I’m sure most mums have changed their baby’s nappy in all sorts of places that aren’t designated baby changing facilities: under a tree in the shade on a sunny day, the back seat of the car in the pouring rain… I’m sure there’s stranger experiences out there!
But what happens when your baby or child requires extra care when it comes to their toileting? It can ruin plans for a good day out if you don’t know there are good changing facilities nearby. Sometimes, the worry can get the better of you and you decide to make other plans.
No one should have to feel this way.
It seems that all too often, designing baby changing facilities means sticking up a fold down wall hung baby changing table… and that’s it.
I’m sure most store designers haven’t experienced or considered a child with special cares needing their facilities. After all, we can’t assume they will think of everything. Poor designs aren’t intentional, they’re just the result of after thoughts. But we will change that.
Baby changing facilities need as much consideration as the rest of the consumer experience in the building: they will make or break it for some parents. I know if I found a reliable baby changing facility I would be there, or nearby, A LOT. And if I need to pop in to use your very reliable facilities for Clara, you can count your lucky chickens I’ll end up purchasing a hot coffee, some lunch, a plant, or whatever goods you sell, on my way out.
This isn’t a conclusive list, but here is the experience of real mums. Here are the best and the worst of the baby changing facilities available today. They’ve been written with a baby with special cares in mind, but apply to everyone:
- Location and access
- Accessible worktop or shelf
- Hygiene and sanitation facilities
- A proper toilet
Location and access: the changing facilities must be unisex. It doesn’t matter if it’s an adaptation to a disabled toilet, it cannot be just in the ladies toilet. Why do baby changing units seem to only have heavy awkward doors that don’t stay open? It’s hard enough trying to negotiate a Pushchair in with a screaming child. Please don’t make me navigate between small cafe tables, handbags on the floor, narrow hallways, or more doors than necessary
Space: and that means more than just enough space to squeeze the Pushchair in without having to straddle the sanitary bin to close the door (an actual experience). Pushchairs are not compact modes of transport. There needs to be enough space for an adult to stand next to the baby and access the sink, their changing bag, and a bin without leaning over said Pushchair. And what about when there’s more than one child? You shouldn’t have to and would never want to leave pushchairs or other children outside of the room.
Accessible worktop or shelf: babies who require additional cares often come with additional accessories. For instance, when changing a stoma bag you need up to ten items to hand that you can touch and use instantly. Once stoma output (ie poo) is on your hands you do not want to be rummaging around the clean spare clothing, the bottle for later, or even be touching anything that’s not ‘dirty’ until you’ve washed your hands.
Hygiene and sanitation facilities: this one is a basic one and comes mostly down to maintenance. I am not wanting to put my already medically complex child into a dirty room, with no antibacterial hand wash left, and no clean sink. Wet and dirty floors are an instant no, but an overflowing stale nappy bin? Never okay. A mixer tap? Preferable please, I don’t want to touch other post nappy change pre hand wash germs.
A proper toilet: it might not be a baby with a nappy that needs to go but another child who is potty trained/training, or the parent, or all of them. And with a Pushchair the size of a Shetland pony you’ll never be getting into a standard cubicle. This toilet needs to be accessible in the same lockable baby changing facility to be any use.
The current leader: Tescos (large superstore)
Based on the new superstore in Bicester, Tescos have clearly put thought into designing these facilities.
Easy to access at the back of the store, wide doorways, this Tesco superstore leads by a mile thanks to the superb counter top space. In addition it has two sinks, a large clean nappy bin, a chair, and a parent toilet, along with plenty of room to move about. Its earned a bonus point thanks to the genius distraction wallpaper, bright bold pattern on a dark background that Clara loves.
The two runners up:
Sainsburys (consistent across supermarkets)
Simple, but everything you need. It ticks everything on the list, but is just missing those final winning touches the Tesco facilities had. A very close second.
Clearly well thought through, this IKEA baby changing facility has all the essentials along with the expected IKEA flair for design. Think comfy armchair, additional child friendly seat, faux plants, jute rug, and a mirror. You’d be tempted to feed baby in here, as well as change them. The reason it’s not the clear winner is it lacks surface space and puts interior design over practicality: there’s no worktop near the baby changing fold down top.
Other facilities reviewed:
(Remember to check back as this list will be regularly updated.)
Bicester Village: The recent expansion has introduced more toilets with a decor to rival your Dream Home Pinterest board. The baby changing facilities are clean, with useful space, are decent in size, but have one huge flaw. The door to the single baby changing unit is not lockable. Two flaws: One, anyone can unknowingly barge in resulting in an flurried exchange of apologies, an elongated state when they notice baby has something unusual on their tummy (ie a stoma or other uncommon characteristics), and a hasty exit. Secondly, there is a parent toilet but it’s in a lockable cubicle in this room. Do I a) leave the door unlocked and wide open, and hope Suzi from Stella McCartney doesn’t pop in to use the extra large mirror, or b) lock the door leaving my valuable goods (ie my discounted designer shopping and my baby) free for all outside?
The Orchard Centre, Didcot: A new block of facilities in the equally new shopping district so you’d hope they’d be pretty decent. Wrong. An over flowing, over powering stench, of a nappy bin greets your nostrils the minute you open the door. As the centre hasn’t been open long, has it even been emptied once? Avoid and walk across the car park to Sainsburys.
Oxford Children’s Hospital: you’d think a specialised centre for kids with additional needs would get it spot on. Wrong. It’s basic, and gets the job done, but depending on the floor you’re on some don’t have parent toilets, none have useful counter space, and all have awful artifical yellow lighting that screams hospital. The Ground Floor (LG2) wins the award for the most pointless shelf of the year. Oh let me just put those stoma supplies, or that vaseline, I’ll need, behind me, above my head, and out of reach…
And the worst facilities?
Wyevale Garden Centre, Bicester: there is nothing positive to say about this place. There’s a lot of negative. I left, and we drove to Tesco down the road. And that’s saying something as I would never leave a baby with a colostomy bag that’s starting to leak. However, it was physically impossible to use this tiny room that clearly was once just a storage cupboard. I pushed the Pushchair in, but then couldn’t reach the baby changing unit in front of me (that folds down over the toilet?!). So I reversed out, turned around, and reversed back in. But then I couldn’t reach over the Pushchair to close the door, nor could I turn around to even get Clara on the fold down baby changing table. I even tried to climb over the sink and straddle the sanitary bin to reach the door handle – no luck. The floor was wet and dirty, nothing about this place scores even one point. It’s a real shame, this would be a wonderful place to meet up with friends and family. It’s particularly surprising the facilities are so bad given that they have a large children’s play area, a large restaurant specialising in lunches and cream teas, and free parking. They are missing a trick by not tailoring their facilities to their prime audience.