Okay so you've chosen to go with cloth. The first thing you have to think of is "what in the world of cloth diapering do I buy?". There are so many options! Flats, prefolds, covers, pockets, organic, microfiber, snaps and more! I can't give you an complete view since I'm still learning myself, but from beginner to beginner, here's what I have found out.
There are 5 basic types of cloth diapers. I'll go over them briefly. One thing that was confusing to me was the term 'diaper'. The term diaper normally refers to the absorbent part. A cover is the part that makes it not leak-the water proof part. You can get 'diapers' and 'covers' that are separate or all together.
Flats & Prefolds (with covers). Flats are just basically pieces of fabric that you fold to the right size and place in the cover (or wrap around baby). Prefolds are like a flat, but they're a little thicker with 'fold marks'. It's pre-folded and sewn, so a little less work. I opted for prefolds, however flats seem great too. I think flats are cheaper. You can either fold the diaper (flat or prefold) around the baby and secure with pins or a fastener (Snappi, Boingo, etc.) then put the cover on over the diaper or you can place the diaper in the cover, then secure the cover on the baby. These systems are the least expensive to purchase and the most economical because once the diaper is wet, you can re-use the cover until it gets dirty. So the cover can last through a few changes-which means you purchase less. Some people will alternate covers and let the last one air out until wash time or it gets dirty. I think that's a great idea! These kind of diapers are the easiest to get clean.
Fitteds are basically prefolds-but it's already in the shape of a diaper, so no pins or folding is needed. You secure on the baby with tabs that have hook and loop(H&L-bascially velcro) or snaps. You'll still need to add a cover though. It seems a lot of people with newborns use these.
*I'm going to take a detour and talk about diaper covers really quick. The most popular types are PUL or wool. The PUL are are shaped like a disposable diaper and made of a waterproof fabric PUL (polyurethane laminate). PUL is more breathable than the old covers made of vinyl. They secure with H&L or snaps. You do not want to heat-dry covers, it can ruin the laminate. Wool is another popular cover (but very expensive), especially for night time. They're natural and really breathable. They also only need washed once every few weeks as long as they're aired out when not in use. Most popular diaper manufacturers sell PUL covers.
The pocket diaper is a very popular diaper. These are a cover with a sewn in liner (usually synthetic). You place an absorbent insert in the pocket that is created between the liner and cover. There are many brands like this. These are nice because with the insert in the pocket you don't have to worry about adjusting it too much. This type of diapers are also very trim on the baby. You have to wash the whole diaper(don't forget to separate the insert and diaper first) after each use since the liner gets wet/dirty-so it's a little less economical. They can be a little harder to clean since most are synthetic materials, and the cover and liner are connected. You can also use prefolds or flats in the pocket. I'll double stuff mine for nighttime. I really like pockets.
Then there are All In Twos. AI2 is named that way because it is 2 pieces. All in twos are like the flats and prefolds but uses a cover and an absorbent insert. The insert is more like a cloth pad with no folding required. The cover on these can also be reused until dirty. *In my opinion pre-folds are basically AI2s. I think it's the insert that makes the difference though.
All in ones (AIO) are probably the easiest diapers because they're one piece. They're also the most expensive to buy and use because they're one time use and convenient. They're usually the best for child care providers, family, and reluctant dads. I have a few of these and I love them. I wouldn't say I use them more than my pockets though.
I couldn't decide which ones to get. Since I wasn't on an extremely tight budget and there were some killer deals on Black Friday I decided to try each category.
*Here's a great guide (with pictures) for you cloth diaper choices: Simple Mom
If you think the diaper type is the only choice you have to make, then I'm sorry to say you're wrong :). Let's talk closures. The two I've seen are hook and loop (H&L) or snaps. I like both! I can't say I have a favorite yet. H&L is basically velcro. I like this because it's familiar to disposable users. it's quick and easily adjustable. The downside is I think it gets worn out easier. Velcro can be difficult in the wash. The two diapers I have with velcro have laundry tabs on them where the velcro tabs can attach in the back of the diaper, but the diaper can still stay open to get clean. This is great as long as you remember to use them. I also really like the snaps because they don't get worn out as much, I think they look cuter, and my little guy can't undo them. Velcro could be easier for childcare since they don't need to 'know' what snap to use. My nanny hasn't really had time to choose a preference, but my husband doesn't seem to mind the snaps. It seems most people like snaps. I would suggest either getting a little of both, or just one or two of the kind you think you'll like least just to try it out.
Another option you have is what material to use. Most cloth diapers use synthetic materials, however there are options for natural and organic items. I haven't looked into this too much, but what I do know is I wish I bought organic. I decided to go with the synthetic. It's better than disposable you know, and I didn't have the budget for the organic (it's more expensive). I figured I would try what it normally comes with and go from there. After our first dirty diaper and some trouble getting the poop smell out I did a little more research. I guess pocket diapers and other synthetic diapers have a harder time with smell. The organic and natural materials get rid of smell better. They are also more absorbent. I think the synthetic are fine and I still like them (I've successfully gotten the smell out). I think this depends on availability, cost, and preference.
How many diapers you need depends on how often you plan on washing. Most people wash every other or every 3 days. About 15 diapers will get me through 2 days. This will depend on the age of your child and individual needs. I've read newborns go through 10-12 a day! You should plan on changing you baby a little more often than in disposables. You want to change every 2-3 hours to prevent diaper rash from wetness. Some people go longer, but that is something you can play with and see what works for you.
All of the diapers I bought were one-size. Most come with snaps that you can use to make the diaper smaller or larger. The Fuzzibunz come with adjustable elastics that help you make the diaper smaller or larger. Some brands sell newborn specific diaper or diapers sized in S, M,or L. I didn't explore this topic too much since my little guy is already 15 months and I 'plan' to potty train early. I did however notice that most people who use CD for newborns wait until the umbilical cord falls off and have a few diapers fitted for newborns specifically. My feeling is unless your planning on diapering right off the bat or you have an older child (or chunkier!) In diapers the one-size will be just fine. Plus, it's much more cost effective. Once I have another baby and have a little more experience on newborn sizes I'll come back and update.
You can't forget color and patterns. These are the most exciting part of CD for a lot of moms. This is what makes it fun! Choosing color and patterns is a personal choice. I go for more of the boy/neutral colors. I'm not afraid of 'girlish' colors though. My doublers from Thirsties were the 'girl' pack. I would suggest keeping neutral colors in mind if you plan on using them for future kids. Another good piece of advice I read was to organize your types of diapers by colors. This makes it easy for other people (babysitter, dad, family) to know which diaper to grab. For example your AIO would be yellow, your pockets would be green, your nighttime would be blue, your playtime would be red, etc. I didn't do this upon first purchasing, but I'm moving forward with this method. I think it's a great idea!
To save time, I'm not going to list all the brands here. The brands I use are listed in the next paragraph. To see other brands (and what type they are) visit this forum stickiy: http://www.diaperswappers.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1245170
So what did I choose? Here's my loot:
2 Econobums (cover with prefold-snaps). The prefolds that come with these are natural undyed cotton.
6 Fuzzibunz (pockets with microfiber inserts-snaps).
1 Thirstie (pocket with 1 natural and 1 microfiber insert-velcro). I also bought a 3 pack of doublers. I love this diaper with a double for nighttime.
2 Flips (AI2-cover with insert-one snap, one velcro)
4 BumGenius Freetime (AIO-snaps)
*I just bought 2 more Flips with organic inserts(AI2), 2 Bum Genius Elemental(Organic AIO) and 1 BumGenius 4.0(pocket) on a Seconds Sale.
Okay I love BumGenius. You can just tell they're quality made. I also really like the Fuzzibunz because they're so trim (meaning less fabric so babies don't waddle as much!). Flips are a great in between-they're a little better than the Econobum, but still good price and more than one use as long as the cover isn't dirty. The Thirstie is my go to diaper for night time-with 3 inserts it's quite padded, but all my LO is doing is sleeping so it's no biggie. Because it's so bulky it's not my favorite daytime diaper.
Again, I suggest buying a few of each kind to get you started unless you know what kind you want for sure.
Where To Buy
I'm definitely not a pro at this yet, but I like www.Cottonbabies.com . They sell a few of the brands I mentioned above plus they offer free shipping. There's also www.kellyscloset.com. I got the Fuzzibunz and Thirsties from their own website.
Oh and here's a tip-look for 'seconds sale'. This is basically outlet products, meaning something looks wrong, but still functions correctly. My doublers from Thirsties were seconds and the surging just looked a little messy, but I got them for a great price!
Here is an excellent guide to different diaper pieces: Changing Station Cheat Sheet. I also love this guide and what would be a good start up stash: Cloth Diapers Users Guide.