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Packing the Perfect Diaper Bag

By Amalah


Packing the perfect diaper bag is an art — a feat of organizational triumph crossed with future-telling powers and more than a little bit of OCD. And alas, it is not an art I have personally perfected.

Before Noah was born, I went online and found some insane “diaper bag checklist” thing and followed it to the letter. I had extra outfits! Sunscreen! 17 spare diapers! Pacifiers ready to go in separate sanitary plastic baggies! Vaseline! And then he was born and didn’t fit into any of the outfits or diapers I’d packed, didn’t like any of the pacifiers I’d chosen and you know when I figured this stuff out? When I was out. In the wild. On my own. When there was nothing I could do about any of it.

And slowly, since the checklist was sooooo long and involved, I quickly lost track of everything that was in the bag and could no longer do a fast, efficient inventory of the bag before leaving the house, meaning I was regularly digging around in a giant black hole of a bag for diapers and finding none, but oh, THANK GOD I still have this unopened travel-sized jar of Vaseline!

By the time Ezra was born, I’d learned to streamline to an almost insane degree. Packing the diaper bag for a newborn seemed like a ridiculously easy feat, especially after a few months of venturing out into the world with a potty-training toddler. (Hint: even more spare outfits than you ever thought possible, plus a TON of those cloth diaper burp rags, unless you want to explain why you had to rip open a package of paper towels in Aisle 5 to the cashier at Target.) Of course, this meant that my cocky self got stranded sans vital supplies ALL OVER AGAIN.

Restock Checklist, Don’t Leave the House Without It Portion:

  • Diapers (for a newborn, it’s a good rule of thumb to bring one diaper for every hour or two that you’ll be out)
  • Wipes (do yourself a favor and get one of the refillable plastic BOXES instead of those resealable travel packages — you can usually get the box open with one hand, while the stickers on the travel packs can be a pain to get open)
  • Diaper disposal bags for when you need to take the dirty diaper with you (I loved the slim 50-count bags of Sassy Diaper Sacks when I used disposables; now I use Planet Wise wet/dry bags in small or medium, depending on the length of our outing)
  • Cloth diaper burp rag (or two)
  • Full spare outfit for baby (onesie, sleeper, socks, etc.)
  • Extra shirt for you, if you’ve got a spit-upper/explosive-pooper
  • Bib
  • Bottle, if you use one, with either water and a powdered formula dispenser or separate bottles of the ready-to-drink stuff (just because your baby is all but guaranteed to sleep through feedings if you pre-mix, thus you end up wasting it)
  • Nursing Cover or very lightweight blanket, if you use one
  • Cell phone (as soon as you choose a pediatrician, PROGRAM THE NUMBER IN) (also make sure you have pretty much every number you might possibly need: partner’s cell, work, main office number, neighbor’s number, tow service, locksmith, etc.)
  • Wallet
  • Keys

Restock Checklist, Set-It-And-Forget-It Portion (i.e., the stuff you need but probably don’t need to double-check for every time you leave the house)

  • Changing pad (one of the best baby gifts I got this time was one of those Changing Pods — mine is JJ Cole but Skip Hop makes one too — it includes a changing pad and fits a box of wipes, spare diapers, disposal bag, small tube of cream. Has saved my sanity from the endless rummaging in the bag while trying to keep a rolly baby put on an elevated table SO MANY TIMES)
  • Diaper rash cream
  • Baby sunscreen (I’ve graduated to keeping this in the car at all times)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Spare change

Restock Checklist, Depends-On-Baby/Season/Type of Outing Portion

  • Pacifier
  • Toys, rattles, teethers, books and/or lovey (we only bring toys for Noah these days — Ezra is generally more interested in silverware! car keys! straws! leaves! any kind of plastic packaging!)
  • Baby food (purees and/or finger food snacks; always be sure to pack at least one food your baby is all but guaranteed to eat)
  • Spoon
  • Tissues
  • Extra hat
  • Snacks & water for you
  • Gas drops, any other medications (Please use common sense and check with your pediatrician before giving to your infant any medications)

Photo by [177]


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • swankette

    November 10, 2009 at 2:16 am

    I find a swaddling blanket to be worth its weight in gold. It takes up virtually no real estate and makes a handy blanket for sitting the kiddo down on the ground/ cover to lay over him in the car seat or during a spontaneous nap/ plaything for a game of peek-a-boo.

  • miriam

    November 10, 2009 at 2:41 am

    ditto on the receiving blanket. I just used mine to change the baby in the trunk (the floor of my trunk is level with the bumper).

  • Georgina

    November 10, 2009 at 8:41 am

    You seem to have forgotten to take a book for those “oh my god the baby has fallen asleep I will buy coffee and enjoy the silence” moments.
    And perhaps also a hip flask for those days when the sleep moments are elusive!

  • Olivia

    November 10, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Most of the time I carry a large purse with a diaper, wipes, changing pad, burp cloth and pacifier. Depending on the outing I will add a blanket and a toy.

  • Nicole

    November 10, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Those changing pods – can you put a pocket cloth diaper in them (yes, I use cloth diapers when I’m out and about)?
    Also, I skip the change pad and use a blanket layered with a receiving blanket instead. A friend made me a square baby blanket which is the perfect size for the bag I’m using. I use that and then I have a changing pad and a blanket as needed.
    And for transporting food for her: baby cubes. Put the food in them, chuck them in the freezer, throw them in your bag and they’re thawed by the time the baby wants to eat them.

  • T

    November 10, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Yes, receiving blanket! Makes a great impromptu changing pad, light layer in case it’s a bit chillier than anticipated. etc etc etc. I have a 2.5 y/o and still keep one in the diaper bag.
    As far as diaper disposing bags go, we use the bags our newspaper comes in every a.m. Also, for newborns, I strongly recommend carrying the clean clothes in a gallon-size ziploc. If you have to deal w/ major poop/spitup, dirty clothes get all nice and sealed up in the ziploc and clean clothes go on babe.

  • Cobblestone

    November 10, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Amazing my preschous baybay hasn’t died. I’ve got a messenger style diaper bag from JJ Cole (love it!) and it has diapers/pad/wipes/onesie (or somethings warmer in the fall/winter) … and my keys and wallet.

  • Mouse

    November 10, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    I learned about carrying an extra shirt for myself the hard way. It will definitely be in the next baby’s bag.
    I also loved our changing wallet–pad with a couple storage parts that fold out at the side. We could fit a thin box of wipes, a onesie, and a diaper or two (one if a cloth set, two if disposable). It was perfect alone for the shorter trips and easy to throw in the bag for longer ones.

  • Doug

    November 10, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I’ve found it’s really helpful to have a light weight backpack style diaper bag with just the basics (diapers, wipes, snacks for dad) – and then in the trunk of the car I have a big bag that’s stuffed with everything – extra clothing, tons of diapers, tons of wipes, entire boxes of things like purell wipes. We could probably go a week out of that thing. That keeps us light and worst case we only have to retreat to the car, not home. If a series of errands somehow starts to cut into the backpack supplies you can always restock from the trunk bag mid-day.
    If you’re a car person, it’s a nice way to go…

  • C

    November 10, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I suck at this stuff…and honestly as long as you’re always near a target, it’s all replaceable, which is why we had a HUGE number of “extra” bags of size 1 diapers…so many times I left without any because of (see Amy’s previous post) new mom brain.

  • lisa

    November 10, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Great list!
    The receiving blanket works great as a nursing cover as well.
    I also pack at least two outfits… There have been so many times that the *one* spare outfit would get messed up.

  • Heather

    November 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    I don’t actually carry anything on me except a burp cloth in my purse. (now I have just jinxed myself) But I do keep a backpack in the car loaded with diapers/wipes/etc.
    I agree on the receiving blanket and the spare outfit. One time I was nursing my baby in the “mothers’ room” in one of those big box stores and another lady who was nursing her son had the unfortunate experience of an explosive diaper with no spare outfit for the baby. Lesson learned!

  • Someone Being Me

    November 13, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    I keep my big fully stocked diaper bag in the car floorboard below the infant car seat. It has all the diapers, changes of clothes, sunscreen, bandaids, nursing cover etc for both boys. I also keep a full size box of wipes tucked under the seat. I no longer carry a diaper bag with me inside anywhere. I keep a small package of wipes in my purse, some hand santizer and maybe a diaper but I figured out that most of the time (like 99%) I was taking the baby out to the car for the diaper/clothing change anyways. My purse is big enough to tuck in a bottle or sippy cup if needed.

  • beth

    November 16, 2009 at 9:25 am

    I would add that with the second baby, especially if the first is toddler age, I would buy a back pack type diaper bag because you will need both hands (one to hold baby the other to hold toddler’s hand) and you don’t need the shoulder bag to be falling off your shoulder knocking into the toddler or hitting the baby in the head in the car seat.

  • stacy

    November 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Before having a baby, and even though I was a nanny for 10 years – I was totally that douche who was all “when I have a baby I will NEVER carry around a giant bag of stuff!! How stupid!!” Hahahaha…I was such an idiot. These days I can hardly even cram all the stuff I need into the large diaper bag! I tried valiantly to “make do” with just the basics in a small messenger bag. I was a hip mom! I wasn’t buying into the Baby Industrial Complex! No sir! Yeah — and then, I got caught too many times without the “right stuff.” And then my kid starting eating solid food and needing toys to entertain her. And then she gave up breastfeeding is now on the bottle. Even more stuff to pack and prepare and remember! whee! Just today I got to the grocery store and realized I’d taken my wallet out when I sent her off with her her dad yesterday. Sigh.
    Amy and readers — I am out in public a lot and I often have to change her diaper in public restrooms where I don’t really want to put the changing pad back into my diaper bag once it’s been touching the public changing area — and I don’t always have a hand free to wipe the mat down before I put it in my bag. So instead of buying expensive “baby” disposable changing pads, I use the cheap bag of puppy training pads I got from the pet store. They look identical and cost half as much. And I can toss them if I feel too grossed out to put it back in my bag (or keep in the bottom of the stroller if only mildly germy). And I usually wear a tank top under my shirt, since I have had to deal with a poop explosion in public. I’d rather look silly wearing a tank top than try to get home on public transportation with a wet, poopy shirt. 😛

  • Karen

    November 16, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    I have a refrain for packing the daycare bag in the morning, because otherwise I would always forget something. It doesn’t rhyme but it is kinda rhythmic and memorable.
    Diapers, wipes, bag
    Blanket, bib, food.
    (the “bag” is the wetbag for her cloth diapers.)
    I only change out the extra outfit if she uses it.
    My diaper bag packing varies so much depending on where I’m going and what kind of mood I’m in… I have gone out with nothing more than the sling I was carrying her in and a diaper wallet. I like traveling light but it’s not always possible or advisable.

  • cc

    May 17, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    Where did you get your diaper bag? I love it!

  • Carole

    October 20, 2013 at 9:27 am

    We finially baptized our 11 year old daughter at easter vigil last easter.I carried her poofy white baptism dress in a garment bag,then packed a diaper bag with her under shirt,cloth diaper,rubber pants,lace socks,white mary janes and bonnet in it along with baby powder,lotion,etc.Two hours before her baptism,we took her to the nursery and dressed her there.we had her lay in a crib so we could put her diaper rubber pants and under shirt on her easier.When she made her First holy communion two years later at 13,we took her dress and veil to the parish and i packed the diaper bag again with the diaper,rubber pants under shirt,lace socks and the shoes.

  • Linda M.

    August 11, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    Carole-we did the same with our adopted 14 year old daughter last month.we baptized her as an infant at our parish and i made her cute baptism gown and bonnet my self,on the morning of her baptism,i carried her gown and bonnet in a dress bag,had a regular diaper bag with her tee shirt,cloth diaper,rubberpants.lace socks and white shoes in it along with the baby powder,pins,lotion and teddy bear.

    • Julia W.

      April 7, 2015 at 10:33 am

      To linda and carole-We baptized our 10 year old daughter this past easter sunday and after reading your posts,i packed a diaper bag olso.we took her dress and bonnet in a garment bag to the nursery and i had her under shirt,cloth diaper,rubberpants,lace socks and shoes in the diaper bag.I also had babypowder and desitin in the bag also.To make it easier,i had her lay in a crib in the nursery while i put her diaper,rubberpants and under shirt on her.She will make her First communion two years from now at age 12 and will wear the diaper and rubberpants again under her communion dress.

  • Sarah

    August 30, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Love the post, so funny! I just love picturing ripping open that package of paper towels in the middle of Target. lmao That’s totally going to be me — a total mess! I just know it. lol 🙂

    I just purchased my diaper bag and I’m excited to get it all ready once it comes in the mail. I’ll definitely be checking back on your list when I’m ready to pack it up!

    I know I’ll have to probably un-pack it though in order to make it a hospital diaper bag, but it’ll be nice to have everything set aside and ready once that venture is over. 🙂 Or do you recommend having a separate hospital baby bag? I know that most videos/post I’ve seen about hospitable bags just use their diaper bag for most/all of the baby things and sometimes even the mom things (if there’s room).

  • Donna

    March 7, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    My ridiculous diaper bag contains:
    – diapers
    – wipes
    – blanket
    – insulted bottle bag
    – bottles (1-3 depending on how long I’ll be out )
    – formula dispenser
    – 1 dummy and dummy chain
    – portable dummy sterilizer
    – around 3 toys and teether
    – hand sanitizer
    – small makeup case for me
    – wallet
    – sunglasses
    – keys
    – phone
    – maybe a bottle of water
    – 2 muesli bars
    – nappy rash cream
    – travel size baby powder
    – spoon
    – baby food pouch
    – tissues
    – baby singlet
    – few changes of clothes (i have a reflux baby )
    – 2 bibs
    – 1 pair socks
    – 1 pair mittens
    – baby sunscreen
    – beanie
    – sun hat
    – breath mints
    – change mat
    – 2 baby mini cloths/hand towels
    – diaper disposal bags
    – pen
    – Bandaids
    – wet bag for dirty laundry

    And probably some other stuff i can’t remember off the top of my head. I swear i need i all!

  • Swapna

    February 14, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    This is super helpful. thanks for sharing the tips!

  • majory

    February 6, 2017 at 11:25 am

    To karen b and clarice a- Our 13 year old daughter was the flower girl in her nieces wedding last august and wore a cute,poofy,top of the knees flower girl dress with a flowered headwreath with ribbons down the back,lace anklets and white mary jane shoes.I did a cloth diaper and loose fitting rubberpants on her under the dress for the ceremony and had an extra diaper and rubberpants in a small diaper bag for her.She didnt have an accident during the ceremony and before the reception and dance,i took her to the womens lounge and took the cloth diaper and rubberpants off of her and then put the other pair of rubberpants on her under the dress without the diaper.