Being out with a baby is like starring in your own action-adventure movie: Will you be able to find a clean pacifier with one hand before she starts crying? Can you fold down the changing table in the gas station restroom and set up for business without letting baby or diaper bag touch the filthy floor? The right bag can make you a hero in just about any situation.
It should fit everything you'll need to take care of a babywhether for that emergency diaper change or a weekend at Grandma's. Besides diapers, it'll tote baby's extra clothes, snacks, and toys. Since you'll carry it everywhere you go, consider one large enough to hold some of your stuff, too. Many feature sections to hold your iPod, wallet, cell phone and more. Many bags, such as the Duo Deluxe Edition from Skip Hop, have specially designated areas for your cell phone, wallet and keyshelping to make sure they stay dry and you stay organized. The Emily Canvas from Storksak features a detachable inner bag (with a zipper) where you can stash makeup or other small items.
You could save money by using a bag you already own. Some parents find a structured tote like a laptop bag works well. But bags designed for hauling baby paraphernalia usually have more pockets--some up to 14. Plus they usually come standard with a washable diaper-change pad, insulated bottle pockets, compartments for baby wipes, and lightly padded shoulder straps. If you want to use your own bag, you can purchase something like the Pronto changing station from Skip Hop, which has a foldout changing pad and a pocket for wipes.
Keep your partner in mind when choosing a bag. One parent might prefer a backpack style to more evenly distribute the bag's weight, while another might like a messenger style. When it comes to fabric patterns, get one that neither of you will mind carrying. If you can't agree on one bag, get a second one--and stock them so you're both ready to head out the door.
Opt for a bag that leaves your hands free, such as a backpack, sling, or messenger-style with a diagonal strap. (See diaper-bag types.)
Many bags can convert into a backpack style. Others are very simple "sling" styles that are great for quick trips. The McKenzie Kids Messenger Bag is actually a small sling style with a pocket for diaper wipes under the front flap. The small Mothers Minder Sling Bag has a bungee cord attached to the front to store extra stuff. The JJ Cole System Bag 180 is a roomier messenger style that comes with its own "pod" to hold a pacifier.
A bag that allows your torso to bear the brunt of the weight you're carrying is better for your neck and shoulders. With this type of bag, you won't have to balance your baby in one hand and a bag in the other. A hands-free bag will also make it easier to juggle a stroller and shopping bags while keeping up with an energetic toddler--that'll be your baby in no time--when you run errands.
You can buy a bag designed to hang on your stroller's handlebar or clips that give you the same option with other bags, but we don't recommend this because the weight might cause the stroller to tip backward. .
The right bag for the right price
You can buy a perfectly chic yet durable and practical carryall for $35 to $40, such as California Innovations Rounded Tote Diaper Bag ($39.99) or Trend Lab's Messenger Bag ($29.98). Or you can spend hundreds for a designer or other high-end bag from Gucci, Kate Spade, or Juicy Couture. If you're looking for something less floral or feminine, there's an entire subindustry aimed at designing diaper bags for dads. Ju-Ju-Be carries the Be Hip messenger bag in slate and timber colors, for example. Storksak carries the Jamie bag made of cowhide and big enough to fit a laptop along with the nappies. And DadGear messenger bags can be found decorated with flames and skulls, if you're so inclined. Just keep in mind that a bigger investment might not deliver a bigger return in terms of convenience or durability. And remember that a diaper bag can get dirty and worn pretty quickly.
"Try to consider what your priorities are before you go out and buy a $500 bag," says Mary Carlomagno, a mother of two, professional organizer, and author of "The Secrets of Simplicity." "Trial and error is often what works when it comes to children. I have gone through a couple of different diaper bags, and half the time all you need is a diaper and a wipe. Go to a retailer who can explain the benefits of the various diaper-bag options. Don't invest too much, because you might want to get another one."
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