We have been using cloth diapers on our little ones for 2 years now. We began when our daughter was a newborn. We have used disposibles from time to time, but have always gone back to using cloth.
Cloth diapers today are not the same as they were 20 years ago. While the prefolds are still popular, the trend today is a fitted cloth diaper that resembles a disposible in design. There are basically 4 ways to cloth diaper using the fitted designs.
Pocket diapers are very popular. These are made with an opening in the back where you can stuff a folded prefold diaper or other "soaker" into the diaper to give it the absorbancy needed. Typically, pocket diapers have a water barrier fabric in it's construction to prevent leaks. They have snap or hook & loop tape closures so no diaper pins are needed.
All-in-one (AIO) diapers are made with the absorbant layer sewn inside the diaper. They also are made with a water barrier fabric to eliminate the need for an additional diaper cover to prevent leaks. These diapers are probably the ones that I have seen most often being used. As with the pocket diapers, these typically have snaps or hook & loop tape closures.
A less common diaper, but one that many use is a fitted diaper made without the water barrier fabric. These are made just like the AIO diapers but need a diaper cover to be worn over them to prevent leaks. A diaper cover can be simply described as a fitted diaper without an absorbant layer.
Prefold diapers are still used by many cloth diapering Moms either as the diaper or tri-folded and placed inside a pocket diaper as a soaker. If used as a diaper, they need diaper pins and a diaper cover.
I have used each of the diaper styles listed above. While each Mom has her own preferences, I want to share my feelings about the benefits and the drawbacks of each style.
Pocket Diapers: At first, this diaper was my least favorite, but after using them for awhile, I came to see their benefits. The main benefit that I saw in these diapers is the ability to remove the absorbant layer for laundering. This make it easy for me to see that the absorbant layer was thoroughly cleaned. The diapers also dry much faster. The downside is having to keep track of various soakers and pocket diapers. For some Moms that I have spoken to, there is also the "ick" factor in having to remove a wet soaker from the pocket.
AIO Diapers: In the beginning, these were my favorites. It was all one piece. No soakers or diaper covers to keep track of. They worked exactly like a disposible. The problem however is that they take a long time to dry. The soaker in some of the diapers made tend to be very bulky looking. When put in my dryer, I have to run the dryer 2 complete cycles to dry the AIO diapers thoroughly. If hung on the clothesline, diapers washed in the early morning are finally completely dried in the late afternoon.
Fitted diaper with diaper cover: These can be tricky. If you buy the diaper and cover from the same company (or make them using the same pattern company) they work great. All diaper covers do not fit all diapers. I have a few cloth diapers that needed covers. The covers that came with the diapers were from a different manufacturer and did not completely cover the diaper in the leg area or the top. The diapers are prone to leak wetness in those areas. If you have a cover that properly fits the diaper, these diapers work very well. I find that they tend to dry a little faster than the AIO.
Prefold diapers with a diaper cover: These have 2 problems that I have found. the first being that if the prefold is not made large enough, you don't get good coverage on a large baby. Secondly they need diaper pins. Using the diaper pins makes some parents nervous in fear that they will poke a wiggly baby with a pin. The other problem we have found with prefolds is the difficulty in getting a snug fit in the leg area.
In making cloth diapers for our 3 month old son, I found a solution that I am finding works well. I have a soaker that is shaped exactly like a diaper and made from terry cloth. It has soaker that is attached with a single line of stitching to hold it in place. The addition of the attached soaker allows for a good level of absorbancy. By making the soaker diaper shaped, it helps to prevent leaks. I make these with extra long tabs to wrap around the front and overlap in the middle. This will allow for growth. These can be made with or without closures since they will be worn inside a diaper cover. The diaper covers are cut a little bit larger than the soaker to make sure that they will completely cover the soaker. I am using ProCare water barrier fabric inside the covers. The covers are 3 layers - flannel or fleece lining, ProCare, and an outer fabric. I am using an over lock machine to sew the layers together. This will also help to prevent the diaper from wicking onto the baby's clothing. Having the soaker with an attached trifold layer and a separate cover will make the washing and drying faster and easier. By having the soaker & trifold stitched together, it is less parts to keep track of in the laundry. Having the separate components also will make drying time shorter. As soon as I have pictures available, I will post them to the blog.