Public diaper changes have to happen at some point, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Consider the fact that statistically many parents will have needed to change a dirty diaper or two in a cramped plane cabin, so don’t let public spaces put you off in terms of smell and confinement!
Parents gotta do what they gotta do! Here are 13 ways to change your little guy/gal’s diaper without a changing table…
1. Use Your Car’s Backseat or Trunk
The trunk or car backseat makes a great flat and stable spot for a quick diaper change.
The backseat allows for a lot of privacy if you keep all the doors and windows closed, and the trunk can offer more space than most changing tables, which is much safer for a squirmy little one!
Make sure your trunk or backseat is clean and clear of any debris.
Depending on how hot a day it is, you could keep the windows closed until you’ve disposed of the diaper, ideally in a compact, collapsible diaper pail that can fit in the car.
2. Find Clean Grassy Area Outside
If the weather is mild enough and the ground isn’t covered in thick mud/snow, a grassy spot outdoors is a fine place to lay down your waterproof on-the-go changing pad (ideally one like this with built-in diaper and wipes storage).
Do your best to find a quiet, remote spot (just not under a tree or right in the middle of the park/field with heavy foot traffic). Also, don’t worry about the smell as it’ll be less obtrusive outside.
3. Try a Park Bench
In a pinch, a park bench provides a handy stable surface for diaper changing.
To avoid contaminating a public bench where others will sit, try to lay an extra blanket beneath your portable changing pad and sanitize your hands and wipe down the bench surface with sanitizing wipes once you’re done.
As some park benches can be a little on the slim side, make things as safe as possible by using a contoured changing mat with curved sides and a safety belt to keep your baby secure.
You could also see if a picnic table bench is available to provide a little more room for the baby as it may be a wider flat surface.
4. Use Countertop in Bathroom
Some bathrooms have large countertops at the sink area that can make for a great makeshift changing station (at a comfortable height too!).
Make sure the bathroom isn’t crowded, and set up on a countertop space far from the entry door if you can to limit odor pollution (but try to stay away from noisy hand dryers).
Lay baby down on a changing pad or blanket, and once you’re done, the sink is right there for thorough hand washing.
Once the baby is in the stroller and all cleaned up, give the countertop a quick wipe-down with sanitizing wipes.
5. Slip Into a Changing Room
With a screen curtain, hanging hooks, and ample floor or bench space, a changing room/dressing room in the mall is an awesome option!
Just be sure to bring a portable diaper pail or resealable plastic bag with you to dispose of that poop bomb ASAP and sanitizing wipes to clean down the area.
Because you’re in close quarters with other people, it can be courteous to let a member of staff know that you can’t find an appropriate space and would really appreciate the use of their private rooms.
If the place looks busy, let shoppers in the adjacent cubicles know what you’re doing and politely apologize/laugh it off. (If they’re rude about it, that’s on them).
6. Create a Sanitary Space on Bathroom Floor
Assuming it isn’t packed with people, bathroom floors are a very safe spot for public diaper changing since there’s a lot of space and no balancing act.
Give obviously dirty-looking floors a swerve. Otherwise, set up a waterproof, washable changing mat in one corner of the floor.
Most public bathrooms are cleaned once an hour at best and at least once daily on average, so rest assured that the area will be cleaned and freshened up at some point.
As you’re already in the bathroom and, presumably, near a trash can, you can seal up the used diaper tightly and immediately toss it, followed by thorough hand washing to minimize odor and bacteria.
7. Change Baby on Your Lap (for Small Babies)
While not as sturdy as other suggestions, your lap can make a fine built-in changing station when you really have no options.
Place your baby on your lap with their feet toward your tummy and their head on your knees. Proceed as normal, but be extra cautious to prevent a fall.
Try to do the lap change in as secluded a spot as you can. Here are examples of changing a small baby on your lap and some tips for a larger child.
8. Change Baby Standing Up (for Bigger Babies)
Once your little one gets the hang of standing up on their own (after about 9-12 months), this is a good time to safely try a standing diaper change.
Have your baby stand up on the floor or a dry sink countertop while you quickly remove their diaper and get them cleaned up.
Portable changing pads like this that help secure the fresh diaper in place using magnets can make the whole process even easier!
As with other changing methods, try to pick as remote a spot as possible, and wipe down any surfaces to prevent contamination.
9. Ask an Associate Where To Go
Please don’t suffer in silence! If you can’t find an appropriate spot to change your little one, simply ask the store/restaurant/cafe manager or employee if they know of a place you can sort out the stinky situation.
You never know; they may kindly direct you to a private space like a barely used office or storeroom. Reassure them that you will sanitize the area afterward, and keep things as tidy as they were beforehand.
10. Use Your Reclining Stroller
The next best thing after a diaper change in your car is your baby’s stroller, despite what the baby in the image above seems to think. (It’s really not that bad!)
Most strollers recline, allowing you to lean the baby’s seat all the way back for a flat and stable diaper-change surface.
You can lay your changing pad on the stroller seat and also have easy access to fresh diapers, wipes, and a bag for quick disposal of the dirty ones.
The beauty of using the stroller is that you can change them anywhere – even in the bathroom of a mall or restaurant that’s too crowded.
11. Find a Secluded Corner
When pressed and out of options, simply find a quiet spot wherever you are and just do what needs to be done, whether that’s a standing change in one corner of the mall or a lap change in the nook of a cafe.
All you can do is conceal your baby as best as you can and dispose of the diaper quickly in a sealable plastic bag to trap the smell.
As Amanda puts it on The Bump discussion thread about public diaper changes: “I’d rather get looks from people than let my daughter sit in her own mess. Others will get over it.”
12. Shopping Cart
With a disposable changing pad in tow on your shopping trip, the bottom of your shopping cart can be a great little semi-private diaper-changing station!
To change them in the cart, use a baby hammock that fits perfectly inside most carts, creating a more accessible and sanitary changing surface.
A shopping cart comfort cover can work well too, and it comes with an attached toy to keep your baby occupied while you get the job done.
Find a quiet corner of the store, and be sure not to forget the dirty diaper in the cart when you’re done!
13. Unused Seat or Booth Away From Other Patrons
If you’re able to find a free seat or booth that’s away from others (even if it’s in a dining area), then this is an okay spot for a quick diaper change. Always ask a member of staff first if there’s a more suitable place to go.
If there is no other place available, lay down a blanket or changing pad before starting, and clean the surfaces with sanitizing wipes afterward.
If you’re in a place that serves food, be sure to seal the used diaper in a bag for home disposal rather than tossing it in a trash can on the premises.
Hopefully, the above ideas have made you feel a little less helpless about where and how to change your little one safely when out and about.
Just try to keep other people in mind wherever you go by having disposal bags on hand if you can’t toss the stinky diaper right away.
Armed with your diaper bag must-haves and polite “can’t-be-helped” smile, you’ll always be ready for any diaper emergency (even if others aren’t!).
Rebecca is a seasoned copywriter and researcher with over a decade of experience, specializing in parenting topics. With a passion for all aspects of raising children, from breastfeeding to potty training.