With a new baby, even just a trip to the grocery store can be daunting.
The thought of toting a little bundle of unpredictable emotions, loud noises, and bodily fluids into a near-silent room of church-goers? Downright terrifying.
Even so, you might not be ready to drop your baby off in the nursery for even an hour of separation (a feeling that is 100% natural and acceptable!).
I am right there with you. I have never been comfortable leaving my baby in the nursery, but taking a baby (especially a high-need baby like mine) to service can be really hard. You don’t want to be disruptive, but by golly, you have a right to learn about God, too! It’s not like you instructed your baby to poop louder than a chainsaw cutting through brick right when the congregation bowed their heads for the closing prayer. (True story? Your guess.)
So how do you transition back into regular church attendance after Baby is born?
As is commonly the case with babies, there is no magic system that will get you in and out of church without a hitch. I’ve been at it for eight months and every week is different.
Over time, though, I have discovered a handful of tricks that will make the Sunday morning experience a little bit smoother. In this post, I’ll share nine of those tips with you.
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Tips for Surviving Sunday Morning Service (Without Using the Nursery)
If you’re a new parent, a Sunday morning might look something like this…
You get to church a few minutes early and take your position at the very back of the sanctuary, right near the exit, even though you hope you won’t have to use it.
Everything seems to start out great. Baby is enjoying the music and the movement of being rocked to the tempo. He might even fall asleep! …If only you could indicate to the worship team just one more song! But the instruments return to their stands and the pastor comes to the front, opens in prayer, tells you to sit.
You glance nervously down at Baby. He’s noticed you’re no longer moving, and the sleepiness starts to clear from his eyes as he looks around to figure out why the music stopped.
Oh, you’re sitting…don’t you normally feed him when you sit down? He wriggles and roots expectantly. You try to distract him: change position, hand him off to dad, offer a binky, but now he’s getting angry. You realize he won’t be deterred and you have only moments to adjust your clothing (without flashing half the church) and get him into position before his tiny shrieks are immortalized in the archived audio recording of the sermon.
Do you leave and try to find some isolated corner of an empty classroom to nurse in private? Or do you stay to hear the sermon and just try to be discreet?
All this, and the pastor hasn’t even finished the introduction to his message yet…
Should I Just Keep Baby Home?
If you haven’t attempted Sunday morning with a baby yet, I certainly don’t mean to intimidate or discourage you.
Your baby might be perfectly content to recline in your arms and sleep through the entire service. I’ve seen it.
For us, though, it has never been that simple. Our little girl is what you might call “high-need.” She has always wanted to be up and moving, and unless she’s asleep or you intend to feed her, you had better not sit down. (She even went through a phase where I had to stand to nurse her). She fights sleep like Adrian’s life depends on it.
So church is fun.
Should those of us with babies like that just take turns keeping Baby home?
No way! You should be able to attend church together as a family without feeling obligated or pressured to leave your baby in the nursery (unless you want to).
Here are my best tips for getting through Sunday morning IN the service (or at least in hearing range) with a high-need and/or mobile baby without using the nursery.
1. Wear comfortable nursing clothes (if breastfeeding)
Believe it or not, once the service starts, church can actually be a pretty easy place to breastfeed. If you sit towards the back of the sanctuary, everyone is facing away from you, and most people aren’t going to indiscreetly turn their heads to look at you.
As your baby gets older, you may be able to time feedings so that Baby doesn’t need to nurse during church, but in the beginning, you should definitely be prepared.
Depending on how formal your church is, wearing comfortable nursing clothes might mean that you are a little under-dressed. That’s OKAY. This is only for a short season–a few months, or less–and it enables you to stay in the service where you can benefit from the teaching.
I have always preferred to lean toward the dressy side on Sundays, even at more casual churches, so it was difficult for me at first to adapt to this idea. But, I got over myself and usually wore black maternity leggings with a nice nursing sweater. I only had a couple of outfits (literally, like two of them) to rotate, but it got me to church and kept my baby content longer.
2. Bring a baby wearing system
Most babies love movement. Even if it doesn’t fully lull them to sleep, it pacifies them and can keep them from getting restless (at least for a while).
This is probably my top tip for church-going parents of high-need babies: wear your baby during church.
Snag a seat where you can stand out of the way (usually toward the side and/or back) and move around a little bit without causing too much of a distraction.
At our old church before we moved, I was the only mom doing this, so it felt really awkward at times, but at the church we attend right now, there are probably a dozen baby-wearing mamas that migrate toward the back when worship ends and the sermon starts.
You don’t need to feel self-conscious about doing this. Even if you are the lone mom towering miles above the seated congregation, lots of other mamas out there in the world are standing with you, myself included.
I like to use this ring sling because it provides the added bonus of being able to nurse discreetly while sitting or standing.
3. Bring quiet toys
As your baby gets a little older and starts learning to use his hands, you can bring quiet toys to keep him engaged. Before Carrots started crawling, we would lay a small blanket on the floor and let her play with toys as long as she was quiet.
Our problem was that when she would play, she would want to make a lot of happy noises, some of which were quite loud, so if that sounds like your baby, you might want to stick to tactics that keep Baby passive and calm.
4. Wear comfortable shoes
If you baby hates to sit still, be prepared to move around a lot. Fancy shoes were fine when you actually got to sit through the service, but will you be comfortable in your heels wearing a squirmy baby and dancing around the church foyer? Not saying you should wear tennis shoes, but I’m also not saying you shouldn’t…
5. Take turns stepping out with baby
Between you and your husband, if only one of you is consistently responsible for ducking out of the service with a screaming/pooping/hungry/tired/restless/normal baby, you might easily become cranky about going to church. Burned out at the very least. Take turns stepping out with Baby. It’s good for baby to learn to be soothed by more than one person, too.
6. Feed and diaper right before service
If Baby is awake when you get to church, offer a quick feed and make sure the diaper is still comfortably dry. You might prefer to feed in the car briefly before going in, or maybe your church has a quiet area you like (you don’t want Baby to be distracted if there’s too much going on).
If you expect that Baby will be asleep when you get to church and will stay asleep, at least through the start of service, feed and diaper as close to your departure time as possible. It might seem like an obvious suggestion, but this takes at least a little planning and coordination.
7. Take the scenic route to church
If you live in close proximity to your church, you might find it beneficial to leave early and take a longer route. Many babies fall asleep easily in the car, but if you live too close to your destination, the short drive might not provide Baby ample time to drift off.
I wish we had thought of this in the early months while Carrots was still little enough to be hauled around in her carrier and sleep through anything. Trying to put her to sleep after we got there rarely worked because she wanted to keep an eye on everything going on.
8. Don’t worry about what other people think
It took me a long time to stop worrying about what people think.
- Did my baby’s tiny squeak annoy the people behind us?
- Are her feeding noises disturbing the people in front of us?
- When she fusses, should I give her a moment to settle, or rush out so she doesn’t bother anyone?
- How many times in and out of sanctuary is too many?
- Are her happy gurgles too loud?
- I hope no one thinks that I’M the gassy one!
You have a baby. There is grace. You’re at church for the love of Pete. If people can’t be understanding and gracious of new parents and their baby struggles at church, what are you even doing there?
You also need to be gracious and understanding of people without children and recognize that they very likely just don’t get it. Did you, before you had a baby? Was there ever a time you rolled your eyes at a baby crying in the back of the room?
Other parents around you know what you’re going through, and chances are, they are smiling on the inside remembering similar struggles. As for the grumpy older gentleman in front of you, he might well have been a fussy baby himself.
And really, when it comes down to it, who cares? It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. You can’t please everyone, and it’s not your job to. Be reasonable and use your judgement for when you should step out, when it’s okay to stay, whether you should feed in the service or another room, etc. At the least, people will respect your efforts.
9. Don’t be afraid to try different approaches
Just because you tried something and it didn’t work one week, doesn’t mean it won’t work the next week, or in a month, or a few months from now. Don’t be afraid to change things up. You might find a routine that works really well for you, and you’re able to stick to it every week. Or, you might think you’ve finally landed on a system only to discover that Baby throws you for a loop the next week.
I’m getting better, but I am sometimes still self-conscious about switching things up week to week. The insecure side of me worries that if people notice I’m always trying different things, that they’ll think I just don’t have it together and don’t know what I’m doing.
Isn’t that silly? First of all, probably no one is paying that close attention. Second, even if they are, they have better things to worry about than whether I used the sling or the wrap this week, stood with Baby or sat.
Taking a Baby to Church: Final Thoughts
No matter what tactics you try, no matter what the result, no matter if Baby shrieks during Communion or lets one rip during a prayer…
Having a baby is normal.
Having a baby that acts like a baby is normal.
If you are nervous/uncomfortable/stressed/anxious, Baby will pick up on it.
Just relax and remember why you’re there in the first place. Focus on you and your family, prepare your heart for worship, set your mind on God, and don’t waste a moment of your energy worrying about what the people around you might or might not think.
If you don’t want to leave your baby in the nursery, you don’t have to. You have every right to bring your infant to the service with you. Remember Jesus didn’t tell his disciples “Let the children stay, but only as long as they’re quiet/well-behaved/happy/*insert adjective*.”
Have you tried taking your baby to church yet? What has your experience been? Have you found any tips or tricks of your own? Tell me more in the comments!