Diaper Bag Essentials: Advice from an Experienced Hot Mess Mom

diaper bag essentials

Let me tell you a story. It is not a story of triumph. Because, as you may have guessed from the title of this piece, I am not exactly the mom who has it all together. And spending the last year+ living the always-at-home pandemic life has not made that better. So let me be a cautionary tale on the importance of diaper bag essentials and what happens when you forget them.

It’s been a long year...

This tale of despair begins when I decided to take my children out into a public place for the first time in a very long time. We were all out blowing off some much-needed steam when the inevitable happened: one kid spilled, the other decided that it was the worst day of all time and needed their soother, and general chaos ensued. There was crying, screaming, and much stickiness.

As I rifled desperately through my bag, I realized I had none of the things I needed to rectify either of these situations. In fact, the more I looked, the more I realized that I was missing a TONNE of diaper bag essentials. All of the important sanity-saving items had migrated out of the bag over the long stretch of us staying at home. Quarantine has turned my brain to such mush that I did not even think to collect them again.

Now, this (entirely too) minimalist packing style is a pretty big course correction. When I was a shiny new mom, I was slightly less of a mess. Which meant that I thought through a lot more possible disasters and packed my diaper bag essentials accordingly. This did, however, sometimes lead to me resembling this guy:

Long story short, I am the messy mom who has been on the ugly end of both over and underpacking. So, whether you need a post-pandemic refresher or are a brand new parent trying to get your packing plan started, here are the diaper bag essentials you ACTUALLY need for life in the wild with your littles.

So What’s Essential?

diaper bag essentials
📷 Kelsey S.

The term essential can be a little misleading. It means something different to everyone. What is essential is going to depend on you, your kiddos, and your plans for the day. So when you are gathering your diaper bag essentials, I suggest you try to do a mental walkthrough of your plans. It is generally safe to assume that something weird will happen (because kids are involved) but at least having a general idea of what is in store will help you have the things you need to deal with the day.

All that being said, there are some staple items that you probably aren’t going to want to be without.

Diaper Bag Essentials for the Kids

diaper bag
📷 Alexandra G.
  • Diapers- Let’s start with what should be obvious (but something I have totally forgotten) diapers. You will need one diaper for every two hours you plan to be out, plus a couple of extras just in case. If you have older kids, this is obviously less essential. But if they are still in training pants, make sure not to forget those.
  • Food- Whether this means snacks, bottles, or a boob, don’t forget what you need to feed baby. A hangry kid in the wild is no fun for anyone.
  • Wipes- Wipes are for sure the unsung heroes of the diaper bag essentials. Whether you use disposable or cloth wipes, they are an obvious must-have for diaper changes. But they are also great for cleaning kid-goo off of basically anything, including your child.
  • Change Mat- Even if your diaper bag came with a changing pad, I suggest critically assessing its utility. They are often smaller than you’d like. Plus, other change mats have more uses. If you are short on space, something like our Lifesaver Mini works great. If you can make the room our Lifesaver Mat is a must-have, since it can double as a blanket, burp cloth, emergency towel, or play mat as well.
  • Wetbags- Whether you cloth diaper or not, wetbags are a diaper bag essential for sure. Smaller bags are great for organizing all of the loose items you pack so they don’t end up getting lost in the bottom of the bag. Dry/Wetbags are great for bringing a change of clothes and then carting it home when it gets dirty. If you are headed to the beach or the splashpad a larger bag is great to have to bring home wet towels and suits.
  • A change of clothes- If you have ever interacted with a child, you know why this is necessary. Make sure to throw in a seasonally appropriate hat as well, just in case.
  • Distraction/Comfort Items- This could include pacifiers, toys, or that special blanket. Basically, whatever works to comfort or distract your kiddo long enough to avoid a meltdown at the checkout.

Diaper Bag Essentials for You

parenting essentials
📷 Amanda U.
  • Hand Sanitizer- Even pre-pandemic this was a diaper bag essential for parents. No one knows how fast germs can spread better than a dad who has watched a gastro bug take down their kid’s playgroup.
  • Sunscreen-Bring it and put it on. It is easy to forget yourself when you are worried about the littles. And the lobster look isn’t cute on anyone. I prefer the spray-on variety so that I don’t have to tackle my toddler and wrestle him like an alligator to apply it. Also, throw it and the sanitizer in a wetbag to avoid any issues with leakage.
  • Keys, wallet, phone etc.- Make room for these important personal items in the diaper bag. Even if you would normally carry them in a separate bag. There is nothing like carrying too many bags plus your child to make you feel more like a pack animal.
  • Other items to keep YOU comfortable- Snacks, breast pads, a water bottle (filled with espresso if necessary, we don’t judge). Again, it is super easy to focus on the stuff your little one needs and completely forget about yourself. But you are the one managing the traveling circus once you head out, so make sure you have what you need to stay feeling your best.

One last essential...

Some grace for yourself. Whether you are a brand-new parent or one who is feeling a little rusty after a long and tiring year, you are going to have moments when you forget something important. Don’t beat yourself up. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. I for one would be more than willing to lend pretty much any diaper bag essential to a fellow parent who forgot their own. And I’m betting I am not the only one. So don’t suffer in silence if you forgot sunscreen and it is 400 degrees.

What do you think? Is this a good list of diaper bag essentials? Is there anything you think I forgot? Let me know in the comments below.

About the Author

Amanda is a teacher and mom of two from small-town Ontario. When she isn’t struggling to keep up with her boys, you can find her reading, crocheting, or writing poop-jokes for Lil Helper’s website, emails, and blog.

diaper bag essentials