Whether you’re a first time parent to a newborn or a seasoned pro with a bunch of tiny tots, packing a diaper bag the right way can be a challenge. Which bag should you use? What should you keep in there? Do you really need so much with you at all times?
The answers, of course, will be different for each and every one of you reading this. Every child is unique.
We say this not in a “children are each special little miracles of their own” kind of way. We mean more like a “my child won’t leave the house without crying unless I pack his special blue crayon, a tennis ball, and an extra left shoe” kind of way.
With that being said, there are plenty of useful tips on packing a diaper bag that seem obvious once you’ve done it a thousand times. This article aims to break the process down into a few main categories. After that, We’ll leave all the crayon and tennis ball packing to you.
Diaper Bag Essentials Checklist – What Should I Pack?
It’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of actually packing. Even though your diaper bag will undergo plenty of changes as your child and family grow, the following are as close to universal items as you’re going to find.
They’re called diaper bags for a reason, after all.
For as long as your little one isn’t potty trained, you need to have at least one spare diaper in your bag at all times.
For longer outings you can take a couple more, but don’t be that parent with a full case in their bag.
Coming in at number two, pun intended, we have the greatest product in the history of mankind.
Seriously, if there is a problem wipes can’t fix, we haven’t come across it yet. From diaper helper to face cleaner, and from ice cream cone holder to temporary tattoo applier, we’re tempted to tell you to just fill your whole bag with them.
But a plastic baggie with a couple dozen, or a small wipes container, will probably be plenty.
Speaking of plastic bags, pack some. I always find a use for them, whether it’s a plastic shopping bag or a tiny ziplock one.
The large ones can hold some wet or dirty clothes. Small ones work for snacks, medicines, Q-tips, or any other little items that get easily misplaced. Even a tiny roll of doggie bags can help handle diapers.
The best part about plastic bags is you can fit a bunch of them in no space at all.
I know many parents whose kids never use pacifiers. But if yours do, then you know you would rather leave home with no shoes than with no spare pacifiers in your bag.
I always keep two extras myself, just in case.
Not to be confused with regular wipes, these come in handy for more sensitive jobs.
Runny noses turn raw quickly if you’re using tissues, but saline wipes get the job done without the redness.
Some people shy away from hand sanitizers, or “hanitizer” as it’s known in our house.
Overusing it can really dry your hands out, but not using it can make your kids get sick all throughout cold and flu season. I for one will risk the dry hands, thank you very much!
Pacifiers are notorious germ collectors, and a quick wipe down with a sanitizer comes in handy while you’re out.
Don’t go crazy here. Your diaper bag doesn’t need to be a walk-in closet. However, accidents happen, so come prepared.
A good rule of thumb is to bring one change of clothes for each kid, plus an extra pair of underwear while potty training.
Let’s be honest, if your child needs a full change of clothes twice, then you’re having a bad day and it’s time to head home and regroup anyway.
Many diaper bags come with a waterproof changing pad already inside. For diaper changes on the go, it’s a life saver.
From bathroom changing tables to your friend’s new carpeting, there’s always a good reason for separating your kid from whatever surface you happen to be using.
Bandaids & Neosporin
Children are injury magnets. They will skin their knees, scrape their elbows, and scratch their faces every five minutes of the day.
A small plastic bag with some simple first aid supplies is a great use of a diaper bag pocket.
Some crafty parents even use their wipes dispenser as a first aid caddy by holding the wipes up to the lid with a hair tie.
If wipes are my favorite baby product, then absorbent burp cloths come in at a close second.
Since they’re super absorbent and soft, they can do much more than catch drool and spit up. Even with older kids, they make a good rag when drinks are spilled.
Pen & Paper
Though most people have a cell phone on them for remembering appointments or making lists, this classic never goes out of style.
It takes up almost no room, and if your cell phone runs out of battery at a long picnic or road trip, you’ll be ready.
For extra space savings, fold a couple pieces of printer paper in half, then wrap them tightly around the pen. This way you can find both at once and save time.
A nice soft blanket can solve a surprising amount of life’s problems. It can soothe a tired or upset baby. It can do double duty as a changing pad if necessary. When all else fails, it can even keep a baby warm!
It’s fairly small and takes up minimal space in your diaper bag, and you never know when it comes handy because your baby suddenly needs some help for relief with their stuffy nose.
I don’t know whether or not you’re all for (or against) breastfeeding in public, but if there’s even the slightest chance of you needing to do so when out of the house, packing a nursing cover inside might be a good idea.
Ah, those nasty breast milk stains that come out of nowhere! You don’t want to deal with the hassle of cleaning those, trust me.
If you have the space for them, put an extra pair of clean breast pads in your diaper bag just in case something goes wrong with the ones you’re already wearing.
Diaper Rash Cream
You never know when you’ll use it – keeping a bad case of diaper rash un-dealt with is a terrible idea.
We also have a guide about how to apply diaper rash cream to your little boy or girl, while you’re here.
Is your little one giving you lots of trouble whenever you want to give them a good grooming session and clip their nails at home?
It’s kind of difficult to do so when they’re so alert and energetic all the time, even if you’ve bought one of the best baby grooming sets out there – ask me!
Pack a pair of nail clippers in your diaper bag and take it along, if the opportunity presents itself to you and they take a small nap, take advantage of this golden chance and get clipping!
The Bottle Crew
In addition to the previous checklist of universally useful items – if your baby isn’t eating solids yet, there are some more things you will want to pack.
You quickly get a good idea of how often your baby will need a bottle.
Plan how long you’ll be away from home, figure out how many bottles you’ll need, then add another just in case.
You never know when your little one will decide they want extra, and being out of bottles with a screaming child means your trip is immediately over.
Formula & Water
For those of you who are using formula, it is easier to pack extra. Simply carry a big bottle of sterile or filtered water and a small canister of formula powder. Then you just need an empty bottle for mixing and you’re all set.
Premade bottles, whether they’re breast milk or formula, should be kept cold until ready for use.
The insulated pouch on most diaper bags or a separate freezer bag can hold an ice pack and a few bottles easily.
A baby’s skin is much more sensitive to the sun than older children. A bright day can give them a sunburn, start overheating them, or just make them mad enough to start crying.
One tiny little sun hat can make a big difference.
In addition to the sun hat, you should also have sunscreen available at all times.
Your baby shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight when younger than 6 months of age to begin with, but you’re not in control of everything all the time and life happens, so you can only make the best of a bad situation.
This one isn’t exactly for your baby’s well-being, more so for your sake.
Leave a piece of paper (or whatever else you prefer) inside the diaper bag with your contact information.
That way, in the unfortunate case where you lose your diaper bag, there’s a chance that someone manages to get hold of you that way and give it back to you.
For older kids who are done with bottles, there are different needs and a new set of useful items to pack.
Remembering to throw some spare bendy straws into my diaper bag has saved the day countless times.
When kids aren’t skilled at drinking out of regular cups yet, a simple straw can prevent a big mess. They can also work as a colorful enticement to finish a drink.
Your child will probably have a favorite cup at some point. Just bring the cup along with you if that’s the case.
It’s way easier than arguing with them for ten minutes at a restaurant over whether or not they will agree to drink anything from a cup that’s not their absolute favorite.
If your little one still hasn’t made the transition from sippy cup to regular cup yet, but has successfully completed their transition from bottle to sippy cup nonetheless, pack their favorite sippy cup instead.
Food & Snacks
Try not to overdo it with food. Plan any meals you’ll be eating away from home, then add a few healthy snacks and drinks. They don’t need a dozen options, so keep it simple.
Specifically, I mean the lightweight and sticky types of placemats.
There are silicon molded flexible ones which roll up small and grab well on most surfaces. There are also thin plastic sticky ones which resemble food wraps, and which come in a huge variety of designs.
The silicon mats are washable in the dishwasher, while the thin plastic ones are good for one time use only. Both are great at keeping your kid eating off clean surfaces wherever they go.
Children are as messy as the day is long, so be sure to include a couple of bibs in your bag. They take up very little space, and can prevent a meal from turning into a change of clothes.
Crayons & Paper
There is a reason why so many restaurants provide a coloring page and some crayons while people wait for their food.
A small pack of crayons can keep your kids busy in all sorts of different settings. In a waiting room, at the grocery store, or during a car ride are all common places where crayons could prevent a tantrum or whining session.
What Not To Pack In Your Diaper Bag
Despite these long lists of what to add to your diaper bag, it’s equally important to know what to leave out. Less is more when it comes to packing.
If you can forget an item and not turn your car around to go get it, then you don’t really need it.
When I began living my life by this mantra, my diaper bag suddenly became much lighter and more manageable.
It can be a little scary at first for nervous parents to leave things at home, but you quickly adapt once you see you don’t need something. Plus, less stuff crammed into your bag means less searching for the important things when you need them.
So what’s on the ditch list?
If your child is sick or needs medicine, then of course bring it along.
But you don’t need to carry so much “just in case” medication like Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, or gas drops.
You’re not a walking pharmacy, and if your baby really needs some medicine you’ll probably be able to go home quickly for it anyway – or drop by the nearest drug store for that reason.
Okay, so it’s fine if they need one favorite toy, book or blanket. However, I’ve seen parents with ten or more toys crammed into their humongous bags, and I can’t help but laugh.
Don’t be that parent!
Unless you think you’ll use it during your current trip, then leave it at home.
This goes for clothes, food, diapers, and anything else sleep deprived parents get it into their heads to pack. Your diaper bag doesn’t have to be prepared for the apocalypse, know what I mean?
Wrapping It Up
Now that you’ve gone through your list and checked it twice, there’s one last thing you absolutely need to do.
Going out with your kids shouldn’t be looked at like such an expedition. Wherever you’re going, it most likely is close to home. And when it isn’t, you’re not stranded on a desert island.
If you really need something and you don’t have it, consider asking a fellow parent. During a recent trip to an aquarium, I was asked twice by strangers if I had a spare diaper they could use. It made me proud to see parents sticking together and helping out when needed.
Do your best to prepare an easy to carry diaper bag, then start focusing on where you’re going instead of just what you’re bringing along.