07/01/2013 03:08 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2013

What I Wish I Knew Before I Brought My Baby Home

Because parenting is one of the most universal experiences, basically every person a pregnant woman meets has some idea or tip about what you should and shouldn't do with your baby. When I was pregnant, I got advice from cab drivers, relatives and the tower of books I read, in horror, late into the night the month before I gave birth.

Unfortunately, most of this advice was about how to take care of my baby, leaving me with little wisdom on how to take care of myself. As a result, in the months following my son's birth he was doing great, but I was a total wreck.

So, here are five things I wish I had known before I brought my son home for the first time, all of which I had to discover on my own.

1. Despite the fact that everyone's grandma will tell you to the contrary, do NOT sleep when your baby sleeps. It is a beautiful idea, in theory, but in practice it is nearly impossible and the idea that you should be sleeping will only cause you more stress. For one, this might be your only shot to do something like, say, brush your teeth or eat food. If I had known this, many late mornings would have been spent enjoying some much-needed caffeine instead of trying, and failing, to fall back sleep Also, it is hard to nod off knowing that you might be woken up at any minute.

2. Listen to the music you used to listen to in your younger, sluttier days. Your hangover days. I had a moment of true transcendence one afternoon when I blasted Liz Phair's "Whip-Smart" and thought to myself, for the first time in months: She is still here! Elissa is still here! Babies bring real change, and the truth is that the old Elissa wasn't really there and is probably never coming back. But it was nice to remember that the person who used to blast Liz Phair in her '98 Jetta while donning smokey eyes and skinny jeans is the same person who was spending the majority of her day hunched over making sure her baby is getting enough to eat.

3. If you manage to get a little alone time, spend some of it looking at pictures of your baby. I know this seems strange, considering you will stare at him or her for the rest of the day, and, eh, night. The difference is that when you are with your child, all of your energy goes into to making sure his or her needs are being met. It can be hard to have a moment of tender reflection while feeding or changing diapers or shhhing to sleep. Pictures provide us with a poetic distance, the ability to have a little perspective and just take in what a glorious tiny creature he or she is.

4. No matter how much you love your baby, you still require sleep. Your baby will not imbue you with some magic quality that protects you from the psychological or physiological havoc caused by sleep-deprivation. You are going to go a little nuts from this. You are going to fall apart. I have no advice on how to prevent that. What I do suggest is that after you freak out, don't hate yourself for the moment of sheer irrationality. Forgive, forgive, forgive.

5. Buy some new clothes that aren't maternity wear, but equally forgiving. The fact is, your old clothes are not going to fit for a while unless you are part of a very small, and freakish, minority. But you deserve to have a few nice things to wear and don't deserve to wait until you fit into your old stuff.

elissa strauss