How to handle the weekly disruption of church without destroying your baby’s routine. What to do when baby’s nap is during church.
If there is one place you might be at a disadvantage with a schedule, it is church. Church is when it is and you have no control over that.
Church is a set time that you can’t move around to fit your schedule. It seems to inevitably fall at a time that overlaps a nap, and many Babywise babies won’t sleep in mom’s arms because he is accustomed to and prefers his bed.
Now, I 100% prefer to have a harder time Sunday for a while and have a good napper at home than to have a good napper at church but not home. But that doesn’t mean it is hard to be at church.
Those of you who have had babies in the last couple of years have had certain things a little easier. One of those is that baby’s schedule hasn’t been as disrupted since more things have been canceled or moved to virtual experiences.
But it is time to gather together again. Where possible, we need to be headed back to church in person and enjoy the strength that comes from meeting together.
There are some things you can do to try to make your church experience as beneficial as possible for the whole family.
While church can be hard with a nap schedule, you are only at a disadvantage when it comes to sleep. When it comes to behavior and helping, you are at a great advantage. The nursery workers loved Brayden.
They were constantly aghast at his level of knowledge in various subjects. He sat well and had great focusing skills. He paid attention to the lessons. He was one of the only children in the nursery who helped clean up the toys. He had no problems being left in the nursery without mom and dad.
As Babywise moms, we are used to very content and happy babies. Kaitlyn got fussy for her at church most days as a baby, but everyone at church was constantly commenting on how happy she was and what a good baby she was. And they were right; she was much easier to handle at church than other children around her age. She certainly wasn’t harder; babies are just hard at church.
Okay, so on to the tips. Whatever your method, remember to always evaluate it and be sure what you are doing is best for your baby’s current situation. Your church strategy will need to change often over time.
Baby Naps at Church
Naptime is the biggest difficulty for most parents at church.
This nap disadvantage only lasts really a short period. Most younger babies will sleep in mom’s arms or the car seat.
Older babies are more flexible and able to miss a nap more easily.
Also, the nap difficulty hits most toddlers if church falls during a toddler nap. Most toddlers won’t sleep in mom’s arms anymore. Those moms are left with very cranky children if the child isn’t coming into the church already being well-rested in general.
A Babywise child knows how to soothe himself and how to work through difficult situations.
Here are some tips for naps at church.
- If church starts during a nap, there are a couple of options. When Kaitlyn was a young baby, I could put her down, then transfer her to the car seat and she would stay asleep. That was relatively short-lived though. You can also get your child up early on Sunday in order to get a full or at least longer nap in before church.
- If normal naptime starts during church, you also have a couple of options. One is to try to put the child to sleep either in the car seat or your arms. This worked for Kaitlyn for a short period (maybe a month). This worked for Brayden right up until he was a year old. It was a struggle though. We would bounce him in the car seat for 20 minutes, then he would sleep 20-30 minutes. It was just enough to get him through church, so while it wasn’t an ideal nap, it was better than nothing.
- Another option for naptime that starts during church is to skip the nap and make up for it later in the day. This was our method with Kaitlyn as an older baby and young toddler and was our method with Brayden after he turned a year old.
But we didn’t lose the sleep time altogether. Once Kaitlyn was at an age where a nap was dropped and we had some time in the day, I would just give her an extra nap at home. So she would have an evening nap when she usually didn’t. This is a good method when your child still needs to eat every three hours or so.
- You can also extend a nap after church. So you put your child down for the nap early and let her sleep longer. I also often needed to put my babies down early for bed.
- Keep over tiredness in mind. For a long time, I put Kaitlyn down for a nap after church in her swing since I knew she was overtired. I didn’t want to expect her to go to sleep on her own when she was so tired. As she got older, it wasn’t a problem and she could go to sleep in her crib as usual.
For more help on sleep, read Going to Church Without Ruining Your Baby’s Sleep.
Feeding Baby at Church
Another thing that can be hard is when church is over your baby’s regular meal time. When your baby eats at the same time each day, she gets hungry at those times. This is naturally primarily difficult when it comes to feeding solid foods.
- Feed early if needed. I found Kaitlyn would handle missing the nap much easier if she was full. So she had her lunch milk 30 minutes early at church. It really made a huge difference. There were no long-term issues with her eating at a different time that one day a week.
- Bring snacks. We also brought a lot of snacks for our older babies and toddlers. This helps keep them happy and preoccupied. We don’t typically do a lot of snacks at home, but we wanted to keep the peace at church.
- I didn’t bring baby food for either my older two if church was over a mealtime. I just brought finger foods and fed lunch as soon as we got home. But with my younger two, I didn’t mind bringing along some baby food, a bib, and spoon feeding. The baby would sit on my husband’s lap and I would feed her. In our modern day, there are baby food pouches that make this SO VERY EASY. Just bring along a baggie you can put dirty bibs and dishes (if applicable) in so your diaper bag doesn’t get messy.
Playing at Church
Sitting still and being quiet at church is a hard thing for kiddos!
We didn’t let our kids run around and play at church (unless it is in the nursery). They could either sit quietly and play/color/etc. or they could sit still on Daddy’s lap out in the hall.
There was no playing if we go out in the hall. No walking, no treats, no toys…nothing but sitting still on Daddy’s lap.
Because of this, our kids preferred to stay quietly in the chapel with us. We have never had a consistent problem with behavior at church.
This is a policy we put in place before we ever were pregnant with Brayden simply because we observed the results of that vs. playing in the hall with the behavior of children. The toddlers who got to play in the hall consistently threw a major fit if they were anywhere but the hall.
It is helpful to have toys that only come out at church. We have a church bag packed with toys and books in it that are only available at church each week. This way they stay fresh and interesting for Sunday.
You have to find the right balance between high enough expectations and not too high of expectations. Find the right balance for your children.
Practice at home if you need to. Talk about expectations at a time of non-conflict. Know it is normal to have to remind kids what the rules are from time to time. I still have to do that sometimes with certain teens. Keep expectations fresh.
Maintain independent play at home so your child learns how to self-entertain. This is a time that skill really shines!
This is also a situation when blanket time becomes a hero. Read my Blanket Time Full Guide for help with this.
Sample Problem Solving
Here are some notes I kept on how I solved church disruption problems with my kids.
Church was from 1-4 PM. Kaitlyn spent months 0-8.5 on that schedule. We had a lot of different Sunday schedules and employed all of the ideas listed above. For a while I got her to sleep in my arms. After that, she took a “4th” nap on Sundays but no other day (it was at the 4th nap time, but not an actual 4th nap since she missed one at church). At the end of the year, she came home from church and went straight down for a nap. She then ate a little later for the next feeding.
Church was from 1-4. This was our schedule from 19 months to 2.5. Brayden took only one nap a day, from 1-4:30. He went to bed an hour early each Sunday night. When he was at the younger end, he would take a short nap before church.
Church was from 11-2. This was our schedule with Brayden while he was 13-19 months old. This was my favorite schedule. We had to get him up early from a nap and he went down a little late for a nap, but he stayed the happiest because he had shorter naps rather than no naps. He would also go down for the night early if needed.
Church was from 9-12. No problem for Brayden (almost 3 years old). Kaitlyn (12 months) missed her morning nap (9:30-11:30). When we got home from church, she ate lunch then went straight down for a nap, which was usually somewhere around 12:45. Her afternoon nap usually started around 1:45. She then napped until her normal wake up time (3:45-4:00). We also put her down a little early for bed, perhaps 30 minutes.
Church was once again from 11-2. This schedule was absolutely no problem for 3.5 year old Brayden. We got home, he ate lunch, and he took a short rest period. He rarely fell asleep on Sunday. He didn’t need a nap every day of the week anymore, so we had no problem.
For 1.5 year old Kaitlyn, it really wasn’t a problem either. She was really well behaved at church. Monday, she was tired. She had a shorter nap on Sunday and the time of the nap was very different (tending to start at 2:45ish rather than 1:00).
So Monday there was fatigue, but she bounced back.
]With church from 11-2, it started off well for McKenna. But by 8 months old, it was a challenge. She was going down for a nap at 10, but then we had to wake her by 10:45. Then we had to feed her lunch during church. She wasn’t quite old enough to just eat finger foods for lunch.
Church from 1-4. This was totally fine for Brayden at 4.5 years old. Any time would be fine for him.
It was rough for 2.5 year old Kaitlyn. She typically napped from 1-4:30. The first two week, she was very tired by the end and was on the floor in the nursery saying, “I want to sleep!” By week three, she had adjusted much better.
It was a much better time for McKenna than 11 was. She got to take a full morning nap. She also got to eat lunch at home. I didn’t have to feed her at church at all. She typically napped at home from 2/2:20ish to 4:30ish, so it did take up her second nap. She didn’t sleep at church. What we did was get home, feed her dinner, then put her down for a nap.
She slept until about 7:30, then I got her up, fed her, do pjs, story, etc. and put her back to bed. It worked really well. She does have a bit shorter than normal waketimes on Monday, but not too bad.
Church absolutely does interfere with your baby’s sleep and routine. It is a disruption that is worth it. There are things you can do to to help make things easier on you and your baby.
- Adjusting for Context Using Babywise
- Introducing a Child to a Church Nursery/Daycare/Playcenter
- How To Go Out With Your Baby Without Disruption
- How To Expertly Manage Disruptions to Your Baby Routine
Reader Comments/Thank Yous/Advice
- Nicole Viola said…
Hi! Our church service is from 9~11ish, which of course, is smack dab during naptime for our 12-mo. old, Gigi. Last week we randomly tried putting her in bed immediately when we got home and she miraculously fell right asleep (I’m the one who previously asked you about a 2-hour pre-nap-crib-hangout girl- we’re working on that!) and then just had her lunch a little later and afternoon nap at normal time! We’ll see in the future if that works again or if it was a fluke.
- LHS Class of 1998 said…
Thank you so much for this post Val! Megan:-)
You are welcome Megan!
- Catherine said…
What a great article! Thank you!
You are welcome Catherine! Thanks!
- Jennifer Brewer said…
Thanks, this is a great post! I am really blessed that my husband has an office at church! I am able to lay Gabby down for her morning nap before I take her to the nursery. Whew! What a blessing. Her morning nap is her best nap. Glad we don’t have to miss it.
Jennifer, that sounds wonderful! I am jealous!
- Krystal said…
Our church schedule is from 11-2. My daughter’s nap goes from 10-12-so church lands right in the middle. (of course). She gets up at 8am every morning, and I just put her down at 9 on Sunday’s so that she gets about 1 1/2 hrs. of sleep before church. Then when we get home at 2:15ish, she goes down again until about 4-4:30. She does get a little cranky at church, but not too bad. I hope that helps someone!
- MarthaStuart said…
Our church is from 8:15a-11:00a and we live 45 minutes away. Since my son normally eats at 7a & 11a and takes a nap from 8a-11a I feed him right before we leave (7am) and have the nursery worker lay him down for a nap at 8a. I then feed him after Sunday School (11a)before we leave for home. He sometimes will sleep in the crib or other times in someone’s arms. Generally, Sundays are rough and I end up holding him for part of a nap later in the day, but overall it works alright. Previously he was on a 3 hour schedule and I was able to get him up early (6:30a) and feed him during coffee hour (9:30a), which worked quite well also. He is now 11 weeks old and things on Sunday run a bit smoother than they did at first. 🙂
Thanks for sharing that MarthaStuart!
- Emily said…
Thanks for your response on solids on Sundays. I’m going to try that next Sunday. I have another solid question. My DD takes forever to eat solids and occasionally (rarely) we need to leave and there’s no time. Is it okay if on those occasions I give her solids later (maybe 30 minutes later or so)? Also, what and when were the first finger foods you used? Thanks, this whole eating thing is very new to me!
Emily, that would be fine. I would keep it the exception rather than the norm, but it would be fine to do that sometimes. See this post on finger foods: Finger Foods
- Mahal said…
Hi, we are on day 5 of CIO bootcamp (and very late starters with BW) with our 15WO daughter. You recommended in another blog to dedicate 2 weeks for sleep training. We don’t want to confuse her progress with church on Sunday. Do you recommend that we stay home this Sunday and the next in order for her sleep training to be more concrete? What did you do? I know you started BW late with your son, so did you sacrifice church for a few weeks? Any suggestions would be very helpful.
Mahal, sorry this is late for you for Sunday. I didn’t stay home with my son for church. Church is really important to us and I just had faith that in going to church the Lord would bless us 🙂 With my daughter, I started her from birth and we stayed home from church for the first month to recover from birth and to avoid the end of RSV season, so she did have complete consistency. However, if she had started late I still would have gone to church.
No problem, I understand and I realize you are not getting paid for this awesome service. I’m thankful that you are sharing your experiences online.We did go to church this past Sunday. She did better than I thought! She took a nap in her sling during service and then in her car seat on the way home (our service is during two of her naps). I’m so glad we didn’t stay home. Thanks again!
Mahal, Thanks for your understanding! I am glad things went well for you!
- B. B. said…
You mentioned that you have your kids sit on daddy’s lap in the hallway if they can not sit still in the meeting. Just curious, at what age did you implement this? My son is 9 months and crawling. It just seems at his age like it is too much to ask for him to sit still for 3 hours without being able to crawl around and move a bit. Especially because I feel he doesn’t have the cognitive ability to understand “sitting still,” etc. Are my expectations just too low?
BB, We don’t require them to sit perfectly still. But they can’t crawl around or walk around the church or room. We have three different rooms we sit in. The first is the chapel where we sit on a bench and it has a bit more room for the kids. The next is Sunday school where there is basically enough room for them to sit on the floor or on a chair. The third is similar to Sunday school. We are also there for 3 hours. I think you can expect him to pretty much sit “still”–meaning I don’t think he needs to crawl around. If you have breaks between things, let him get wiggles out then. It is hard for the little ones, and I would be more lenient if possible the third hour (without allowing things that are “no’s”). Before we had children, we were in an area where there were lots of young families. Most had only one child. This area also happened to have most parents who followed BW. There were some who didn’t and allowed their kids to run around and play as babies. I watched them grow into toddlers that were quite disruptive and wouldn’t stay in the classroom but wanted to go into the hall where they would play. If they couldn’t play in the hall, they played in the classroom. I saw that starkly contrasted with the BW babies who sat still and played through church. It is really what turned me on to BW in the first place. At 9 months he definitely can understand. Adjust to how you know him, but always be aware that what you allow now will only magnify as he gets older. Crawling seems innocent, but it morphs to walking then running. The child who was allowed to crawl won’t be easy to tell ‘no, you can’t walk around the room at will.’
This post was originally published in May 2008