIFF” (you know the one – your nose just right against your baby’s bum), and there it is – that unmistakable smell which just tells you that you’ve just GOT TO change that nappy RIGHT NOW! Oh wait, you’re not at home, and there are no changing facilities in sight. What to do?! It’s time for you to change your baby’s nappy IN PUBLIC!But what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to changing a baby’s nappy in public places?


Of course it goes without saying that if you can and if they’re available, you’ll use the provided baby changing facilities, but what if there aren’t any? Or what if you can’t get to them, for whatever reason?

So just to have a bit of fun, and without expecting what follows to be anything too ‘serious’ or in any way prescriptive, let’s have a look at some of the do’s and don’ts of nappy changing in public!

At the park or playground

As long as you’re not too close to a family having a picnic, it should be socially acceptable to take out your changing mat / towel  / blanket / spare clothes / whatever-you-can-lay-your-hands-on (as long as it doesn’t belong to said family having a picnic) and change your baby’s nappy there and then, shouldn’t it? As long as you take all your dirty paraphernalia with you, and leave everything as spotless as you found it, why not?

At the beach

Aaaah the beach! If it’s a managed beach, it may have all the baby changing facilities that you’ll ever need. If not, you may still be lucky enough to find toilets and changing areas nearby that you can use comfortably. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury and on a beach, and you might just find yourself in a situation where you need to change your baby’s nappy where you are.

If your baby has been playing in the sand (or despite all your best efforts you haven’t been able to keep baby’s hands away from it), you may find it a bit tricky to get rid of all the sand in the old nappy before you put on a new one! Just be prepared for sand to end up everywhere – I guess you’ll just have to deal with it when you get home or have access to water. A good tip that I read somewhere is to have Talco powder at the ready when at beach – it helps to wipe the sand right off the skin.

So, once again, unless you’re too close to someone else’s personal space, you should be able to change your baby’s nappy on a beach without upsetting people too much.

On a public bench

It all depends on where the bench is and whether anyone else is sitting on it, of course, but if you can’t get to any nappy changing facilities, and if the weather allows it, benches can be good makeshift places to change your baby’s nappy on. You can lay your baby flat on the bench and still have space for anything else you need in order to change your baby’s nappy. If I was walking by, I don’t think I would have much of an objection if I saw a parent changing their baby on a bench, as long as they make sure that they keep the place clean for the next person who will need to use it! Of course, a baby on a bench is a baby who should never be left unattended and should be watched and kept safe at all times.

On the train

Well, we’re going back to the issue of invading someone’s personal space here – most trains (and we’re not talking London Underground here) will have toilets and baby changing facilities, (if you’re lucky), which you can try and use instead of just changing your baby on your seat. If no one is sitting next to you however, it’s tempting to just lay your baby on the seat next to yours and discretely change them there. But whilst you may feel that you’re not disturbing anyone, be prepared to get some not-so-understanding looks and comments! Some people won’t be particularly impressed by the smell or sight of a poo nappy, or they simply might think that it’s the not the time and the place for you to do it and would rather you used the toilets or waited until you get off the train, if you can. But you do what you need to do…

On a plane

Ditto if you’re on a plane. Unless the plane is taking off or landing or the seatbelt signal is switched on for turbulence, and you can’t leave your seat, you should be able to change your baby’s nappy on the foldable changing table in the toilets. If you can’t leave your seat though, it’s really tricky to change a nappy on a plane – unless you’re sitting with your own family, the people next to you might end up being quite unimpressed by your nappy-changing-on-my-knee skills. But hey, you may be surprised and find just the person who will be willing to land you a hand!

In the boot of the car

Depending on the car you have, and of course provided that your boot is not full of luggage for that weekend trip to Grandma’s house, the boot of your car might just be the best flat surface available to change your baby’s nappy when you’re out and about. If I can wait until we park or get back to the car after an outing, I always prefer the boot of my car to public changing facilities. This is just my preference of course, but unless it’s freezing cold outside, I know my baby is comfortable lying flat on his back, I have enough space for the bits and pieces I need, and I feel like we’re using ‘our own equipment’. Plus I’m away from prying eyes, and no one can really say that I’m in their space and bothering them. So far, I’ve never had any disapproving comments here, but you never know.

In the back seat or passenger seat of the car

Of course if the boot of the car is too full, and there’s no way to empty it for a quick nappy change (or if it’s just too cold outside), you can always be resourceful and change your baby inside the car, provided that you have the space and that you don’t mind doing it, of course. I personally haven’t done this too often (maybe once, ever?), and it’d be my preference to only change my baby in the car if I have a mat or anything that I can lay them on before I change them.

At someone else’s house (or in your house in front of strangers!)

This is a tricky one. First of all, it really depends on whose house it is. Is it the house of a close friend or family member? Do they have young children of their own? What’s the occasion for the visit? If it’s a formal gathering with lots of people, for example, I’d say you’d need to ask your guest if there’s anywhere a bit more private where they wouldn’t mind you go and change your baby. And if only you there, visiting with your baby, it really does depend on what their preference is. People with babies may have a changing table / area already set up where they’d rather you go and change your baby’s nappy. Others may prefer that you don’t venture into their house for whatever reason and would rather you changed the baby in the living room, for example. This is probably all down to people’s personal preferences, and what you do at someone else’s house would probably be dictated by that.

Spinning this one on its head, I’ve also had to change my baby’s nappy in my own house but in front of people who had come to see me / us (from health visitors, to friends and even potential nanny candidates!) The truth is, when your baby needs changing and you’re talking to someone that you don’t feel you can or should leave on their own in your house, you just do what you need to do. On these occasions I’ve been known to take out the changing bag and change my baby there and then. Poo or not poo. Who knows what these people were thinking and whether they went home saying to their partners: “do you know what happened to me today?!?”

At playgroup or other baby friendly places

Playgroups are generally held at Children’s Centres or other child-friendly facilities, so more often than not you should be able to find changing facilities in their toilets. But, if you’re attending a class, a course, a talk or an informal gathering with other mums with children of similar ages, I don’t think it would look unreasonable if you changed your baby’s nappy in the room. Having said that, I think you should always try and be respectful of others and try and find a quiet corner or the side, well outside other people’s personal space, and if possible making sure that they can’t see or smell the content of your baby’s nappy.

Restaurants / cafes and places where people are eating or drinking

Different people will probably have different opinions on this one, but it’s pretty fair to say that the majority of people eating out or drinking somewhere are very likely to mind if you decide to change your baby’s poo nappy right next to where they’re having their food or drink! It’s not always the case, but most places should have baby changing facilities that you can use, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to use the facilities instead of being out there in full view (and smell) of everyone enjoying a nice meal! But you may have been in the odd situation where you’ve just had to do it, or you’ve seen someone else doing it, so we’d like to hear your stories!

The bottom line is that, as a parent, you do what you need to do, even if that means that you end up attending to your baby’s needs in places where you never thought you’d change a nappy. Ever! We all try and balance our babies’ needs with the needs of the people around us, hopefully using common sense and respect wherever we can. And I’d like to conclude with this quote from Natal teacher Sharon: “everyone’s different in what they may or may not think it’s acceptable or right or wrong, and that’s fine”, so sometimes you may have done something that you don’t think was anything to write home about, while the people who saw you left feeling disgusted and in disbelief! Or vice versa!

Changing nappies in public is a tricky one – we’d love to hear your views as to what you find acceptable and what you find offensive – please do share your stories with us!

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