- flats - also known as old-fashioned cloth diapers. These are just rectangular pieces of cloth, the more absorbent the better, that need to be folded in a particular way and pinned (although there are alternatives to diaper pins nowadays) in order to be used as nappies. A waterproof cover is also necessary, for obvious reasons (more about the covers below). I was planning to use mostly these, since it is the cheapest option, but they need to be changed very very frequently and they are not the best at containing semi-liquid material - let's not go into details here, but I'm sure you see the point.
- prefolds. This is a slightly more evolved version. They are like flats, but a more absorbent patch of cloth is sewn in the middle, so they need to be folded in a much simpler way than flats. We haven't tried these.
- contoured diapers. The next tiny step in the evolution ladder. These are still just pieces of cloth (cotton, hemp, bamboo, they start getting creative here...), but they are cut in a diaper shape so that no folding is necessary at all, although a pin or pin-like object is still required to fasten them. Haven't tried these either.
- fitted diapers. These we have tried. They look like disposable diapers, with velcro tabs or snaps instead of the adhesive fasteners. I thought it wouldn't be worth spending money on these, but some models are definitely better than old-fashioned flat diapers at containing stuff - especially crucial for small babies who only drink milk. A cover is still required, but it doesn't get dirty as easily, so it can be used through many diaper changes before it is washed. In the grainy and out of focus picture above you can see little one in his orange Kissaluvs fitted diapers (the names of the diapers are one of the joys of cloth diapering...) - the cover was removed for the picture.
- pocket diapers. Here the cover is already part of the diaper. The outer part of the diaper feels like cotton, but it is made of a waterproof material. Sewn to it is a thin layer of fleece that will be in contact with the baby's skin. In between there is some space where you can put some absorbent material - hence the name "pocket diapers". because the fleece is non-absorbent, the skin of the baby remains completely dry, like in a disposable, for the joy of babies and especially parents. Usually we put a flat diaper inside, but now we also got some "inserts" of other materials like microfiber, which absorb more and take less space. This is very good for the night, because with a couple of such inserts there is usually no need to change the diaper until morning - unless things happen that require immediate attention. To your left, little one again in his sage green Happy Heinys pocket diaper. It's a size medium, so it still looks a bit big on him.
- AIO (All In One). These are exactly like disposables, except they are reusable. We haven't tried them because we are in love (as a parent you develop strong emotions towards diapers) with pocket diapers.
- One size. As for disposables, usually you need to pick diapers of the right size for your baby. However, almost all the kind of diapers listed above are also available in one size versions, which have snaps and things that allow to make them smaller or bigger to fit the baby from one or two months of age until the moment of freedom from diapers. We especially like one size pocket diapers, although we do have a few one size fitted bamboo diapers (read here to know why using bamboo is going to save the world).
- PUL (polyurethane laminate). This is a synthetic material, but it is breathable. As opposed to PVC "plastic pants", for example, which don't sound very comfortable and are not very commonly used nowadays. Some PUL covers are very basic and only moderately containing (in which case in the first months they are better paired with a very containing fitted diaper), but some more elaborate models have double leg gussets (like disposables) and are very efficient even for use with a simple flat diaper. No pins are required in this case, by the way. In the picture we have our little CK wearing a flat diaper covered by our trusted Imse Vimse Soft Cover.
- Fleece/Wool. It is a bit counterintuitive perhaps, but these material make the most leak-proof covers. And supposedly the most comfortable, because they are very soft. They are quite bulky, though, so they are recommended for night time use. I had bought a couple, but I haven't had any need for them yet. I think they probably become more useful with older babies that can wet through as many layers of diapers as you can think of wrapping around them. Apparently a pocket diaper with enough stuffing and one of these covers is the best choice in that case, but as I said, I wouldn't really know from personal experience yet.
Just a few links in case you are really interested in using cloth diapers:
Diaper Pin - A website with useful reviews of cloth diapers and related products, lists of (mostly US) stores and advice.
Diaper Hyena - Another website dedicated to cloth diapers: the articles are especially well researched, nice to read for reasonably scientifically minded people
Jillian's Drawers - This is a nice online store (one of the many, but one that
I like). Apart from actually buying diapers, there is nice - and honest it seems - advice about what diapers are best for what kind of use.
For Shalini: a couple of online diaper stores that I could find that ship from your part of the world: