Posted by: Krys | August 26, 2009

Organizing the Diaper Bag

Five short months ago, my daughter joined the world.  Since then, I’ve learned that unless I’m extremely organized, I’m going to get beat by this whole mothering thing.  Something that no one tells you before you have kids: you get really stoopid (yep, that’s stoopid with 2 O’s) when you have a baby!

I chalk it up to being exhausted.  Exhausted people have not historically been known for their keen powers of thinking.  Where once I was a smart, thinking woman of a certain intelligence, I am now a quivering blob of amoebic goo.

Therefore, I have developed certain areas of no-thought-required organization to help me and E’s daddy care for her (yes, he’s been struck stoopid, too).  Take her diaper bags, for example.

Yes, that’s bags, plural – we have two diaper bags.  A big one for longer treks and a small one for quick jaunts.  I find that having two appropriately-sized organized bags is better than having one organized bag that doesn’t really fit every occasion.  (Experienced moms, check out the lists, and provide your suggestions for what I missed!)

“Small” Diaper Bag Contents

  • 2-3 diapers – The rule of thumb is one diaper per hour you’re going to be out, plus an extra diaper.
  • Baby wipes – I put a dozen or so into a ziploc baggie.
  • 2 disposable changing pads – If your bag comes with a changing pad, you can skip these, but I find that they fold up nice and small, and they come in really handy.
  • Travel size diaper cream
  • Travel size sunscreen – If baby will be in the sun for any length of time, use sunscreen no matter what age baby is.  Most baby books recommend avoiding sunscreen/sun for the first 4-6 months, but that’s not always practical, and our pediatrician has told us that it’s better to use sunscreen than for Miss E to get a sunburn.
  • Burp cloth
  • Extra outfit – I put the spare outfit into a quart-sized ziploc bag.  I squish out all the extra air, and it makes the outfit quite compact.  It also provides a tidy container for the original outfit when it becomes unfit for wear.
  • Extra pacifiers – We carry a half-dozen extras with us at all times.  E is an accomplished paci-shooter (she can spit those things halfway across town!), so we come prepared.
  • Hand sanitizer – I love the foaming sanitizer from Bath & Body Works.  I think they’re a tidier way to sanitize than the gels.  I always end up with a glob of gel on my shirt, pants, car seat…  The foaming sanitizer doesn’t seem to do that.
  • Travel pack of disinfecting wipes – Clorox, Lysol, etc.  Take your pick.  I use them to wipe down everything from the toys and book, to handles on shopping carts and the changing tables in public bathrooms (yuck!).  I also use them to clean off my hands after pumping gas.
  • Purse pack of tissues – I prefer to use tissues rather than the nose-sucker-outer thingie when we’re out.
  • Bib/Bottle – I DO NOT include these because I only use the small bag for quick trips between feedings.  Anything scheduled over a feeding gets the big bag.

“Big” Diaper Bag Contents

  • 6-8 diapers – Use a permanent marker to write the size of the diaper on the waistband (baby outgrows diapers faster than you think, and the last thing you need is a too-small diaper in an emergency!).  Since you’ll probably not use this bag as often, be sure to check the size of the diapers in the bag before you head out the door!
  • Baby wipes – Don’t skimp on these – carry lots!  Pampers has a nice, small, hard-sided wipes container for travel.  I’ve refilled the container with bulk wipes since the original purchase, and it’s worked like a charm.  Huggies has a travel size packet of wipes available, too, and you get more wipes for your money, but it’s not refillable.
  • Changing Pad – The bag we bought came with one.  It’s got a nylon side and a plastic side.  The plastic side goes face-up (easier to wipe down when you get baby poop on it).
  • Travel size diaper cream
  • Travel size petroleum jelly or Aquaphor
  • Travel size sunscreen – Again, if baby will be in the sun for any length of time, use sunscreen no matter what age baby is.
  • 2 burp cloths
  • 2 outfits – One just never seems to be enough!
  • 1 nylon/waterproof bib, or 1 cloth bib per meal – E is a messy bottle drinker, so we bring one cloth bib per bottle for her.
  • Extra pacifiers – Amy Cole makes a pacifier case that I can cram 4-6 pacifiers into, and it hangs on the outside of the diaper bag for fast, easy access.
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toy – I have a rattle and a soft toy with crinkly parts for E.
  • Book – We carry a tiny book with cardboard pages (a $1 Peter Rabbit book from Target).  She actually doesn’t like us to read it to her – she just wants us to give it to her so she can chew on it!!
  • Travel pack of disinfecting wipes – I don’t leave home without them.
  • Band-Aids – They’re not just for baby – you never know when you’re going to need one!
  • Infant Tylenol
  • Advil – For Mom.  Period.
  • Purse pack of tissues
  • 1-2 pre-filled bottles – My rule is one bottle per 3 hours.  Whether you’re breastfeeding or formula feeding (we do a combination of both these days), you may find it easier to use bottles when you’re out and about (fill them with whatever you’re feeding your little one).  It’s one more thing to carry, but you can feed baby without pulling your shirt half off in public, which is nice.

A bit more advice for ya…
Keep a stash of diaper bag supplies at home.  When you find travel sizes on sale, stock up.  I buy travel sizes of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in obscenely large quantities when they go on sale.
Check the diaper bags periodically to make sure that they’re well stocked.  The only thing worse than having too-small diapers is not having ANY!

Now, a question for the experienced moms out there – what am I missing?  What are your must-haves?



  1. Now that she is old enough.. you may need to add one of those handy slit-top snack cups with O’s or crakers of some kind. I kept a bunch of 100 calorie pack kind of snacks in the car or snap containers filled.
    I would also add a bottle of water and a washcloth to the longer trip bag.
    The sanitizer I would say buy a large economy size to fill the smaller ones up. They are like $6 at Walgreens, office supply stores, or costco… then refill as need be.
    The only other thing of a must have is the little lotion. Using the sanitizer dries my hands out and theirs too. Plus if there is a cut or crack in your skin it burns . So the lotion will help prevent that…
    Lastly, I keep a roll of paper towels in the car and extra plastic bags. The boys both have gone through phases of being carsick as infants and toddlers.

    • Sheryl, these are great suggestions! I carry lotion and Chapstick everywhere I go – didn’t think to list those as part of the diaper bag contents, but they certainly make sense, don’t they!? And paper towels in the car – brilliant!!

  2. I haven’t done this yet, but my sister-in-law always kept an extra outfit for herself in her car when her kids were babies.

    • Becky, I’ve been lucky enough not to need a replacement outfit while out and about yet, but I’ve heard this suggestion often enough to know that I *should* have a spare shirt (at least!!) in the car.

  3. I love the diaper duck trash bags from Munchkin for dirty diapers. I also like to carry Boogie Wipes, and an extra nursing cover.

    • Nanette! I DO have a diaper duck in the big diaper bag! I didn’t list that – great catch! My sister gave it to me, and I’ve used those baggies at the pediatrician’s office, specifically (our pediatrician required that all dirty diapers be taken out with the patient!). Haven’t used Boogie Wipes yet – will have to look for those.

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