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Of the many care practices for your baby, diapering is one that raises some questions for many new parents. Specifically, many new parents wonder if they should change their baby’s diaper during the night. And the answer to this one really depends on your baby! Every baby is unique and their frequency of wet and dirty diapers can vary. However, in general, it is best to consider the age of your baby to find the best answer to this question.
During the first week or two after birth, new parents are encouraged to track their baby’s wet and poopy diapers to determine that their baby is feeding well and gaining weight appropriately. Because newborns eat frequently throughout the day and night, their schedule of peeing and pooping will also occur frequently throughout the day and night. Therefore, we typically recommend changing your baby’s diaper with each feeding, as well as in between feedings when Baby poops.
For the first week of life, new parents will notice that the frequency of poopy diapers will increase with each day until their baby is about one week old. Then we typically see that the Baby gets into a more consistent schedule with their diapering needs. Babies who drink breast milk often have more bowel movements than babies who drink formula, so don’t be surprised if you notice differences among your baby’s diapers and friends’ babies who may feed in a different way.
In order to preserve your nighttime sleep, nighttime diaper changes should align with your baby’s wakings for feedings. If your baby happens to have a longer sleep stretch at night, we want you to be able to benefit from that additional sleep too! Therefore, a good way to manage nighttime diapering is to use very absorbent diapers at night along with a diaper cream to protect your baby’s skin from any irritation. Lastly, during nighttime wakings, parents should keep lights dim and try to make interactions with your baby quick and “boring”. We want to reinforce to your baby from a very young age that nighttime is for sleep, so any activities such as feedings and diaper changes should be as efficient as possible in dim lighting to help everyone go back to sleep as quickly as possible.
Once babies move beyond the newborn period, they are more likely to begin having longer and more consistent stretches of sleep, which should mean less need to change your baby’s diaper during the night. If you choose to stop changing wet diapers during the nighttime, a good diaper cream is important to minimize any skin irritations from prolonged exposure to the wet diaper. If your baby is having bowel movements during the night, these diapers should always be changed to prevent messes to bedding and pajamas, and to keep your baby as clean as possible. Nighttime bowel movements tend to decrease as your baby gets older and their daytime calories become higher than nighttime calories. This change in feeding, along with longer sleep stretches, tend to impact your baby’s dirty diapers so a majority of the poopy diapers happen during the daytime/evening hours. However, illness and developmental milestones can impact your baby’s frequency of dirty diapers.
As your baby matures, their need for nighttime calories will decrease, just like older children and adults can sleep all night without water or snacks. Your baby will become a better nighttime sleeper, and with this sleep milestone they will not necessarily need to cry out in the night for your help. As their sleep cycles lengthen and connect throughout the night, they will go through normal periods of arousal with returns to sleep. They may still urinate through the night, but it may not cause them to wake. Therefore, most older babies can make it through the night without diaper changes for wet diapers. The use of nighttime diapers, or inserts that help to absorb nighttime wetness can be very helpful in keeping your baby comfortable during sleep while also preventing diaper leaks to pajamas and bedding. The consistent use of diaper cream at bedtime can continue to protect your older baby’s skin during the night.
When it comes to changing your baby’s diaper during the night, it really helps to understand your baby’s age and developmental need for feedings. As the saying goes, “What goes in, must come out!” So, if your baby is feeding frequently during the night, it is normal to expect frequent wet and dirty diapers during the night. This is completely appropriate for newborns and young babies, but as your baby grows and begins to sleep longer at night, the need for diaper changes greatly decreases. This is great, since diaper changes tend to wake up drowsy babies and makes getting your little one back to sleep more challenging. You know your baby best, so always trust your instincts when it comes to your baby’s need for diaper changes during the night. Most parents are able to transition away from nighttime diaper changes at around 6 months of age with the use of extra absorbent diapers and a good diaper cream. These diapering practices can hopefully help everyone get as much sleep as possible during the night!