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How to EC an Extremely Fussy Baby

fussy baby times

Today I share about “How to EC an Extremely Fussy Baby”...to help you figure out WHY your baby is so fussy in the first place, what works in terms of doing EC anyway, and, overall, how to manage this difficult wrench in the perfect wheel of “I’m totally doing EC from birth.”

This is all about how to do elimination communication if your newborn baby is fussy.

My friend Michelle just had her 3rd sweet baby after a 12 year baby-making hiatus, and she was all set to start elimination communication with her newborn...but her baby has been fussy from day one!

I checked in with her a few weeks ago and she said she was bummed...I haven’t started EC yet because my baby is so darn fussy. I’m gonna wait a while.

I had some ideas for her, and was also reminded of a few of our readers’ questions from a few years ago, so I decided to share about “How to EC an Extremely Fussy Baby” today...to show what works and how to manage this difficult situation.

Here’s a question from a while back on this very topic, followed by another question, and my answer!

Q: My son Samuel was a VERY fussy baby the first 4 ½ months of his life. He fussed all the time, day and night and if you think that I am exaggerating, I have friends and family who can give testimony to this also. Today he is 7 ½ months old and he really didn’t turn a happier corner until he was about 6 months.

With all of his fussiness, practicing E.C. seemed overwhelming since we were barely surviving with a crying baby. His cues were also VERY hard to read since he was just a generally unhappy baby all the time. Most of his fussiness had to do with the fact that he was a terrible sleeper (naps lasting 30 minutes or less and awake every 1-2 hrs at night) and when he became a better sleeper, he became a happier baby. We never found a medical cause to all of his fussiness. I ended up giving up on E.C. though because we were just overwhelmed in general with all the crying and terrible sleeping. We nursed a LOT just for comfort.

I could probably start now because we are very in tune with each other and his cues are much more distinct but when he turned six months old I started back at my part-time job and I wanted to learn this when I was at home full-time with my son.

So, I guess my question is multi-fold. Primarily, how do you practice E.C. when your baby is fussy all the time and his cues are hard to read? How do you start at 7-8 months old? (I know this is not a unique question, but I could use a refresher.) Thanks for asking!! ~Kessa P., Waco, TX, USA

A: Thanks for a wonderful question, Kessa! I’ll answer it while also considering this similar question from Val in Canada:

My 4 month old baby is special. No, seriously. I have one of those ‘special’ babies that are extra fussy, don’t nap well, can’t be put down, require co-sleeping – these ‘demands’ turned out to be good for both baby and parents! However, having a special baby means things that seem to come so easily for others, are harder or more difficult for us. I want to be more committed to EC, but my little guy seems to always be going through something (vaccinations, developmental milestones, first cold, first tooth) that causes more fussiness and sleep disturbances! He’s just plain fussy!

My little guy resists the potty because, lets face it, it’s a waiting game, and he just does not want to wait that long! This often results in diaper catches. :)

How do you EC the fussy baby? Thanks! ~Val C., Prince George, British Columbia, Canada

Val, you and Kessa seem to have similar challenging situations and I’d be happy to help practice some sort of EC through all of this.

And by the way, my baby matched yours both to the “t”…fussy through and through for a good 9 months!! Once he was super-mobile and saying some basic words, the fuss fell away.

Now he’s spirited and requires extra (gentle yet firm) discipline and boundaries. And the fuss and spiritedness have been overshadowed with a very kind, patient, gentle toddler (who has quite a personality!!).

Getting to the bottom of the fuss…

Sounds like you’ve both got a good handle on whether there’s a medical issue behind the fuss. It’s always good to start there.

Is there a UTI? Teething? Growth spurt? GI issue? Reflux?

We want to treat or address any medical issue FIRST to reduce the amount of overall fuss, right?

Which brings me to a huge a-ha moment I’ve had (and many others in our community)....

Are you dealing with an undiagnosed tongue-tie or lip-tie? These can cause baby’s tongue to tire out while nursing, resulting in sucking in a lot of extra air, which causes major gas, which causes a super-fussy baby. You may notice smacking, or it may seem like baby is getting enough, or your nipples may bleed or crack and have a hard time adjusting to the baby’s latch. Even with a good latch, a tie may be present, so if you’ve got a fussy baby, rule it out!

I WISH I’d known about ties 10 years ago! I am completely heartbroken that I very likely raised 3 of my 5 babies without knowing they may have had a tongue-tie that I could have resolved and therefore solved their fussiness, permanently.

Anyhow, with my 5th, I posted a pic of her non-stop-crying-every-time-I-laid-her-down on Instagram and a few of my followers pointed out her “heart-shaped” tongue shape, and said I should rule out tongue and lip-ties. Sure enough, I pulled my 7 week old baby’s lip up and found a double-lip-tie, level 4 out of 5!, and I had it resolved the next week with a quick laser zap by the best doctor in the country for this sorta thing. The stretches I had to do with her for the following 3 weeks were terrible for me and her, but I did them religiously. Within about 5 days of the surgery, Twyla stopped sucking air and was INSTANTLY less fussy. And this mama was instantly way happier and better-rested.

Alright, last, Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block is a nice resource for soothing fussiness with his 5S system. We used it with my very fussy first baby and it worked wonders during months 0-5.

And, of course, having firm boundaries with the fussy type of baby as they become mobile is *priceless*! More on that in a sec.

Detecting the signals beneath all the fuss…

You already have the fun job of trying to figure out what your fussy baby wants under all that fussing:

  • is it hunger?
  • is it sleepiness?
  • is it discomfort?
  • is it pain?
  • is it the temperature in the room?
  • is it not enough action nor interesting things to observe?

You’ve got your job cut out for you!

All you have to do to detect potty signals amidst all the fuss is to treat it like any other basic need.

Keep a loose tab on all the needs throughout the day, integrate them all into your schedule (as you are forced to do with sleep and feeding, right?), and be diffusely aware of when those collective needs arise throughout the day.

Just expand your awareness to include potty needs, signals, and rhythms.

However, in order to do this, you must begin EC in a structured way…or you’ll be absolutely lost in a sea of confusion…and fuss.

How to start, and do, Elimination Communication with a fussy baby

In order to begin Elimination Communication with an infant, you must do it in a structured way.

This is not to say that you need to have the timer out and a pen in hand, hovering over and analyzing every single pee and poo.

However, it IS to say that you must:

  • acquire a solid understanding of what EC is, what it looks like, and how to begin
  • figure out, from what you’ve learned, how best to begin the process within your family, lifestyle, and schedule
  • and actually do it. Actually commit (if even for part-time – it’s very common) and then execute.

With potty training or elimination communication, the starting point is the most important determinant of your success.

In fact, without it, you’ll still be swimming in a sea of confusion.

I am going to plug my book here because it IS the best resource on beginning EC with a 0-18 month old baby. You can grab a copy here. Or read how it’s helped other parents like you to begin EC here.

Okay, so basically beginning looks like naked observation, making sound associations, and beginning to offer your baby pottytunities based on what I like to call The 4 Roads to Potty Time:

  • baby’s signals
  • baby’s natural timing and rhythms (after waking and after feeding)
  • generic timing (like at diaper changes or upon waking or after taking out of the carseat), and
  • your intuition

(If you’ve got a newborn ages 0-12 weeks, definitely check out Baby Meets Potty, my newborn EC course, which shares EVEN simpler ways to start EC with a newborn! It includes loads of video footage of me ECing my minutes, hours, and days-old babies.)

Ok, so that’s a bit on beginning.

Now how to adapt this to the fussy baby?

Well, like I said before, you’ll have to decode which fuss is for which need…which is hungry? Which is hold me? Which is i’m sick? Which is i’m tired? Over time, trust me, you will decode them all! You and your baby are here to survive and thrive. You WILL get the hang of all the messages…through the fuss.

Keep reading this post to discover the right attitude to have that will make ECing a fussy pants much easier.

Also, maintaining an EC practice with a fussy baby might be affected by a few other things.
Your baby might be fussing because of all the clothing to remove (and the process of disrobing might be upsetting him) – try using chaps with a diaper and cover over the chaps…making for a super-quick and easy on and off.

Also, your baby might be fussing extra hard because of a cold potty seat. Please see my post on potty cozies here.

And lastly, this recent post of mine on separation anxiety and not wanting to sit might help you no matter whether your baby is fussy or not.

The parenting attitude necessary to parent (and EC) a fussy baby

After you’ve ruled out anything medical or physiological, and you are just dealing with a fussy-temperamented-baby, it’s time to upgrade your parenting attitude to match this challenge.

You’ve got to be matter-of-fact and do less talking. This will cause you to emanate confidence and ease to your baby (whether you actually feel that way or not!).

If you do EC (and parent) with more confidence, knowing the fact that your baby is fussy does NOT mean that you’re doing an awful job parenting (or that the fussiness will never end)…your baby will ironically eventually relax and become less fussy.

The fuss will transform into spiritedness (like my son did, and like Dr. Sears’ book The Fussy Baby mentions)…and you’ll have to set firm boundaries and use gentle yet firm discipline as well. (MEAN MOMS RULE is a book I recommend on this topic.)

This discipline should start as soon as you feel things are out of balance.

Remember…discipline = teaching, and your baby needs good boundaries and to feel secure.

Oftentimes babies fuss because they are sensing all sorts of worry, fear, anger, resentment, and nervousness. Not your fault, but something to keep tabs on.

Just work on relaxing yourself!

Yes, yes…easier said than done.

And, also, don’t put your baby into a box of “fussy”…allow room for that to transform. Shift your expectations to what you hope he or she will be like in the future (because they all do change, don’t they?).

Again, sometimes the fuss can be exacerbated by a nervous, fearful, or upset parent.

Counter this by being more matter-of-fact, talking less (don’t over-explain or over-coddle), get the basics taken care of to make her feel secure and warm and loved…and eventually the baby will learn that fussiness isn’t necessary.

Of course, as I suggested earlier, please do see if there are any medical reasons for the fussiness.

If there aren’t, take charge!

You won’t hurt your baby by being good at getting her basic needs met and giving her love…while also loving yourself by relaxing and not blaming yourself. :)

Thanks for the great questions, Kessa and Val!

Do you have experience ECing (or parenting) a very fussy baby? If so, please leave your tips, advice, and stories of how you handled it in the comments section below.

xx Andrea

Andrea Olson

About Andrea Olson

I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my husband and 5 children (newborn to 8 years old) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)

3 Comments

  1. Avatar Norelle Iyer on June 8, 2021 at 7:42 am

    Our baby had ties and they have been resolved now for 2 weeks , but he is still fussy in the recovery. I have being trying to do EC but I have asked my question multiple places and still haven’t had luck. I struggle to shoot him in the top hat potty and aim his penis, so I’ve tried the bath tube. While that has worked here and there is about the same as the top hat potty. He just fusses and squirms while I hold him and cue. I have tried to nurse or give him a pacifier to calm him but the penis aim is what I am struggling with be it the bath tub, being outside or top hat potty. Can you show or explain how to nurse and boy and potty while aiming please.

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on June 9, 2021 at 3:06 am

      It can definitely be a lot to juggle, especially in the beginning, but over time it will feel more natural.

      The key is to use your index or middle finger to gently aim your little ones penis down.

  2. Avatar Debbie on June 12, 2021 at 8:51 am

    My first child was super fussy too. We found out at age 19 that she had adrenal issues. I really wonder if she had adrenal problems from the get go. It would explain so much. Never wanting to eat or sleep and having to dance her to sleep. She never wanted to miss anything. When she got old enough to talk she would sometimes come to us crying because she was so tired…”I just wanna go to sleep and I can’t”.

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