Baby Cries When Changing Diaper? 7 Reasons & How to Fix Them

As if changing a mountain of diapers a day wasn’t hard enough, some babies will cry and scream in protest of diaper changes. This can make diaper changes a dreadful experience for both babies and their parents alike.  

Reasons why a baby may cry during a diaper change range anywhere from feeling cold, to having an uncomfortable diaper rash, or simply being unfamiliar with the diaper change process. Preventing meltdowns during a diaper change can take some trial and error. Using distractions, trying different positions, testing different diapers, and ruling out medical issues are things many parents find helpful in circumstances like this.

Even though the diaper struggle may seem endless right now, your baby will soon get used to the swing of your diaper changing routine and will eventually potty-train and graduate from diapers. For now, work to identify why your baby detests diaper changes and fix the problem to improve the diaper changing experience for all parties involved.

Reasons Why Babies Cry During Diaper Changes

baby crying while mother changes his diaper

  1. Feeling Cold

Often, crying during a diaper change is not the result of the caregiver doing anything wrong. Babies don’t have the best understanding of what is going on in their environment, and may not understand why you are suddenly wrangling them out of their warm pajamas and using cold wipes on their bottoms.

Before you begin the diaper change, turn the heat up by a few degrees, close windows, and turn off fans to avoid bringing in draft. Wipe warmers are also fairly inexpensive and may help keep your baby happy and comfortable while you clean up their bottoms during a diaper change.

  1. Medical Concerns

GERD

There may be a medical issue that is causing your baby to dislike diaper changes. Babies with GERD often dislike being on their backs as it worsens acid reflux.

Using a pillow or cushion to keep your baby on an incline while changing their diaper may help reduce reflux, as gravity prevents the stomach contents from travelling upwards, and allows them to be more comfortable during a diaper change.

Skin Issues

There are situations where a rash that looks like a diaper rash might only look like one. Yeast infections and impetigo often occur in skin folds and other dark, moist, and warm environments, such as that of a diaper covered butt. Other skin issues such as psoriasis and eczema may make your baby uncomfortable enough to cry during diaper changes.

If your baby develops a rash that doesn’t seem to improve with regular diaper rash ointment or develops unusual symptoms such as scaling, flaking skin, and blistering, contact their pediatrician to get it checked out and treated. 

  1. Hungry

If you currently do diaper changes before feeding, your baby may be too hungry to sit through it patiently before getting their meal. Try doing the diaper change earlier on, before their next scheduled feed and before they show late signs of hunger. Alternatively, switch to changing after feeding instead.

  1. Unfamiliar Situations

A baby has a fairly limited understanding of what goes on during a diaper change. They may become startled, disoriented, and confused, especially if it’s a midnight diaper change that wakes them up from deep sleep or a post-feed diaper change when they are already tired and beginning to fall asleep.

During a diaper change, you’ll need to move their legs to get them out of the dirty diaper and into a clean one and you might need to hold on to their arms as well keep them from knocking things over. They may dislike not being able to direct their own movement and environment while you change them.

Over time, as diaper changes become a more common and routine event, your baby will begin forming their own memories around it. As they learn to view diaper changes as a positive event, they will realize that it really isn’t anything to cry about.   

How To Keep Baby from Crying During a Diaper Change?

  1. Give Prior Warning

Most adults wouldn’t enjoy randomly being picked up and manhandled, and the same goes for children. Give your baby adequate warning before you even pick them up and bring them to the changing table. As much as possible, stay within their line of sight and let them see what you are doing at all times.

With a toddler, giving them the option to come to you for a diaper change may result in them putting up less of a fight. Point out that you can see that their diaper is wet and needs to be changed. Do they want a diaper change now? Or would they rather have an extra 5 minutes of play first?

  1. Use Distraction

Though they probably can’t understand a word you’re saying, your baby will find your voice soothing. Sing a nursery rhyme, narrate your actions to them in a silly voice, or point to and name their body parts. Not only will it help you avoid diaper change meltdowns, it will also help your baby’s speech and language development.

Hanging a mobile over the changing table or using a ceiling projector could also give your baby something visually pleasing to look at while they are lying on their back. A teething biscuit to gnaw on can also keep them quiet and occupied long enough for you to clean and change them.

While doing a diaper change, offer them an item that they would otherwise not get to hold. Designate a “diaper change only” toy to help them associate the diaper change with something good happening. Lending your phone, a tube of diaper cream, or even just the clean diaper will do just fine too.  

  1. Change Positions

Instead of changing your baby’s diaper on a table, try doing it on the floor. Doing diaper changes using a changing mat on the floor may also be safer, as there’s no chance of them fussing and rolling off the table.

  1. Try a Different Diaper

If you have recently changed diaper brands and/or sizes, it is possible that the change is disagreeing with your baby’s skin and causing some irritation. Try returning to the previous brand or size of diaper and see if there is any improvement.

On the other hand, if you happen to be using reusable cloth diapers, take a look at your detergent to make sure it doesn’t contain anything that could hurt your baby, particularly if their skin is on the more sensitive side.  Certain cloth diaper fabrics such as bamboo fiber may also be softer and gentler on your baby’s skin.

Some babies prefer the softer texture of cloth diapers, while others may like disposable diapers more because they feel drier against their skin. Some trial and error could help you find out what kind of diaper your baby feels more comfortable in.

  1. Keep It Quick

Every parenting skill takes time and practice to perfect. Don’t worry if it takes you a bit more time to change your baby’s diaper the first few times around. With that being said, your baby definitely wouldn’t mind you finding a few ways to speed up the process.

Keep a diaper changing kit with everything you could conceivably need to change a diaper in places around the house where you usually change diapers. Make sure you keep everything within reach and manipulable even with one hand, lest the other become preoccupied with keeping little hands and feet out of the way.

Having another adult around to provide you with assistance can also reduce the amount of time the diaper change takes. The other person can also provide distraction to keep your baby from fussing and crying while you change their diaper.

  1. Stay Calm and Stay Positive

dad smiling while changing baby's diaper

While it is something easier said than done, diaper changes will ultimately go by quicker and smoother if you can keep a positive mindset about it. Take a few deep breaths, smile, and remind yourself that your baby won’t be in diapers forever.

Maintain a calm and pleasant expression to show your baby that diaper changes aren’t anything they need to be upset over. Babies can sense how the people around them feel, and seeing you upset or frustrated may push them to throw their own diaper change tantrum.  

  1. Try an Upright Diaper Change

If you have a toddler who dislikes being interrupted during their play time for a diaper change or one who like to squirms and roll around on the changing table, consider trying a standing or upright diaper change.

Note that your baby needs to be old enough to pull up to standing and remain standing for however long it takes you to change a diaper. A horizontal grab bar or a closed toilet seat usually works well to give them additional stability for a standing diaper change.

You may want to wait for a pee-only diaper for your first attempt on a standing diaper change, just to see if it works for you and your baby. Once you’ve given it a few test runs, you can tweak the routine to find the techniques that work best for you and your baby.

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