General Ramblings

The Great Diaper Debate: Where Is It Okay To Change Diapers?

I’m kind of a fan of writing controversial parenting-related posts, and this one is going to be no exception. It’s worse than the great breastfeeding debacle. It’s worse than vaccinations. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to write about diaper changing. *cue ominous music* In public. *cue gasping*

Actually, this post is courtesy of my sister, who said that she’d been having a conversation with a friend wherein they were talking about whether or not it’s honestly rude to change diapers outside of traditionally accepted venues (the Wal-Mart bathroom, for example – though to me, this seems kind of unacceptable. Have you SEEN those bathrooms?). And so she asked me for my opinion.

If you had asked me about 10 years ago, I probably would have agreed that watching someone change a child on a park bench is gross. I had only really looked after toddlers and babies in their own homes, and had taken children over the age of 4 – so mostly potty-trained – out in public. I’d never had a diaper emergency that I couldn’t immediately fix with supplies and changing station at hand. I didn’t really know what could happen when you suddenly have a kid covered in diarrhea and no acceptable changing station in sight.

I have used different places to change diapers – my lap, while I sit in a chair or on a toilet (not personally taking care of my own business, thank you, I have my dignity); the seat of a car or the floor of a trunk, a park bench, the floor of a library bathroom, in a stroller, and once on a mall bench because there was just no way I could get the baby and me to a bathroom without spreading the unmentionable substance that had just exited the baby’s body. I’ve been there. And I know.

I will add that I used changing mats and hand sanitizer to try to contain and clean any germy mess up immediately after using said surfaces to change a child. I don’t know if it worked as well as I magically hoped, but . . . I tried.

So now I don’t judge people who have to do what they have to do. Here’s what I do judge.

My partner at the time and I were out last year for a beautiful Valentine’s Day dinner at a high-end restaurant close to our house. We’d just ordered our fish and rice dinner and were starting in on the delicious bruschetta when a family came in with an adorable little girl, about 6-7 months old. They proceeded to ignore the baby’s screaming in her carseat (ugh, strike one) to laugh, drink wine and order a sumptuous dinner. Finally, when the waiter came over to say something about the poor child asphyxiating from her own tears in her seat, her mother picked her up and began to bounce her up and down on her lap without attempting to comfort the child at all. This predictably had bad results. The child just screamed harder. (Strike Two.)

Finally, the mother decided that the child needed changing, and proceeded to plop her on the chair beside her, without a changing mat, without any thought for the people sitting right next to her family, and changed the child in the open. I’ll mention that this particular restaurant had a changing table in its bathroom – I saw it when I was in there. And if they didn’t know that fact, they couldn’t have asked?

That’s what I judge. Changing a child where people eat food. Changing a child without regard for anyone else around you. And I get that sometimes it’s hard to deal with diaper emergencies while out. But hey. If I, a woman that my family would affectionately call “plumpy”, can change a child in my lap, then so can anyone.

I complained to the waiter that night on my way out and he was apologetic, but he really couldn’t fix the situation, and that’s the issue – no one can. It’s about common courtesy. Always use a changing mat if you can. Try to find a private place to change your child, even if it’s out in the open and if it’s an emergency, do your best to clean up. Summon a mall employee or waiter for cleaning spray, if you can, or bring hand sanitizer. Poop is a biohazard, whether we’d like to admit it or not. Yes, it’s a biohazard even if it comes from a baby. And having looked after three babies-grown-into-toddlers for the better part of a year and a half, I’m aware just how much children wiggle, scream, and fight diaper changes. (Protip: I lean my body over theirs gently. It tends to immobilize them without hurting them and I have become a lightning-fast diaper-changer. I should put that on my resume.)

This whole thing isn’t just about people around you; it’s about your kid, too. I’ve found that I can block the child’s body from view with my own body and use clothing or a blanket to drape over the child’s private parts to maintain extra privacy and dignity. He or she may not know what’s going on right now, but your child is still a person who deserves privacy and not to have his or her genitals waving out in the open air for anyone to see.

If you can possibly get to a changing table or changing area, please, do so. It gives everyone a bad rap when you simply plop the child on the nearest table in the food court or on a park bench when you don’t need to.

The rest of the world does need to be a little more understanding of children in public. They have accidents and emergencies and that can’t be helped. I think if everyone attempts to work together to be courteous to each other, these little emergencies won’t be so taboo for all involved.

I can’t promise they won’t be disgusting, however. I personally hope to never have an experience like the mall bench diaper change ever, ever again.

Haha, come on! It’s happened to everyone who looks after kids at least once!

4 thoughts on “The Great Diaper Debate: Where Is It Okay To Change Diapers?

  1. I always carry a changing mat, which is useful in more ways than one. Now that my son, who’s still in diapers, is over 30 pounds, I can’t safely use the changing stations, so I’m forced to find a (relatively) clean space on a floor, counter or bench. In my two and a half years of changing diapers, I’ve changed him in pretty much all the places you mentioned, as well as: behind a convenient bush, on the front seat of the car during an emergency pull-over change; and on the floor in front of the pay phones instead of waiting in a crowded Hard Rock Cafe bathroom. That last one turned out to be amusing. I assumed there was no changing station in the bathroom, since there were only three stalls and no obvious changing station. A man walking by informed me that there’s a changing station inside the handicapped stall! After that, I knew to check in any bathroom that didn’t seem to have one.

    Let me admit something else that you may not want to hear. I also once changed him on a restaurant table, but it was a waitress’s idea! It was a dining pub in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor that has notoriously tiny bathrooms, and I asked her for a suggestion for the best place to change him. She directed me to a dining room upstairs that wasn’t currently in use and told me to use one of the tables. Don’t know why I actually listened to her and didn’t do it on the floor up there, but my son was only 7 weeks old, and my brains were still fried on hormones. I can assure you, though, that it was a very clean change, that I used a changing mat and wiped up with sanitizer afterwards. Still, it did seem a little funny to me that when I returned downstairs, and waitress didn’t even ask me which table I’d used!

    1. As a waitress, I have to say it was really nice of her to let you use an area that wasn’t already being used. Frankly, I’m a little put off by the fact that she didn’t feel the need to sanitize the table afterwards….but nothing much I can do there. I’m happy to hear that you used a mat and were as careful as possible.

      It must be difficult to find places to change diapers when there are no ready places available and I sympathize. But Kudos for doing the right thing and cleaning up as best as you could!

  2. That happened at my work the other day (I’m a waitress). My boss has eyes like a hawk and while staring up at a family at a table on a busy Saturday night, he suddenly yelled out “Is that woman ACTUALLY going to do that?”

    “What?” I asked.

    “She’s going to change her baby’s diaper right on another table!”

    I looked over and saw her placing a diaper bag on the seat of an empty booth (which on a Saturday night means it’s just about to be sat) and placing her baby straight on the table with no mat. Honestly, I walked as quickly as I could towards her. In my opinion, you shouldn’t be changing a poopy diaper on a table in a public place. Esepcially one that is going to be sat in just a few moments. Imagine a couple on their way to be sat there and they see a baby being changed on the table they’re going to eat at. Kinda gross, no? Yeah….

    So I tapped her on the shoulder politely, and said “Excuse me ma’am, but I just wanted to let you know that the changing table is in the first stall in the women’s washroom. A lot of people miss it because you have to actually walk into the stall to see it. I just thought that maybe you’d want some privacy.”

    She smiled kindly and said “Thank you very much!” and went off towards the restrooms.

    So, all in all, there are ways to handle that at a restaurant. Politely advising the customer in order to help them is a great way to go.

    But I’m with you on this one. Changing diapers around where people eat isn’t really taking other people into consideration. The baby is a person, too. Doesn’t s/he deserve a little privacy as well?

    I think so.

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