Adapted from a note by Rachel Renz Mattair
I hope my notes help you sort through your cloth diaper questions a bit -- I know it can be overwhelming. Other than my own research on cloth diapers, I had a friend who gave me a lot of advice, which I'll pass on here. There are several different routes you can go.
CLOTH DIAPER OPTIONS
ALL IN ONES: The most popular type now is definitely All-in-one diapers (AIO). You can find them at most baby stores. The benefit of AIO is that they are just like disposables, so they go on in one step. The downside is that they are expensive. I don't like them as much because they are very absorbent (like disposables), so you (I) have the tendency to leave them on longer, but one of the main points of cloth diapers is that they do require frequent changing to prevent diaper rash. I think leaving an AIO on a long time doesn't irritate as much as leaving a disposable on, but it's something to consider.
In terms of laundering, you shouldn't dry them (at least not if you want them to last several children), so you need to have enough so that they can lay out to dry, which takes awhile. They are definitely good for when you do need to leave a diaper on awhile, such as at night or on an outing.
POCKETS: If you are deciding between pockets and all-in-ones, I'd probably go for the AIOs. Pockets are essentially the same as AIOs in that they go on in one step, but they have an opening into which you must stuff a liner. I find stuffing them a pain. One benefit of pockets is that you can stuff them with several liners, e.g. at night. Also, they dry faster than AIOs.
FITTED DIAPERS + cover: These are what I generally use. There are several different types/brands. I like them a lot, but they go on in two steps (first putting on diaper, then cover) which might be seen as a disadvantage. Mine snap on, which I prefer to Velcro because although velcro is slightly faster, it eventually wears out and sticks to things. Basically, fitted diapers are cloth (not waterproof!) that you snap around the baby, and then you have to put on a waterproof cover over them (purchased separately). I use fitted diapers exclusively during the day, except sometimes for longer outings. (At night I use pockets for more absorbency). With fitted diapers changing diapers is a two-step ordeal, which might turn some people off. A major advantage is that you can wash and dry the diapers, and the covers air-dry within about 20-30 minutes.
PREFOLDS + cover: This is the most basic (original) version of cloth diapers, and I used prefolds on my babies until they outgrew their newborn ones at about 12 weeks. This is the same idea as a fitted diaper, but it's literally just a piece of absorbent cloth (like burp clothes), which you have to fasten on. These days you don't have to use diaper pins because you can get little nifty things called "snappis" that make it easy. Like the fitted diapers, you have to then put on a waterproof cover. Prefolds have the same advantage as the fitted diapers in that you can wash and dry the diapers, and the covers air-dry quickly.
A note on size: You can by weight/age-appropriate sizes, or you can buy what are called "one-size" diapers, which last from newborn to potty training, or from newborn to halfway through, and then halfway through to toddler. I would definitely recommend one-size, unless you go the prefold route in which case you can't. The one-size have lots of snaps on the diapers, and you can snap up and down to make the diaper (or cover) bigger or smaller.
That’s a brief introduction. It seems tricky because there seem to be about 10,000 different kinds of diapers and covers. That's why visiting websites is helpful, because they show pictures of many of them. Cloth diapering is not as bad as it sounds. Research a little and then just give it a try!
A BIT MORE DIAPER ADVICE
My greatest advice: Cloth diapering seems overwhelming, but it's really not. It just takes a lot of research and some trial and error. In any case, I'd recommend purchasing a few different kinds/brands so that you get an idea of what you like.
One way to go is to do a "diaper trial" (Jillians Drawers trial). I didn't do this, but they send you several different kinds that you eventually send back, but then you get a sampling of different kinds. I just went on Craigslist (under "moms and kids) and searched for "cloth diapers" and a lot came up, and then I just spent alot of time reading about the different kinds and their prices. If you want the least work/quickest diaper change, All-in-ones are probably a good option.
Answers to Other Frequently Asked Questions.
How Many Cloth Diapers Does My Baby Need? If you do prefolds you probably need about 24 diapers and 6-10 covers. If you do AIOs, probably about 18-20 diapers. I had 14 fitted diapers, and it was a bit too few. But, I used pockets at night, so I made them stretch. Start with a decent amount and you can always add more.
What About Laundry? You have to do a prewash, and then a cycle with a 2nd rinse, and special detergent. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Also, you do need to wipe or wash off the poop before washing them -- a little more messy once baby is eating solids.
I did laundry every 1.5-3 days, but three days was definitely a stretch. When I had 24 prefolds, I did it regularly every other day.
What Do You Use? My favorite choice is just prefolds or fitted diapers with a cover, especially with little ones who go through diapers so fast. All in Ones/Pocket Diapers are great for overnight or outings when they get bigger though.
I bought almost all of what I have off of Craigslist (much cheaper than new!) so what I ended up with was sort of a mish-mash. I started out with 24 prefolds (Clotheez brand) and about 7 covers. People say you need around 6 covers and I had 9. I have all different kinds, but my favorites have definitely been the Kissas by Kissaluvs (one-size that snap on). They have double-gusseted legs that prevent poo from escaping if that happens :). Once my baby outgrew the prefolds, I moved to a one-size fitted diaper. I definitely like fitted diapers best! Not as much work as prefolds. My pocket diapers are mostly Kawaii Baby (snap on, one-size), but I also have some Bum Genius. The more you read about it, you really find that everyone has their own preference and there is no "best."
Should I Buy New or Used? It took even more research in my case because I got lots of cloth diapers second hand on Craigslist, so I was researching prices and emailing sellers about condition, etc. But I didn't have a baby then! So, it might be easier to buy them new unless you find a great deal, know what you want, or want to just try some out.
Also, check out this super-informative website where I learned much of what I know about diapers. Green Mountain Diapers
You can also find great reviews on Diaper Pin if you search for a specific type of diaper (search box on the left).
Rachel Renz Mattair is a mother of three and student in the Association of Texas Midwives Midwifery Training Program. She has completed coursework and is in the primary stages of her apprenticeship with Genevieve and Sisters Midwifery.
As she began to research options for her own pregnancy, she discovered midwifery care when she moved home to Texas and has never looked back. Her favorite aspects of midwifery care are the deep relational connections formed between the midwife and the client during prenatal care, and the physiology of pregnancy and birth.