There are people who, before giving birth, would never in a million years think, "I'd like to carry a great big bag with duckies all over it!" And yet, when it comes time to choose a diaper bag, they'll choose a pastel bag with a cartoony pattern that they tolerate at best.

If you really, really want a diaper bag in a duck motif, then more power to you. But don't choose the pattern for your kid—they're not the ones who have to carry it. Choose something that reflects your personal style. There are so many diaper bags to choose from, there's no good reason not to have a bag you really love to carry.

Diaper bags these days come in plenty of cool, contemporary styles that are specially designed for your convenience. Most include an insulated bottle holder, an easy-access changing pad compartment, and probably even the changing pad itself—not to mention little hooks to secure binkies and smaller items. Some even include an exterior opening for diaper wipes so that you can access them without opening your bag. All of these features help make it possible to maneuver around the bag with one hand, even while you're holding a sleeping child.

If you really want to express your style, you might consider a bag that wasn't specifically designed to be a diaper bag. Really, you can turn any bag into a diaper bag if it has a roomy interior compartment and good pockets—especially if you add in diaper-bag accessories, such as an insulated bottle holder.

your basic choices

The differences between diaper-bag options boil down to size and style. Almost all of your choices fall into one of the following five categories.

This is the most common style of diaper bag and includes either one long shoulder strap or two shorter handle straps. The simplest version is just a tote bag with one big open compartment; a higher end version would have more pockets and organizational capacity. Whether it's your primary diaper bag or a backup bag for the car, totes are one of the most popular styles for new parents.

messenger bag
A favorite with dads and city dwellers, messenger bags are a great way to stash baby's stuff in a way that will never be noticed. Usually designed with one long strap that can be worn over one shoulder or across the chest, they're a great hands-free option, and the most unisex of the bunch.

A great choice for comfort and hands-free use. The two straps help distribute the weight more evenly and are a great choice if you're going to be carrying a lot of stuff. You can convert a regular backpack into a diaper bag, since it will probably have lots of pockets anyway, but a good diaper backpack will serve you well with built-in features like a thermal bottle holder.

fashion bag
Fashion-conscious moms and urban professionals will want to keep their options open. This category covers all shapes, sizes, and materials, from luxurious leather to beautiful silk brocades. There's an astounding range of options, plus many major-name handbag manufacturers are getting in on the game. The key is finding a bag that's big enough to hold all your stuff. (Baby? What baby?)

Like a more streamlined version of a backpack, the sling is worn over the shoulder and across the chest with a single strap. It distributes the weight more evenly and remains close to your chest so that you're not just lugging around a heavy bag hanging from a strap.

general guidance

To share, or not to share? If you're going for personal style, you and your partner might want to have separate diaper bags. But the upside to sharing is that you only have to stock it once, and you never have to wonder who has the binky. If you do decide to share, you'll want to find a nice, neutral bag that everyone can agree on—which means avoiding that pattern you think is "so cute" and letting your husband have veto power over bubblegum pink.

Comfort is key. Pick a bag that will be comfortable for you even when you're loaded up like a pack mule. The two things to look for are cushioning and adjustability, especially if you're going to be sharing with someone who's a different height. Make sure the bag will fit over your shoulder if you want to stay hands-free—and you will want to stay hands-free. Straps should have proper cushioning so they don't dig into your shoulders.

One great bag, or lots of bags to choose from? Some people like to have one good, basic diaper bag, while others consider them an accessory and want to have several to choose from, just like their handbags.

Easy clean-up. If you want a diaper bag that will stick with you through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, through juice spills and spit-ups, then you'll want one that's easy to clean. Messes happen. Avoid bags that can't get wet or dirty, and look for bags that are either washable or wipe clean easily.

Seasonal considerations. One of the drawbacks of those great bags that just wipe clean is that many are made from plastic or pleather. While they're exceptionally easy to maintain, you might want to take climate into consideration, because they're made of materials that stay chilly in the winter and can be uncomfortably hot to carry in the summer.

Personality. Babies can be just as different from each other as adults: some make a ton of messes, others don't seem to. Don't overbuy before you get to know your child's personality. After you have a little experience under your belt, you'll know what kind of bag works best.

Parents of twins. Whether you're a minimalist or like to be prepared, having multiples means some of your supplies must multiply, too, so plan on a bigger bag. If you have a double-wide stroller, you can even get a double-wide bag made to fit the handlebars.

Special needs children. Parents of babies with special needs often find they have more to carry along; if this applies to you, plan on buying a bigger bag.

features to look for

  • Changing pad. Most diaper bags come with a changing pad. If you're buying a bag that doesn't have one, make sure there's an opening big enough to store one in, because you'll definitely need a clean, comfortable surface to do your changing.
  • Cargo space. If you're a pack rat and want everything with you all the time, you'll want a sturdy, high-capacity diaper bag. If you're a minimalist who wants to carry just the necessities, you'll want light, airy, and efficient. Many first-time parents want to be prepared for anything, but most will opt for the less-is-more route as their baby becomes a toddler.
  • Easy (and quiet) access. Avoid complicated latches. When you're holding a fussy baby in one hand and fishing around in a diaper bag with the other hand, you'll appreciate the importance of easy access. A common misconception is that Velcro closures are the ultimate solution. While they are awfully handy, they can also wake up a sleeping baby—and neither of you will like that much. Look for magnetic or other quiet-closure solutions for your easy-access compartments.
  • Insulated bottle holder. Many diaper bags come with one, but if yours doesn't, or you've chosen a nontraditional diaper bag, you can buy one separately to make sure your bag is properly equipped. Either way, you'll want one of these to keep your baby's bottle at the right temperature.
  • Stroller compatibility. Make sure you have at least one good bag that works with your stroller. It doesn't have to match, but it should fit over your stroller handle, or at least in the storage bin, so you don't need three hands to walk the baby.
  • Diaper wallet. These are essentially mini-diaper bags, made to carry just the essentials for quick trips out; some are sold as a set with a larger diaper bag. You'll appreciate the ease of grabbing a smaller load when you're just running to the store.
  • Cell-phone compartment. Not a necessity, but a lot of parents find this feature handy—and you probably have a good idea whether or not you're one of those parents.

stage considerations

Space. Consider having a larger bag plus a diaper-bag wallet so you can plan according to how long you'll be out and about.

Style. The diaper bag is one of the most prominent style choices you can make as a parent. It's the one piece of baby equipment that goes with you everywhere you go. Again, you're the one who has to carry it—not the baby—so make sure it's something you're proud to be seen with.

Healthy. The one health consideration pertaining to diaper bags is more about you than the baby. Basically, you want a bag that won't strain your back. Make sure you have good padding on the straps and that the weight is distributed evenly. Think backpack if you're worried about ergonomics.

usage tips

  • What you prefer in handbags will bear a lot of resemblance to what you'll like in diaper bags. Do you tend to overpack or travel light? Do you have one great bag or lots of bags to mix and match with your outfits?
  • Plan for the fact that you won't need to carry as much as your baby grows from infant to toddler. Also, remember: when you have a newborn, you're usually carrying the baby and the bag; when you have a toddler, you're usually carrying the bag and chasing the child.
  • If you have a diaper bag designed to hang over the stroller's handlebars, just make sure you don't load it up so much that you accidentally tip the stroller.

additional information

the well-stocked diaper bag

must have:
  • spare diapers
  • diaper wipes
  • diaper cream
  • changing pad or extra blanket
  • change of clothes or spare onesie (just in case)
  • a bottle or nursing supplies
  • burp cloth (you can also use a spare cloth diaper)
nice to have:
  • plastic baggie to stash dirty diapers
  • receiving blanket (fills in where needed)
  • booties, hat and mittens
  • toys or books for an emergency
  • distraction
  • a binky, if you choose
add after first six months:
  • extra clothes (in case of accidents)
  • snacks and a sippy cup or bottle
  • bib
  • blanket (for any unplanned circumstances)
  • hat (for change in weather or sun protection)
  • disposable place mats
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