In order for cloth diapers to do their job, you need three basic things:
1. Something absorbent
2. Something waterproof
3. Something to keep it closed
There are many variations on all of these, and that is probably why the most overwhelming part of cloth diapering is making sense of it all. Once you understand which part does what, it's easiest to make decisions about what your preferences would be.
|BumGenius newborn AIO|
|The Pocket Diaper in a Nutshell|
|Tweedle Bugs OS Pocket Diaper|
As I mentioned before, many of these are OS and there are a few ways to achieve this. Most brands use the snap-down method - They will have several rows of snaps on the front of the diaper where the size of the diaper is adjusted by folding the top row of snaps down and snapping it into place on one of the designated rows. This is probably the most popular method and is offered with BumGenius, Rumparooz, Tweedle Bugs and GroVia. Others have adjustable elastic hidden in the legs of the diapers like FuzziBunz, and others have Slide2Size like SoftBums, which is a toggle & drawstring system hidden in the legs & front panel of the diaper so you can custom fit the diaper to your baby instead of move between pre-designated sizes. But not all pocket diapers are OS; there are quite a few sized pocket diapers out there if you don't want to deal with snapping and unsnapping every time you use a diaper. Happy Heinys and FuzziBunz offer sized pocket diapers, and Thirsties bridges the gap and offers two sizes that each adjust using snaps.
The only downside that I have found while using these OS diapers is that they can be a bit bulkier on smaller babies, and too big for some newborns. They claim to be ideal for babies as small as 8 lbs, but I think it's more like 10-12 lbs. While I think that OS pocket diapers are definitely the way to go for all of your cloth diapering needs, I do think that newborn sized diapers should be used in those first few weeks/months/however long they fit depending on how big your baby is. The good news is that these diapers got me through potty training with my daughter and she wore them until she was 2 and a half years old, and I kept one of the newborn sizes around for playing with dolls as she gets older :)
Here's where things start to get a little blurry and confusing. AI2's, covers, prefolds. Sometimes there's not much of a difference between an AI2 and a diaper cover. Sometimes they are interchangeable and can be used with many types of inserts, sometimes they are brand specific.
|SoftBums Echo AI2 Diaper|
|Prefold with Diaper Pins|
|Prefold in a Thirsties Cover|
Fitted diapers are sized diapers that have a closure on them (aplix or snaps), and look very similar to every other diaper we have talked about. However, there is no waterproof layer to them so you would still need a diaper cover over these. In my opinion, I'm not sure why these even exist anymore but they do, and you should be aware of them because they seem to have everything - just not the "something waterproof" part, which is SUPER important! When buying your diapers make sure you know what you're getting. If you want something waterproof, make sure the description includes a waterproof layer or PUL.
Have I confused you yet, or are you still with me?
The important thing is not to get overwhelmed. Decide what kinds of diapers you want to use (pocket, AIO, covers & prefolds) and only price the brands that make what you're looking for. You won't really know what works best for you and your baby until you start trying things out, so if you're not sure what you want to try, buy a few things and then only stock up on what you really like. If you're starting with a newborn, I recommend getting a few newborn sized AIO's to start out with. Then I would recommend getting a pocket diaper and a cover and some prefolds. Prefolds will never go to waste. Even if you don't use them as diapers, you can use them as burp rags, dish cloths, cleaning rags, etc. And if anything is confusing or you're not sure how to use/fold it, try YouTube. I am willing to guarantee that someone has posted a video answering your question.
I have to take time here to thank my friend Julia for being my go-to cloth diapering guru. If it wasn't for her, I probably would have freaked out too much to even try CD-ing. She has some interesting things going on over at her blog, so check her out at Greenish Me :)