So much stuff I learned the first time around that I thought I'd never get to use again.
If you haven't been around babies much, try to go to meetups, LLL meetings or Attachment Parenting International meetings where you can see people with their babies. It might help you get a better idea of what parenting will be about. And if you are scared, it might help you assuage your fears.
If you don't know many moms in the area, Meetup.com can be a great way to find some. Having a baby is a great way to connect with all kinds of people you never thought you'd be friends with before--but beware to look at the "culture" of groups you check out. Do they support breastfeeding? Extended breastfeeding? What are their attitudes towards lifestyle issues that matter to you?
Start building your support network NOW. Being a mother in the US especially can be very lonely. Support is crucial. If you have a baby registry, consider getting people to offer housecleaning (either paid or by themselves), meals once a week for the first month, a regular visit to you for company once a week for the first several months, etc. People's presence is way more important than baby gear.
Spend more time learning about breastfeeding (going to LLL meetings, watching Jack Newman videos, reading, talking to friends who successfully breastfed) than about cloth diapering. Diapering is the easy part! Also, read parenting books and learn a landscape of developmental changes
Be ready to spend a lot of time sitting around breastfeeding your first baby for at least the first few weeks, maybe longer depending on you and the babe. You will be very thirsty and maybe hungry. Set up a nursing station with a big refillable bottle of water (that your SO can refill every day, or a few times a day) and some snacks, because you might be too tired to get up (and it can be hard with a baby in your lap.) Also, books, or podcasts downloaded ahead of time might be nice. You might feel kind of like a breastfeeding machine or a milk cow at first. It could be hard to be hands free for a while. Also, eventually you will learn to nurse lying down. Depends on the baby and the mama. But have lots of pillows and maybe a sort of bed seat where you can comfortably prop yourself up. Also, try propping yourself up and letting your baby drape across your belly/chest. This works well for some and takes much less energy than holding the baby or adjusting pillows constantly. If you find yourself feeling too constrained by breastfeeding to leave the house even after the first 6 weeks, make a plan for how you can get used to it. Take trips to baby friendly stores or the park. Get used to nursing in public so you never have to feel trapped.
Get used to using a baby carrier with the baby within the first few days--it might be easier for the baby to accept it at that time than later. The moby can be great for newborn fussiness and nighttime challenges. (My husband wore our daughter for a few hours every night so I could sleep a little, and she was so content there!) If you are going to use a wrap, practice wrapping it before you have the baby. You might be so tired that learning is a challenge afterwards. There are babywearing groups and classes you might want to check out. YouTube videos are nice, but it's so great to see it in person, and get help.
You do not have to change the newborn baby at night when you nurse unless s/he seems uncomfortable or there is a big poop or rashes are happening.
For the family's sleep: Use blackout shades in your room at night, and if you have to turn on the light at night to nurse or change or whatever, use an amber colored nightlight so as not to mess up your and the baby's melatonin production/circadian rhythms. If you have to use the computer or smartphone in evening or night hours, use an app like f.lux, which blocks blue light. Some research indicates your sleep and light/dark habits during pregnancy will affect your baby's future circadian clock, so try to keep a normal sleep schedule from now until birth. If you can't sleep at night, try to rest quietly if possible and stay away from bright light or light with blue in it.
Even if you do everything right, your baby might have a hard time sleeping. Don't beat yourself up. More night wakings seem to be protective against SIDS, at least. Read the No-cry Sleep Solution and try the pantley pull off and heed her advice about not picking the baby up every time s/he makes a sound in her sleep (they do cry out or make loud noises, but they are not awake and not crying out for you). But know that it might not work for you! Also, if your baby refuses to sleep on her back and just wants to sleep on you, know you aren't the only one. :) Also, this phase can be so hard and it seems like it will never end. But it will.
If, after the baby is born, you have a lot of thoughts about how you wish you were never born, or that this is the worse thing that ever happened to you, or you are completely focused for days and days and days on the bad things that might happen to the baby, or you hate the baby, or if you can't sleep even when you are exhausted and the baby doesn't need you, get support right away. Postpartum depression does not have to be treated with drugs in all cases (though most GPs will just throw drugs at you)--light therapy can be effective, as can talking, cognitive behavioral therapy, getting more sleep and more help with the baby or housework--but it is not something to deal with on your own. It's a sign that you need more support, either professional support or support from your tribe. Women with new babies are not meant to be alone.
Edited by sky_and_lavender - 4/3/13 at 10:40am