When Public Restrooms Have No Changing Table

I’m not sure that I ever paid attention to whether or not there were changing tables in restrooms until I became a mom. Now I definitely notice!

What is the best way to get your child out of a soiled diaper and into a clean one when businesses do not provide changing tables for their patrons?

While we were driving across several states for Thanksgiving this last year, we encountered numerous restaurants and gas stations that did not have changing tables. Each time this happened I was left debating the best way to get my toddler out of a soiled diaper and into a clean one.

Changing tables are a relatively new concept; many generations of parents have found ways to change diapers without them. It is somewhat surprising, though, and often awkward when today’s establishments, particularly those that claim to be “family friendly,” do not provide this simple convenience for their patrons.

What are your options when no changing table is available?

  • Use the car. You can return to your vehicle and utilize the space available on the rear seat to change the diaper. Of course, if you have multiple children who use multiple car seats, this may not be an option. The trunk is another possibility, though this may require you to pull out your stroller and whatever else occupies the trunk. If the weather is inclement, you may need to abandon the possibility of using the car.
  • Use the bathroom floor. If you can get over the filthy state of the bathroom floor, you can always throw down some paper towels and a portable changing pad (or both) and utilize the bathroom floor for changing the diaper.
  • Use the sink counter. If there is sufficient room on the counter around the sink in the restroom, you can carefully avoid or dry up puddles of water and then use the counter to change the diaper.
  • Use your lap while you sit on a toilet in the bathroom. It’s not an easy balancing act, but it is possible to hold a baby on your lap while changing his or her diaper. Most moms don’t relish the thought of sitting on a public toilet seat while fumbling with wipes, baby poo, and diapers, but it’s an option that works. This approach is less effective as babies grow larger.
  • Have baby stand in a stall. Toddlers are often capable of standing while you change their diapers. It’s never easy to get a toddler to stand still, but if you can manage, this is often an efficient approach.
  • Use a flat surface out in the place of business. Every now and then parents make the news because there weren’t changing tables available so they changed their babies on tables or chairs in restaurants or in similar settings. I’ve not done this myself, but I’ve certainly considered it! Technically it is an option, but it’s not a good one. It’s terribly disrespectful of fellow patrons and is a potential health hazard.

As you can see, none of these options are particularly great (which is why I took a slightly humorous approach when describing each and overemphasized their negative aspects). Consequently, once I get a soiled diaper changed, I like to kindly speak to the management of the establishment and communicate how inconvenient it is that they do not provide a changing table (or, better yet, two tables—one in the men’s room and one in the women’s room). If the business is part of a chain, I also like to communicate this to the corporate office.

Because I may end up using one of the options described above, I always carry a small, portable changing pad with me in the diaper bag. These are very helpful! When changing tables are available, I use the pad to cover them because I have no idea what germs are present!

As consumers, we have many choices where to spend our money. This means we can choose to patronize establishments that cater to our needs and avoid those that don’t. Thus, if businesses do not provide changing tables, then we typically avoid them in favor of businesses that do. I hope that this small action helps support and encourage family-friendly businesses.

I’m very curious to hear what you do when you’re out and about and don’t have access to a changing table. How do you change your little one’s diaper? What tips can you share with the rest of us?

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  1. I am so glad that you’re discussing this issue! Since I have 4 younger siblings, I was semi-aware of this when I was younger and would see my mom have to figure out a way to change the baby’s diaper in the restroom. I’ve already been noting which places have changing tables for when our little guy is born in this summer! I really like how you mention changing tables in both restrooms-I think it would be great to recognize the important role of fathers by having that offered in public restrooms!! Looking at your list of options, I think that if a changing table is not available, one of the better options would probably be using the sink counter, though in some restaurants there isn’t much counter-space, so that wouldn’t work all of the time. Thank you for encouraging us to discuss this issue with management and corporate! I think that is a splendid way to enact positive change in our communities 🙂

    • Hi AnneMarie,
      You definitely get creative when you have to, but it is nice to have this convenience. I’ve found that having a kind discussion with management and corporate really is the best approach.

  2. My kids are all grown up now but I remember many times kneeling on a bathroom floor. I had a little roll up changing mat in my bag. When they were tiny of course I could manage on my lap. It’s a bit sad to think that in the last 16 – 20 years things have no improved.

  3. When we travel, I’m a huge fan of having an on the go changing station in the car/truck. It is so much easier if you have another person to help you out, then one can stay with the baby while the other goes and uses the restroom. Because you know if you go in the bathroom with the baby to use the changing table, what do you do with the baby while you want to pee? heh

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