In truth, part of my decision to cloth diaper my son was emotional. I just couldn't stomach the idea of throwing away bags and bags worth of plastic diapers every week for years. Imagining all those diapers piling up in a landfill made me uncomfortable. So, I sought out a smart, inexpensive and user-friendly cloth diapering alternative. Happily, I think I found one.
After looking into cloth with disposable inserts, all in ones, and pocket diapers, I decided to keep it simple and go with cloth prefolds. Cloth prefolds are basically just rectangles of cotton (or other absorbent fibers) divided into thirds with seams. The middle third is thicker than the two on the sides, and thus more absorbent.
You can use prefold diapers several ways, but I am keeping it simple by folding them into thirds and then fanning out the back and wrapping the "wings" around my baby. The whole thing is fastened in the front using a Snappi. If you use prefolds, I highly recommend that you get a few Snappis. My mom, who cloth diapered me when I was a baby in the late 70s, thought they were a massive improvement over the diaper pins she had to use.
After the diaper is on, I cover the whole thing with a waterproof cover to keep my son's clothes from getting wet when the diaper does. I'm primarily using Thirsties diaper covers. The one pictured below is called a Thirsties Duo Wrap. The snaps on the front make it adjustable so that you can use it on your newborn and then undo the snaps when he gets bigger. So far, the covers have successfully kept the wetness (and poop) on the inside, and they are easy to use and wash.
Speaking of washing... Most arguments against cloth mention the large amount of water and electricity required to clean diapers, but I think I'm doing pretty well on that front. We have a front-loading, energy and water-efficient washer, and I recently got an awesome umbrella-style clothesline. So, in my case, I think cloth diapers will actually end up being better for the environment--and cheaper--than even unbleached disposables.
That's pretty much the basics of my cloth diapering experience so far. I haven't found the process to be particularly time-consuming or difficult (another argument often used against cloth), and my son seems quite happy in his prefolds. In fact, he's yet to get diaper rash, which seems like a good sign.
I have much more to say about cloth diapering. Like most things involving babies, there are many accessories you can buy and even more opinions about how to use, wash and clean cloth diapers. I'll post more about those topics soon.