Should You Change Your Baby's Diaper in Public?


There’s no bathroom or changing table. What’s a parent to do? (Getty Images)

Your baby has a dirty diaper, and there’s no changing table in the public bathroom — or worse, no bathroom at all. What do you do?

You wouldn’t think that such an everyday task — changing a diaper — would be so controversial, but where it’s okay (and not okay) to swap out a dirty diaper in public is a surprisingly divisive issue. In fact, parents have gotten into arguments at Starbucks, asked to leave restaurants, and even been questioned by police at airports for changing diapers in public spaces. One mom was even kicked off a bus — not for changing her son’s full diaper — but because of its smell.

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While on an airplane, you may squeeze yourself into that tiny bathroom and attempt to change your baby on your lap while sitting on an unsanitary lid (you may also place a changing pad over the seat) — and pray there isn’t any turbulence. Or, if you’re flying solo with more than one small child, you may see no harm in quickly changing a diaper using a changing pad at your seat.

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Shieva Ghofrany, mom of three and an OB-GYN at Coastal Obstetrics and Gynecology in Stamford, Connecticut, says it’s okay for parents to take care of business in airplane seats. “On a plane, you don’t have a lot of options,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “The bathrooms are so small and it’s hard to change a baby in there. Also, some babies are too big for the changing table [if there is one].”

She adds: “If you’re changing a diaper on an airplane seat, place something under the baby so the next person doesn’t get a dirty seat, be discreet, and put the soiled diaper right into a bag.”

The FDA prohibits flight attendants from handling soiled diapers when they’re serving food (and even when they’re not, can you blame them for not wanting to touch it?). So bring along Ziploc bags to contain dirty diapers (or use the airsickness bag), and toss it in the airplane bathroom or in an airport trashcan when you land.

However, the rules are different when you’re dining out. “It’s not okay to change a baby in a restaurant booth— from an etiquette point of view, it’s completely gross,” says Ghofrany. “You want to be appropriate when people are eating.”

But some parents argue that location is less important than what is in the diaper. “As a mom of a toddler and a newborn, I totally sympathize with this issue, but I have never, ever changed a number two diaper anywhere someone is sitting or eating — it’s just inconsiderate and disrespectful,“ Debbie O'Malley of Wilton, CT, tells Yahoo Parenting. "In that case, I’ve have gone out to my car or even used my stroller outside.”

But she makes an exception for wet diapers. “That’s a different story. While, ideally, I’d like to find a changing table, I don’t think that changing a wet one out in the open is quite as egregious.”

If you find yourself with a full diaper while at a restaurant with no changing table but you still want to be respectful to other diners, Ghofrany suggests using the bathroom floor, which she’s done herself in a pinch. “If you don’t have a changing pad, you can put paper towels on the floor,” she says. “As gross as it is, I feel I shouldn’t make the rest of the restaurant suffer by changing my baby in the booth.”

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