Why Public Changing Tables Are the Bane of My Existence

Let’s talk about going out in public with babies.

Let’s narrow it down and talk about changing the diapers of those babies.

Let’s get even more specific and discuss the changing tables provided by establishments when you have to change said babies.

Let’s get tangential and notice that I have selected changing tables as a topic for my blog. Long time readers will recall the fear I had about this becoming a mommy blog. It appears that I am there.

So back to the changing tables and how they make me want to stick forks in my eyes.

They had to use a cartoon because no one has ever been photographed looking so happy after using their product.

They had to use a cartoon because no one has ever been photographed looking so happy after using their product.

Most places will put a changing table in their bathroom. I’m grateful for this because C has reached the age where I’m scared to change her in the car. It’s hard to eventually sell a car with skid marks on the backseat. I’m not even going to dwell on the places that are marketed as family-friendly but don’t have a changing table in their bathroom. Their proprietors will eventually get what’s coming to them when they meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates and get assigned bathroom duty to all the porcelain thrones. Fact: “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” was written by Belinda Carlisle because she is in tune with the bowel movements of angels.

I can’t even make this stuff up.

So you go into the bathroom – and voila! – you find the changing table. It will likely be of the Koala Bear Kare variety where you pull it down off the wall like one of those beds that the detective from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? had. Random references: I’ve got ’em.

You pull it down and struggle to find the changing pad from your diaper bag so that your dear sweet baby won’t have to rest her brow on the hard filthy surface of the table. Apparently the child who preceded yours took a crap directly on the table and his mom felt no need to even spit clean it. On many changing tables, you will find a little slot that is supposed to contain paper liners for you to put down, but you won’t see any in there because only Starbucks made of gold on the moon provide them. More facts.

You place your child in the sink while you unfurl your changing pad, which is also spotted in poo because who remembers to clean those things? But at least it’s your own baby’s poo so she won’t contract cholera as quickly as she would if exposed to the previous baby’s poo. You plop her onto the table and search for the ends of the safety straps, which you must use or face certain death warns the diaper-clad koala. The only problem is that the straps are caught in the hinges of the table. And even if they weren’t, a pack of hyenas has previously strong-armed its way into this bathroom to mangle the clasps beyond recognition, rendering them useless. So you hold your baby down with your forearm.

Because you’re a good mom and do not want to place the diaper bag on the bathroom floor and expedite the certain death of your infant, you search for a hook where you can hang it. Some changing tables have hooks, and by “hooks” I mean 1″ nubby protrusions that would not be able to hold up a shoestring. The baby is getting restless so you grab the diaper and the wipes from your bag and get to changing. This is the part where her pacifier pops out of her mouth and onto the poo table and she goes after it by twisting her entire body like a boa constrictor killing its prey. You intercept the polluted pacifier, stick it in your pocket, and wrestle the now agitated child to lie flat.

She is having none of it. She sees through your half-assed attempts to entertain her with the closest thing at hand: a tube of Desitin. She needs the disgusting suck-toy to pacify her. But it touched the table! And the pacifier wipes you purchased for just this occasion are in the car. So you make yet another sacrifice for your daughter and stick the thing directly in your mouth to wash away the foreign nasties and replace them with your own. She breastfeeds, so this should be OK, right?

You’ve now been in the bathroom for about three hours and you’re doing well, until another mom with her kid comes in. Because the designer of this public bathroom is a staunch practitioner of the art of feng shui, he has placed the changing directly in front of the door to the only currently unoccupied stall, which this kid is going to get into without paying much heed to your precarious situation. His mom is just swell and doesn’t do anything to hold him back. But luckily, the last snap of your baby’s onesie is closed right when the kid starts banging the stall door on the changing table in an attempt to get it open. Ah, the stubbornness of impossibility. 

And so it ends. You get out alive. And it’s OK that your baby is naked waist down except for her diaper. It’s OK that you accidentally tossed the $35 clothe diaper you changed her out of into the trash. It’s OK that you have a smidgeon of diaper ointment on your forehead. At least it’s not poo. It’s OK that washing your hands is the furthest thing from your mind. You promptly get your gal a snack and a cup to start the process all over again.

Momming: you’re all over it.


  1. I was super-duper grateful for my oversized changing pad from Ikea. Once I had to change my daughter’s diaper on the floor of a small restroom on a moving train. The Ikea change pad covered the entire floor. I can’t wait for the day I don’t have to think about small children and public restrooms. Nowadays, I treasure those moments when I find a “Mommy and Me” restroom with TWO toilets, one big, one small. Score!

    1. Those exist?! We are not there yet but at least I have enough time to lobby for those to be in every public bathroom by the time she’s using them.

      1. Yup! Look for the “family bathroom” sign :)

  2. Fact: There are still places where women’s rooms have a changing table while the men’s room doesn’t. Bonus fact: Like that ever stopped me from using a changing table. Double bonus fact: I’m no longer welcome in certain Kansas City-area eating establishments.

    The changing tables that are in men’s rooms are in slightly better condition. Probably because they’re used a lot less often. Hooray for chauvinism. However, I’m interested to see what these mythical changing table liners looks like. Probably like the toilet seat covers, which I’ve also never seen in their respective holders.

    1. Brittany · · Reply

      THIS is the most brilliant thing. What a way to convince people and establishments to put changing tables in men’s rooms! >:3 Also, the liners are no myth, but they are a total joke, they’re small and impossible to keep still while you lay your squirming child on them. Even when they are present I don’t even bother.

      1. You have seen the liners! I think this means that you are magical ;D

    2. I’m really impressed that you change Squatch’s dipe when you’re out. I think that B has maybe ponied up once. It’s a good thing he’s awesome in a lot of other ways.

  3. Last restaurant I managed, we installed the koala tables.
    And I was a jerk about making sure they were kept clean. For a lot of the reasons you describe.
    Next time you’re in a kid friendly restaurant that doesn’t have them, just stroll in to the kitchen and change her there.
    They’ll appreciate the company, and it’s wam!
    (You should also send koala a letter and tell them to add hooks.)

    Oh, and it’s a Murphy bed.

    1. Yes! THAT’S what it’s called! I think that was stuffed in the back of my head behind the Pythagorean theorem.

  4. Great piece. I saw a news story quite awhile back of a man who was an advocate to get changing stations in men’s rooms.

    1. That guy is likely the most beautiful human being that ever lived. I’d like to shake his hand (although I doubt he’d want to shake mine after the comments I made about not washing them after I change my daughter.) Thanks, Trevor!

  5. southernfriedinvegas · · Reply

    This post was awesome. It’s true, because it made me laugh at 5:30 am before I had even had my coffee. Let me also say that you have officially become a mother when you clean your child’s dirty pacifier with your own mouth….welcome! You ARE all over it!

    1. Awwww, thanks. I actually made myself chuckle a few times when I was writing this, so I’m glad I wasn’t the only one.

  6. I changed one diaper in public restroom. Never. Again. You are made of sterner stuff than I am. Hats off to you, friend.

    1. I also recall that you had one non-medicated delivery, so I’d say the same thing to you.

      1. I don’t do hospitals, so I’m not sure I can get points for my natural births.

  7. At least it wasn’t an ‘up the back’ kind o’explosion… Sometimes, it’s just easier to stay home~

    1. I blocked those memories for the purposes of writing this. Dear lawd.

  8. Sounds like one could use several more arms and hands to get the task done. Good job, Emily!

    1. It is amazing how one drops her scruples about holding things in her mouth when situations like this arise.

  9. hahah! You paint a very vivid picture. Bathroom changing tables really makes going out in public such a pleasure. Now you know why some moms don’t leave home until their children are potty trained.
    You’re really taking me down memory lane, aren’t you? Using a tube of Desitin for entertainment and distraction purposes cracks me up. Let’s just admit that 80% of being a decent mom is the art of distraction. Too bad they don’t make mini cans of Lysol that moms can carry around. That way you could spray the changing table down with a germ killer and feel somewhat safer.

    1. Funny you should say that because I think I HAVE seen little bottles of Lysol! But I’d be so scared to spray C in the face with it that I’d probably never use it. Or more likely I’d spray myself in the face. That would add an extra element of fun to the public changing scenario.

  10. Oh I submit to you that fathers have just as many problems with public restrooms as mothers do. Permit me to take you on a little journey to (dramatic pause) *THE BOWELS OF HELL!!* (http://dorkdaddy.com/2011/08/09/the-bowels-of-hell/)

    1. We are all equally afflicted. Your tale put some hair on my chest, but literally and figuratively.

  11. I am generally disinterested in the mommy blogging thing, but this – this was fantastic!

    1. Thanks! I like to keep is real, “real” meaning “horrifying.”

      1. Tell it like it is! Reality is pretty horrifying, much more often than we admit.

  12. Yes, this. Those things are so disgusting. Great post! Laughed the whole way through it.

    1. Thanks! It was way more fun to write it than it is to actually do it.

  13. Ahh, how I can laugh about this now that both of my boys are out of diapers (wow, how can this be?? where did my babies go??)

    That is pretty much how the bathroom changing table scenario goes down. I had a handy $15 JanSport backpack as my baby bag that I could sling onto one arm so I didn’t need the pseudo hook like thing, I had a large changing pad that I folded dirty side in (dirty side being the side that touched the table not my sweet baby’s poo) so as not to contaminate the contents of the bag, and whenever possible I did the change in the back of the car (hooray for hatchbacks!! so what if it looks like I am changing the baby in the trunk?) Just wait until Wee Cee starts using public toilets – it gets even better (and by better I mean nastier.)

    1. Why on earth has it never occurred to me to change her in the hatchback of our car???? I am such a newb. Thanks for the tip!

  14. You can get great deals on all items decorated with skid marks. I bargain shop, what can I say.

    1. I can always just describe it as “tiger striped.”

  15. I apparently have fat babies that exceed the weight limit on those things. They also dip way too low when I toss my baby(s) up there. Hmm maybe it is the tossing part. Those things are sketchy. But then I find myself cursing the restrooms that don’t even bother to have one so I’m forced to change a baby(s) on a cold floor atop my jacket or a blankie!

    1. C is probably getting too big for them too because they sag a bit under her weight. She’s a biggun.

  16. Gosh, I hate changing tables! Even more fun is when the bathroom is really actually far too small to have one, but there it is on the wall anyway, so you get hit with bathroom stall doors AND the door to the bathroom as teeny-boppers waltz in and give you dirty looks. I tripped a girl with the diaper bag once. I’ve thrown out pairs of baby jeans because it was easier and faster than wrangling him back into them on that stupid table. When he was really small, I used to change his diaper right there in the restaurant booth and dare people to comment. Down with crappy changing tables!

    1. YES! I hate it when the bathroom is too small for the table. I came really really close to changing her in the booth once, but we were out with childless friends who were in the process of adopting and I didn’t want to scare them out of going through with it ;)

  17. It’s been awhile since I’ve changed a diaper, but yeah, this is exactly how it was.

    1. It’s a nightmare that will never leave your brain.

  18. So glad to be out of that phase. Could not leave it fast enough. Especially when you get those treasures when the baby’s deposit goes all up their back and you end up leaving behind various items of clothing and almost having to wash the kid’s hair with baby wipes. If you remember to bring them….

    1. OMG it is HORRIBLE. One time we were meeting friends who live like an hour and a half away, and when we got there her diaper had completely exploded. Of course I had dressed her up in a cute little outfit that was drenched and all I had to change her into was a gray onesie. Best laid plans.

      1. It happens.

        Once I had to dress the baby in the 3 year olds shirt. We got home as fast as possible.

  19. Oh, man does this bring me back. Between the dipe changes I’ve dealt with for over ten years and the places I’ve had to breastfeed, I still have nightmares. The great thing is the day you no longer have to do diapers. It’s a glorious moment. Now I see the changing tables in a restroom and just thank god that’s over.

    1. True dat. Sometimes when I’m out without the baby and I see those tables in the bathrooms and have a party in my head that she is NOT with me. It’s the little things.

  20. holy crap I am right there with you lady friend!
    1. those things are narsty – never ever ever have I or will I ever place my offspring directly on those things. Plus, is it just me or do you also feel the need to balance on 1 leg while holding the other one underneath the table just in case those shotty straps snap and the whole things comes crashing down, baby and all.
    2. I love it when non-child-toteing people see you holding your kid and even comment on the adorableness of said kid, and yet when the stall that becomes available next is the only one with the changing table, they don’t hesitate to snatch it up and leave you standing there… still waiting.
    3. I think they should tell you when you become a mom “Welcome to motherhood, It’s one giant skid mark from here on out”

    1. “Welcome to motherhood, It’s one giant skid mark from here on out.” That is the most awesome thing I have ever read.

  21. Sooooo funny. I recall changing my son on the floor at Rock & Roll McDonald’s in Chicago. A tourist mecca and not a single changing table. I can only be thankful that neither of my children would take a pacifier because if one had dropped on that floor, I would have had to burn it. Yes, motherhood is a skid mark punctuated with wearing vomit. Just wait until you can’t avoid putting your hand in the poo, or the diaper overflows and the poo drips all over your pants. Such special times. Frankly, I’d trade them for the problems teens bring.

    1. I am simply mortified that Rock and Roll McDonald’s didn’t have changing tables. Screw the unhealthiness of the place, THIS is why McDonald’s has issues.

  22. Changing tables are evil. Is C at the point where she rebels against the whole process…? That’s really fun in a Ricky’s changeroom. They might be a necessary evil, though. Miss V never got changed on a table–just the floor, her whole life. So if anybody ever tried to put her on a table it was the end of the freaking world. Mum took to carrying a big towel in a plastic bag so she could put the whole thing on the floor wherever they were and then just wash the whole lot every day. Worst of all? Both kids waited until they were over 3 to go diaperless.
    Oh yeah, and then there are the judgmental parents who observe you wrastling with your kid to get a diaper on…whole ‘nuther story.
    As for the Koala Kare, doesn’t that make you wonder how marsupials cope? I’m glad I’m not a female marsupial, ’cause the baby would probably just take a crap right in my pouch.

    1. She is for sure at that point, although it’s getting better. She screeches like a banshee when we try to change her and it’s really, really unpleasant. You’d think the child wouldn’t want to sit in her nasty diapers.

      1. They are surprisingly accepting of their own excrement. And for a while P decided to play with hers…

  23. Luckily, most dad’s don’t use those stations so I never run into that kind of problem when I have to change Baby C in public.

    1. I am going to refer you to Dorkdaddy’s comment above ;D

  24. Probably one of the worst moments of my life was being in a McDonald’s Playplace with a 2 year old who had been playing in a poopy diaper (why wasn’t she potty trained?!) and me, the kind babysitter, having to take her into the bathroom, lay her down on that changing table and borrow some wipes from another mom. OYyyy. NEVER AGAIN.

    1. As diapers have gotten more and more absorbent, kids aren’t as uncomfortable. So they tend to potty-train later now than in past generations. Personally, I’m just hoping to have each child fully-potty-trained by high school.

      1. That’s a good goal. Their prom dates will thank you.

    2. That is why C will not know that Playplaces exist until she is too old to be interested in them.

  25. Moms are the true heroes. Nuff said. ;)

  26. I kept a bunch of receiving blankets in my bag. Folded in half they were a great size for Doodle to lay on while I took care of his business, and I could just throw them in the wet bag right along with my diaper so none of the mucky table germs touched anything in the bag. Another blanket on the table to place the bag and other diapering essentials on, screw those hooks! And I always giggled about those dinky pacifier pouches until I actually had one. Those things can hold like two or three, depending on the type. Seriously convenient in these exact instances!

    I was always terrified of him rolling off one of those tables, the tile floor, his poor little head… yeah, I’m glad those days are done. :) But now those public toilets… :/

  27. I remember those days well. It’s sickening how disgusting those changing tables are. I’m not much of a clothes shopper, but I will always love Nordstroms, because they were the one store in the mall that had a fantastic women’s lounge with nice clean changing tables and couches for moms to nurse. I should have sent them a thank you. But really, shouldn’t clean baby changing tables be a given?

    1. Oh, yes! Nordstrom bathrooms! I also had a sick love of the Brookfield Zoo because they had urinals just the right size for a toddler boy. We went to the zoo a LOT.

      1. It’s true! I, too, would frequent places that had better child facilities. Businesses need to catch onto this. If you make it child-friendly, mommies will come…

  28. Now that I hear your description I realize that I missed nothing by having kids before those things were invented. I guess I must have changed their britches in the car. Public changing tables: they looked good, on paper.

  29. Oh the unanticipated joys of parenthood! When we decided to become a parent these things never cross our minds….

  30. This post was absolutely hilarious. I think I got hepatitis just reading it….

  31. You do know the high percentage of cocaine on changing tables in bathrooms right?
    I changed in my lap as I squatted in the bathroom. Like a ninja.

  32. It gets better. Not sure when, but that’s what everyone tells me. Oh, who am I kidding? I lost my kid at the grocery store today. Not about to give advice.

    I do know that once my kids were able to stand, changing them got a lot easier. I only lay my daughter down to clean poop now. Of course, at current rate, she won’t be potty-trained until she’s 17, but that’s a whole other story. Can I have my mother of the year award now?

  33. bellissimom · · Reply

    I despise those changing tables. Max spends the entire time trying to crawl off it or stand on it. I spend the whole time tring to wrestle a new diaper onto him without either one of us touching it. It is very stressful.

  34. I always dreaded the changing tables. And, why do they put them right by the door? You’re so right. It’s an accident waiting to happen. I always worried my child would fall off the table. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had family restrooms everywhere? Like they do at IKEA?

  35. This is so absolutely true. Every last bit of it. Seriously. I was starting to think I was the only one…

  36. I just learned things I never knew! I never knew there were supposed to be disposable papers in those changing tables!

  37. I have no idea what you’re talking about because no babies but holy cow that sounds like a debacle!!

  38. YES. Either you change the baby on a grubby old table of filth and depression, which is NEVER close enough to the sink or garbage to be useful, or not have a table at all and have to use the tiny sink counter and watch childless women glare into the mirror at you. My pediatricians office doesn’t have a bathroom. There is one down the hall, and no, it does not seem to have a change table. I could rant for days about this. IKEA does it right, even providing free diapers. And some malls are getting their mom groove on, because family/nursing rooms are GOLD.
    I hope you don’t die of cholera.

  39. […] can tackle them with way more tact and fluency than I can. I’m a lot better at talking about how public changing tables make me want to stab myself. Everyone’s got a talent and that’s […]

  40. […] paper towels works well too. (I’ve yet to see a changing pad liner in one of those dispensers – always empty in at least one other moms’ experience too – you can often find near public changing […]

  41. I’ve never seen a liner in one of the dispensers either, and I’m wary of even putting my portable changing pad down on the dirty changing stations. So my trick for covering the stations now: toilet seat covers. http://hintmama.com/2014/01/17/todays-hint-how-toilet-seat-covers-can-help-with-on-the-go-diaper-changes/

    1. I love that! My daughter is almost out of diapers now but that is a terrific tip for possible baby #2. Thanks for linking to my post, Jennifer!

  42. hintmama · · Reply

    I’ve never seen a liner in one of those dispensers either, so because I’m wary of even putting my portable changing cover down on the dirty public changing stations, I use toilet seat covers. More on that, and a link to your perfect description of the changing experience, here: http://hintmama.com/2014/01/17/todays-hint-how-toilet-seat-covers-can-help-with-on-the-go-diaper-changes/

  43. Clarabella · · Reply

    Love the post! I have seen the elusive liners. The McDonald’s near me puts them in and I’ve seen childless wenches grab them up and stuff them in their purses. One wanted to ‘share’ with me cuz she didn’t want me not to get any. She said they make the best paper towels for cleaning her car windows and she grabs them every chance she gets. I guess it’s tough luck for the unfortunate baby changers, her clean windows are more important than keeping a mini human from contracting disgusting diseases

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