Expert Tips on Choosing the Perfect Diaper Bag

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Image via Skip Hop Inc

Take it from me, a mom of four: a diaper bag is perhaps the most used piece of gear you will use as a new mother. I brought mine to the hospital and used my diaper bags well past the time my babies were done with diapers to carry around toys, snacks, and sippy cups.

The experts at The Baby Cubby know how important it is to find just the right bag. They know that moms soon come to find that their diaper bag is their saving grace when their baby 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 – from carrying an extra change of clothes and juice boxes to your own cell phone and laptop – plus durable enough to withstand your soon-to-be toddler and her playground antics and stylish enough for you to want to carry it every day without feeling like a frump.

That' s a lot to ask out of one bag. But never fear – this Baby Cubby guide helped me and will be your greatest resource in attempting to find the diaper bag of your dreams.

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Image via Baby Cubby

First to Consider: Functionality

Learn from my mistakes: 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, it's a diaper bag but it is not just for diapers – it is also for you! (Trust me, I once tried carrying around two bags so I keep my things separate from the baby's – it didn't last a week.) 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 along with you. Consider bags like those in the Ju-Ju-Be line that have a dedicated “mommy pocket” just for you! I love bags with separate pockets like this so that I don't need to worry about my expensive phone and sunglasses getting wet and sticky.

2. Space for the Babe

Now that we've covered the space you need, let's turn to the type of space you will need for the baby. It's very important that you are able to keep the space for the baby organized since you will need to reach for things quickly while holding a wiggly, sometimes cranky, baby. The most common items in a diaper bag for a newborn may include the following or more:

  • 3-4 diapers
  • Wipes
  • Rash cream
  • 1-2 bottles
  • Formula container or a nursing cover like Covered Goods
  • Baby food
  • A swaddle blanket
  • An extra outfit
  • A toy or two
  • Pacifiers
  • 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 also organized space for everything. Consider bags that have multiple pockets, even in unexpected places.

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. Take it from a mom of four, it's worth the cost to invest in a larger and durable bag up-front. 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.

 

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Image via Baby Cubby

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 functions like a diaper bag (not unlike those from MZ Wallace), or you can find stylish backpacks and messenger bags. The bottom line here is that you need to find a bag that speaks to your style as well as your need for function. Even if your bag is completely functional, if you don't love it you won't want to use it.

1. Color

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! Look at your pre-baby purses. Did you tend to go trendy and unique or sophisticated and timeless? The same style sensibility can be applied to diaper bags.

2. Traditional Bag vs. Purse Hybrid

Nowadays most moms are opting for more purse-like (aka hybrid) diaper bags that allow us to retain as much of our pre-Mommy style as possible. However, traditional bags are much more likely to be carried by the spouses, which is a big consideration if your partner will be taking on a lot of baby-duty. Traditional bags can also offer a ton of functionality. 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 – there is no mistaking them for a handbag. Purse hybrids, on the other hand, work hard to hide what they are. This covert attempt usually allows for fewer pockets and they may be smaller, but they do offer upgraded fabrics (like leather or vegan leather) and chic designs.

{ MORE: Here's Your Permission To Skip Exercise During Pregnancy }

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Image via Baby Cubby

Third to Consider: Size & Weight

1. Size

Size and weight are quite possibly the most important aspects of a diaper bag but are also the most overlooked. You need a bag that is large enough for you to take everything you need for you and the baby, but not so big that as your baby grows and doesn't need as much for every outing 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 bulkier 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, do make extra large diaper bags that are specifically for traveling with a 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 bulkier, but this will be a bag that you will use for a specific purpose, not as an everyday bag. That said, these are great bags for moms of multiples or moms with more than one young child. At one point I had three kids in diapers and I found myself using an extra large bag every day.

2. Weight

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 a while! 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!

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Image via Baby Cubby

Fourth to Consider: Carry Options

When you become a mother for the first time you will find yourself wondering why you weren't born an octopus with eight arms instead of a human with two arms. 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. This is a great option when chasing your little one around at the playground. With a messenger strap, you are also still hands-free and ready to handle anything that your kiddos throw your way. Most bags that have messenger straps also have a secondary carry option with shoulder straps so that you have lots of choices.

3. Backpack

Some parents prefer a diaper bag that is a backpack. Why? 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. A backpack 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. You can also easily pick your baby and carry her in front or on your hip with a backpack.

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Image via Baby Cubby

Fifth to Consider: Fabric Options

As you may know, fabric is an incredibly important part of your diaper bag. It needs to be durable, easy to clean, and, of course, gorgeous since you will be using it every day.

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 machine washable. This means that if you do get some dirt (or other oddities, 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
  • Lightweight
  • 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.

  • Durable
  • Lightweight
  • 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.

  • Durable
  • Lightweight
  • 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 Rotundas, 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

As 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
  • Lightweight
  • Versatile printed fabrics

 

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Image via Baby Cubby

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 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 not too “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.

{ MORE: Single Mom Friends: The 5 Friends Every Single Mom Needs in Her Life }

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Image via Baby Cubby

If you want even more guidance, check out this great printable checklist from The Baby Cubby so that you don't overlook any important details when shopping for what likely be your most-used and longest-lasting piece of baby gear.

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Image via Baby Cubby

So, which bag did I choose? With four kids spanning ten years, I have a lot of experience with diaper bags. Searching for a new one, I had a good idea of what I wanted but found the Baby Cubby checklist very helpful in helping me organize my must-haves, wants, and don't-needs.

I knew that I would get tired of a diaper bag that looked drab or looked too much like a diaper bag. I also knew that I would regret not getting a bag with enough pockets, that wasn't easy to clean, or that wasn't the right size no matter how cute the bag may be. After a lot of searching I decided to get the large MZ Wallace Abbey Tote because it has enough room for all of the kids' stuff – plus mine – without looking like a suitcase. It has tons of pockets for me to keep organized, it allows me to keep sippy cups and snacks away from my phone, and it has easy-to-clean material on the inside and out. I also like that basic black goes with everything!

Although it is on the pricier side, I know from past experience that if I got a bag that wasn't perfect and that I didn't love, I would likely wind up buying a new one in a year or so and would wind up wasting money that way. This bag can also be used well after the diaper years, making it a bag with longevity.

On my wish list is the MZ Wallace Medium Tote in Poppy. This would be another good option that doesn't scream “diaper bag” and is easy to clean. It would be a good option for going out with one or two kids and has a great, fun pop of color.

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Image via Nordstrom

Whichever diaper bag you choose, make sure it's one you love. Many new moms don't realize that diaper bags are often used well beyond the diaper years and may get more use than your favorite handbag. Take your time choosing, consider everything from size to color to how you like to carry your bags, and try out a friend's or stop in a store to look at bags in person, if possible.

And most of all, have fun making your decision!

{ MORE: How a Knit Hat Might Prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome }

How did you decide on your diaper bag?

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Expert Tips on Choosing the Perfect Diaper Bag

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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