Diaper Bags: Necessary or Not?

As most of you know, I’m currently pregnant with my first baby (rounding the bend on the halfway point!). I know there’s still plenty of time to get my ducks in a row before the baby comes (I’m not due until late February), but of course I’m buzzing with questions now and, as a first-time mom, have been doing a fair amount of research to get ready.

But of course, I know that you all are a treasure-trove of information, whether you either have kids of your own, have helped raise siblings or are master babysitters, so I wanted to start posing some of my questions (from big to small) to you to chime in and share what you think on different subjects that I've had a hard time figuring out for myself.

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out what things I want to make sure to get in preparation for the baby. As a minimalist (we don't even have a television!), I've been trying to streamline these things and not fall into that total consumerist trap of "I have to buy everything for the baby!"

However, on the flip side, I realize that there are some things that can really make your life easier. So today I'm wondering about...

What do you really need in a diaper bag? 

While I know that all you really need is love for a baby, I also know I'm going to want something to carry some baby essentials with me (a couple of diaper changes at the very least) when I'm out and about.

But, I don't really expect to be out and about all that much, since I’ll get to be a stay-at-home mom and we only have one car. Consequently, most of my outings are either going to the grocery store (gone from home for about 1.5 hours, max) or to church (which can be up to a 5-hour affair, depending on where my husband and I are volunteering that day).

Because of that, it makes me wonder: Given my lifestyle, what do I really need to carry around with me? Do you really need a devoted bag, or will a large purse do the job? How big does it really need to be? (It seems to me like so many bags are excessively huge!) How long do you actually use one? What qualities end up being the most useful in a diaper bag?

(You see my dilemma?)

The only thing I really get is that any diaper bag should have a wipe-able interior for the inevitable leak or spill (especially because I plan on cloth diapering). It seems like having a backpack style would be really nice since I'll already be carrying a baby on my hip. But beyond that, what do you need for a lifestyle like mine? Or should I grab a nice tote bag and call it a day?

So let me turn it over to you: What would you advise or suggest? Do you have any smart solutions or suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. I'm right there with you. I'm a "small purse" person - it only needs to hold my checkbook, wallet, phone, keys, and maybe some chapstick.

    I took this mentality with me into motherhood, and you know what? I've NEVER regretted it! This is all TOTALLY just my personal opinion, but I think lugging around those huge bags is just a little silly. I breastfed, cloth diapered, and never needed a bag larger than a VERY small backpack (even when I was having to drop my son off for day care).

    Here's my advice on what you DO need in your bag...
    1-2 Diapers (it's pretty rare that your kid is going to go through more than that while on a trip to the store) and wipes.

    After that, everything else is optional! If you are one of those people who can't stand to have their kid in 'dirty' clothes while in public, then maybe change of clothes or a couple extra bibs will be needed. Personally I've come to the conclusion (especially after two babies) that kids just get messy sometimes and that's ok. Generally I'll pack an extra onsie or shirt, but not a whole outfit. I've discovered that even as my kids get older a small bag will still hold a snack, or a couple toys, without being too bulky or heavy, and it keeps me from carrying around things that I don't actually need.

    I'd suggest making sure your bag has a spot for a waterbottle/sippy cup, and space for what you usually carry around in your purse. Toting massive bags is for the birds! Ha!

    1. Thanks so much for chiming in! It is such a relief to hear you DON'T need one of those gigantic bags, even if you plan on cloth diapering. They just seem overwhelming to me! And I appreciate the insights on what you carried with you. I think I'll likely be very similar!!

  2. Ok. This is from a non mom (sad face here) but the go to babysitter for every kid in my old neighborhood.

    Back pack.

    Diaper bags can be cute, yes, but I always prefered the family who goes with a backpack style because it is so much easier to carry around! Totes and open top bags just tend to slide down my arm as Im trying to carry it, a cat seat or toddler.

    1. When I've babysat I've also appreciated the backpack kind, too. The only thing I'm wondering is that I'm also interested in getting a baby carrier (baby k'tan and ergo) and unsure whether a backpack-style would interfere with those. Do you have any insights re: that?

    2. Hi Carmen, congratulations!! I'm due with #3 in January. I was gifted a black tote-style diaper bag when I had my first baby. It's big enough to carry bottles, several cloth diaper, a blanket and a wetbag. (I still use it for work because it fits legal-sized folders :-)

      Once I had my second I switched to a backpack. Much easier to carry when I was babywearing my newborn (used a wrap then soft-structured carrier without any interference) and my two year old was in a stroller, cart, or walking. Just like the baby carriers, the backpack helps distribute the weight.

      Some essentials: 2-3 diapers (more, depending on how long you will be out),a wetbag for the dirty diapers, 1-2 changes of clothes for the baby and a shirt for you, wipes, changing pad, 1-2 receiving blankets, and a few toys. I don't like to carry a lot of stuff. Keep in mind that cloth diapers take up more space than disposables.

      Best of luck with the rest of your pregnancy!

  3. Hope this helps, I feel like I had the exact same question as you. After 6 months I think I have a good system...
    For the first 5 months or so I'd been using a tote bag that I had laying around, plus I also carried a purse. Like you, I don't get out much except for walkable errands (which I doubt you have many walkable errands?) Even then I usually wear Archer in a moby or bjorn and we don't need to bring anything with us since it's a short trip. When I have a car I often leave everything but my debit/credit card, keys, and phone anyway.
    BUT as far as the diaper bag... I got so frustrated trying to dig through my tote or purse to find that one small toy or my chapstick or the pacifier... etc! So I just got a secondhand Eddie Bauer backpack "diaper bag" (could be just a backpack in my opinion) that keeps everything more organized. I like the backpack because my hands are free and it's not swinging around everywhere or falling off one shoulder. It keeps my items (wallet, phone, camera, purse, keys) separate from Archer's stuff. All I bring for him are: diapers, travel wipes, extra outfit, burp cloth, 2 toys, light blanket, hat. And it's nice because it has a spot on the side for a water bottle because breastfeeding makes you THIRSTY, but who really wants to carry around a clunky water bottle?

    1. Thanks, Susanne! Interesting to hear that you started off the same way and ended up finding the organization of a diaper bag really useful, which isn't really available with a regular tote bag. I think that will save me some time / effort just knowing that the organization really is worth it! Also I especially appreciate the tip about someplace to store a water bottle. I am always lugging one around now, so I imagine it'll be even more necessary then (because I really do hope to breastfeed!).

  4. Carmen

    As a first time mother to a 15 month old, I frequently asked and debated the same thing. To buy or not to buy a diaper bag. So after reading what your lifestyle will be, I noticed it was very similar to mine and just had to share my thoughts.

    I love my daughters diaper bag, So my vote goes to yes, buy one. My husband and I are a one car family because I stay at home too. Also, our trips consist of church, grocery, and of course Target! Yes, these trips only last a couple of hours but, just as soon as you change your baby's diaper, they can easily refill it 20 minutes later. This obviously starts the list of things you will need at extra diapers and wipes, but you soon will realize, baby poo is messy! An infants stool is very soft, and liquid-y (sorry for the image). With that being said, it gets everywhere and even on their clothes. And what if they throw up? So now you see the list is growing to an extra pair of clothes and a burp cloth to help wipe up the mess.

    As your infant grows up, you start to return to your old errand habits. This meaning, on Saturdays you wont just go to the grocery, but as we found out first stop was the park, then Target, followed by lunch, and ending with a nice coffee or frozen yogurt treat. This involves your new family being out and about for hours at a time. Being home all day everyday gets mundane and you will get over it soon. You look forward to your weekends to get out and do activities. So again, your list of baby supplies goes up from just 1 diaper and wipes to; a couple of diapers, wipes, extra set of clothes, burp cloths-for those spit ups, and extra food and snacks.

    In short, babies need 'stuff' and having a bag is nice. I carry a huge purse and still need a diaper bag. I might not always need the diaper bag with me and leave it in the car, but for those times you drop your kid off at a sitters or Sunday school, it's a little tacky to throw everything into a plastic bag. Having a diaper bag packed with extras frees you up to get out and about. If you think throwing all these things in your purse will do, take a step back. Having a purse filled with baby supplies then makes your purse the diaper bag. Then again, if you don't need a whole lot in your purse, opt for a large neutral bag. One that your husband could carry and one that you can easily throw your cell, wallet and tube of lipstick and call it a day.

    Hope this helps!

    Your cousin,

    1. Hey Sara! So good to hear from you and how you've adjusted to mamahood, and how you've resolved the diaper bag dilemma! And I especially that you touched on the diaper-bag-and-purse combo issue, which I'd also been debating. Having read your response (and that of the other mamas who chimed in) I think you're totally right that it makes sense to keep baby stuff separated, and there's always the option to leave the diaper bag in the car if it ends up being a short errand. Sometimes I just want to avoid the whole consumerist trap so much, so it's good to know when it IS worthwhile and that a diaper bag really is a useful investment.

  5. As a new mom (baby is 7 weeks old), I went with a backpack. My logic was that it would be cheaper than a diaper bag and maybe it would look manly enough that my husband would carry it. After 7 weeks, I'm seriously considering switching to a messenger-style diaper bag. Here's why:

    1. Usually when I'm out with my husband, he carries the car seat because that's heavier. So that leaves me with the diaper bag anyway.

    2. The backpack I chose has one main compartment and 3 smaller pockets. The smaller pockets are nice, but things are constantly getting lost in the main compartment. Even one of the smaller pockets is pretty deep, and digging around for the pacifier at the bottom while you're dealing with a screaming baby is not fun (add in the fact that while you're digging, all the rest of the stuff in the pocket spills out, and well... you get the picture).

    3. Diaper bags (at least the ones I'm considering) are at least somewhat water proof. I already had an incident where a bottle leaked in the backpack, even though I put it in a sealed plastic bag! The milk got all over the seat of my car, plus the blankets and everything cloth inside the backpack. This could have also been prevented by a pocket specially designed for a bottle (which some backpacks have, but mine doesn't).

    So there's my 2 cents. I do appreciate the fact that the backpack doesn't flop all over like a one-strap over the shoulder bag would, and that's why I'd like a messenger style diaper bag. Still only one strap to put on, but then it stays put.

    Good luck in your baby preparations!

    1. Oh, thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like you and I were totally on the same page at the beginning, so I really appreciate hearing how it didn't end up working out after all and to hear what you have discovered end up being more useful qualities. From reading what you and some of the other mamas have said, it sounds like I should not underestimate the power of organization in a bag! Thanks for sharing, I really appreciate it!!

  6. As a mother of twins, I went with a simple backpack that was already in the closet. What I did do was stash some extra clothes and diapers in a plastic container in the back of the van. If an emergency arose while I was away from home I had some essentials. *Note if Daddy has baby make sure the essentials have been refilled prior to leaving home.

    1. I like the idea of having something you can just leave in the car, since that's pretty much always with us. Thanks for sharing that great idea!

  7. I will say you DO need something. I have two boys that are 16 months apart and I found with the first I needed everything society said I needed. Most of it was over doing it, in my opinion. Our second son, we reduced our packing items. When you have two children, two carseats, and trying to go on outings, I would looking at working smarter not harder. Many times I have seen women use craft bags, backpacks , or even briefcases. Since you have time, make a list of what you think you will need to have and then look for a item that would organize and hold those items. You may already have it on hand?!?! Make sure you plan for the items that use day to day when you are out for more than a hour. Hope this helps. Many blessings, Kori

  8. My vote is for a diaper bag of some sort. It needs several individual pockets - the more the better. Also, you need one that will grow with the needs of your baby. It's an organizational thing with me. Plus, you'll find it's handy to just keep it packed and ready to go. Even on the best of days - thinking, no way I'll need a diaper I'm just going up the street to the park, etc. - yep, that's when you need that diaper. I'm sure you'll figure it all out !!!! :)

    1. Thanks, Aunt Phyllis! I think it is undeniable, hearing from you and so many other moms, that I shouldn't underestimate the power of a bag with plenty of organization! That seems to be the #1 quality people have shared. And it's a good point about that extra diaper; when you think you don't need it, that's invariably when you do! Better to be prepared. Thanks for the encouragement and insight!

  9. My son is now grown but I speak from the point of having had a child and also helped with the nursery at church and other venues. PLEASE get a diaper bag or some bag and have the necessary items in it! I cannot believe the number of people who drop their kids off without anything--including diapers--and expect the caregivers to take care of their kids! Yikes!

    My suggestion would be the messenger bag style. Get a small purse or wallet for your keys, money and such that you always carry that can pop out of the bag so you can leave the bag with a caregiver but have your essentials with you. Many of the bags are styled so that they don't look like diaper bags and can be used later for overnight bags and such. The nice thing about the messenger type diaper bags is that they usually have a waterproof changing pad that folds out so that you can diaper your baby on something that you know is reasonably clean. They also have pockets that help to keep things where you can quickly grab them.

    I used cloth diapers and breast fed. I found that breast fed babies have looser stools and that with cloth diapers particularly, you will be changing the outer garments as well as the diapers many times. Even if you choose to use disposables when you are out and about for convenience, you will find that the outer garments will still get messy and will want a plastic bag for those. Remember that if you are using cloth diapers while out and about you will need some plastic bags for the wet diapers and they will get heavy. I don't know if you are planning to us baby wipes or just wet wash cloths that you carry in a bag, but be sure to get some of the wipes that are for face and body--they are with the regular diaper wipes. They can be used for face and hands and all over if you have some spit up. If carrying washcloths, carry one for the face. Again, those wash cloths can get heavy.

    Also, though you may not think so now, you will want to carry bottles of water for the baby. I always added water between feedings for my baby to ensure that he was fully hydrated.

    I always carried one or two receiving blankets because going from place to place the temp inside of buildings and different areas can vary widely so you may need a bit of extra cover. You can also lay the baby on the blanket on a seat at church to give your arms a break and allow the little one to stretch out.

    A receiving blanket to throw over my shoulder when feeding in public. Call me a prude, but I just feel better with everything covered when in public.

    I never used a pacifier. My son found his thumb and that worked just fine--AND I didn't have to go crawling around looking for the binky in the middle of the night so everyone could sleep.

    I know that there are the plug in bottle warmers and plug in wipes warmers and all kinds of gadgets, but really, those are just flotsom and jetsom. Your milk will be warm and the water can be warmed quickly under warm running water.

    A couple of extra tshirts or onsies is a good idea. Some extra socks--believe me, I had to change all the way down several times! Diaper ointment or whatever you choose to use on the bottom especially with cloth diapers is a must.

    Don't forget some baby tylenol and teething gel. With little ones, fevers can come on quickly.

    Oh, and you can keep some extra breast feeding pads in there too for inside of your bra so that you can keep your clothing dry.

    I like the comment above about having an emergency container in the back of the car--just in case. If you are gone for 5 hours on a Sunday, you will want some extra items. Of course, as the baby grows, you will replace bottles with sippy cups and cherrios & teething rings, but it will all work in the same bag.

    Hope this helps! Babies are really such a wonder and a blessing! :)

    1. Ah, thanks so much for taking the time to share your tips and tricks. I really appreciate the time you took to share with me!! Also, thanks for the encouragement to be prepared when it comes to diaper changing and all that might be required. Sometimes I read those lists on websites of what to carry in your diaper bag and it just seems like overkill but it's good to know when it actually is quite realistic (and why!).

  10. Lots of great comments! I have four kids, the youngest is 3 so it's been a little while for me.

    I'm someone who never wanted a "mom" purse or diaper bag, but changed my tune once the 1st baby came :) I always used the free diaper bags that came with formula at the hospitals (always the black one, never the colorful "baby" print one), a free messenger bag my DH got from his employer, or a clear "purse" I won at an event. All of them worked. I just threw my wallet into the larger ones.

    I always packed a thin receiving blanket (to change on), a homemade cotton/flannel blanket (for covering when cold or nursing), a change of baby clothes in a zip-lock bag for blow-outs, just-in-case formula/bottle (and I breastfed - just the free stuff from the hospital because you never know), a bottle of water, snacks when baby was old enough, 3 extra diapers and a small pack of wipes, a couple extra zip-lock bags, a small hand sanitizer, a couple cloth burp rags (aka cloth diapers) and a small pack of snacks once baby was old enough. Definitely diaper cream at first. A small sunscreen once baby is old enough, and a hat if the weather demands it. And after the time baby spit up all over my white t-shirt at the mall - an extra t-shirt for me. Sounds like a lot, but I could fit all that in the small, clear "purse." I just rolled everything up. Easy to find, and it looked cute that way, too.

    The larger bags are great for road trips, when you also want to pack a pair of PJs and several extra diapers. Also when you have more than one little one, it's nice to have more room.

    A word of warning about thumbs vs. pacifiers - if your baby is one that needs to suck on something, it's much easier to help him quit the pacifier than the thumb when it's time. My 6-y.o. still sucks two fingers (twisted around in her mouth - the orthodontist sees big $$ signs with her!).

    I also always kept a few spare diapers in the van, and still keep wipes in there.

    Bottom line, pick something you feel comfortable with, something you think is cute, and possibly something your husband is willing to carry in public! :)

    1. Thanks for all the great tips!! Especially the detailed list of what you carried and the suggestion for bringing an extra top for yourself. That will likely come in very useful! Also, the idea of rolling the various clothes; I used to do that when packing and it definitely does make keeping things separate easier, so I'll have to remember that for the diaper bag, too! Interesting note about the thumbs vs. pacifiers. I have noticed kids sucking their fingers well past the age when they'd typically be using a pacifier so that's a good head's up to keep in mind!

  11. Loved reading everyone's responses and hearing different people's preferences. :)

    I have a eight week old baby so I went through this not too long ago. I've never liked carrying purses (the purse I used for the last few years was a small messenger style and I LOVED it because I didn't have to think about carrying it). We are similar to you - one car and I'm home most of the time with Baby Hadden. And we are cloth diapering, although we are just making that switch now.

    The bag we ended up picking was the Skip Hop Duo Deluxe. It's a little bigger than I originally wanted, but since it is a messenger style it really doesn't feel ginormous. I also can carry it on one shoulder when I use our sling (which is fairly often). It has both baby things (diapers, wipes, soothers, clean outfit, hat, burp cloth, blanket) and things for me (water bottle, meds, a couple panty liners, lip gloss, wallet). My husband likes that it is a messenger style as well. On Sundays we can both fit our Bibles in the bag which leaves our hands free to do other things. :)

    For my personal items (driver's license, credit cards, cash, military ID, etc), I have a small wristlet wallet. It works out well and I would MUCH rather have it that way than carry a purse as well. I put it in one of the front pockets so it is easily accessible. If I'm just running into a store or going on a quick walk around the neighborhood (or if I happen to run an errand by myself), I often leave the diaper bag in the car and just carry the wristlet.

    hope this helps. :)

    p.s. if you are thinking of going with a smaller diaper bag, i would make sure that you always keep a hat in there for the little one. i hate seeing babies who are exposed to the wind/cold with bare heads! sometimes you don't need it when you first leave for the day, but i think it is important to keep one on hand.

    1. Oh, thanks for the specific recommendation of the bag you chose! I've heard a lot of people talk about the Skip Hop brand, so I'll have to look into that specific one. Also, I like the idea of keeping my own stuff in a smaller bag that I can drop into the diaper bag if need be.

  12. Ok here goes my youngest is 11 1/2 so it has been awile for me. I always had a diaper bag w/ me filled w/ extra clothes, blanket, diapers, wipes, tylenol, teething items(when needed), & bottles w/ formula, etc......The bottles & formula was because I was unable to breastfeed after the 1st couple of months due to not having enough milk & various other reasons. That might be something you want to think about not everyone is able to do it(out on a limb here I"m sure). Hard for me but had to accept it. I used the diaper bags from the hospital & they worked well for the most part. I am going to say that I didn't always take it in for short errands just left it in the car & that worked fine.I remember once when our oldest was just an infant I ended up using ALL 3 changes of clothes I had for him, you just never know. Congratulations & Gods Blessings yo you:)

  13. Yes!! I wrote a research paper on cloth diapers when I took a class on Infancy! There are many options for those also! Youtube actually has video reviews on certain brands/styles if you're interested in quick information.

  14. As a first time mom to a 5-month-old, here's what's worked for me. We got lots of diaper bags at our baby shower. One of them was a multiple set that had a large bag and a smaller bag. The small bag is probably about 12"x10"x5" vs the larger bag being 22"x12"x10 (totally guessing on the dimensions). As a breastfeeding mom, I found that I don't need much when I'm out and about, so the smaller bag is perfect. I keep three or four diapers, a pack of wipes, a changing pad, one onesie and a burp cloth in it. I keep it in my car when I go into a store b/c I can always run out to the car if I need it. I also have enough room in it to add a couple of toys as I go out the door. In my car, I also keep a larger changing pad in the car for diaper changes on the road.

  15. Ok. I'm a little late reading this post, but I really want to share!

    I am a first time mom to a 6 week old baby girl. We are using gDiapers (kind of a cloth diaper hybrid- you should check them out), and I am exclusively breast feeding. I am also a stay at home mom. Sounds like we have some things in common, well at least a few! :)

    I use a diaper bag that was given to us at one of our showers. It is wonderful. Mine is a little bit bigger, but I have combined it with my purse, so all of my things and baby's things are in the same bag. Big, or should I say HUGE help to combine into one bag. I quickly learned that even the smallest purse added to carrying a diaper bag (of any size I would guess) was just too much. I carry a changing pad, several gDiapers, a wet bag, extra outfit for baby girl, small container of wipes, burp cloth, a light blanket, pacifier, extra pacifier in case the other one lands on the floor, and a small toy for her. For me, I have my iPad (can any one say "white noise sometimes saves my life"), wallet, phone, and chap stick. I sometimes throw in a few snacks for me. The whole being hungry thing that you were talking about in one of your other posts doesn't change while you are breastfeeding.

    I see that several people commented that they liked using a backpack. I personally cannot imagine using a backpack. Have you considered trying out baby wearing? I use a Moby wrap while out and about most of the time, and that would really limit me using a backpack as a diaper bag. Just a thought. :)


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