Well, to start....newborn babies are tiny! Even though many one-size diaper brands claim that they will fit from the start, they often don't REALLY fit until your baby has reached ten or even twelve pounds. Newborn waists and especially their little thighs are just too skinny, and many people end up with leaks until they chunk up a bit. The rise is also often too high to work for tiny babies, especially before their umbilical cord has fallen off. Even some so-called newborn diapers have a rise that will rub against the cord before it falls off.
Newborn wearing Little Joey with umbilical cord scoop snapped down (yes, that's a giant postpartum pad next to her!)
And in practical terms, any diaper that is designed to fit until potty learning is going to be extremely bulky on a newborn, even if it does happen to fit (hint: they rarely fit)! There are a few brands that are known for getting smaller and fitting newborns better, but the majority of one-size diapers are simply....not.
Newborn in WAHM newborn pocket diaper
Also, newborns go through a LOT of diapers. We're talking 12 diaper changes a day, on average. If you want to do laundry every two days...that's at least 24 diapers you'll need for a very short period of time. Many people only use newborn diapers for about six to eight weeks, though some babies are out of them in four weeks and some not until four months.
So to cloth diaper a newborn, you need special diapers, and you need a lot of them. What's a mama to do?
1. Newborn rental program
Some cloth diaper stores will allow you to rent a full set of newborn diapers for much cheaper than it would be to purchase them (see packages here for an example).
2. Prefolds and covers
Prefolds and covers are by far the most economical way to cloth diaper at any stage! For little tiny babies, you'll want to be sure the cover has an umbilical scoop, like the Proraps covers in size newborn have. You can get special newborn prefolds that are tiny and will fit your small little newborn wonderfully. Larger infant-size or one-size prefolds may also work, but will be bulky. For some great picture comparisons of sizes, click here. Generally, you would want 4-6 covers to go with the 24+ prefolds.
3. Buy used
If you watch used diaper sites carefully, you can get some really fantastic deals on used diapers, and build an entire stash for about the cost of a newborn rental program or prefolds and covers. Newborn diapers come up often since they're used for such a short amount of time.
4. Borrow (or beg or steal)
Did you have a friend who cloth diapered? She may have newborn diapers you can borrow (okay, let's not be sexist: maybe your male friend does too!). Since they are used for such a short time, you don't have to worry about wear and tear as much as you would with one-size diapers, so borrowing and lending newborn diapers is a great option.
5. Buy new
If you're independently wealthy, this could be a great option! And really, if you watch for sales, deals, and coupon codes, you can often get a good number of diapers for the same price you could get them used. And if you look for lesser known brands or WAHM brands on, say, Etsy, you can often get really great diapers for a really great price.
As much as any die-hard cloth diaper-er hates to say it, a practical solution is to just use disposables until the baby is large enough to fit into their one-size stash of diapers. I used to hate condoning this for many reasons, but mostly because I worried that people would get into the "easy" disposable groove and not want to use cloth, but the people I know that went this route couldn't WAIT until their diapers fit their babies. Why? They didn't like the smell of disposables, and they were having a lot of blow-outs. So using disposables for a few weeks isn't the death knell you might think! And I promise, you won't get kicked out of the crunchy granola hippie club.
It might sound scary, but it's not! Newborn diapers are SO cute, and there is nothing cuter than a tiny baby with a fluffy butt! You might be scared of meconium - but you don't have to be. It may stain, but it will sun out. And if you're really worried, you can use a disposable or fleece liner in the diaper to help "catch" it. And if you're really really worried, you can wait to use cloth until all the meconium has passed.
Newborn in Monkey Snuggles newborn fitted, no cover
What about washing newborn diapers? EASY PEASY. Seriously. Until your baby start solids, you can just toss the diapers in the washer. No rinsing, spraying, dunking, swishing, scraping, or second thoughts needed. Breastmilk and formula poo is completely water soluble and will just rinse away instantly. (Note: yes, it stains sometimes.) I personally have found that the poop of babies that are formula fed is slightly more, um, solid than the poop of breastfed babies, but that's in my baby-sitting-one-formula-fed-baby experience, so it hardly counts. I was lucky enough to be able to nurse my daughter (and still am) so my experience is mostly with breastfed babies. Her poop didn't need to be rinsed off until after she'd been on solids for a good month (we use a diaper sprayer now, but that's a whole 'nother post).
Since most newborns wake up several times during the night to eat, you don't have to worry as much about finding an overnight solution, since you will change their diapers during those wake-up times. This is especially true since most newborns will continue to poop during the night for the first couple/few months, and you generally don't want your baby sitting in poop for hours overnight. Once they stop pooping overnight, many people stop changing them during the night, even if they wake up. After all, they'll sleep through the night eventually (right? right???) and you won't be waking them to change their diapers once that happens - so it's fine to let them "get used to it" and stop changing them during those late night feeding sessions.
The biggest thing with cloth diapering a newborn (or any baby) for the first time is that it may take some trial and error. You're both new to this! Give yourself some slack and some time to figure out the best prefold fold for your baby (for us, it was a simple fold-in-thirds-and-lay-in-cover) or what snap settings your pockets need to be on. What's the worst that could happen? A leak? It's no big deal if it does. That's what washing machines are for!
A newborn Goodmama fitted fully snapped, showing the umbilical cord scoop
Newborn wearing Goodmama newborn fitted with umbilical cord scoop snapped down