PEOPLE's Celebrity Parents Squad member Ali Fedotowsky-Manno opens up about how she and husband Kevin Manno have navigated the waters of parenting two kids

By Ali Fedotowsky-Manno
October 02, 2018 04:36 PM
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Ashley Burns Photography

Former Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky-Manno is a member of PEOPLE’s Celebrity Parents Squad and mom to son Riley Doran, 4 months, and daughter Molly Sullivan, 2, with husband Kevin Manno. She normally blogs at AliLuvs.com, but joins us today to share advice on sleep regression based on her own experiences with her children.

Ah, the dreaded 3-to-4-month-old sleeper regression. What happened to my good sleeper?! I, like many parents, thought I had hit the sleep-lottery jackpot when my son Riley was sleeping six hours his first stretch of sleep every night from about 4 weeks to 3 months old. I remember people asking me if I was exhausted after I brought him home from the hospital and I would always respond with, “Oh yeah, I’m pretty tired,” but deep down I knew that I wasn’t nearly as exhausted as I was when I’d brought our daughter home two years prior.

I remember thinking to myself that maybe I was just stronger now, which I definitely think happens when you become a parent. Things that seemed super tough or impossible before are tasks that I knock out on the regular nowadays. For example, I remember always thinking I needed eight to nine hours of sleep to function. Now I’m super pumped if I get six hours. So yeah, I assumed I wasn’t as exhausted the second time around because I was simply stronger. But I quickly realized that even though I am stronger, that wasn’t necessarily the case as to why I wasn’t exhausted. Really it was because he was a pretty good sleeper! That is, up until the regression hit.

Once Riley turned 3 months old, pretty much to the day, he decided he wasn’t going to sleep anymore! He went from sleeping six hours his first stretch of the night followed by another three hours, and now all of a sudden he was waking up every hour and a half all night long. Not to mention naps were a thing of the past. We used to get a solid hour and a half to two hours, four times a day, and now he was waking up after 20 minutes and refusing to go back to sleep unless we rocked him in our arms in a pitch-black room with white noise on.

So what happened?! Well, I’m no sleep expert and certainly not a doctor, but from what I’ve read, baby sleep cycles change around 3 to 4 months old. They, like you and I, wake up consistently throughout the night but are unable to put themselves back to sleep like an adult would — well, they’re unable until they’re taught how. So we’re definitely gonna be working on some sleep training in the near future, but for now I’m just trying to get by.

And while I can’t offer you much advice on how to get your baby to sleep longer, I can share some things that have helped us survive the sleep regression.

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1. Let Your Significant Other Take Over for a Night

For the first three and a half months of Riley’s life, I was pretty reluctant to let Kevin take over for a night so I could get some sleep. He offered constantly but I always came up with an excuse as to why I should just do it. Usually it involved keeping my milk supply up because I am exclusively breastfeeding but deep down inside I knew that one night of sleep without nursing him wouldn’t affect my supply. I think I just got so used to being with this little human all night long that it felt unnatural to not wake up with him when he needed me.

So my advice to any of you reading this would be: Let your significant other help! And normally I don’t like to use the word “help” when referring to Kevin because I always say that parenting is a 50/50 partnership with us. He doesn’t watch the kids for me and I don’t watch the kids for him. We both watch our kids all the time because we’re their parents. But when it comes to nighttime feeding, I take on the majority of the responsibility because I’m nursing. So in this case, I’m okay with using the word “help” and I finally became mentally okay with accepting the help.

Ali Fedotowsky-Manno and family
Rachel Murray/Getty

2. Set Your Partner Up for Success

I think another major reason that I was so reluctant to let Kevin take over for the night feedings is because I knew it would be more difficult for him than it is for me. When I need to feed Riley, I just grab him out of his bassinet and quickly nurse him and then put him back down. Usually I can get him back to sleep within 15 to 20 minutes, tops. But because Kevin had to get a bottle and warm it up, I knew it was going to take him a lot longer and because of that Riley would get much more worked up.

So the first night that Kevin took over for the night feedings, we made sure he was prepared with everything he needed. The most obvious thing he needed was bottles. We use the Philips Avent Natural Bottles because the nipple is designed to feel most like Mom. This was super crucial for getting Riley to fall back asleep quickly. He was so used to nursing all night long we needed a bottle that felt similar for him. And thankfully they have worked like a charm!

Kevin Manno and Ali Fedotowsky-Manno
Brian Ach/Getty Images for Curve Fragrances

The next thing we needed was somewhere to easily get the milk. We live in a two-story house and it’s definitely a daunting extra step to go downstairs to get milk when it’s the middle of the night and you’re waking up every couple hours. You want to minimize the steps as much as possible. We luckily have a little mini fridge in our bedroom, so we’re easily able to keep the milk cool in that overnight. If you don’t have a mini-fridge, I suggest a cooler with ice packs — something to keep the milk close to your bed so you don’t have to worry about adding an extra step and therefore giving your baby more of an opportunity to get more awake and upset because he or she has to wait for their milk longer.

And the last thing I recommend is a bottle warmer (I use this one). This thing is a game-changer! It heats the water and warms milk in a matter of minutes. What Kevin does is have the water in the warmer ready to go and just adds the bottle as soon as Riley starts fussing and then changes his diaper, and by the time he’s done with the diaper change the bottle is ready. We keep it plugged in right next to our bed. I truly feel like the night feeds with Kevin wouldn’t be possible without this bottle warmer. Less time warming the bottle means less time for Riley to get worked up and the more quickly he’ll fall back asleep. All of that results in more sleep for Daddy (and Mommy, of course).

3. Move Your Baby into Their Nursery

This piece of advice is something you should definitely talk to your doctor about before trying. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you share a room with your baby until they are 1 year old. And while this may work for some parents, it wasn’t working for us. As soon as Riley’s night wakings got really bad I, of course, started desperately Googling anything that would help him sleep longer. And one of the pieces of advice I saw over and over was to move him into his nursery.

In general, the logic behind it is that if your baby is in their own space, you won’t be woken up by the small noises they make throughout the night. And if you aren’t woken by the small noises, not only will you get more sleep but you’ll be more likely to let them squirm a little bit in their crib/bassinet before you immediately pick them up to nurse, therefore giving them a chance to put themselves back to sleep.

Ali Fedotowsky-Manno, husband Kevin Manno and son Riley
Ashley Burns Photography

RELATED VIDEO: Ali Fedotowsky-Manno Welcomes a Son

I was reluctant to do this at first but deep down inside, my mothers’ intuition told me that Riley was ready to sleep in his own room. And I’m so glad I trusted my gut! As soon as we moved Riley into his own room, instead of waking up every one and a half hours, he only woke up every three hours. Don’t get me wrong — every three hours isn’t ideal — but it’s a huge step up from every hour and a half!

Also make sure the room is dark — like, super dark (we have blackout blinds and curtains) and use a white-noise machine. And like I said above, make sure you check with your pediatrician before you move your baby into their nursery.

4. Sleep Train (It’s Life-Changing for You and Your Baby)

There are different schools of thought when it comes to sleep training. Some people swear by it and other people feel it’s too hard on a baby. I, for one, am a huge advocate of sleep training! We did sleep training with our daughter Molly when she was 9 months old because she didn’t sleep more than three hours for the first nine months of her life. We had absolutely reached a breaking point and needed help. It only took us two nights of sleep training and she has slept through the night ever since! She’s almost 2½ now and I don’t think I’ve ever had to get her up in the middle of the night since we sleep trained. Molly was so irritable before we did sleep training. I honestly think that the fact that we waited so long to give her the gift of sleep was a huge disservice to her. I don’t think sleep training is a mean thing to do to your child. — in fact, I think quite the opposite. I think it’s an absolute gift to give to your baby and will make them happier overall.

With our son Riley, we’re not waiting until 9 months. When the sleep regression first started at 3 months old, we felt he was still too small to start even though he was well within the guidelines to begin sleep training. I believe your baby only needs to be over 9 lbs. to start. But of course, always check with your doctor. Riley is 19 pounds now at 4 months old. He’s a big boy, in the 99th percentile for height and weight, and I can tell that he doesn’t need to eat when he wakes up in the middle of the night; it has become a crutch for him. So that’s why I’m super happy to say that we are about to start sleep training! When we sleep trained Molly, we did it over the phone with a sleep coach. They were so great and their coaching really helped get us through the toughest parts of sleep training.

Ali Fedotowsky-Manno and family
Courtesy Ali Fedotowsky

You can get books and do it yourself, but I found that having someone to ask questions to when I felt like I was doing something wrong really gave me peace of mind and the strength to continue. The biggest mistake parents make when sleep training is giving up because it gets hard — and giving up is the worst thing you can do. It confuses your baby. This time around, because we’re both sick at the moment, both working and have our daughter Molly to care for as well, we decided to hire Kimberly Von Slomski (I’ve heard she’s a baby whisperer!) of Sweet Dreams LA to come to our house to help sleep train.

Don’t get me wrong — I am well aware how fortunate we are to be able to hire someone do this. It’s something I am truly grateful for and I know not all parents are able to do this. It’s an investment for sure. But in my mind, it’s an investment in my children, my marriage and myself. In my opinion, those are the three most important things in my life and therefore the three most important things for me to invest money, time and heat in. Once I’m myself again, after months of sleep deprivation, I’ll be a better mommy to my children, a more patient and understanding wife and a better me overall.

I will update you guys on sleep training on my blog Ali Luvs after we do it! I’m honestly giddy at the thought of starting it so soon. Riley has only been napping 20 to 30 minutes during the day, which I know is a direct result of him not sleeping well at night. Once he starts sleeping through the night, his naps will fall into place as well — at least, that’s what happened when we sleep trained our daughter Molly.

5. Put Yourself in the Right Mental State

One of my good friends Brianna gave me the most incredible piece of advice the other day. This friend happens to also be my hairdresser and while I was sitting in her chair venting about how exhausted I was and how I couldn’t keep up with being a wife and full-time working mom, she told me the most simple yet most impacting advice I’ve ever gotten. It was advice that she actually received from her own husband when she was in the thick of it with two young children. She told me to try to remember that when your kids need you, nothing else matters. So when my daughter Molly is fussing for my attention while I’m trying to answer a work email, that work email doesn’t matter. She does.

Same goes for Riley. When he’s up in the middle of the night and needs me, whether that be for comfort or for food, that’s the only thing in the world that matters in that moment. How exhausted I am and what big project I have for work the next day simply isn’t important in that moment in time.

I don’t know what it is about this that has stuck with me so much through this sleep regression, but her telling me this resonated with me in a way that no other advice I’ve gotten in the past has. It has really helped me be a more present parent and feel the strength to power through these sleepless nights. So when you’re up all night long with your little one, try to remember this and hopefully it will give you strength. You are needed by this little human and nothing else truly matters.

I hope some of these tips help any of you out there that are going through this regression! And I know you’ve heard this before but I’ll say it as a reminder to you now: This too shall pass. You will sleep again! Just maybe not for a little while. Thank goodness for coffee!

Make sure to follow me on my blog AliLuvs.com and on Instagram because I love sharing my motherhood journey with all of you! And please share your motherhood experience with me on social using #MamaLogues.