Why Do Babies Cry During Diaper Changes? & Solutions

You’ve been told that as soon as your baby starts crying and you can’t immediately figure out why, check their diaper – it might be because they’ve pooped or pee’d in it and it’s now making them uncomfortable. But what if your baby is constantly fussy and crying during diaper changes?

First off, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat – almost every baby will act all fussy and give you a very hard time when changing their diapers at one phase in their life. So, take a deep breath and know that you’re not going through this alone – all of this is normal in the life of almost every parent out there.

That’s not to say that you should just leave it up to them to “outgrow” this phase on their own, though – that would take forever! In the following sections, we’ll be discussing why babies do this and what you – on the other hand – can do to get them to stop.

Why Does My Baby Cry When I Change Their Diaper?

1) Anxiety

You should really take a step back and look at how you approach your baby’s diaper changes.

Sometimes (and you could actually be unaware that you’re guilty of this) you could be so stressed out, in a rush and letting out negative vibes – that it all rubs off on your baby and gets to them.

A calm baby during diaper changes is influenced by a calm parent doing the change first and letting out positive energy. When you’re in a good mood, that’s also going to rub off on your baby.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “It is very true that anxiety affects diaper changing time (and other situations).

Infants and children somehow pick up on parental anxiety, whether it is in regards to the task at hand or other things going on in their lives.

In clinical practice I frequently address parental anxiety and educate them on how it affects their children.

When needed, I recommend that they seek professional help.”

2) Decision Making

When it comes to diapering babies, most will continue to wear diapers until they reach 3 years of age. While some babies might do well without them as soon as 2 years of age, the 3 years of age mark is more realistic.

When they’re still just a few months of age, they won’t be doing much on their own since their bodies have not developed much yet.

However, when they’re 2 or 3 years of age and have grown enough to be doing things on their own now (such as playing with toys or just running around the house), it’s much harder for you to actually get them to stop what they’re doing at the time to have their diaper changed.

Sometimes and even if they’re not really doing much at the time, they’ll just decide to test your patience and put up stiff resistance against having you change their diaper. Who knows what’s going through their head at the time, but that’s just how kids are!

3) Feeling Cold

Well, what do you expect? You’re taking clothes off of them and are exposing them to feeling cold until you put a new, clean diaper back on.

Babies can’t tell you with words just how much they hate the cold and how uncomfortable it makes them feel, so they try to get their message through to you by crying.

4) Inefficiency

Just like almost everything else in life, efficiency is key.

While you should take your time while changing your baby’s diapers, taking too much time to get the job done to the extent that you become inefficient is not what you should be aiming for.

The less time your baby needs to lay on their back for you to finish what you have to do, the less fuss they’re likely to make and the happier everyone ends up being.

5) Hunger

Feeding your baby and making sure they’re feeling full should always be a priority on your to-do list – changing their wet or dirty diaper can wait until after their hunger has been satisfied.

Or else, good luck trying to change a hungry baby’s diaper without endless crying throughout!

6) Not Feeling It

You and I know that babies have to be lying on their backs during diaper changes, but just how on earth can we convince them about it when all they feel like doing instead is sitting up, jumping all over the bed/couch or crawling around in circles because – let’s face it – it’s just much more fun!

7) Morning Time

You’ll find that your baby is much more likely to give you a terribly hard time changing their diapers first thing in the morning right after they wake up than, say, sometime in the evening.

8) Unfamiliar

Newborns unfamiliar with having their diapers changed and still going through this “new” experience are very likely to cry simply because they’re not used to any of this.

As they get exposed to more and more diaper changing with time, they’ll get used to this and – as a result – will make less of a fuss out of it.

9) Uncomfortable Diapers

Are you sure your baby actually feels comfortable wearing the diapers you have for them? Make sure the size is a proper fit first, because having your little one wear diapers that are too small is only begging for trouble.

Also make sure that your baby isn’t getting any problems from these specific diapers such as severe diaper rash.

You might even find that you need to change the diaper type altogether, because the one you’re currently having them wear is doing a terrible job at absorbing what your baby throws its way.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: ” In addition to the usual pattern of diaper rash, there can be another issue.

Clinically I have noticed that too tight fitting diapers tend to cause a friction type of eczema on the lower back and where the elastic is in contact with the upper thighs.

This can be very uncomfortable for babies.

The AAP has a diaper changing technique article that is worth a look.

How Can I Stop My Baby From Crying During Diaper Changes?

Sick and tired of all that high-pitched crying and screaming your baby seems to throw your way each and every time you need to get their diaper changed?

While you may be praying for the time they get potty trained to come along already so they can stop wearing diapers for good, it doesn’t have to be all misery till then.

Whether you’re having their diaper changed at home but can still do without the headache, or you’re doing so outside the house and would rather not deal with the embarrassment of having a baby uncontrollably cry that way – the following list of tips will make your life easier when your baby’s hating it.

1) Distraction

If there was ever something all of us parents should be thankful for, it’s how easy it is to distract babies.

How exactly can you take advantage of this fact during diaper changes? Pretty easy, really. Some stuff (objects and toys) should be kept for your baby to interact and play with only during diaper change time.

If they’re allowed access to these objects and toys during all times and even when they’re not getting their diapers changed, they’ll soon lose interest and the distraction effectiveness factor will eventually die down.

You don’t need to go overboard here and try to re-invent the wheel – just about any object you can get them to hold (one that doesn’t pose any sort of physical danger to them) will get the job done just fine.

An example of a suitable distraction object you can reserve for diaper changes is a tissue or two. On the other hand, an example of something not too suitable is your set of keys, because of the danger present if your baby decides to put it in their mouth or eyes.

2) Make It Fun

Who ever said that diaper changes have to be boring and feel like the same-old, same-old for your baby each and every single time? Give them something to look forward to!

Make it fun for them and try to make them laugh, as laughing puts them at ease and helps keeps stress at bay.

Play with their nose, show them a string of different facial expressions and ridiculous gestures, try making some amusing sounds that take their mind off what’s going on and get them smiling, sing a song that puts them at ease, etc ..

If you find it hard to multitask and make your baby laugh at the same time you’re getting their diaper changed, don’t hesitate to get a family member’s helping hand (or helping face in this case).

Children squealing may be annoying to the ears, but this is one of the times you should actually look forward to it, because it means you’re doing something right.

You can even get creative and make the actual diaper change a small part of a bigger picture by incorporating it as part of an overall activity.

3) Lead Up To It

If you think the best way to go about doing this is taking your baby by surprise, think again! You have to gradually lead up to it.

Trying to force your baby into it just so you can get it over with (even though the temptation is huge at times, I must say) will only lead to your baby trying to resist and – you guessed it – an endless crying fest.

4) Respect

Even if your baby isn’t old enough to understand what you’re saying when speaking words, they can easily sense when they’re being treated with respect.

So, just forcefully grabbing your baby and trying to get this over with as fast as possible is a surefire way to get them crying.

Again, take things slow, keep your cool and you should be fine.

If you notice they’re occupied with something at the time (which is almost always going to be an object or toy they’re keeping themselves busy with), try telling them to take it with them and follow you to the changing table.

That way, they’ll still have all the fun in the world with whatever they were doing at the time and won’t be interrupted, and you’ll be able to get their diaper changed in peace as well. Win-win!

5) Something To Look At

If you want an effective distraction to make use of during diaper changes, give your baby something to look at.

This could be something as simple as a view from the window they can gaze at, or a video (one that’s interesting to them) you have playing in the background on a tablet.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Although “screen time” is not recommended for infants unless it is a Skype, FaceTime type of interaction, using it during diaper changes is one of the few times I feel the use of these devices is warranted.

The infant calms down quickly and the diaper change can be completed efficiently.”

6) Take It Slow

Your baby will appreciate you taking your time during the diaper change and not trying to rush things through. Taking things slow and giving this process the time it needs will also allow you to better connect with your little one throughout.

This is especially true when you’re changing your baby’s diaper first thing in the early morning after they wet it at night – give them a good 15 to 20 minutes after they wake up to get their full alertness levels back, after which you’ll be cleared to make the change.

7) Connect

Speaking about connecting with your baby while changing their diaper, talking to them (even though they might not understand any or all of what you’re saying) makes a huge difference for the better.

In a calm and soothing voice, talk to your child and tell them what’s happening in simple words. If they’re at an age where they’re developed enough to understand what you’re saying – the more explanation you do, the less likely they are to put up a stiff resistance.

For starters, tell them that their diaper is dirty/wet and ask them whether or not they’ve taken notice of that. Then, explain how you’re replacing the wet/dirty diaper with a new one so that they’re all fresh and clean, and so they feel more comfortable as well.

All of this puts your baby at ease and, instead of having them feel like you’re the bad guy here that’s trying to impose something on them, makes them develop a connection with you and feel like you’re the good guy trying to make them feel better (which – in reality – you actually are).

Changing your baby’s diapers is also a golden opportunity for you to connect with them through eye contact, so take advantage of that as well.

8) Portable Changing Pad

If you really don’t want to interrupt your baby from doing whatever they’re busy with at the time, because you know that would trigger an endless bout of crying, then making use of a portable changing pad would be a good idea.

With a portable changing pad, you’ll be able to change their diaper right then and there on the spot without having to interrupt them and move them on to the changing table.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “The AAP has a recently published article regarding changing tables in public restrooms.

I think it is interesting and would be good read.”

9) Proper Temperature

Changing your baby’s diaper should only be done in a warm enough room to avoid having them feel cold when they’re naked in between removing the old, dirty diaper and putting on the new, clean one.

10) Minimize Discomfort

If you know for a fact that your baby gets uncomfortable when you have them lay on their back to get their diaper changed, try going through the change while having them stand up instead and see if that works better for them.

This is, of course, going to be more difficult for you to do if they have a dirty diaper.

Just a wet diaper? You’re more than likely to get it changed easily while they’re standing up (if they prefer it done that way).

But be warned that you may just need another person on standby for help. It does get easier the more you practice doing it, though.

11) Involved In Decision Making 

If your baby’s old enough to be able to understand what you’re saying in words and communicate back by using words as well, getting them involved (to a certain extent) in decision making can sometimes tremendously help.

For example, instead of calling all the shots yourself, here’s an example of a possible scenario that might unfold.

You: “Time for a diaper change!”.
Baby: “No! Not now! Can’t you see that I’m in the middle of driving this car?!”.
You: “Well, alright then, I’ll give you the time you need to finish, but on one condition – we’ll get your diaper changed in 5 minutes, deal?”.
Baby: “Deal!”.

And there you have it – you connected with them, you got them involved in the decision making process, and you got what you wanted.

12) Involved In The Process

It’s not just involving your baby in the decision making that matters, involving them in the process is just as effective.

For example (and if they’re old enough to be able to do so), ask them if they’d like to take off their wet/dirty diaper on their own, or hold the wipes for you in the meantime until you need to use them. After they do, it would obviously be your job to put the new one on properly.

But, and even if this seems like a very minor detail to you, it might make diaper changing all the more interesting to your baby – not to mention that it also helps develop their motor skills.

13) Let Them Walk

While you may think that you’re doing your baby a favor and helping them feel better when you carry them around for a diaper change, not all babies appreciate this, especially if they’re being interrupted from something they’re already doing at the time.

Instead, consider letting them walk with you over to the changing table. That way, they’ll feel more involved in all of this, and less “forced” into doing something against their will.

14) Live Demonstration

Doing a live diaper-change demonstration on one of your baby’s dolls in front of their eyes and heaping praise on the doll for how “good” it was throughout the change might be an excellent primer to ease your way into getting your baby all excited to have their diapers changed (for real) and have you praise them just as well.

15) Story Time

Having an audio version of a story be played in the background makes for a great distraction (and great entertainment) for baby to take their mind off of the actual diaper change.

16) Pay Attention To Water Intake

If you find that your baby’s frequently waking up in the middle of the night with a wet diaper, then you should probably pay attention to their water intake when it’s close to their bedtime.

A good rule of thumb to follow to avoid this is limiting your baby’s water intake around 3 hours before bedtime.

Keep them properly hydrated throughout the day and ensure they get their daily needs met 3 hours before their bedtime.

17) Avoid Waking Them Up

If you absolutely must change your baby’s diaper in the middle of the night and they’re in deep sleep, you should really consider doing so while not waking them up – and yes, it’s very doable.

If you manage to pull this off, you can get back to sleep yourself and will be let off the hook. If you fail and your baby wakes up to you putting a new diaper on them, however, then you’re out of luck!

It’s something we’ve all tried, though – so been there, done that!

18) Kill The Routine 

You and I get bored of routines and doing the same old, same old every time – and the same holds true for babies as well.

For example, don’t always try to change your baby’s diaper in the same room, on the same bed, in the same spot. Try using a new room in an environment they’re not very used to, that could break the routine and give them something to be distracted with while you do your thing.

Should I See A Doctor?

There’s a difference between normal crying and fuss when trying to change your baby’s diaper and intense crying like you’ve never seen before.

If you notice your baby is crying with intensity during diaper changing sessions, especially if this is happening frequently and not just once every now and then, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor and have them get checked on.

The doctor will be able to diagnose or rule out any possible medical or health problems that might be causing your baby to experience excruciating pain whenever they’re placed to lay on their back.

You see, we could have been pleading to get our babies to stop crying all this time while all they were trying to do is tell us they were in agonizing pain!

Wrapping Up

To conclude, don’t make a big deal out of your baby crying while getting their diaper changed.

The more fuss you make out of it and the more you focus on it, the more tempted they’ll be to just continue doing what they’re doing because – well – it’s working on you!

Some stuff that bothers your baby during diaper changes you’ll eventually learn all about with time (and will end up making an effort to avoid), while other stuff you can’t really avoid due to the nature of all of this – you’ll just have to make use of the tips mentioned above to make it easier for them.

Just step back, take a deep breath, calm down and use a mixture of as much of the methods mentioned above as you’d like to. They’re all effective – each in their own way – and can make your life that much easier as a parent when used together.

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Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. After graduating from Kalamazoo College and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, she completed her pediatric residency at Overlook and Morristown Memorial Hospitals. She is board certified in General Pediatrics.

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