An institution that is renovating its toilets contacted me recently to ask my opinion on what would constitute the ideal baby-changing facility. Since so many baby-changing facilities I’ve encountered are less than ideal, I thought I’d write a post about all the things that would make the best, most super-duper, easy-to-use facility for when your little one needs the bathroom.
I think that many bathroom designers imagine a cute tiny baby, add a pull-down changing table to the bathroom, and think, ta-da! Baby-changing facility! But no. To truly take into account all of the needs of both parents and children, at all stages from infancy to when a child can successfully use a bathroom stall all by themselves, means thinking about a lot more than just a changing table. Here’s what I’d include in my dream baby-changing facility:
Easy access. This means a door that opens and stays open, rather than one you have to hold open as you manoeuvre your buggy into the space. If it’s a combination baby-changing/disabled toilet it should have a push button that opens the door automatically, and the button should be placed in a position such that the door doesn’t whack your stroller as it opens. If it’s a stand-alone baby-changing room it should still have a door that opens easily and stays in place until you close it. It should also be easy to get to – no tight corners or narrow hallways to navigate!
Lots of space. If you are using a galactic-sized baby carriage (or one built for two kids) you still sometimes need to be able to get the whole thing into the baby-changing facility. Some parents don’t want to leave the carriage outside the bathroom in case of theft, and I don’t know any parent with a two-child pushchair who would want to leave one sleeping child unattended outside while they change the other kid’s nappy in a tiny changing room. So if it’s possible, the more space the better!
A toilet for parents. Some baby-changing facilities are just for the baby – they’ve got the requisite changing table and sink, but no toilet. But what if the parent is the one who needs to go to the bathroom? It’s so much more convenient to have a toilet in the room too. It saves having to find a regular bathroom stall big enough to bring a baby carriage into when the baby is sleeping but the parent has gotta go. It’s also useful for children right in the beginning stages of potty training, who may need both changing table and toilet in one trip.
A big changing table. All changing tables will fit a small baby, but if you’ve got a not-yet-potty-trained two-and-a-half-year-old who likes to kick, scream, and talk back at you while you’re changing their nappy, you need something that will accommodate their height and weight without being worried that their wriggling will send them and the whole changing table crashing down to the floor. There are larger-sized pull-down changing tables available, so the bigger the better. Even better, though, would be to have the changing area on a counter or other stable piece of furniture – again, one big enough to accommodate the largest possible toddler.
A potty or toilet seat insert. I’ve been in some baby-changing facilities that have included both a potty and a child-size toilet seat cover so that a young child who is just learning how to use the potty/toilet has their choice of which one to use. This is extremely useful – yes, the parent may have to clean the potty or toilet seat thoroughly before and after use, but the child may prefer one or the other over a travel potty or sitting on an adult-sized toilet seat. At the potty-training stage anything that makes the job easier is extremely welcome.
A shelf or counter. You need to put your changing bag somewhere, and if the bathroom has a grotty floor you certainly don’t want your bag on it. You also need space to put the baby’s clothes, a new change of clothes if necessary, a pack of wipes, a disposal bag, and a fresh diaper. Usually there isn’t enough room for all those things at once, which means you’re fiddling in your bag for stuff and holding it under your arm, chin, and wherever else you can. The more shelf space, the better!
Quiet appliances. Many kids are spooked by loud-flushing toilets, loud hand dryers, and sinks that spray huge jets of water. Finding a toilet that flushes quietly like at home instead of sounding like a rocket is taking off is really difficult in public bathrooms! And ones that auto-flush (thankfully, much more prevalent in America than in the UK) are a recipe for disaster. I don’t know anyone, kid or adult, who wants their bare bum to suddenly be whooshed by a forceful jet of air because the toilet decided that they were done. Let the user control the toilet! The hand dryer is also reviled by many kids and I would switch it for paper towels or one of those towels on rollers. Somehow the hand dryer is always inadvertently set off at very inopportune moments (especially if there isn’t much room in the changing facility), which makes for an unhappy changing and/or potty experience.
A sink children can use. Children who are learning about how to use the bathroom may want to wash their hands themselves. A stepstool that allows them access to the sink or a child-height sink would be most welcome. And it must have a mixer tap – none of those horrid separate hot and cold taps! Hot taps can burn delicate skin and cold taps can be very uncomfortable too.
A nappy disposal bin that smells fresh. It is one of the worst things in any parent’s nappy-changing experience to throw a used nappy into a disposal bin and then suddenly have the air fill with the sickening stench of dirty diapers that are clearly several days old. No matter whether the nappy disposal bin is massive or tiny, the same rule applies: it must be emptied every day, no matter how many or few diapers are actually in it. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a fresh-smelling facility! Parents will appreciate it and their little ones will too.
There you have it – my recipe for a perfect baby-changing facility. Have I missed anything? If there’s something you would add, let me know in the comments section. And I’d love to hear your own stories of excellent or appalling baby-changing facilities you’ve used!