How to change a nappy, PLUS what to expect from baby’s poo in the early days

Sister Burgie Ireland takes us through the essentials of nappy changing and what to expect in the early days.

Disposable nappies come with all the bells and whistles – magic tape, leak-guards, elasticated waists and leg bands, triple-absorption liners, “poo pockets” and wetness indicators. The only thing they don’t come with is a robot to do the dirty work. This is left to you and there are no free lessons for beginners.
For first-timers, changing a nappy can be a daunting task. For starters, which way round do you put the nappy and what do you do with all that newborn poo that gets smeared everywhere?

ALSO SEE: 5 new baby basics you need to master now

Back to basics

Be prepared – roll up your sleeves – and dads, take off that jacket and tie. The moment you take that nappy off, little feet will kick and little hands will explore.

Suggested check-list:

  • Fresh nappy – tug it open a few times to open out the leak-guards
  • Changing mat
  • Wet wipes (cotton wool balls are useless)
  • Disposal bin
  • Distraction to entertain your baby (try wearing a funny hat or colourful sunglasses).

The super-absorbent gel and stay-dry surface of disposables mean that they can absorb up to a cup of liquid. This may mean not having to change the nappy every time your baby makes a wee, but when a toddler’s full nappy is hanging down to his knees, it means that a fresh nappy is long overdue.

Tip: Don’t delay changing a soiled nappy. The longer you leave it, the longer the smell will linger. If your baby is teething, he is likely to get nappy rash, because the nappy contents will be more acidic, and this can burn his delicate skin. This means it’s important to wash your baby’s skin well with every nappy change – even if the nappy is only wet – to prevent skin irritation.

ALSO SEE: Beating nappy rash

If your baby has a soft poo that’s oozing everywhere, unfasten the tapes and hold the front of the nappy with one hand. In one swift action, wipe your baby from front to back, using your opposite hand to grasp your baby’s feet and lift his legs into the air while you gather everything into the nappy, fold it over and quickly close it with the tapes. This takes a bit of practise. Now simply dunk your baby’s bottom into a basin of warm water and soap him down.

Gently dry your baby’s bottom with a cloth or let it air dry for a bit. Now that your baby is clean and smelling a whole lot fresher, you can enjoy some quality time and play games before putting his nappy back on.

Try this:

  • Hold your baby’s calves and play bicycle-riding, gently pumping your baby’s legs alternately up and down.
  • Straighten both legs and touch your baby’s nose with his toes
  • Stretch his arms in and out, crossing the midline
  • Blow kisses on your baby’s tummy
  • Play “Incie-Wincie Spider” with your fingers up and down your baby’s body.

What to expect

It’s normal if:

  • Your newborn’s arms and legs are stiffly flexed into the foetal position. It should start to diminish after six weeks.
  • If your newborn has very soft, watery stools – especially if he’s breastfed – this is not diarrhoea.
  • Your baby boy has spontaneous erections.
  • Your baby girl has a once-off blood-stained mucus discharge from her vagina about four weeks after the birth.
  • Your baby boy (from about six months) enjoys playing with his penis. This helps to loosen the tight foreskin (especially if he has not been circumcised). It’s also normal for little girls to touch themselves for labial stimulation. Simply distract your baby if you feel uncomfortable.

ALSO SEE: How to care for your baby’s genitals

The scoop on poop


  • Meconium is your baby’s first poo and is a sticky, thick, very dark (almost black) green mucus. Basically, it’s all the waste that’s collected in your baby’s bowel during the pregnancy.
  • Meconium is followed by dark green, soft poos.
  • Poo turns yellow-green when it contains colostrum (first breast milk), which also acts as a laxative and cleans out the bowels. The yellow comes from bilirubin, or yellow pigment, from broken-down red blood cells. Yellow poop means that the body is getting rid of this bilirubin – and that’s a good sign.
  • Soft mustard stools are normal in a breastfed baby and a good sign that more bilirubin is coming away. This helps to minimise baby jaundice.
  • “Bird-seed” poop is caused by undigested milk curds and is normal.
  • As your baby gets older, his poo gets firmer and less frequent. Breastfed babies can poo every day – or once every four to five days.

Bottle fed

  • These stools are not as sweet-smelling as breastfed stools.
  • They can be greenish from the iron in formula.
  • Stools are firm.

Introducing solids

  • This is when poo gets smelly – depending on your baby’s diet.
  • It also gets firmer, bulkier and less frequent.
  • What looks like “tiny little black worms” is only banana seeds if you have given your baby freshly mashed banana.
  • When food is no longer liquidised, tiny pieces of undigested food in your baby’s stool is normal.


  • Small, hard, infrequent pebble-like stools.
  • Ongoing constipation can make babies and toddlers miserable with lower abdominal pain and difficulty passing bulkier stools.

ALSO SEE: 7 ways to relieve baby constipation


  • Soft, frequent stools that can happen when little ones are teething.
  • In breastfed babies, it may be something that the mom ate (like too many grapes).
  • In older babies, it could also be diet related, or the symptom of a viral or bacterial infection.

When to take you baby to the doctor

  • Diarrhoea with vomiting: This is especially dangerous in babies younger than six months, because they can quickly become dehydrated.
  • Red streaks: This means fresh bleeding and may be from severe constipation or prolonged diarrhoea.
  • Red, jelly-like stools: These are mostly mucus and blood and indicate a very rare, but urgent, medical emergency.
  • Pale, smelly stools: This is a possible coeliac or gluten sensitivity caused by an allergic reaction. It usually comes with other symptoms like weight loss once solids are introduced. Fortunately, this is also very rare.

It’s especially important to apply petroleum jelly or bum cream when using cloth nappies to protect the skin. Using talcum powder in the nappy area is no longer recommended as it can affect the absorption of the nappy.

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