Duty calls — diaper duty, that is. And that duty's going to be calling a lot, up to eighteen times a day during the early months. But look on the bright side: with that much practice, you'll be an expert in no time. The right changing table can make your job easier, providing a safe, convenient, and comfortable space for you to perfect your craft.

Although changing tables are an optional purchase, more parents than not are glad to have a dedicated changing area, especially during the first year. Many parents appreciate the additional height that a changing table offers, which reduces the back strain inherent in parenting. And some parents rely on their changing table so much they buy two, especially if they have a two-story house and want one on each level.

On the other hand, parents who are space-constrained may skip the changing table altogether and use the floor or the end of their bed. It does mean one less thing to buy, but it also means more bending, and supplies that aren't as easily accessible. If you do choose this route, remember: you're also giving up the safety belt, so be extra diligent about keeping one hand on the baby at all times.

your basic choices

Changing tables don't vary much in features or usage. It mostly boils down to whether they have open shelves, drawers, or closed cabinets.

open-shelf style
Your least expensive option in terms of initial investment, the open-shelf changing table is just what it sounds like: several open shelves. The top one has sturdy guardrails and is made to hold your baby, while the bottom ones hold all the changing accessories.

dresser/changer combo
These units are really dressers with three or four drawers, but they have a changing tray attached to the top that can be removed when the diaper-changing stage has passed. Because you'll use this system longer, it's potentially more economical in the long run.

hybrid
Part changer, part dresser, this hybrid style usually has a changing tray on the top, some dresser drawers, and then some open shelves or a cabinet compartment. This style is also multistage and can serve as bedroom storage for years to come.

general guidance

The three-shelf changer is the least expensive option and takes up less space, but it's also the least likely to be used once you're past diapers. It's also the easiest for a toddler to climb (although your toddler will figure out a way to climb whatever style you buy). The combos typically cost more and take up more space, but they offer more storage and a longer-term value. You'll probably plan your nursery around the crib, which will certainly influence your choice of changing table both in terms of style and how much space you have left. You can often buy a changer that matches the crib; if not, look for one that coordinates nicely.


features to look for

  • Top-shelf space. At the changing table, you should always keep one hand on your baby, so make sure there's room to keep your supplies within easy reach.
  • Storage space. Don't underestimate the need for storage, whether it's for stashing your supplies or to compensate for lack of storage elsewhere in the room.
  • Height. Make sure the changing table is tall enough that you won't have to bend over it, especially if you're prone to back problems. Tables range in height from 32 to 42 inches (approximately 81–107 centimeters), so you should be able to find a comfortable fit at any height.
  • Baby position. Most tables have you changing the baby from the side, but some let you position the baby so he's facing you.

stage considerations

This is a purchase you'll use a lot during your child's first eighteen months. After that, changing becomes less frequent and starts to take place in varied locations. Expect your child to be potty trained sometime between two and three years old.

lifestyle considerations

Multistage. A dresser with a changing tray can be the most expensive, but it will also last the longest, since it can live on in your child's bedroom as storage for years to come.

usage tips

  • Always use the safety straps on your changing table or changing pad when changing your baby—that's why they're there!
  • Even with the safety straps, never leave your baby unattended on the changing table.
  • Make sure your changing pad is surface-cleanable and your changing-pad cover is machine-washable.
  • Have at least two changing-pad covers so one can be in the wash at any given time.
  • If you want to be sure your changing table is as safe as possible, look for JPMA certification, which recognizes those that have been manufactured with safety in mind.

accessories

  • Changing pads. These pads are what the baby lies on during changes. Vinyl pads are surface-washable and cloth-covered pads are machine-washable; both are waterproof. Some are just a simple, flat pad; others are curved to keep a wiggling baby in place. Most come with a safety belt for extra safety.
  • Changing pad cover. Protect your changing pad with this extra layer. Covers come in all sorts of styles, colors, and fabrics, from terry to cotton to sherpa. Just make sure yours are machine-washable to get the most out of them.
  • Diaper caddy. Keep your diapering supplies organized and close at hand. There are lots of different styles, but anything with several compartments should do the trick.
  • Diaper pail. The least expensive are plastic, but be careful: they may not be as economical if they require specific refill bags, and you may find they're not airtight enough to keep in odors once your child is on solids. Metal diaper pails cost more, but a really good one can be virtually odor-proof.
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