A diaper bag is perhaps the #1 piece of gear you will use as a new mother. You will soon come to find that your diaper bag is your saving grace when babe is hungry, has a dirty diaper, or just plain won't stop crying. You will need a bag that is functional enough to do every job in the book, durable enough to withstand your soon-to-be toddler dragging it across the playground, and stylish enough for you to want to carry it every day. That's a lot to ask out of one bag. But never fear - this guide will be your greatest resource in attempting to find the diaper bag of your dreams.
First to Consider: Functionality
You don't know it yet, but if you end up with a non-functional bag you will be kicking yourself. You need a diaper bag that is going to support you through all of the temper tantrums, nights out, and day trips that you are about to take with your little one! So, what should you be looking for?
1. Mommy Space
Yes. This diaper bag is not just for baby - it is also for you! (Trust me, you will no longer be carrying around that designer purse and a diaper bag and a baby). You are going to need space in this bag for not only diapers and wipes, but also for your wallet, keys, sunglasses, lip gloss, and other toiletries you may decide to take a long with you. Consider bags like those in the Ju-Ju-Be line that have a dedicated “mommy pocket” just for you!
2. Space for the Babe
And organized space at that! The most common items in a diaper bag for a newborn are the following:
- 3-4 diapers
- Rash cream like Tubby Todd All Over Ointment
- 1-2 bottles
- Formula container or a nursing cover like Covered Goods
- Muslin swaddle blankets
- An extra outfit
- A toy or two
- Pacifiers like Naturesutten
- A hat (for cold or the sun)
- A burp cloth (or 3)
- A bib
Phew! That was a lot of stuff! With so many items floating around in your bag, you can see why it is important to not only have space for everything, but organized space for everything. Consider bags that have multiple pockets, even in unexpected places, like the Petunia Pickle Bottom Pathway Pack.
3. Growing Room
Unless you're planning on having only one child, you will most likely need a bag that can handle both a toddler and a newborn. So take all of the items mentioned above and add in 2-3 larger diapers, a snack cup, a small water bottle, and a small toy.
When You're at the Store:
Go ahead and stuff that bag!
Take this list of items above with you and find items that are around the same size and put them in the bag.
Try organizing the bag, see if everything is still easy access and convenient to put away. Remember - once you have a new little bundle of joy you may only have one hand to rifle through your bag and grab things. The more organized you can be the better.
- One last step - don’t forget to take everything out of the bag before buying it. We don’t want you getting in trouble with the law now!
Second to Consider: Style
More than ever before moms have lots of choices when it comes to the style of their diaper bags. You can get a bag that looks like a purse but function like a diaper bag (not unlike those from MZ Wallace or Coco & Kiwi), or you can find stylish backpacks and messenger bags from brands like JJ Cole. The bottom line here is that you need to find a bag that speaks to your style as well as your need for function.
There are two schools of thought here: get a bright and colorful bag that really shows off your personality, or get one that is made up of a more sophisticated color palette that will coordinate with every single outfit in your closet. There are pros and cons to both options, so your job is truly to find one that you (and your significant other) are happy to carry around!
2. Traditional Bag vs. Purse Hybrid
Nowadays most women are opting for more purse-like (aka hybrid) diaper bags. These bags speak to our desire to retain some of our pre-mommy style! However, traditional bags are much more likely to be carried by the spouses. Let’s be honest, what guy wants to walk through the park with a bag that looks like a purse? Not many. So, what is the difference between a traditional diaper bag and a purse hybrid? A traditional diaper bag is one that was specifically created for its purpose - to be a diaper bag. You will find that more traditional bags tend to have extra pockets (gotta have that organization!), are larger, and look like what they are - a diaper bag - which is why the significant others love them. Purse hybrids on the other hand work hard to hide what they are. This covert attempt usually allows for less pockets, upgraded fabrics (like leather or vegan leather), and chic designs. When You're at the Store:
- Take your spouse with you. Make sure that they will feel comfortable with the features and style of the bag.
- Figure out which functions are most important to you and how much style you are willing to sacrifice for those functions.
- What do the purse hybrids offer that the traditional bags don't and vice versa?
- Consider getting two bags: one traditional and more functional bag, and one for nights out or special events that leans more towards your style.
- For the dads: if you and your significant other can’t decide on a bag that you both like, keep in mind that there are diaper bags created specifically for men out there! They are usually made from more masculine fabrics and patterns. This guide still applies though, so give it to your man so he can find the perfect guide as well!
Third to Consider: Size & Weight
Size and weight are quite possibly the most important aspects of a diaper bag that are also the most overlooked. You need a bag that is large enough for you to take everything you need, but not so big that as your baby grows you'll feel like you have a lot of wasted space. You also need to find one that will be the right weight for you with all of your baby gear in it! In terms of sizing, you absolutely must consider bulk. Once stuffed, some bags are much more bulky than others. The size of the changing pad, the available space inside, and the ability to pack things side-to-side versus in front of each other are all factors that can affect the bulk of a bag. You will also want to assess how large the bag is on its own without anything inside of it. If it is so big that it is getting in your way all by itself, then it will just be a nuisance once you actually have stuff in it! A special note: some companies, like Ju-Ju-Be and Petunia Pickle Bottom, do make extra large diaper bags that are specifically for traveling with baby. These bags are perfect for flights and trips as they give you all of the organization you expect from your diaper bag with all of the space of a travel bag. Thus, they will naturally be more bulky, but this will be a bag that you will use for a specific purpose, not as an everyday bag.
In terms of weight, consider that certain types of fabric are heavy all on their own. This means that when you add baby gear you may get an extra-heavy bag. Every woman is different though, and most of us will not carry a diaper bag for long periods of time - instead, opting to put it in our stroller's storage basket. So, stuff that bag while you are at the store and carry it around for awhile! Figure out if you will be comfortable carrying it for about 5-10 minutes at a time. If you are comfortable, then it is the right bag for you!
When You're at the Store:
Pick up a few different bags made of different fabrics. Compare the weight while they are empty.
Take your favorites and stuff them (we cannot stress this stuffing thing enough).
Now pick them up. Carry them around for at least 5 minutes.
How does it feel on your shoulders?
Is anything cutting into you?
Is there any strain on your neck or back?
Remember: any discomfort you're feeling now you will have to feel in the future while juggling a wiggly baby who wants to get out of your arms!
Fourth to Consider: Carry Options
When you become a mother for the first time you will find yourself wondering why God didn't bless you with two sets of hands. Especially when your little begins walking and having opinions (like wanting to be held 24/7 by mom and dad) you will be begging for another pair! But alas, that is not to be. This is why you should think about how you are going to carry your diaper bag. Diaper bags typically have 3 different carry options: shoulder straps (like a purse), messenger strap, and a backpack.
1. Shoulder Straps
Shoulder straps are great for a few reasons: you most likely are used to carrying bags with shoulder straps already, they are easy to grab, and they tend to hang down and out of the way when you're not using them. Shoulder straps also tend to be made of a more durable material, as the company understands they will be rubbing up on your shoulder all day and don’t want them to wear out on you!
2. Messenger Strap
The messenger strap is kind of the catch-all strap. It can make any bag hands free and is easy to add on as a style option, but it also features some great functionality - allowing you the ability to wear the bag behind you and, with an easy pull, twist the bag around to your front for easy access to its contents! With a messenger strap you are also still hands free and ready to handle anything that your kiddos throw your way. As well, most bags that have messenger straps also have a secondary carry option, so that you have lots of choices!
Most parents will tell you that you need at least one diaper bag that is a backpack. Why? Because they will literally save your life as your family grows. Children do not tend to want to stick around mom and dad for very long during the day - the world is much too wide and much too fun to explore! So, they run away from you. Very fast, I might add. This is when you will be thanking your lucky stars that you got a backpack - it securely stays behind you with no chance of it falling off anywhere or getting in the way of your legs. Plus, since the weight is distributed evenly across your back you will not have any problems with leaning from one side to the other or having to switch it to the other side of your body.
When You're at the Store:
Make sure to try every carry option that each bag has to offer. Most bags will offer you a messenger strap and then either a backpack or shoulder strap option.
Which carry option do you like more?
Are the backpack straps placed comfortably?
How easy is it to move the bag from your back to your front?
Is the handle drop of the bag the right length?
Do the straps fall off at all?
Wear the bag around the store for a little bit. Make sure that it is going to be comfortable enough for you to carry for long periods of time.
Fifth to Consider: Fabric Options
As most of you know, fabric is an incredibly important part of your diaper bag. It needs to be durable, easy to clean, and of course gorgeous.
1. Glazed and Coated Fabric
Glazed and coated fabrics are specially treated fabrics that create waterproof barriers and extra durability. These type of treatments are most often used on lighter fabrics in order to strengthen them while still keeping the lightweight nature of the fabrics intact. Multiple companies utilize these fabric treatments to ensure the durability of their bags.
- Glazed Coated Canvas and Coated Canvas
This type of "fabric" is specific to the Petunia Pickle Bottom line. They use canvas fabric which is lightweight, and then glaze or coat it to create a scratch resistant, waterproof, and extremely durable diaper bag. This type of structure allows for fun, versatile prints that never lose their color.
- Extremely durable
- Glazed coated canvas tends to be slightly heavier than the coated canvas
- Wipe clean only
- Teflon Coated Nylon
Nylon with a teflon coating is Ju-Ju-Be's signature fabric. This blend boasts the lightweight durability of nylon with the stain fighting power of teflon! Plus, these bags are even machine washable. This means that if you do get some dirt (or other oddity, you never know with kids!) on your bag, that when you throw it in the wash it will come out looking like new.
- Very Durable
- Holds its color well
- Machine washable, air dry
- Bedford Nylon
Bedford Nylon is MZ Wallace's signature fabric developed to be just as durable as nylon, but maintain the ability to pleat beautifully. A thicker, coated nylon helps MZ Wallace bags remain ultra light but ultra durable. They are also water and stain resistant for easy cleanup.
- Stain and water resistant
- Spot clean only
2. Nylon Fabric
Nylon fabric is extremely popular in the world of diaper bags. Lightweight and durable, dyed nylon will hold on to its color throughout the years as well as keep its shape. It can also be treated to add features and functions that will allow this bag to look like new for years to come.
- Nylon and Cotton Nylon Blend
Nylon and cotton nylon blended fabrics are fantastic because of how incredibly light they are! Nylon is also a very strong fabric in terms of being able to hold up well against a lot of wear and tear - which is why it is so popular for clothing as well! Nylon and Cotton Nylon Blend Bags are also very easy to clean, just hand wash only please!
- Easy to clean - depending on the brand some are machine washable and some are spot clean only.
- Teflon Coated Nylon & Bedford Nylon: See Glazed and Coated Fabric
3. Vegan Leather
Vegan leather is a fantastic alternative to more expensive, genuine leather bags. You can often achieve the same look of leather, depending on the quality. Little Unicorn's new Pomegranate and Black Rotunda's, for instance, have the same leather texture you would expect from genuine leather. You do need to watch out for scratches with vegan leather bags as they can start peeling if not properly cared for. However, there are levels of vegan leather in terms of quality - a stiffer and thicker faux leather will hold up better than a lighter, thinner one.
- Durable, if properly cared for and a high quality vegan leather is chosen
- Lighter than genuine leather
- Wipe clean only
4. Genuine Leather
Like with any genuine leather bag you are going to get durability, wear, and fairly easy clean up. As leather is a heavier material you do need to be prepared for your bag being on the heavy side.
However, that is a small price to pay for a bag that will probably last you for 10-20 years to come (if not more) when properly cared for. Look for companies like Oemi who create their full-leather diaper bags with lightweight interiors and barrel dyed exteriors, which will keep you wanting to use them looking even more gorgeous over time!
- Very durable
- Wipe clean only
- Wears beautifully
- Can be on the heavy side.
5. Cotton Canvas
Cotton canvas is a popular fabric for many bags from Petunia Pickle Bottom to JJ Cole to Little Unicorn because of it's lightweight and easy-care material. Most bags made from cotton canvas material are spot clean or hand wash only, however since cotton is such a versatile fabric you may have more choices in terms of stain-fighting options. Most cotton bags are also paired with another type of material to increase their durability, like leather or vegan leather accents and protective feet on the bottom of the bag.
- Spot clean only
- Versatile printed fabrics
When You're at the Store:
Read. The. Tags. The tags will tell you what kind of fabric the bag is made out of and the care instructions.
Note that many bags are NOT machine washable, even if they are created from fabric.
Make sure that you understand that there is a tradeoff in weight for a bag that is a woven fabric versus a bag that is glazed or coated versus a leather bag.
Men’s Diaper Bags
Today, more and more dads are taking over a good portion of child care (because they’re awesome!). This means that some dads may want a bag all their own! Perhaps they value different functions more than you do, or they want one that they can take from work to play and back again. Or, maybe they just want a bag that’s “girly” (it’s ok, we feel you). Never fear - there are companies that specifically cater to our handsome dads out there! To name a few:
- Sons of Trade (A sub-company of Petunia Pickle Bottom)
- Diaper Dude
- Skip Hop
This guide applies to your man’s bag just as much as yours - so let him take some time to find the perfect bag for when he has your little one!
As you can see, we at The Baby Cubby believe that finding the perfect diaper bag is no small task. You will need to use your bag for years and years to come, so you must find one that is going to work for you, not against you. Never be afraid to find out everything about the bag prior to purchase. No question is "dumb" when it comes to something so essential to parenthood.
Resources to Take Shopping with You
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