How to change a diaper on a plane

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I am a frequent reader of Offbeat Mama & am expecting my first child in May. My husband and I will be traveling with the baby in July, when the baby is about 8 weeks old. We’re flying from the East Coast to Denver. I keep seeing advice on dealing with breastfeeding while traveling, and specifically on airplanes, which is great.

What I don’t think I’ve seen is any consideration of how to deal with diaper changes in transit. We’re planning to cloth diaper as much as possible, but we’re open to using disposables when necessary. My first thought was to look for a direct flight if at all possible (trying to minimize the pressurization discomfort, not to mention the potential for running through an airport with a babe in tow), but now I wonder if it might not be better to look for two shorter flights, and plan for a diaper change during the layover. Do you have thoughts about which might be better? Have you changed an infant on a plane? -Kate

Hello Kate,

First of all — congratulations! As a May birthday myself, I can assure you that May babies are amongst the best out there. 🙂

Secondly, to answer your final question first: Yep, I’ve changed diapers on a plane more times than I can count and it’s utterly doable, especially with a dinky newborn. My least ‘favourite’ diaper-changing flight was a nine-hour overnight, international trip when I was eight weeks pregnant, very nauseated, and my then-eighteen-month-old had a vicious stomach flu. Not a great combination, especially in mid-air — at one point we were timing a mere four minutes between diaper changes. But we managed, and on the plus side, all that walking to and from the cabin did wonders for avoiding DVTs!

As to the practicalities of your trip: if finances don’t factor into it, I would advise looking into the direct flight options. As well as your very sensible reasons above, one flight means you run a smaller risk of being stuck with a delay. Additionally, any connecting flights usually run through the airline’s hub, which means it’s likely to be a connection at a busy airport with a greater distance between gates.

With regard to the diaper changes; unless you have a terrifically predictable newborn (and most newborns are terrific, but rarely predictable!), you would probably find that your plan to change your baby’s diaper between flights will be thwarted by the baby presenting you with a dirty diaper 10 minutes after take-off. In-flight diaper changing is pretty straightforward; most major airlines have pull-down baby-changing units in the bathrooms, which is something you can check with your airline when booking your flights.

In case they don’t, or in case of emergency, I’d recommend bringing a waterproof changing mat with you — with a tiny baby, it’s pretty easy to change them lying on your lap. At a push, this could even be done in your seat, assuming your husband, and not some random stranger, is sitting on the other side of you. Disposable diapers might be more straightforward in this situation, but if you aim to bring your cloth diapers (and have somewhere to launder them on arrival), I’d suggest bringing a number of empty ziploc bags to plonk them into when changing. Be sure to pack twice as many diapers/wipes as you think you need, and a spare change of clothes both for your baby but also for you, in case of any spillage/leakage issues.

You’ll have seen this in the breastfeeding advice, but in terms of avoiding pressurisation discomfort, nursing your baby (or feeding him/her a bottle if breastfeeding turns out not to be an option) will help with take-off and landing — the suckling stops the baby’s ears from “popping.” For the most part, tiny infants take pretty well to plane travel; the motion of the plane soothes them to sleep.

And above all — enjoy your trip!

Comments on How to change a diaper on a plane

  1. Thank you for such a great, straightforward answer! I'm also due in May and we're making a trip from England to the States (like an, 8 hr flight!) in July for my sister's wedding. Any sound advice about traveling with a lil one is always welcome :o)

  2. A flight attendant told me that Airbus planes have the bathroom changing rooms but Boeing ones don't–you can check what type of plane is usually used for a given route on most airlines' websites. In any case, I managed four on-lap (but in-bathroom) cloth diaper changes on a recent trip. It wasn't awesome, but it worked.

  3. Being an army family, we just finished a bunch of flights with my 9-month old…I insisted on cloth diapers when I knew that I had a place to wash them. I didn't even try to use the bathroom, remembering how tiny they are…But with my husband sitting next to me, it was really easy to change her diaper–lay her on his lap, and across mine, and do a sort of sideways change. I know space is tight, but definitely bring a wetbag and a ziplock for the dirty wipes. The hardest part was how wiggly she was. And someone will need to make a restroom trip if there's a poo-diaper. I also breastfed to ease the earpopping, but it didn't even phase her. I used my sling to cover myself, and no one even noticed. It's intimidating, but we did it with both cloth and sposies, and it's totally do-able! Good luck!

  4. In a pinch, you can ask the stewards if there is a place to lay the baby on the floor in the back of the plane. My friend works for United and will tell you they often let families do this, but its also the reason he recommends you bring your own lap blanket on planes because they do not wash those airplane blankets! Gross!

  5. From our experience, we had to suffer what we called the double barrel. Every time we change our girl's diaper (she's currently 8 weeks old) we have around of 3 – 5 diaper changes at a time. Most of those are pee, but up until a week ago, it could be 2 – 3 poos in a row. While it might seem disgusting, we don't change the diaper immediately, instead we try to wait for all the shots to fire first. This never works, but waiting a bit does seem to cut down on the number of changes in a row. We also keep Aquaphor close at hand it's the best at combating diaper rash and it's easy to apply though a bit greasy, so keep a dry towel at hand for wiping it off of you. A good thing to note, I'm not saying it smells like roses, but if you're breastfeeding your baby's poo won't be as nasty as if you're feeding formula. I only mention it as it might make it not so disgusting if you have to change it on the floor.

  6. Love the travel advice! We've travelled lots (mostly shorthaul flights) with our kids, and have generally found flight attendant to be amazingly helpful when needed. However, we are almost always told before flights that diaper changing in our seats is a no-no. Maybe this is a Canadian thing? I dunno. But I've never run across a plane that doesn't have a change table, so it hasn't been a problem for us. And I definitely ditto the breastfeeding on take-off and landings – has worked like a charm for both my tots!

  7. We just used the tray table by our seats, with a portable changing pad underneath baby. I brought along a couple empty Walmart bags in the diaper bag, and just used one per flight for any diapers, and gave that to the flight attendant toward the end of the trip.

  8. I took a train ride from Kalispell, MT to Minneapolis, MN in the summer of 2008 with my son, who was three months at the time. That was a 24 hour trip. I would like to avoid that kind of thing all together, unless necessary : ) We flew back after two weeks of a vacation…had a layover in Denver…then flew into Spokane, WA and took the drive from Spokane to Kalispell (about 4 hours)…..I will never do that again with an infant. I repeat! I will NEVER do that with an infant! If we could have avoided the drive from Spokane to Kalispell, life would've been much easier.
    SO! Point of my story is this – it's no biggie to do a connecting flight with a baby. I actually quite enjoyed it. He was on MY lap the entire time because I nursed him to help with the uncomfortable feeling that happens in the ears during flight. It was nice to get up and stretch and walk around the airport for a little bit before the next flight.
    On the other hand, it would've been awfully nice to have no stops!!!
    Maybe to prep for such an occasion, try and change your child as many different places as you can right before you go so you know what to do! Just a random thought. (Of course, I'd advise waiting 6 weeks to bring the babe around large crowds of strangers…) Due to germs and such.
    That's what I was told : )

  9. I totally agree that the flight staff will be eager to help. People fly with lil' ones all the time & your attendant will know what to do. Also never underestimate the power of putting off the change as long as you can when in the skies. Only the most sensitive booty will have a problem!

    When my babe was small I practiced the "vertical change' for a month before our first flight. I would even practice in our tiny guest bathroom to simulate a plane!
    It goes like this: blankie or spare diaper over the shoulder and over your front. Hold the babe with your non-dominant hand and slide off all bottoms & dipes with your dominant hand ( I'm a righty.) Do the wiping, rediapering (this does take some manuevering, hence the practice ^_^), and repantsing. Done! Mommy you are now a diaper ninja!

    Unexpected bonus: you can change a sleeping baby without much disruption.
    Unexpected bonus 2: Now that my dude is toddler, we use the standing diaper change almost exclusively & it is as quick as lightning with a minimum of fuss!

    • During my years of working professionally with kids from infancy through six years old, I learned to love the standing diaper change, especially with toddlers, *especially* with toddlers whose parents thought “pull ups” were a good idea. It’s easy enough to put a piece of newspaper under the kid’s feet to catch minor spills, too.

  10. As a flight attendant and mom I know its intimidating. On my airline (Southwest) most of our airplanes have changing tables in the forward lav only. For those that don't I have used the closed toilet lid as a table. Once while the lavs were occupied and we had a rather revolting leak, with permission from the flight attendant (its their only work space in unbelievably close quarters) I changed him on the galley floor in front of their jumpseat. Always use a pad, airplanes are the dirtiest places! I have also used the jumpseat HOWEVER, NEVER EVER use the jumpseat unless the flight attendant not only sits in it but she MUST strap herself in. If we hit an unexpected bump, she goes up even a little and the seat slams closed…not where you want baby to be.

    PLEASE NEVER THROW AWAY A DIAPER, even just pee, ASK THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT FOR A TRASH BAG, SHE'LL TIE IT OFF AND TOSS IT FOR YOU. Lavs don't get cleaned out at every station so a diaper can stink up the whole galley fast and we have no where else to go.

  11. On the topic of breastfeeding while flying its the only way to go. If you can avoid it do not torture yourself or baby with formula while flying. I say it that way because with bottles baby gets more air which while uncomfortable on the ground is waaaayyyy worse as we climb higher, some babies cry til final desent, you know its gas. You also have to deal with making, warming, cleaning, and carrying it all. OR pop your shirt down attach baby, perfect temp, no bubbles, and lotsa snuggles. Nursing was built for travel. I personally make an effort to give nursing moms on my flight a can of water and a copy of Dr Suess for Nursing Moms (you can google it, its awesome) but I know I am a bit biased, so nurse freely or if you feel more comfortable use hooter hiders or another nursing cover. Nurse for take off and landing to clear baby's ears and if she just refuses don't panic, if her ears hurt she will cry which will clear her ears, she won't be injured as long as she doesn't have an ear infection or congestion, so its unnerving but crying will work. Once you get the hang of it, traveling with a baby is a breeze…enjoy it before they learn to walk, thats the real challenge.

  12. An 8 week old?? Easy peasy!! We changed our 3 month old's poopy diaper on our laps on a bumpy bus ride. Now THAT was our "pat ourselves on the back ninja diaper change" moment!

    I am worried about our 14 month old, who's newest trick is to ROLL OVER during diaper changes on a 10 hour flight to America. Well I'm worried about quite a bit more than that…! But I will definitely be asking where the changing table is!

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