When my son was born, there was no question what I would put on his bottom 24/7... disposable diapers. What else was there? Weren't those "cloth diapers" at the store supposed to be used as burp cloths? Wait...you mean people still use those as DIAPERS? Why in the world would they do that?!
Yes, people still use those, but not me. Those rectangular pieces of cotton cloth (prefolds) and even diaper pins are still used, but people who are afraid of that need to realize that there are MANY more choices available to them, and they DON'T have to use disposable diapers! To make it a little easier for you, I will tell you what I've discovered about cloth diapering and the choices available, in hopes that you will find something that sounds appealing enough to make the switch.
So what ARE your options? Below are some examples of diaper types and definitions. While some die-hard naturalists would never use anything else but prefolds and wool diaper covers, you might be more interested in the cloth diapers which are more like disposables, such as all-in-ones or pocket diapers. Or perhaps you are kind of in the middle and prefer fitted diapers with a separate cover. No matter where you fit in, there is definitely a diaper out there that your baby will fit in that you will be happy with, too! Here we go...
These are the rectangular diapers that were once folded and pinned on. They can be made from all kinds of cotton fabrics like flannel, gauze, birdseye, and others. For the most absorbency, they should be made from 100% cotton or hemp. These diapers can also be put on with a "Snappi" or can be laid into a diaper wrap (a special cover) and held on by it. Some people even still use pins! They are available in assorted sizes, and you will find a few popular kinds- Chinese Prefolds (CPFs) Indian prefolds, or Diaper Service Quality (DSQ). From what I have read about the two, CPFs seem to be the more popular, but it always comes down to your personal preference. Prefolds work better the more they are washed and generally need to be washed 3-4 times in hot water to reach acceptable absorbency.
PROS- They are the cheapest solution for diapering, and they can be re-used later on for burp cloths and cleaning rags, or even to diaper subsequent children.
CONS- Unless you use the diaper wraps to put on the prefold, it will require a little more work to get the prefold on (pins, Snappi, etc.) and they will need to be folded correctly if you pin or Snappi. They are also quite bulky. You will also need to use a waterproof cover, or make sure you change your baby immediately after soiling (which you should be doing anyway!)
Contour Cloth Diapers
Contour cloth diapers are a cross between prefolds and fitteds. They can be used in a diaper wrap similar to the way prefolds are held on by the waterproof cover/wrap. They are hourglass shaped like a fitted, but do not have elastic or means of closing attached to them. They must be held on by pinning, Snappi, or diaper wrap.PROS- Cheaper than fitteds, they are easier to use than prefolds because there is no folding. They are also easy to make yourself, which could save even more money.
CONS- You sacrifice some absorbency by using these instead of prefolds. Compared to fitteds, they will leak more because they don't have the elastic to hold in those explosive poops we all know so well (and if you're new at this...just wait!) This may result in having to wash covers more frequently, because what the diaper doesn't hold in will often get onto the cover. So unless you want to wash more frequently, you will need to purchase a few more covers.
Fitted Cloth Diapers
Also called "fitteds," fitted cloth diapers are hourglass shaped, similar to disposables, and will have elastics along the legs, and probably front and back as well. They are made from either cotton knits or wovens (knit has stretch, wovens don't) and also from hemp. They will usually either snap or close with touch tape or Velcro. Depending upon the absorbency of the diaper, you may need an additional lay-in soaker. The core of the diaper is called the soaker. A lay-in soaker (extra layer of absorbent fabric) lays inside the diaper and will touch the baby's bottom.
PROS- Fitted diapers hold in explosive poops quite well, as long as you have a good fit. They are easy to put on, and come in cute prints if you want your baby to go coverless.
CONS- You may need a waterproof cover. They take longer to dry than prefolds or other diapers that come apart or unfold. (Some are made with a soaker "flap" sewn in just one spot in the diaper so that the diaper will dry faster).
Cloth Diaper Covers
A cloth diaper cover is a waterproof outer cover that fits over the cloth diaper to help protect your baby's clothes and bedding. They are made of vinyl, PUL (polyurethane laminate), Pro-care, wool, fleece, acrylic...generally anything waterproof or that doesn't hold water can be made into a cover. You will find covers that snap on, Velcro (or touch tape) on, or even pull-on. Covers are more commonly used at night or for outings. Some people will never go without a cover, others only use them when necessary. Some covers are also "wraps" that will actually wrap a prefold or contour diaper on so that you can skip the pins.
PROS- Will protect clothes, bedding, or car seats from getting wet, especially for "heavy wetters." Can be reused; they don't have to be changed as often as diapers so you don't need that many.
CONS- Can be an extra step in the diapering process. Lets less air get to baby's bottom. They don't hold up as well as diapers and usually need to be laundered differently.