You can diaper a baby just about anywhere you have room and where the baby is safe from falling, even on the floor. But since you’ll change 2,000-plus diapers in your baby’s first year alone, your back will benefit from something made for the task—either a standard changing table or a crib/changing table combo.
Whether you plan to buy a changing table or build one with changing table plans, the benefit of having a changing table is undeniable. You’ll be able to diaper your baby at a comfortable level and have diapers within easy reach. Most changing tables stand 36 to 43 inches high and have shelves, baskets, or drawers for storage and easy access. Unlike the crib or the floor, you’ll be quickly be able to grab wipes, rash ointment, and a toy or two to keep your baby busy. A vinyl changing pad is usually included, and you can buy your choice of changing pad covers separately.
Before changing your baby’s diaper, be sure any products you need—diapers, wipes, or the wipe warmer—are within arm’s reach and place the diaper pail adjacent to the table. Never leave your baby alone on a changing table—even for a moment, even if you’re using the safety straps, and even if you’re sure your baby is secure.
Choose a baby changing table with plenty of storage
Every parent works a little bit differently, but the good news is you’ll be able to find a changing table that meets your needs. Consider whether you want open shelves, drawers, or a combination of the two. With open shelves it’s easy to reach diapers and clothing, either stacked or in decorative baskets. On the other hand, having at least one drawer, preferably right under the changing table, means you can hide nursery supplies away from the eyes of visitors and the roaming hands of your soon-to-be toddler.
Make sure your changing table is sturdy
Changing tables should not wobbly when shaken or appear uneven. Rails should be securely fastened. No nails should be sticking out, and nothing else should be wrong that could endanger your child’s safety.
Create a safety zone with barriers on four sides
A traditional changing table is usually surrounded by a restraining barrier made of rails or solid wood. According to the latest American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) safety standards, changing tables with a flat surface must have a barrier on all sides. If only two or three sides are protected instead of four, don’t buy it. Changing tables with a contoured changing surface need barriers on only two opposing sides to comply with the latest safety standards.
Choose a changing table that is short and fat
Short, fat changing surfaces are less likely to tip over than tall, skinny ones. This is especially important if you decide to use a dresser instead of a well-designed baby changing table. If you end up with a tall changing table that stands alone, mount it to the wall with furniture straps so it won’t tip over.
Buy a changing table that fits
It’s all too easy for something to look great, and then you find out it’s the wrong color or–even worse–you don’t even have room for it in the nursery. You may decide that you don’t have enough space or money to buy a stand-alone baby changing table. If that’s the case, consider using a dresser with a contoured changing pad and safety straps. You can also look into combination dresser/changing tables. If you decide to go with a changing table, look at the measurements. Will it fit in your room? Is it high enough for you to change the baby over and over again without getting a backache? Does it have safety straps and enough storage? Don’t use a changing table that’s damaged or broken. Stop using your changing table when your baby reaches the manufacturer’s age or weight limit, which is typically age 2, or 30 pounds.
If you buy a cloth changing pad, make sure it has a waterproof layer on the underside, which helps the changing table stay clean and sanitary. Vinyl changing pads can be wiped clean with soap and water. Purchase two or three covers so you can throw one in the wash and have at least one on hand.